As I sit here typing this very opinionated article, I can’t help but comment on some of the things that I have been picking up on in the wake of Destiny 2’s most recent expansion, Curse of Osiris. Keep in mind, the following article is my own opinion, and it is purely based on my own observations of the game. I have been browsing the Destiny forums ever since launch, and I have been witness to the pillars of salt that have come from Bungie’s more questionable design decisions with this game. Once I started seeing full-blown rioting on Bungie’s official forums over their focus on the Eververse (Destiny 2’s in-game micro-transaction store), I took a step back and realized something about one of the game’s fundamental design decisions. While the problems associated with micro-transactions and loot boxes are not lost on me, reflecting on the life of Destiny has given me a bitter realization: Destiny has lost its sadness.
I remember the first time I played Destiny. I logged in to the first public Alpha, created my character, and was immediately blown away by the world I landed in. It was Old Russia, population: Eliksni. I had a lot of fun going to work on the Fallen with the common-level weapons they gave me. I took down their Dregs by the dozens, dueled with numerous Captains, and got my ass systematically handed to me by the infamous Vandal in the Forgotten Shore (dubbed “Randal the Vandal” by the online Destiny community). The one thing that really grabbed me though, and kept me, was the atmosphere of the world that I found myself in. To put it bluntly, it was a dead world. It was a world of rusted relics of a bygone golden age. Trees and brush grew on and inside of buildings that once housed colonists looking to start new lives on distant worlds. The Colony Ships that dotted the horizon—great relics of shipping containers and gigantic fuel pods mounted to space shuttles–teetered on the brink of total collapse. Just outside the wall, rows of gridlocked cars stretched off into the distance with their skeletal drivers still buckled in, all of them falling in a mad rush to get off of the planet and escape the Darkness. In this universe, each driver had a life, and each set-piece had history.
This planet had a million stories, and I had three more to go to.
The Moon. On the surface, a long abandoned lunar colony full of decomposed astronauts and vehicles that collected sparkling dust. Below ground, the ravenous Hive had carved out a dripping mausoleum that they called home. Like the catacombs of Paris, the intricate roots of the cavern were lined with the bones of their devoured enemies. Go all the way to the core, and you will find nothing but darkness ruled by an evil lord who wields a power beyond comprehension.
Venus. A forgotten jungle. Sprawling vines and pools of baby blue water collect in what was once the heart of the biggest research center on the planet. When the Darkness struck and power across the facility failed, the researchers were trapped behind security doors run by a computer system that was unable to free them. The greatest minds in the solar system starved to death behind the systems put in place to protect them, and they were forgotten for centuries.
Mars. The steel skyscrapers that once made up the great city now sit plunged into massive dunes of red and orange sand. The armies of the Cabal scouts occupying the planet take up positions in and around the city, ready to take on the Guardians that are intruding on their territory. With their full might of tanks, ships and titanic aircraft carrier sized land crawlers, they would lay waste to the Guardians and all that they fought for. Not too far from them, ancient ruins stir at the arrival of the Guardians, and armies of time traveling robots emerge from whatever pocket dimension in space/time spawned them.
Don’t get me wrong. Destiny 2 has amazing environments. Joseph Cross and all the other environmental artists deserve all of the credit that can be given. The problem that I have is in the sudden and abrupt tonal shift between both games.
The first Destiny was a dark game. It had its moments of levity, sure, but otherwise it took itself seriously. From the start of it’s development, Bungie intended it to be a “mythic sci-fi” tale on par with Star Wars. And it showed in the final product.
When I am have my Titan rush into a room full of high-leveled Hive Knights with Nightwish’s “Ghost Love Score” blasting through my headphones, I feel like a legendary warrior, storming the gates of an underground gothic alien castle to dismantle the enemy with my fists. It’s misguided to do that, sure, but when I do it I feel like a superhero doing something valiant in the face of evil. I feel like I am actually becoming legend, like the tag-line of the game is telling me to do.
In Destiny 2, I feel like a sitcom extra to all of these characters having wacky antics. My Guardian doesn’t even talk anymore. My Ghost does all the talking for me, and for every cringe inducing line of dialouge, I expect a laugh track.
While Destiny 2 has its moments where the stakes are thoroughly raised (being thrown out of your beloved city and forced to live on a mud pit farm with war profiteer Tess Everis will do that), the game suffers a critical flaw with how it presents itself. I compare it to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in that it draws heavily from the “serious moments are interrupted by characters cracking jokes that go on for way too long,” school of comedy. With characters like Cayde-6, and even serious ones like Zavala and Lord Shaxx, ramping the humor up to 11, it feels like Bungie took our Guardians and put them inside of Guardians of the Galaxy. It is one thing to have the comic relief characters be the focus of humor. It’s what they are meant for. It’s quite another to have stoic, larger than life characters spout lines like “mobilizing fire team for operation… babydog?” while other comic relief characters laugh at them.
The whole game feels like parody of itself, like a joke being played on its own franchise.
Whenever I think about the game that Destiny became, I often think about Halo, Bungie’s earlier title. I remember seeing all of the live action ads for Halo 3 and being completely blown away by the effort put into it. Those ads, specifically the “Museum” ad that the campaign is most known for, made Halo seem like something to behold. It helped that the tone of Halo 3 was also a somber one, featuring a decimated Earth, and a dying humanity under the boot heel of an alien invasion force. It wasn’t just a game, but an event.
And now that we have a fully open world game made by the same developers, featuring a decimated Earth and a dying humanity under the boot heel of an alien invasion force, it feels like a B-movie.
At the end of the day, while this game is fun to pass the time, its substitution of emotional weight for unfunny dialogue makes me feel like the developers rushed it, leaving many fans reminiscing about the past and cringing at it’s future.