Season 22 in Destiny 2 is closing out, though the narrative developments are almost an afterthought compared to the behind-the-scenes drama occurring within Bungie. As with last season, we’re recapping events and offering up some criticism.
“Season of The Witch” could almost be considered a love letter to The Witch Queen, as the central premise involves bringing back Savathun, the Witch Queen of the Hive. The Vanguard has been forced to accept that they kinda screwed the pooch when they offed her before, particularly when it comes to dealing with the other surviving Hive god, Xivu Arath. The problem being that Savathun can’t be trusted as far as a Guardian could spit, and that any sort of effort at “crowd control” to keep the Lucent Brood from getting in the way would only strengthen Xivu. Somebody has to thread the needle between making sure Savathun can’t stab the Vanguard in the back and keeping the body count down to a minimum in order to starve Xivu Arath of the “tribute” she gains from wanton violence. It requires somebody with an extensive, nigh on intimate, knowledge of the Hive and the bizarre rituals that form their magic. Someone like Eris Morn.
Over the course of the season, we watch Eris Morn go to some pretty serious lengths in order to beat the Hive at their own game. Forging a link with Ahsa (the proto-Worm God from Season 21), Eris invokes a ritual to become a Hive god herself, stealing tribute from Xivu Arath as Guardians undertake missions in a heretofore unknown portion of Savathun’s Throne World known only as “Savathun’s Spire.” The Spire contains multiple levels and sections, and discovering all the secrets within covers a lot of ground. The basic “Spire” activity (not to be confused with the Spire of The Watcher dungeon) isn’t fundamentally terrible, but Bungie keeps doubling down on matchmade activities and expecting people to work together flawlessly. The Imbaru Engine, another section of the Spire, is more of a puzzle challenge which was doled out over the course of weeks, and required the player to play through other seasonal content before reaching the final (and very abstruse) puzzle.
This season, we got a new “Exotic Mission Rotator.” Cycling on a weekly basis, players who missed out on the missions for Dead Man’s Tale (scout rifle), Dead Messenger (single-shot grenade launcher), and Revision Zero (pulse rifle) could take their chances to gain those weapons, as well as a chance to get any associated seasonal weapons which they hadn’t obtained previously, usually with Deepsight so they could be crafted. I know I missed out on some of them, so you can bet I ran the “Presage” mission quite a bit, and got pretty good at clearing it solo. It was nice to dip into missions I’d missed, and occasionally run ones I’d enjoyed like “Seraph Shield,” though the lack of seasonal mods which affect environmental modifiers like the booby traps kinda irritated me a little.
I know I mentioned that the drama around Bungie seemed to overshadow the storytelling in Season 22. But the story for this season really hit a lot harder than the last one. We’ve always known about Eris’ overdeveloped sense of vengeance when it comes to the Hive, just as we know about her dangerous degree of obsession when it comes to learning everything she can about her sworn enemy. When you want an expert on the Vex, you talk to Osiris. When you want an expert on the Hive, you go see Eris. And with the dark timelines hinted at in the lore, you were never quite sure if she was going to break bad, that this timeline we as Guardians were in would be another one where Eris went nuts and killed the Universe. When you hear Eris say, “One last atrocity,” in the final cutscene, it sends a bit of a shiver. One last little splinter of doubt to put the player on the edge of their seat. Suffice it to say, Eris’ final solution to the season’s big problem is quite elegant, both in its conception and execution. I never want to play cards with her.
Speaking of cards, Bungie tried to be clever this season with their unlocks and advancements by introducing the “Deck of Whispers,” and “The Lectern of Divination,” a Tarot-themed variant of the War Table from Season 20 to unlock bonuses such as guaranteed Deepsight weapons at the conclusion of a Spire run, as well as modifiers to help when doing the Spire or the related Altars of Summoning activity. The problems with this system were manifold. First, the time gating. I get you don’t want to let the whole story get told over the course of a week, but the timegates on this season somehow felt worse than last season or even the season before. Since you could only collect a given amount of cards for the Deck of Whispers each week, once you’d done so, you didn’t have much else to do except grind out Savathun’s Spire or Altars of Summoning for pinnacles and hope you managed to get a Deepsight weapon or two out of it.
Second, with regards to the Major Arcana (which provided modifiers for Spire and Altars runs), it felt like an extra set of steps to deal with, trying to get just the cards you needed to properly synergize with a build, then hope that they come up. By the same token, it felt like a lot of wasted effort getting all the Major Arcana and then being forced to whittle it down to five just to have a reasonable chance of making your build viable. Third, the rewards didn’t feel especially rewarding. Guaranteed Deepsight, OK, but that was a one time thing, good only till you finished your next Spire or Altars run. Hiding the mechanism to improve the tokens in Altars or access the Imbaru Engine behind a card drop (both randomized and time gated?!), not a great move. Finally, as with Deep Dives and Defiant Battlegrounds, the Witch’s Keys consumables used to “improve” rewards in the activities kept dropping faster than could easily be used, and the improvements to rewards were marginal at best.
The Altars of Summoning somehow managed to take the problems of the Deep Dives from last season and make them worse. The activity (designed for a fireteam of three), takes place in a special section of Savathun’s Spire. As you complete the Spire activity normally, or complete other tasks like public events or Nightfall strikes, you earn tokens of different rarity levels to be used in the Altars of Summoning. More difficult activities earned you more valuable tokens. Honestly, I’m a little surprised we didn’t have an Exotic-grade token, but that might have been a bridge too far for the devs. In any event, the rarity of token dictates the degree of challenge when performing the summoning. The problem being that in matchmade fireteams (when nobody can or will communicate), some idiot’s always slamming down the highest rarity token, which generates the highest challenge, which inevitably leads to failure and crappy loot drops because you as a fireteam have gotten your ass kicked and failed the objective! Substitute “Offerings” for “Pressure Dive modifier” and you see the problem.
While the Light Level cap didn’t move, the Light Level bonus for the season artifact was reset back to zero. This led to a high degree of dissatisfaction and contempt for these particular activities. Mechanically, I can see them as being the logical successor to the “Court of Oryx” activity from The Taken King, but that was a public event within the Dreadnaught, not a matchmade activity. By the end of the season, it was more manageable given that everybody had ground out fifteen or twenty bonus points for Light Level, but that’s not the point. Two seasons of matchmade activities where lower powered players get pounded for negligible returns isn’t fun. Bungie needs to either knock it off or figure out a way to throttle it so it’s not the uber-sweats who are enjoying themselves at everybody else’s expense.
Probably the lowest point of this season was the “Festival of The Lost” activity. Three weeks of running around “Haunted Lost Sectors,” shooting bosses in the face for “candy” currency which could only be used to buy grab bags which didn’t really have anything particularly interesting in them, and trying to unlock lore pages. As with Solstice (and pretty any quarterly event Bungie does in this game), we were teased with themed armor ornaments which we couldn’t get unless we bought them with Silver or had miraculously saved up enough Bright Dust for ONE ornament set. When your own player base derides an event as “Festival of The Cost,” you should realize that you’ve gone too far, but Bungie seemingly doesn’t care. We had “Eerie Engrams” this year, a new wrinkle which you could notionally use to focus for specific gear like Exotics or get a new event ornament in the same vein as the ornament drops for Gambit, Trials of Osiris, or Nightfalls.
Unfortunately, the event ornaments were primarily available through RNG, and while some folks I know bagged a dozen or more, others may have only gotten the one which was guaranteed as part of the event card. Me, I scored two. Total. It was a miserable grind which barely coughed up any rewards. Adding insult to injury, the intrinsic skins on the event weapons were centered around an eye-mugging pink, which looked positively terrible on all of the weapons. Worse, the Exotic focusing wasn’t any good if you hadn’t already gotten the Exotic previously, so basically the same thing Rahool does but with fake cobwebs. The lore book wasn’t terrible, but certainly not worth the agony of dealing with people who were undergunned to deal with the Headless Ones in the Haunted Lost Sectors.
Bungie’s antics towards the end of the season haven’t exactly calmed the nerves of the player base. For one thing, they unexpectedly extended Season 22 by three weeks, a side effect no doubt of possible logistical issues within the studio. The upcoming expansion, The Final Shape, is reportedly going to be delayed until sometime in the summer. And since Bungie decided to tack on a few extra weeks on this season without any warning, they could do the same next season until right up to the last minute.
Further upsetting the base are changes to the game economy and a rash of incoming nerfs for Season 23. The economy changes are pretty significant, with “legendary shards” going away and a commensurately higher cost on glimmer. There’s undoutbtedly going to be growing pains, and I imagine there’s probably going to be further fiddling with the game’s economy right up to the launch of The Final Shape.
It’s the nerfs that are probably going to be causing more of an uproar. This season, according to Bungie’s data, some 20% of all Titan characters were primarily running a “Banner of War” build. The build, incorporating one of the new Strand aspects for Titans, is a basic “punch things to death” build which also buffs allies within a certain radius. So, because people are playing it and enjoying it, Bungie is nerfing its effectiveness. I’m going to say it out loud: what the hell is Bungie’s design philosophy at this point? Because it looks like a complete shambles to me. They have the stupidest expression of “survivorship bias” I have ever seen. They take data and use that not to improve other classes, but to gimp ones that are proving to be “too effective.” And it’s particularly weird when you consider Destiny 2 is fundamentally designed as a shooter.
Being a Hunter main for a long time, I did appreciate the ability to flick throwing knives at the heads of enemies to possibly get ammo bricks when I was a little low (back in the time when Primary weapons didn’t have unlimited ammo). And I used to like getting those knives back on a critical hit to keep things going. But I never wanted to make it my main method of mayhem. I had weapons for that sort of thing. If I was down to my throwing knives and grenades, it was because I’d been careless and used up too much ammo for too little damage.
Swords were first introduced in The Taken King back in the original Destiny. And I will not lie, I like using swords. I’m a little irritated that using swords requires Heavy Ammo, but it was a genuine improvement to the gameplay, another option to lay waste to the enemy. When Glaive-class weapons came out, those strange bastard combinations of spear and shotgun with a shielding mechanism, I found them interesting. But I was certainly irked that it replaced your “unarmed” melee attack in particular without allowing you to gain the benefits of making a melee attack in general. And for a studio that seems to be in love with long presses on controller buttons, it struck me as odd Bungie couldn’t (or more likely wouldn’t, given their apparent hostility towards fun) allow a long press to let you channel your class melee attack through a glaive. And yet, Bungie keeps trying to make players punch enemies to death quickly and and efficiently, then nerfs the hell out of abilities that make it possible for players to do so and survive the experience! It’s frustrating for those players who are trying to play in that fashion on a number of levels. A buddy of mine is a fan of the “punch things to death” playstyle, and their biggest complaint before was that people kept killing enemies they needed to punch in order to stay alive. With the upcoming nerfs, I don’t imagine you’re going to be seeing a lot of people adopting that playstyle going forward, yet there’s too much gear out there which is centered around it.
You may be thinking, “Well, if punching things to death is going to be less viable, doesn’t that put more emphasis on weapons?” Yes, but that has its own problems. Frankly, there’s a lot of crappy weapons out there. Weapon crafting mitigates it to some extent, but the truly high-end weapons require regular raiding and dungeon running. Finding a raid group that knows what it’s doing through LFG is about on par with getting hit by a lightning bolt right after buying a Powerball ticket that wins you the jackpot. And finding a clan who is active about raids but isn’t obsessive about it is rarer still. Finding a few buddies who can team up with you for dungeon runs is a little better, but there are very few weapons out of the dungeons which have Deepsight, which means you can’t craft the damn things. The last time Bungie tried to address this problem, we got “sunsetting,” which took a lot of weapons out of play entirely, but also didn’t allow them to improve as the game changed. It’s not going to get any better, probably even after The Final Shape.
Compared to the fumbles of Season 21, “Season of The Witch” delivered a strong narrative for players to enjoy. The mechanical problems of the previous season were amplified in some respects, but Bungie rarely if ever stumbles when they’re telling a story centering around the Hive. We’ll see if they can keep the magic going when “Season of The Wish” takes off for the final season of Destiny 2.