Destiny 2 Season 21 Recap

We previously reviewed Destiny 2: Lightfall shortly after it came out, and touched on Season 20’s content at the same time. Since Destiny 2 is going to be putting out seasonal content, it seems like it might be a good idea going forward to at least recap the content for our readers, as well as give our thoughts on the matter.

The Good

“Guardians jumping around, blasting Hive and Taken in the face, and making off with loot? My kind of party.” –Drifter, probably

Season 21, known as “Season of The Deep,” put Guardians back on Titan for the first time since “Season of Arrivals.” We got to reconnect with Commander Sloane (a fixture from Destiny 2‘s original launch), as well as explore deeper into the Titan Arcology through the Ghosts of The Deep dungeon activity along with the weekly seasonal missions. Of particular import was the introduction of the “pressure” mechanic. Traversing the methane seas of Titan, including the areas of the Arcology which were flooded, required hitting air pockets to replenish player overshields to survive. Thankfully, we didn’t have to juggle combat along with the air pocket mechanic. That would have been a painful experience, owing to the hampered movement in the “underwater” sections.

Seasonal weapons gave us reprises of pieces from the “Gambit Prime” era, along with their craftable Taken-skinned counterparts. Chasing “god rolls” among the former, as usual, is a grueling quest which demands a lot of seasonal engrams. Which in turn demands a lot of play in the seasonal activities. The six-player Salvage activity was fairly decent, though keeping random players on task proved a bit of a challenge. We’ll get into the Deep Dive activity momentarily.

The annual Solstice activity took up a couple of weeks, and for the most part, was pretty enjoyable. Some of my buddies remarked that the European Aerial Zone map used for Solstice would probably make one hell of an interesting Crucible map. I can sorta see it, though it’d probably be worse than Widow’s Court when getting into sniper duels. As with Salvage, Solstice was not without problems, and ones which were more fundamental than the inherent chaos of a matchmade activity.

The Bad

“I am Iron Titan!”
“Shut up, Bob. Crayons have no iron.”

Season 20 had a deeply unsatisfying ending to it, narratively speaking. We lost longtime ship dealer/pilot/badass Amanda Holliday in a poorly written death scene. And with that example in mind, players could be forgiven for expecting the same thing to happen to Sloane in Season 21. Between psychic links with proto-Worm Gods, Taken-infused limbs, and the usual occupational hazards of being a Guardian (along with hearing Xivu Arath screaming in the back of her head), it seemed highly likely that Sloane wasn’t long for the world.

Another narrative casualty of Bungie’s efforts to eliminate every character they seemingly can before The Final Shape expansion releases. So it was something of a shock that Sloane did survive, though not before we had a brief cameo of sorts from Xivu Arath promising all manner of death, destruction, and violence. Narratively, though, it felt just as cheap as killing off Holliday.

And the story problems never stopped throughout the season. We had some interesting vignettes between Commander Zavala and Saint-14, as well as some good exchanges between Saladin and the Drifter which hints at just how long they’ve known each other. But the overall narrative for the season, centering on Sloane and the after-effects of being trapped “behind enemy lines” as it were for an extended period, just didn’t seem to quite grab the attention it should have. Having Sloane serve as the loudspeaker for an interstellar (if not intergalactic) cetacean seemed like an interesting conceit at first, but it got old fast. The whole PTSD element of Sloane’s character arc felt cheap and unearned.

But all of that pales to the story nuggets we received through the Veil Containment “activity” and the “big” reveal regarding the origin of the Witness. Veil Containment was a spot on the Neptune map where players made their way to the titular control room (and site of the final boss battle for the Lightfall campaign) and unlocked an audio log each week from one Chioma Esi, an Ishtar Collective scientist first mentioned in the original Destiny as a hapless researcher caught by the Vex on Venus long ago. She was also the spouse of Maya Sundaresh, possibly the only person who could make the megalomaniacal Clovis Bray look good by comparison.

We spent weeks going through the logs, slowly learning of the early days of the colony expedition that landed on Neptune and which would become Neomuna. More disturbingly, we learned about what happened after Sundaresh left BrayTech on Europa, and why Neomuna doesn’t seem to have any Exos roaming around (outside of visiting Guardians). It’s decidedly grim stuff. And while the writing and the voice acting is all top-notch, the piece by piece delivery serves as an impediment to the mood of the story.

In truth, the story that Veil Containment hid for so many weeks might have gone off better as collectible elements in a dungeon, one tied to the locale. Something that held a tighter degree of narrative tension. Though given the way the story ended, I’m not even sure that would have been enough. Without giving any spoilers, it’s safe to say that I felt mighty cheated once that last log finished. More so than when Holliday died.

Apparently, when the going gets tough, the Guardians build giant aquariums in spaceships.

Meanwhile, the big reveal regarding the Witness came as a “motion comic” cutscene after a weekly mission for Sloane. And…it kinda fell flat. There are times when the “motion comic” aesthetic works, and Destiny 2 has used it to good effect in the past. But this one feels like it should have been more momentous. This should have been right up there with the reveal that the Traveler gifted the Light to the Witch Queen, or the final scene at the end of “Season of The Seraph” where Rasputin sacrifices himself to thwart Xivu Arath. It should have been epic. It should have been awe-inspiring. Instead, we got a less-than-inspiring motion comic that inadvertently ripped off some fan art (which, let’s be fair, is a good reason to stop doing the motion comic thing entirely).

And all this wasn’t the worst to come…

The Ugly

“Come out to Titan, they said. We’ll kill a few Hive, have a few laughs…”

Forget, for a moment, the parlous state of Gambit and the hellscape of Crucible. The single ugliest and most viciously hostile activity to be thrust upon Destiny 2 players had to be Deep Dives. This was the 3-player activity, reserved for standard fireteams, and superficially, the premise was interesting. You descend down into the depths of the Arcology, taking on different tasks and fighting your way down to the final boss. Sounds simple, right?

Wrong. Bungie dropped the ball hard. The first mistake was time-gating the activity so that the deepest depths weren’t available right at the start. Compounding this was the “Pressure Trial” modifier. When all three players flipped a switch in the form of sentient LED and cryptic lunatic Toland the Shattered, the current level would grant a second set of challenges which players would have to complete alongside the challenge of the current depth level. And since you were on a timer, a flub in target elimination would send you straight to the boss with a commensurate loss of cool loot opportunities.

When you consider that random players rarely if ever talk to each other through Bungie’s chat system, and you’re likely to be matched up with players from different platforms (thus killing the opportunity to coordinate through voice chat on the console itself), it’s little wonder that players might find themselves abandoned without any explanation. And since the activity prohibited people from joining in during the middle of the game, you had a lot of player frustration going on because there was no way to lay out whether you were going for a straight run or a Pressure Trials run of Deep Dive.

Now, take all those pain points and roll them into the final insult: the seasonal Exotic weapon quest. The prize was the first Stasis scout rifle, a piece named “Wicked Implement.” The insult came about because you had to launch the Deep Dive activity, activate a series of statues with tokens obtained from the new fishing activity, and clear the second depth level before taking a side door and going on a timed rampage to cut down Taken hordes and kill a Tormentor final boss in a dimly lit maze. It was like Bungie deliberately thought, “How can we make our players hate us more?” and then tried to answer the question. It magnified the already excruciating Deep Dive process to the point nobody’s trying to go for the Deep Dives or the Exotic quest. I’m sure there are people who have completed it. I just haven’t met any of them.

“Behold my giant e-peen!”

And then, you had the new dungeon. “Ghosts of The Deep” is, in some respects, the antithesis to the “Spire of The Watcher” dungeon from Season 19. Instead of going up, you’re going down, deep into the Arcology and a little bit outside of it. Unfortunately, you’re also having to deal with quite possibly the tankiest bullet sponge of a boss outside of a raid you’re ever going to meet. It’s not a pleasant or enjoyable experience.

As an old-school Destiny player, and somebody who cleared “King’s Fall” a number of times in its original iteration, I’m pleased to see Oryx (or at least his corpse) making a cameo appearance. But even this little hit of nostalgia isn’t enough to make up for the punishing slog of the two boss encounters in this dungeon. I understand there was an outcry (mostly from streamers) along the lines of “These are too easy! We want harder challenges!” But Bungie’s attempt to cater to those voices (which are distinctly in the minority) went way too far. Hopefully the upcoming reprised raid, Crota’s End (and its loot), will be a step in the right direction.

If one had to sum up “Season of The Deep,” the first word to come to mind perversely is “shallow.” Compared to the writing and activities on “Season of The Seraph” (which really did hit me as probably the high point of writing in Destiny 2 since launch), Season 21 felt like it was trying to coast on nostalgia. I can accept that not every season can be an absolute blast every time. But this was barely any fun for any length of time. It didn’t inspire. It didn’t lay any serious groundwork, narratively speaking, for what’s to come. Instead, Bungie decided to torture their players for no reason other than the fact they could. I kept waiting for it to get good, and when the storyline reached its conclusion, I felt considerably less incentive to play further. Whether Bungie can turn things around in Season 22 or not is a giant question mark, but I’m not hopeful about the likely answer.

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