About three worlds into Destiny 2, you travel to a planetoid infested with a robotic species called the Vex. They ensnared your Nathan Fillion-voiced machine buddy Cayde-6 in a looping teleporter trap, which you must save him from. It sounds like an exciting adventure, right? Well… not quite.
The mission design isn't the only place the game could improve - Destiny 2's mute protagonist could do with finding a voice.
Nessus itself sports some of the trippiest-looking locales in the game, with floating, glowing platforms juxtaposing neon blue-green vegetation. By all rights, this portion of the game should make for some of the most interesting mission design in the game. So what do you do? You shoot a bunch of Vex, walk to the next waypoint, then shoot some more. Sometimes you will walk through a teleporter, but it might as well be a static hallway on the way to the next killing arena.
Nessus is emblematic of a greater problem with Destiny as a whole, and it is one that hits at the heart of the design philosophy of the series. Bungie designer Jaime Griesemer famously talked about Halo as repeating the same 30 seconds of fun across an entire game with varied environments and weapons, and that philosophy carries over to Destiny. You follow the same gameplay loops of entering kill boxes and wiping out all the enemies within, while taking cover among the debris-filled battlefield.
On its own, this design trajectory is not inherently a problem. It is a formula that MMOs have successfully used for years now. But when you consider all the sci-fi bombast of the story of Destiny, what you are actually doing in the game often does not match up with the promised grandeur. Nessus suffers particularly.
When you hear that Cayde-6 is trapped in a teleporter loop, it would be reasonable to expect level design that makes clever use of teleporters. The reality is that they are little more than jumped-up doorways. Likewise, the way you free Cayde-6 is by beating a boss enemy - more mindless killing that has little to do with the setup. You barely need to manipulate anything in the environment, let alone in smart ways. You just have to shoot at a target, as always.
It is not like Bungie would have needed to do a lot to spice up Destiny 2’s story missions. They came close with the Titan missions, which take place on a lunar base ravaged by a tumultuous ocean, lending itself to a varied structure unlike any other level. The base itself is torn to pieces, forcing you to jump across platforms to traverse the area. As a result, Titan marries story with gameplay in a way that the rest of the game lacks.
That is the rub in Destiny: you play it to immerse yourself in the hypnotic loop of killing groupings of enemies, and hoover up the loot that spills out of them - your quest to stop Dominus Ghaul never threatens to interrupt this cycle. Destiny’s story wants to instill a grandiose sense of heroic wonder and reverence, but you are likely to miss it as you are funneled ever onwards to the next kill box.