So many things! What do I play with first?! says our writer.
By Jeffrey Mizrahi
When Destiny 2 launched, it suffered from a severe identity crisis. Bungie was trying to make a game that would appeal equally to a casual Destiny audience, as well as a more heavily engaged one. The results weren’t pretty. The hardcore players were in shock to see that after a month of playing, there was no reason to keep logging back on. The rewards were scarce and the loot grind was shallow. The, the casual audience abandoned the game after hitting a difficult to overcome soft level cap. The two post-launch DLC’s, Curse of Osiris and Warmind, tried remedying these issues, but never hit the highs Destiny fans had come to expect. But with the new expansion, Forsaken, we see Bungie acknowledge these issues and chose to build a game that prioritizes Destiny devotees over everyone else.
Right off the bat, Forsaken solves one of the biggest issues Destiny 2 had – not enough content. This is by far the largest piece of additional paid content Bungie has ever offered. A brand new campaign, a unique new game mode called Gambit, two new planets, all new abilities, and a variety of new armor and weaponry make up the quantifiable highlights of Forsaken. When the update went live, booting the game up gave me that child-like feeling of receiving a bunch of presents for my birthday. So many things! What do I play with first?!
Changing The Way Things Were
Before starting the first campaign mission, I took a look at my inventory to see how much has changed. Bungie has delivered a complete overhaul of the weapon slotting and mod systems that originally had good intentions – but poor execution. The new way of equipping weapons is a little tricky to fully comprehend at first. But once understood, it becomes a breath of fresh air. The ability to carry a shotgun AND a sniper may seem old hat to FPS players, but for a whole year Destiny 2 didn’t allow that. This really shakes up how certain encounters play, and overall increases my enjoyment with the game.
Bungie foresaw how this change might make the game a little unbalanced. To fix that, each gun type has both a slot it can be in (kinetic, energy, power) and an ammo type (primary, special, heavy). For example, you can equip a kinetic sniper rifle that uses special ammo, an energy shotgun that uses special ammo as well, and a power rocket launcher that uses heavy ammo. Since you have two guns that share a harder to come by ammo type, you might be using them less than a kinetic auto rifle that needs primary ammo.
I then noticed that all my old gun mods have been deprecated and am told to dismantle them for new resources. I appreciate that Bungie was bold enough to openly acknowledge the old system just wasn’t fun and that they’re willing to start over rather stick their feet in the mud and say, “This is how it is.” The new mods add significant improvements to guns such as dealing more damage to bosses, or increasing accuracy while airborne. The best part about these changes is how they affect all Destiny 2 owners, regardless if they bought Forsaken or not. However, for those who do own Forsaken, a new location has appeared on the map that sets the Guardians on the next journey.
New Story, Old Mistakes
The story in Forsaken begins with what is now one of my favorite missions in the entire Destiny series. Escapees are breaking out of the Prison of Elders, both a location and a game mode from the original Destiny. Cayde-6 calls upon the player to help him get everything back in line. As I began to hear the distinct sirens coming from the Prison, I remembered where I was. This is where I had spent countless hours grinding for loot with friends just a couple a years ago, albeit from a different perspective.
When I wasn’t in a controlled room shooting waves of enemies funneled in by Warden Variks, I was behind the curtain as I watched enemies from all races run amoc. When two of the deadliest enemies in the game, a Fallen Captain and a Cabal Colossus, are duking it out and my mission is to keep running past them, it’s hard not to stop and observe in awe. Two different bosses that would normally be the culmination of five waves of enemies are now right before me and they couldn’t care less about what I was doing.
As Cayde and I push on to get everything back under control, I see my fellow Guardian actually do something. In a game whose primary focus is on Fireteams both in the gameplay and in the Lore, I struggle to understand why Bungie almost always makes the storytelling seem as if my Guardian is the one and only savior of the universe. Because of that, I get overjoyed when I see other legendary Guardians in action. Cayde whips out his Golden Gun and helps clear enemies by my side, then blasts a couple more with his iconic Ace of Spades hand cannon.
The action-packed joy ride comes to a halt once Cayde gets cornered by the DLC’s antagonists, Uldren Sov and his 8 Barons. Bungie literally announced Forsaken with this cutscene, so the following events come as no surprise: we see the death of Cayde-6. Even though I had played this mission at E3 this year and the marketing folk kind of shoved it down my throat, it was still a somber moment seeing this beloved character gone. As I fought my way out of the Prison I was introduced to the new enemy type. The Scorn are the Fallen brought back to life as fighting zombies, albeit with all new archetypes. While this race shares slight similarities to the Fallen in their design, their weapons and attack patterns make them the most unique enemy type added to Destiny since the original’s launch.
The Last City losing a third of its Vanguards set me on a quest for vengeance. Moving forward, the player’s Guardian has the first speaking lines since they mysteriously became a silent protagonist after the end of the original Destiny campaign in 2014. At first, I thought this was a welcome change and hoped I would hear my Titan’s voice more throughout the story. Yet it turns out he only says about ten whole words throughout the six hour campaign. Bummer.
The next mission had me visit a new location, The Tangled Shore, which rivals some of the base game’s planets in size, and outclasses a handful of them in design and visuals. Here you meet a Jabba the Hut-esqe figure, The Spider, who helps you hunt down the eight Barons that helped kill Cayde and ultimately confront Uldren himself. The Barons are all unique bosses who have their own backstories and gimmicks and can be fought in any order the player chooses. The two standout encounters were The Mad Bomber and The Trickster which I absolutely loved. The former’s battle had me jumping around an explosives-filled arena dismantling bombs in order to get a clear shot at the Baron. The latter was in a smaller hideout where I had to use a keen eye to distinguish the rigged ammo pickups from the real ones, all while tossing fake explosive engrams in the Baron’s direction. When I first heard that this DLC would focus on eight different bosses, I was a little skeptical and thought that they all might be the same bullet sponge enemy, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Even the weakest Baron, The Rifleman, a sniper who has decoy versions of himself around the map, was still quite entertaining.
Eventually, you catch up to Uldren Sov, Cayde’s killer, and have a final showdown with him. While I heavily enjoyed the first four-fifths of this campaign story-wise, I was left very confused (so much so that I had to consult a Destiny Lore Discord to fully comprehend what happened) and slightly disappointed. The ending events definitely meant something to those well versed in Destiny minutiae, but it doesn’t match the simpler premise seen at the start.
The final boss was fun to play and the overall package was a blast, but really thinking about it, there was no real reason Cayde needed to die. There was nothing specific or unique about his death. Uldren would’ve killed anyone in his way at the Prison whether it was Petra, Zavala, or Ikora. Cayde was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Looking back at the whole release cycle, Cayde’s death feels like a marketing stunt to get more players interested in the game, rather than something that the story would naturally come to. In the end, the death didn’t feel earned. This story is most certainly a personal tale of vengeance, but when the credits rolled, I just didn’t feel any amount of closure. There’s no Hunter Vanguard to replace Cayde and I’m left scratching my heading thinking “now what?”, a feeling that is all too familiar with Destiny campaigns.
I would be remiss however if I didn’t mention Forsaken’s implementation of lore within the game. A new menu tab, called Triumphs, was added with this update where you can sift through pages upon pages of text which really helps flesh out the characters and world of Destiny. I have always said that Bungie has done a really poor job with narrative and telling a story in Destiny, yet they are amazing writers when it came to the deep lore. While some pieces require vast knowledge of the history of this fictional world in order to understand, others are more one-off riveting tales of human stories. For example, there’s a lore piece that is just journal entries from a father lost in space hoping to return home to see his son. It’s honestly a shame Bungie has such trouble translating this lore into a great narrative. But sadly after four years, Destiny fans are more than accustomed to it.
Secret Locales and a Unique Game Mode
Once you’ve had your fill of the Tangled Shore, the game directs you to the Dreaming City. Bungie is touting this as “Destiny’s largest endgame experience ever” and for good reason. This area is chock-full of content. With three distinct locations and only one fast travel spot, the Dreaming City heavily encourages exploration. The city is almost entirely composed of secrets and little Easter Eggs that reward the dedicated player with Destiny’s most prestigious loot. Don’t expect any hand holding here. Within the first hour of running and gunning in the Dreaming City, I had picked up items and encountered mysterious interactables that had me mystified and intrigued. Pouring over online forums and talking with clan mates just to get some semblance of understanding helped make Destiny 2 feel new again. After a week of playing the base game I felt I had explored just about everything the game had to offer. Today, I feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface of Forsaken when in comes to the nook and crannies the expansion still has in store.
Also included in the package is Gambit, an all new player-vs-player-vs-environment competitive mode. The basic premise is that two teams of four are fighting against waves of AI enemies in two separate arenas. The goal is to kill enemies that drop motes, pick up those motes, and deposit them in a bank at the center of the map. When one teams deposits 75 motes, a boss spawns. Whoever deposits 75 motes and kills their respective boss’ first wins. While this is all happening, portals open up in each team’s arena that allows one team member to hop on over to the opponent’s side and cause chaos. In these moments, Gambit pivots from being a horde mode to a game of Team Deathmatch, a very unique idea that I have not seen in any game before. Collecting a large amount of motes; then getting the screen notification that an enemy has invaded; knowing that if they find me before I can bank them, all my hard-work would be for nothing: all this creates some of the most tense moments I could ever experience in Destiny which keeps me coming back for more.
With the new campaign, Bungie has demonstrated its willingness to commit to a core audience by making a story that a fraction of the audience will fully appreciate. The Dreaming City perfectly caters to a dedicated audience that doesn’t want to put the game down for a second. By topping it all off with Gambit, a refreshing new game mode, and a reworked weapon system, Bungie has more than delivered on content. It’s safe to say Destiny 2 has finally shown what it’s capable of with the release of Forsaken.
Jeffrey Mizrahi is a contributing writer/intern for the New York Videogame Critics Circle. You can find more of his musings pretty much anywhere on the internet @MrBrawl96