There's something about Destiny 2 that makes it inescapable for me.
This time last year, I was swallowed by Forsaken - and beginning to bang my head against the grind so hard that I decided to take a long break from it only a couple of months later. I'm not sure whether I ever intended my departure to be permanent; reading back over posts from that time, I'd become frustrated at being forced to engage in content I didn't like (Gambit!) in order to progress and was concerned that the upcoming season pass was going to make some of that content even more essential to progression. I think I was also just exhausted by the franchise. Bungie's worlds of Guardians, Fallen, Vex, Cabal, Taken and Scourge had held me enthralled for several years by that point - and I was becoming aware of how much I was missing out on by spending pretty much all of my limited gaming time playing just one thing, especially when that one thing had started to feel less and less like fun and more and more like some kind of obligation. I skipped out on the season pass but kept the game close - through my clan I always knew what was going on. Reckoning sounded like fun, as did Menagerie - but I wasn't prepared to put my hand in my pocket again. There were too many other things to play.
But now, ahead of the launch of Shadowkeep, Bungie have taken all of that content free-to-play for Forsaken owners. With Shadowkeep looking as impressive as it does, I figured it'd be OK for me to dip a toe back into the water. Right? I mean, what could possibly go wrong?
Since that day back in December of 2018, I've wandered back a couple of times with varying results. A quick run of a strike was fine. An inter-clan PvP event made me realise just how much of what little talent I had had been lost - I was never a great Crucible player but the drubbing I ended up on the receiving end of did nothing to make me want to re-engage. Even with the bit of activity I've engaged in over the last few weeks, I've not yet really become a permanent member of the player-base again. I suspect that may be about to change - but I'll get to that in a bit. I guess what I really want to talk about here is what stands out about Destiny 2 for me as I return to it. Elements of the game have changed, some a little and some a lot. Other things, I guess, have just kind of slipped my mind during my absence from it. These are things that I probably did notice, once upon a time... but as I fell into the grind of hitting the same old content over and over and over again, I started taking them for granted. On my return, I've been hit over the head by some of these things.
The first of these is just how the game looks and sounds. During my time away from Destiny 2, I dabbled in a couple of other first person shooters - never staying with any of them long enough to really become properly attached. Not one of them looked or sounded anywhere near as good as Destiny 2. This isn't something that has changed while I was away. It's just that, like most Destiny players, I stopped paying attention to what was going on around me as my eyes were always on the prize. When you're running the same strike and experiencing the environment for the thousandth time, it's easy to stop paying attention to just what you're running through and what you're hearing. You're just focused on racing through the parts you can skip, clearing the bits you have to do as efficiently as possible and then melting that boss at the end. You've seen it all so many times that the wonder is gone. Take a long break though, and that wonder comes back. Destiny was always a good looking game, but getting my Titan through the Forsaken questline and re-visiting pretty much every location in the game really caused me to step back and open my eyes to the astonishing visual world that Bungie have built, here. The Tangled Shore and the Dreaming City are obvious standouts, but even the older locations like Nessus and the EDZ are incredible when you see them through new eyes. The music is wonderful, and you can still identify individual exotics by the sound of a round being fired.
The next one is just how it plays. Again, nothing "new" here - it's shoot, grenade, melee, repeat, SUPER as it ever was, but all of those things just feel so good. A lot of it's down to the sound design - everything you fire makes a satisfying boom as it hurls death projectiles at whatever's nearby. Even the way enemies collapse is rewarding, whether it's the helmet-popping gas explosion of a Cabal centurion or the implosion of a Taken thrall.
The big one, though, feels like the content. When I took my break, Destiny 2 was probably in the best place it had ever been from a content perspective - the Dreaming City in particular was a massive, weekly-evolving mass of secrets to find and explore. The Last Wish raid was in the process of being conquered by the various DoD Storm raid teams. The Ascendant Throne dungeon was something that was eagerly looked forward to when it rolled around on a three week cycle, while Iron Banner offered up a week's worth of kickass PvP once a month. On the outside, things were good - from my perspective maybe too good, with more to do than I could possibly keep up with. There was a problem though, and that was progression. I could complete lots of content and get lots of loot - but if I wanted to use that loot to level up a different piece of equipment, I needed Enhancement Cores. They weren't difficult to get, but they were tedious to get. At that time, you could get them from Spider in the Tangled Shore. He'd sell them in exchange for another (comparatively scarce) currency at a rate that increased exponentially with each subsequent purchase. The end result was grinding materials to exchange for another material, or accepting that by using the things you wanted to use you were sacrificing light - and in Destiny, that's sacrificing both defense and lethality. It just felt like a bent system that actively worked against me being able to do what I wanted to, forcing me to engage with parts of the game I didn't enjoy in an attempt to overcome it. Those attempts were often unsuccessful.
This feels as though it's changed a lot already - and by all accounts will change even more with Shadowkeep. Sliding back into the game casually, I'm already finding that I'm getting a lot more of these than I ever was before with several different bounty types providing them reliably for just doing things I'd do anyway by playing the game. This has allowed me, with a single character, to level up while maintaining an armour and weapon set that I actually like using.
I've been a wander into the Menagerie as well (I'm yet to try Reckoning, I assume Gambit is a part of that...) and had really good fun doing it. I need to figure out how the Chalice works, but that's almost an aside at this point. The encounter design in that feature is really good fun - so many raid mechanics in there that it almost feels like a raid training ground, which is no bad thing. I can see me spending some more time in there. I'm also in the process of doing the first Black Armoury quest and kinda looking forward to seeing what the Forges have to offer. There's an awful lot for me to do now - to the point where I can apparently pick and choose the pieces I like and still feel like I'm making progress without having to endure doing the stuff I enjoy less. That freedom of choice is all I ever wanted, without really knowing it.
So... what does all of this actually lead to? Right now, if I'm honest, I'm not sure. At the moment, I'm enjoying a renewed relationship with Destiny 2 - if a slightly tentative one. I still think it's the best feeling FPS game I've ever played, and I enjoy it on that level. I'm still not prepared to go all-in with it though. Maybe it really leaves me exactly where I've been for a while - wondering if I can carry on enjoying it alongside all the other things I want to play. Or maybe what I'm finding is that the best way for me to play it is to take a break for ages then roll back to it aggressively for a couple of weeks and smashing my way through the new stuff. One character might help, although I've tried and failed with that in the past, too. I can't see myself becoming the raid-junkie that I was, or ever going in for Nightfall high scores. I guess I'm going to try to be a casual, doing the bits I like and ignoring the bits I don't and maybe pursuing the occasional exotic. But I'll be picking up Shadowkeep - which even three months ago I had no interest in.
Dammit, Bungie. Just when I thought I was out, you went and dragged me right back in.