“Okay, so that’s the Crow, and he’s the guy who killed Cayde-6, and it’s a really big deal that he’s back and that we’re working with him–because we murdered him,” I explained, somewhat breathless, over the Discord voice chat filled with four of my oldest friends. “You really should play Forsaken before this.”
Nobody said anything for a few long moments as I thought about what other story elements of Destiny 2 might be relevant to the mission we were about to run. As I thought about it, two things dawned on me. First, that anything I could tell them about Destiny would be relevant because their introduction to the story and the world was so thin. Second, that they probably didn’t care.
When Bungie released Beyond Light, the latest expansion to Destiny 2, it added new content to the game while removing a whole lot of old content. Several major in-game destinations were “vaulted,” ostensibly because Destiny 2’s install size was getting too big and because those areas of the game were getting too little attention, both from the developers and from players. But because of that, tons of old missions are now gone from Destiny 2–like the vanilla campaign that introduces you to the world and its characters.
That includes Cayde-6, Destiny 2’s biggest personality, who was murdered as part of the story in the Forsaken expansion. Without some time spent with Cayde, his murder means a lot less–as does the current story in the Season of the Hunt, about how Cayde’s killer has returned as a Guardian, with no memory of his past crimes (or the fact that we, the players, hunted him down to exact revenge on him).
So for my four friends, who are brand-new to Destiny 2, a huge part of the game’s context is just gone. The earliest they can start with Destiny 2’s story is Forsaken, which builds on a huge amount of story that came before it. Central to Forsaken is Cayde-6, with whom previous Destiny 2 players had spent a full year interacting with (and for Destiny 1 players, even more time). Just beyond that is the story of the Dreaming City, which suffers a curse that repeats time every three weeks. That’s the work of Savathun, an enemy Destiny 2 has been building up since its very first day, and all of that context is related to The Taken King expansion to Destiny 1. Without the old content, how are new players supposed to know any of this stuff?
It’s true that Destiny has historically not been great about delivering story–but it’s been getting better. Bungie continues to evolve the way it works the vast, fascinating lore behind Destiny 2 into its more immediate events, and that’s culminated in Beyond Light. If you’re jumping into the game through New Light, the free-to-play option, you miss that story, though, because you have to pay in. Not that you’d understand any of it anyway, since Beyond Light is predicated on all the story beats of the last year, plus things that happened all the way back in Destiny 1’s campaign.
What’s frustrating about all this is that I have come to really like Destiny 2’s story. Yes, it’s hard to parse–most of the critical, fun, interesting, and meaningful backstory is segmented and hidden away on lore messages attached to weapons and armor, and that’s to say nothing of the online-only Grimoire Cards that held all the lore in Destiny 1. But Bungie is getting better and better at weaving together weird narrative threads and incentivizing digging into the lore while bringing those beats to the forefront. Slowly, Destiny has gotten deeper than just shooting a random new huge alien thing every couple of months. It’s developed a real sense of foreboding over the last year, with seeds planted years ago beginning to sprout in really interesting ways.
I’m glad that my friends have jumped into Destiny 2 but I don’t think they’ll ever really come to appreciate the storytelling undercurrent of the game. How could they, without any setup of who their characters are, who they’re fighting, why they’re fighting, and what they’re fighting for? And that means their interest in Destiny will stay fairly shallow, reliant on its solid gameplay but with no investment in the larger world.
And that probably means that their stay in Destiny 2 will ultimately be short-lived. They might find it fun and exciting now, with the full breadth of available content laid out before them, and having never before experienced the game’s best ideas, like its super-intricate raids–I took them through their first, Deep Stone Crypt, only a few days ago. But as soon as they’ve played the content through a few times, gotten over chasing some of the better guns, or hit a lull in new things to experience, they’re probably going to fall off. Destiny 2 just isn’t doing anything to capture their long-term interest–in its current state, it’s almost impossible to get them invested in the game world. Why would they care about seeing the ultimate plans of Savathun or Xivu Arath, or whether Eris Morn and the Exo Stranger can resist the Darkness, or what will happen when the Crow finally learns who it was that killed him before his Guardian resurrection? They barely know who any of these characters are.
I’m mostly pretty understanding of the adjustments Bungie has made to Destiny 2 and the reasons it has put forward about why it has needed to make them. And it’s worth noting that the New Light experience that was added with Beyond Light is a lot better than the missions that were bringing new players into Destiny 2. What’s available in the Cosmodrome does a lot to explain how the game works, introduce some of the characters, and bring players into the role of a solar system-defending Guardian.
But right now, it sure seems like it sucks to be new to Destiny 2. Bungie has built a huge, intricate game world, and it’s largely indecipherable for new players. It feels like such a waste to have so much deep, fascinating, weird storytelling in the game, and have it continue to be so difficult to reach. There are players who, like me, might eventually find that they’re enamored of the strange sci-fi fantasy world Bungie has created–but Destiny 2 has to stop making it so difficult for them to learn and care about that world. Otherwise, it will probably lose them.