I’m enjoying the little things in Destiny 2’s latest season. A giant bow that looks like you could windsurf on it. An ominous black pyramid hogging the horizon on Io. Another overpowered exotic whose exploding projectiles bathe enemies in a pool of fluorescent liquid. I’m not sure they can redeem the game’s extremely uneven third year, but they’re certainly helping to distract me from its ongoing shortcomings.
Season of Arrival, which went live yesterday, centres around the mysterious black pyramid ships hinted at in the base game. After nearly three years they’re finally invading the outer reaches of the solar system. One in particular has touched down on Jupiter’s Io moon where it’s caused all sorts of weird anomalies, including encounters with smaller black pyramids in the area’s patrol zone. Eris Morn has her ideas about what these apparent envoys of the Darkness are up to, but no one knows for sure, so Guardians are being sent to investigate.
The new content starts with an “Interference” mission in which you go searching for Eris only to be teleported back and forth between what appears to be the inside of the pyramid, the ascending plane, and the Oasis on Io’s surface, where a silver tree born of the Traveller’s light continues to grow. While the quest has specific references to Savathün, the Taken King Oryx’s sister, in classic Destiny-fashion the whole thing is extremely cryptic and hard to parse. The black pyramids are finally here and yet more mysterious than ever. Hopefully we’ll get a clearer picture of what’s going on in later Arrival quests, as these Interference missions are supposed to cycle each week.
What all of this means gameplay-wise is a new public activity called Contact, where players kill enemies, collect the motes they drop, and deposit them into one of the Drifter’s machines across four waves until summoning and killing a final Taken boss. It’s basically a completely PVE spin on Gambit, and while difficult, it feels less frustrating than last season’s Seraph Towers because you don’t have to worry about keeping enemies off platforms and can instead just focus on killing them.
Unfortunately, like Seraph Towers, Contact isn’t matchmade, making it easy to narrowly fail just because a player or two was missing or severely underpowered. But unlike that event, it also features a ton more shielded champions, forcing you to basically stick to two primaries with the appropriate mods equipped. This takes a lot of the fun out of it, and also makes it harder to simultaneously complete bounties that require you to use other weapons.
The arrival of the pyramids has also led to a new type of loot called Umbral engrams. They work the same as normal engrams except they look like they were caught in an oil spill and only the Drifter can decrypt them. To dress this process up a bit, you can use a thing called the Prismatic Recaster to influence what the Umbral engrams decrypt into. You can upgrade the Recaster by completing bounties, which in turns unlocks more options for customising the type of loot you’ll get, from certain weapons or armour, to weapons with certain perks and armour that favours certain stats. It looks both a lot less complicated and tiresome than last season’s bunker grind, and a lot more efficient for pursuing your preferred build (no more long waiting for the right piece of armour with a high melee or grenade cooldown to drop).
For the most part, though, all of this is just an elaborate reskin, visually and narratively, of stuff players have been doing for the last several months, albeit with a seemingly better balance of grind to reward. What’s really pulling me back for Season of Arrival is the rest of the content scattered throughout the update. This includes the Whispering Slab, a new legendary bow that’s big and neat-looking but also reloads super quickly. It has a perk called Killing Wind that gives you better handling and mobility after a killing blow, which, paired with the Enhanced Bow Loader armour mod, could see giving me major Legolas vibes.
The season’s exotic weapon, Whiteboard, is also a standout. A grenade launcher that sits in the primary weapon slot, it acts like a water balloon gun, drenching enemies in swirling pools of glowing darkness that deal lots of splash damage. It also hits like a hammer against stronger enemies, making it a fun, all-purpose gun that is just incredibly satisfying to run around with.
I’m also interested in a bunch of this season’s other weapons. I’ve already grabbed a Hollow Words, the Arrival fusion rifle, which handles well and makes delightful, reverby synth sounds when fired. On the season pass, meanwhile, is a sword called Falling Guillotine which, in addition to getting more powerful the more you swing it, also looks like something straight out of Final Fantasy VII.
Not all of this season’s additions are welcome ones though. You spend a lot of time with the Drifter, whose weird combination of loner cowboy and stoned surfer I still loathe. That was fine when he was just the guy I went to for Gambit bounties, but after visiting his annex in the Tower four times in the same hour, the bro chatter is wearing thin.
More significantly I’m struggling with the game’s renewed power climb. The new power cap is 1050 (1060 for pinnacle gear). That’s another 50 points over last season, which was in turn 50 points over the season prior. One of the things I liked most of Season of Dawn, which only raised the cap 10 points, was that it allowed me to catch my breath and continue slowly inching upward toward pinnacle activities without feeling like I was way behind. Season of Arrival adds a new dungeon based around the mysterious aliens known as the Nine. I haven’t tried it myself yet, but from everything that’s been shown it seems well worth grinding for. I only wish I wasn’t starting out so far out from its recommended power of 1040.
And then there’s the specter of gear sunsetting, which hangs over this season like a wet blanket. Bungie previously announced a new maximum power cap for all gear pegged to when it was added to the game. Gear from Season of the Worthy, for instance, will no long be able to be infused upward starting next spring, while gear from last year’s Forsaken expansion will begin falling behind starting this fall. While some players are still furious, others have come to terms with it. My own mind is still far from made, but it’s already caused some problems in Season of Arrival.
Take the Lonesome, a sidearm from Gambit Prime. I, like a lot of players, already have it. But the gun has also been reissued this season. The original version is set to sunset after this season, while the “new” one will be good up until next summer. In effect, sunsetting is forcing some players to grind for a gun they already have all over again. It’s forced obsolescence at its worst.
Confusing matters even further is that part of the new season seems to be encouraging players to collect older guns that will soon become less relevant.There’s an option at the Drifter’s Recaster to make an Umbral engram decrypt into a random gun from one of the last three seasons. I did that thinking the pool would overlap with a small set of guns undergoing a similar “re-issuing.” Instead I got an Optative hand cannon from Season of Undying what won’t be upgradeable beyond Season of Arrival. If that’s the case why does the option even exist? A big part of me is looking forward to having a reason to focus on a smaller pool of newer weapons going forward, helped by the fact that the Arrival gear seems to be some of the last year’s better stuff, but the way Bungie’s going about it seems needlessly messy and complex.
I don’t think Destiny 2’s ever been in a great place, at least relative to the best days of the first game. Instead it trends upward or downward based on a variety of factors that are always in flux, changing and getting reworked as each new content drop arrives. The good news then is that Season of Arrival, which went live yesterday, is Destiny 2 on the upswing. Bungie has listened to some, though certainly not all, of the community’s criticisms, and changed how aspects of the loot grind work as a result. New armour styles drop in activities rather than being sold in the Eververse microtransaction shop and Crucible and Strike playlists now award seasonal gear, giving players more options for what they want to do to earn new weapons.
At the same time it’s clear Destiny 2 is in a bit of a holding pattern leading up to this year’s big September expansion, Beyond Light, and the massive changes it will bring. I definitely see myself sinking more time into Season of Arrival than its convoluted and tedious predecessor, Season of the Worthy, but I still have concerns about the type of service game Bungie seems to be building ever since the studio parted ways with Activision and the base version of Destiny 2 went free-to-play, from the emphasis on ranking up season passes to the upcoming sunsetting of older weapons. The game continues to change every few months, but I’m not sure if it’s continuing to grow.
It’s hard to say how all of these things will shake out come the fall when Beyond Light launches, especially since at that time nearly half of the game’s current locations are going to be retired into the “Destiny Vault.” It could lead to a sharper, more focused Destiny experience, or one whose smaller size simply makes its deeper structural issues and repetitive nature all the more apparent. For now, at least I’ve got a big-arse bow and an even bigger-arse alien pyramid to aim it at.