A Single, Evolving World.
As I've grown older and (hopefully) wiser, games that manage to grab me can't only be great in and of themselves; I am also drawn in by passion, and people. Two of my favorite examples to cite are Final Fantasy XIV, and Destiny 2. For now, the focus of what follows will be letter on the latter.
Greetings Bungie, my name is Bryan, and I'm a proud titan. (I'm also as long winded as Luke is so get ready!)
I've been an avid follower of Bungie's since the early Halo days. My wife and I met a few of you while waiting outside a Best Buy for the midnight release of Halo 3 in 2007. Your work has created a lot of amazing memories, and even more amazing friendships.
As with most of the general Destiny population, I was enamored with the Director's Cut that Luke Smith put out last year. The transparency and the honesty was refreshing, and the view behind the curtain gave me that much more respect for a team that I had held in high regard.
Now, part of my profession is "a content creator who comfortably sits in the mid-core." I've completed every raid (save for Wrath of the Machine), I tried Trials for the first time after missing the opportunity to do so in Destiny 1, and I read This Week at Bungie to my community every Thursday.
We tend to discuss it at length afterwards, especially the Director's Cuts. After reading Luke's 2020 insights, it occured to me that I did have an opinion that I felt worth writing about, one that revolves around the vision of "a single, evolving world."
We're making a lot of changes to Destiny 2 with Shadowkeep and New Light. We want Destiny 2 to be an amazing action MMO, in a single, evolving world, that you can play anytime, anywhere with your friends.
Before I go on, for what it's worth, I've enjoyed where Year 3 has gone narratively. I shrieked when I got dragged into the pyramid by the Darkness, went to where my people needed me after beating the Sanctified Mind, swooned under the sheer magnificence of Saint-XIV, and watched the Doritos slowly approach our system. Having the content reach back and pull Destiny 1's lore closer has been amazing to experience, with the Felwinter's Lie questline being the most recent example of that.
Alright. Here we go.
In the weeks leading up to Shadowkeep's release last year, Luke outlined an example of what a season could look like. The story he weaved was one that stuck with me through the seasons that followed. Some excerpts from that piece will follow to ground my thoughts in place, but if you haven't read "Seasons in Destiny 2's Third Year," I implore you to do so.
A week before the Season begins, all players receive a note in their mailbox. It simply reads: “I have returned from the stars. Meet me on Dec. 4 at 10:15 AM PST. —Ada” Once this note has been given out, a small countdown timer appears on the Traveler.
Very late in the Season, players notice Ada’s room looks like it’s being packed up. She’s leaving. The schematics that sat behind her are missing. Over the course of a few weeks, she packs her equipment and, in an event similar to her arrival, she vanishes.
As wonderful as the stories have been, the seasons themselves have felt… sterile. Like somebody woke up that morning and flipped a light switch. Once the beginning of the season hits, the switches are flipped.
It feels a lot like the current events (Guardian Games, Solstice, or The Dawning) do: all of a sudden the Tower is decked out in decorations that would take days to put together. If we were to respect the cadence of Luke's description it'd be more of a ease-in, ease-out mentality. But it hasn't quite panned out that way. The seasons of the Undying and Dawn started with a bang, but ended with a whimper. There's no easing, you just wait until reset for the next season to start.
I do realize that following Luke's plan to the letter presents a lot of problems from a gameplay standpoint. Grinding for those final rewards and that seal, for example. But I digress, I'll save the gameplay commentary for the more eloquent.
Learning about what's to come isn't done in-game, it's done through blog posts, PR, YouTube videos, and marketing. The one example that comes to mind is the transition from Dawn to Worthy—in which there was a cutscene that seemed to pit Osiris against Rasputin, but the payoff was outlined in a blog post. A portion of the more casual players in my own community didn't even realize that the post was there and threw it into the pile of unresolved storylines, like anything having to do with the Moon right now.
Maybe the example given of the transition from Armory to Drifter ended up to be one that lent itself to this specific type of transition. Worthy to Season 11's [REDACTED] can't very well transition the same way given the way the narrative is playing out, as anything told to us would be a spoiler.
But is it a fair assumption that this "single, evolving world's" story isn't just told in-game?
[...] Ada, her wares, and her forges are gone.
I have aphantasia, which is the absence of a working mind's eye. I operate knowing that I can't just close my eyes and see what the the Dawn's obelisks looked like, or the scaffolding at the tower during Undying. This makes this final point all the more important to me.
I remember how… discouraged I was when I went to see Ikora at the beginning of Dawn, only to see the Vex Gate scaffolding "turned off." The building of the Vex gate was an amazing illustration of Luke's vision, something that evolved week, over week, over week. But that type of progression created a sense of permanence for me. I didn't expect to see the scaffolding still there at the end of Undying, but I at least expected there to be some remnants of the girders that were drilled into the Tower, or the computer that Ikora had in front of her. This doesn't feel like "evolution" to me, it feels more like an event.
When I saw the Seraph bunkers in the EDZ, and on Io and the Moon, the feeling that immediately followed my excitement was one of dread. Dread that these bunker entrances looked so cool—but once Season 10 turned to 11, it'd be like they weren't there in the first place. Just like the obelisks from Dawn. It just feels even weirder this time around because I'm assuming that Rasputin is staying in the story for Season 11. If the bunker entrances just disappeared on June 10th without a trace, again it wouldn't feel like an "evolution." You need history to provide context for evolution.
I've been thinking about writing this for a couple of months now. I hadn't done it because I didn't want this to feel like one long rant. I know full well that you can't just keep the models from past seasons piling up. That runs counter to the ethos that the team has set with regards to maintenance and upkeep. But there is a mechanism that already exists in Destiny that I think would work well here—scannable objects.
Scannable objects always provided the random surprise-and-delight feeling for me when I started getting into Destiny 2. I had never really bothered with Grimoire Cards in my Destiny 1 days, so having scannable lore was an important addition for me. Finding Luna's grave on the Moon provided the "a-ha" moment I needed with regards to Luna's Howl.
Something should exist to tell the story of a season when that season ends. A single scannable that triggers Ghost to tell a story of how we helped Ikora built a Vex gate, or how we saved the greatest Titan that ever lived, would be a step forward. It'd provide context to newer guardians who happen to be wondering where the big Russian version of Shaxx came from.
Unfortunately, I know of people who burnt themselves out on Undying and probably won't be back until Season 12, given all the games that are being released this year. The fact that they won't have any in-game context as to what happened while they were gone saddens me. Sure, I'll always be ready and willing to catch them up, but was that really the intent? Shouldn't there be an in-game mechanism to do that, even if it's a small and simple one?
Anyway, if you've gotten this far, I want to thank you for hearing me out. I'm not usually one to write long-winded blog posts about games, but the narrative of Destiny is one of the stronger forces that keeps me playing. I want Bungie to continue to get better at navigating their new self-publishing world, and I'm proud of all the progress that's already been made. Thank you for all that you do, and know that there is a sea of grateful players out there who can't wait for what's next.
I look forward to Season 11, Season 12, Year 4, and beyond. And no matter what happens, my Titan's eyes will be up and ready to punch things.