The Queen is dead, and the King has returned.
The inevitable has finally happened. I'll admit, my break from Destiny 2 lasted a lot longer than I thought it would - but the combined one-two punch of a reveal of the next season (with its changes to the Arc sub-class), and the announcement of the upcoming Lightfall expansion managed to catch my attention in a way that nothing else about the game has for a long, long time. As is usually the case, my son was the real herald for my return. We watched the Bungie livestream together, and there were several moments at which we caught one another's eye - a subtle nod of approval passing between us. Eventually, in one of those moments, he voiced it.
"We're going back, aren't we Dad."
It wasn't a question; it was a straight statement. A vocal acknowledgement of a simple fact. As usual, he was absolutely right. A couple of hours' of download traffic later, we found ourselves in orbit and smashing our way through The Witch Queen campaign.
As someone who bailed on Destiny in the aftermath of Beyond Light, I had a lot of new things to take in. I think I'm right in saying that since I last really paid attention, all of the light subclasses have been overhauled. There's a new type of weapon in the game (the glaives - which I absolutely LOVE). Some of the Hive have found a way to use the light against us, and there's been a bunch of sandbox changes. It was a daunting thing to go back to - even if a lot of the basic rhythms of the game remain largely the same.
Playing through the Witch Queen campaign with my son though, will definitely go down as being one of the gaming highlights of the year. We played through Destiny and Destiny 2 together a couple of years ago - our involvement with the game having regular peaks and troughs ever since. That campaign? It's up there with the one that came out with the Forsaken expansion - in terms of its sheer scope, scale, and impact on the gameplay and the world the game takes place in. It bookends a chapter of the game's narrative that's played out over the course of the last couple of years, and ended with a truly epic boss battle followed by a cutscene that managed to deliver a twist and a dozen new questions simultaneously. Coming to it as late as we did, we found that the end of the campaign left us with two obvious things to do next - the Grasp of Avarice dungeon (to obtain our Gjallarhorn rocket launchers) and the re-vamped and re-launched King's Fall raid.
Grasp of Avarice is... wonderful. An almost perfectly balanced three-player activity that starts off with a nod to the loot cave that haunted the early days of the first game, that then introduces mechanics and builds upon them through the course of the adventure. It's never mind-bogglingly complex - the mechanics slowly build upon one another as the encounters progress until the final boss, which requires you to understand everything that you've learned along the way in order to overcome it. The pacing of the dungeon itself is also wonderful - fierce combat gives way to platforming, which in turn gives way to environmental puzzles, which lead to more combat. There's even a sparrow race thrown in.
There were several moments in this dungeon that really leaned hard into nostalgia for the first game - starting it in the Cosmodrome, the musical notes that are played as you get the first view of your destination on the horizon after navigating the first cave - and the emphasis on using scorch cannons. It was released as part of the Bungie 30th Anniversary celebration - and it's really in that context that it works the best. There are even musical nods to Halo as you progress through the encounters, and the Wrath of the Machine vibes are present all the way through. Finishing it set us well on our way to obtaining our Gjallarhorn rocket launchers; weapons which are basically part of Destiny's DNA at this point.
So far then, so good. But the real reason for me to head back in? King's Fall.
I spent a staggering amount of time in the King's Fall raid back in the first game. Hundreds of hours. It's addition to the game was the catalyst to my finding a clan and then a raid team - a group of guys that I still play with to this day (although these days we play Halo and Forza Horizon more often than we do Destiny). Just as I was with the re-vamped Vault of Glass, I was eager to hop in and see what Bungie had done to accommodate Guardians that are more powerful and more mobile than ever before.
The answer? It's a careful and considered modernisation of what was, arguably, THE defining moment of the first game. The general structure of the raid is identical, with each combat encounter just subtly remixed to take advantage of our new abilities and weapons. To say much more than that, honestly, would be to ruin it - but having run it a couple of times now I can safely say that the update to it is what a lot of us old-timers hoped it would be. Familiar enough for us to figure out, different enough for us to need to think about things for a moment, with lots and lots of strategies proving viable once the core mechanics have been sussed out. This was a raid that I approached with my rose-tinted spectacles firmly in place for - and I was anything but disappointed. The visual overhaul to it is the most immediately noticeable thing; King's Fall was DARK in Destiny - here it's been lightened up considerably, and the green sheen that used to smother the whole thing has been washed away. The effect is that an area of frankly staggering beauty and scale is, somehow, even prettier - and feels even more massive. The entrance of Oryx, The Taken King at the raid's climax is still an awe-inspiring moment.
So, it's all good then? Well... it's at this point that the tale stagnates a little. Having spent a load of time running through all the new things, I found that all that was really left for me to do was the traditional Destiny grind - and it was at that point that I kind of ran out of steam. Again. The Crucible is still a broken mess, Gambit is still less fun than it feels like it should be - and I couldn't bring myself to run strikes in the knowledge that I've run the vast majority of the ones that are in rotation hundreds of times each before. After two weeks of serious fun (and let's be straight - it was REALLY serious fun) I feel as though I've perhaps hit the end of the road again with Destiny for now. The seasonal bits and pieces going on are... fine - but again, at their core they're nothing really new. There's a season pass that I feel almost obligated to max out having paid for it - but once that's done, I'm not sure how long I'll carry on playing for.
That sounds bad, right? Well, I don't see it as being a bad thing. This return to Destiny is the latest of many, but it's the first that really feels like it's recalibrated my relationship with the game in a positive way. In the past, I've often felt that Destiny was a game I either HAD to play all the time, or could NEVER touch. This little foray back to it has shown me that, actually, I can play it for a bit - seeing what I want to and obtaining what interests me - and then wander off and play other things for a bit. That's an empowering realisation - and it might well lead to me taking shorter breaks from it in future.
How are you getting on with the latest season of Destiny? Have you slapped Oryx yet? Hit me up on Twitter and let me know!