This week, Destiny 2 got its second major expansion since it came out last September. It's called Warmind, and in many respects, it's a disappointment. However, it benefits from the many small changes Bungie is making to the game more broadly, and succeeds in setting up a long, demanding grind that could keep some players busy until spring.
Warmind's story campaign is a lightweight jaunt through a couple of locations spread around a new patrol zone on Mars.
It takes less than two hours to complete.
It introduces two major figures in the ongoing Destiny lore - the "Warmind" AI Rasputin and the Hive worm-god Xol - before concluding their story with such abruptness that I've seen a lot of players wondering if a bug might have caused the game to skip a cutscene or two.
It adds a bunch of "new" vendor weapons that look identical to old weapons, just with different perks.
It adds two technically new strike missions that are actually just repurposed campaign missions, and its only actual fresh strike is locked away as a timed PlayStation exclusive.
Yet when the story ends, the expansion is just getting started. After the narrative's jarring conclusion, I got some quests to pursue, each of which will reward me with a new, distinct weapon. (Not reskins, for a change!)
I've attempted the new Mars-based "Escalation Protocol" horde mode and found myself grossly unprepared and under-levelled for it.
I've gotten a mysterious code that makes reference to the name "IKELOS", which sure sounds like one of those lovely Destiny mysteries we've all been missing.
I've also begun to progress through the competitive crucible's new ranking system, and I've made plans to team up with my raid crew to tackle the new "Spire of Stars" mini-raid when it launches on Saturday.
I've found myself with a pleasant array of things to pursue in Warmind's aftermath, and I won't complete most of those things anytime soon. I'm currently stuck at around 345 power, 40 points short of the expansion's 385 power cap. I haven't even reached the suggested power level of 350 for the new Heroic Strikes, though that hasn't stopped me from doing some.
I'm under-levelled for so many activities because Bungie has taken significant steps to slow down overall player progression. Players can no longer reach the 385 power cap simply by playing whatever activities they'd like. The number of ways I can get "powerful" loot to help me raise my power-level has been severely reduced, constrained now to only a few high-level activities such as raiding or the Trials of the Nine weekend competition.
I'll have to put a lot more hours in to get to the level cap than I did the last time around, and that's leaving aside the hidden collectables strewn across Mars, the new masterwork quests added to each exotic weapon, the Crucible weapons locked behind the new ranking system, and the unique strike weapons that can only be obtained as random drops for completing a Nightfall strike, as well as several other long-term pursuits.
Slowing down player progression is an understandable and even laudable move, given the feedback Bungie has gotten over the past eight months. How unusual, though, that an overarching complaint about a video game would be "You're giving us too many rewards!" It makes sense to anyone who played Destiny 2 at launch - we quickly ran out of things to do, and some fans of the first game began to miss having a loot chase into which they could sink hundreds of hours.
Given how often the first Destiny stumbled in the opposite direction - re-levelling exotics, leaving behind a year's worth of gear, decrypting purple engrams into blue items - it's perverse and a little bit funny that Bungie now finds itself in the position of adding inconvenience and curtailing rewards in order to please their players.
But here we are, and it's probably the right move. I can think of no better example of the balancing act that all service-game developers must perform, nor of the fickle fandom that their ever-changing games engender.
Given the year Destiny 2 has had so far, this feels like an appropriate way to use the emote wheel.
It bears mentioning that many of the biggest new improvements to Destiny 2 aren't actually attached to Warmind at all. Players who didn't buy the expansion still have access to the newly modified Heroic Strikes, expanded vault space, assignable Emote wheel, Crucible ranking system, and the updated and significantly improved pool of exotic weapons. They will be able to grind out the new Exotic Masterwork sub-quests, and even have access to the new Crucible maps added in Warmind.
That's all in addition to the other substantial updates that have hit the game in the last few months, including the recent "go fast" update that boosted weapon damage and skill power, the fun 6v6 Iron Banner PvP event, and the coming update this winter that will add new bounties, a new seasonal event, and changes to exotic armour.
All of that leaves Destiny 2 in an odd place. Warmind is disappointing in a lot of obvious ways, yet it already seems evident that it will be far more rewarding for dedicated players over the long term than its predecessor.
The best improvements are separate from the content of the expansion, and indicate that Bungie is indeed taking negative player feedback to heart and attempting to overhaul and improve their game. Destiny 2 is better now than it was last week, and while it still has a lot of the same old problems, the ways in which it has improved indicate a promising trajectory.
Each new Destiny expansion is accompanied by a question: Is this enough? Is it enough to win back the people who bailed last spring? Is it enough to tempt those who were scared away by the failings that led to that furious December of fan discontent?
This time around, the answer is no. The game has gotten some nice improvements, but they aren't transformative. Warmind and its accompanying tweaks and changes are just another milestone on the long trek toward the game's September expansion, a likely substantial add-on about which little enough is known that it still holds some redemptive promise.
Destiny 2 remains very much in process. It's better now than it's ever been, but well short of where we'd hoped it would be by now, back when it first launched. September is still a ways away, and we'll have to wait until then to find out whether Bungie can properly right this listing ship. It's nice to have some loot to chase while we wait.
Some Additional Stray Thoughts:
- I do appreciate the short campaign for one reason: It's a lot easier to get through it with my Titan alt character. I was able to equip all the weapons my Warlock had upgraded at level 26, which has helped my Titan raise his power level more quickly. That's a big improvement over Curse of Osiris, which had a tedious campaign and quickly put my best guns three or four levels above where my alts would start out.
- I've also enjoyed running into enemies that are simply too difficult for me. Bungie has retooled how power-level differentials work, and I can feel the changes when I'm playing. Hell, I even ran into some skull-mark thralls while exploring Mars.
- This series desperately needs some new enemy types. Warmind is just a bunch more of the same boring Hive monsters, and the one new enemy I've encountered is a Hive knight who has a shield. Whee. It's a testament to how fun this game is that I've been mostly happy to shoot the same enemies for the past four years, but … damn. I dunno how many more wizards and thralls I can fight.
Graviton Lance sure is a heck of a lot more fun now!
- As Destiny 2's weapons get more interesting, it becomes clearer and clearer how dull the game's armour is. I feel zero reason to collect or keep a new piece of armour, and don't even care enough to upgrade the armour I have. It's a problem for all of the armour in the game, exotic or otherwise.
- I've been having an OK time with the new, faster-moving Crucible PvP, but I miss 6v6! I don't want it to be an Iron Banner-only thing, I want it all the time.
- Warmind was developed by Bungie in partnership with the Activision-owned studio Vicarious Visions, which (I believe) makes it the first discrete Destiny content credited to a non-Bungie studio. Some key positions on the creative team were filled by non-Bungie personnel, including Vicarious Visions' Brent Gibson, who was creative director. Just an interesting factoid, and something to add to your mental chart of who's making all this stuff.
- They finally patched the Wardcliff coil glitch! I'm actually a little bummed about that. It was a nice way to refill my power ammo on strikes. Oh well.
- I remain happy with the exotic weapon buffs. The hand cannon Crimson is actually really good now? Am I the only one who thinks that?
- I hear there are rewards for people who can collect all of the data modules on Mars, and I am up for it. I unexpectedly loved The Taken King's calcified fragments and am looking forward to putting on a podcast and doing some scrounging.
- A Reddit poster who goes by Spacev3gan has done some guesswork and crunched some numbers, and estimates that it will take 440 Crucible matches to unlock the hard-to-get pulse rifle Redrix's Claymore. That's a hell of a lot more Crucible than I have time for, but I like that there's a reward out there for the most dedicated players.
- Like Curse of Osiris, Warmind introduces some new characters to the world of Destiny 2 including Ana Bray, Rasputin and the worm god Xol. I wouldn't be surprised if some or all of those characters turn up for a massive throwdown come September, similar to how the Awoken queen and her crew turned up in 2015's The Taken King.
- I'm very much looking forward to the second Raid Lair, which will launch this Saturday. The first Raid Lair was easily the best part of Curse of Osiris, and while Warmind is an improvement over that expansion in most respects, it still seems likely that the Raid Lair will be a highlight.
- I cannot tell you the joy I derive from dismantling items directly at the postmaster and vault. I dismantled a bunch of green shaders at the postmaster last night and it was glorious.