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What we need to see from Destiny 2 before The Final Shape

After one of Destiny 2’s strongest runs, Lightfall was a messy disappointment - here’s what Bungie needs to do to fix the damage ahead of The Final Shape.

Screenshot of Destiny 2's Cayde 6.

I’m almost glad Lightfall was a bit rubbish. After the 30th Anniversary Pack and The Witch Queen, I was getting used to Destiny 2 being really good, and it was a strange, unsettling feeling. Destiny’s form has always ebbed and flowed, and the highs give shape to the lows; terrific as The Taken King and Forsaken were, they shone more brightly because Destiny 1 and 2 were so disappointing at launch. Perhaps Bungie is going very meta with the message of Destiny’s Light and Darkness Saga – you need both for either to have meaning.

But that saga is soon to end. Barring delays, The Final Shape release date is less than a year out. Whether you view Destiny 2‘s return to nonsensical form with exasperation or my weird masochistic nostalgia, every Guardian wants this unique story to close on the triumphant high it deserves. What needs to happen between now and The Final Shape to set up this happy outcome? Spoilers incoming for Lightfall’s campaign, Season of Defiance, and The Final Shape teaser trailer.

Most obviously, the remaining seasonal stories have to be brilliant, complementary, and escalatory. They must be good in themselves and work together to set the scene for The Final Shape, smoothly ratcheting up the stakes and teasing the space game’s big finish in a way that restores our shaken confidence in Bungie. The Final Shape’s teaser trailer is a good start.

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The triangular hole in the sky at the end maps onto the shape The Witness cut into (or above?) the Traveler, so one obvious conclusion is that it’s a portal. Might the lush landscape to which it leads be the interior of the Traveler? Might the Traveler’s powers of resurrection explain Cayde’s presence there? And is there a chance it could even be the Black Garden, as a relationship between it and the Traveler has long been posited in the lore?

These are the kinds of questions that can sustain interest across multiple seasons as long as they’re managed well. Bungie did this brilliantly between Beyond Light and The Witch Queen, but less consistently between Witch Queen and Lightfall, and has now selected a higher difficulty by confusing and annoying everyone with the events of Lightfall itself.

To recap: we went into Lightfall with the Witness threatening Earth, and were looking forward to learning more of its nature and intentions. Instead, it dipped to Neomuna, a city on Neptune, to chase a MacGuffin named The Veil, neither of which we’d ever heard of. The expansion thus felt like a sideshow to the main event we’d been promised, and it all went to piss anyway as the Witness succeeded in its plan despite our efforts. Season of Defiance has been as thin as expansion seasons usually are, having us tussle with the Witness’s Cabal sidekicks and explaining nothing of import.

Screenshot of The Witness, the primary antagonist of Destiny 2 Lightfall.

So having damaged our hard-won trust, Bungie’s recourse is to add meaning to Lightfall’s campaign retroactively: what is The Veil? Why was it necessary to introduce Neomuna and will it, or the Cloud Striders, be relevant again? What exactly has the Witness done to the Traveler, and where has it gone? These questions have a frustrating quality because they arise from Lightfall’s unexpected missteps, but Bungie has promised answers starting in the newly launched Season of the Deep. It’s looking good so far, with a fantastic nautical theme and the uptake of some interesting narrative threads that have long been dangling.

Bungie’s treatment of its characters is another area in which reassurance is needed after recent events. Both Rohan and Amanda Holliday’s deaths were poorly handled; their heavy telegraphing elicited a kind of sad, weary dread – ‘oh no, I can’t believe they’re going to kill Amanda’ – rather than whatever Bungie was hoping for, and obviously removed any surprise from the events themselves. They were also milked for impact on the motivations of others and, in Amanda’s case, for thematic relevance, giving it an uncomfortable means-to-an-end feeling. With the deaths of Rasputin and Cayde, there was a respect and understanding for who they were rather than how they could serve the messaging (yes, we knew Cayde’s death was coming, but because it was openly declared rather than clumsily foreshadowed).

A screenshot of Destiny 2's Commander Zavala.

It’s crucial that Bungie relearns this delicate craft, because the coming seasons will pose the biggest challenge in character writing yet: how we say goodbye to Zavala. Lance Reddick’s passing was felt all around the world by millions who admired his work, and in the Destiny community, the tributes were truly touching. We so appreciated the fact that he played and loved this game as much as any of us that for weeks any instance of The Tower would find dozens of Guardians kneeling by their beloved commander. Recasting Zavala just doesn’t feel like an option, which means he’ll probably have to ‘exit’ the game for good once Reddick’s recorded material is used. Whatever form that takes, Bungie needs to handle it in a way that recognizes and respects his importance to Destiny, and to its players.

Away from the story, there’s a lot of work that needs doing under Destiny’s proverbial bonnet. Technical issues, from in-game quirks like invisible weapons to alarming character deletion bugs, as well as crashes and server outages, have become more frequent since The Witch Queen’s release. Bungie did say that the need to keep the game lean for technical reasons was a factor in its controversial sunsetting policy, and now that policy has been reversed we may be paying the price. I expect most players would prefer the tradeoff and I’m no programmer, so I’ve no idea how much can be done here.

Finally, we need to talk about the meta. With Lightfall we got Destiny 2’s fifth subclass, and the community’s hunger for new loot, both Exotic and Legendary, with new perks in new random combinations is insatiable. Getting all this to play nicely together is exponentially more difficult as more is added, but not all game-breaking capabilities come from deep-cut builds that mix dozens of forgotten perks (though some of the builds that we’ve been seeing lately are a bit silly). Here’s Fallout on how a single new weapon perk can easily get hand cannons to two-tap in PvP:

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If there’s one common theme to this wish list, it’s the difficulty of navigating a situation of escalating complexity. In technical load, sandbox balancing, and even storytelling, Destiny 2 is in the most bloated and complicated state it has ever been. But in its story at least, everything up to Lightfall had a feeling of pieces fitting together. With the Veil, Neomuna, and the Cloud Striders, Lightfall added massive extraneous new elements just as everything should’ve been sliding into place.

Fresh from the disappointment of Lightfall’s story and surveying yet another messy meta, many will ask how much more of our patience Bungie deserves to get things right. Despite Lightfall, Destiny has now achieved enough to make it feel like an unkind question to me, and plenty of players have shown they’ll stick with Destiny whatever happens. Moreover, we’re now in the home stretch. Yes, when it comes to the ultimate question of what it all means and where Destiny has been heading, Bungie has been kicking the can down the road for a long time, and we’d probably all have preferred the payoff to be more evenly distributed. But we’re running out of road now, and so – call it copium, call it sunk cost, call it what you will – I’m in for one more year.