As a longtime player of Bungie’s Destiny franchise, one of my favorite things is watching the studio’s changing approach to content delivery and storytelling. I think the studio’s work is at the forefront of living narrative delivery, helping to shape the industry’s perception of ongoing world-building and storytelling. They are certainly not the only studio exploring innovative ideas in the field. From games like Fortnite to World of Warcraft to Animal Crossing: New Horizons, developers are finding ways to engage players in the ever-changing game world.
I especially like the narrative pacing of Destiny 2’s latest arc, “The Lost Season.” The return of the two queens – Mara Soff and Savathurn – as central figures feels both important and exciting. The Astral Alignment campaign is fun at the same time, and features a compelling story pack: building a bridge that ultimately has a chance to free Savathûn from her prison and hopefully find the long-lost Osiris.
This week, new Exorcism quests wrap up Season of the Lost’s overarching storyline and set the stage for the Witch Queen’s massive expansion. As an event structure, it fits exactly what I’d like to see from a life game like Destiny. Here we have an important story beat that is included in the custom mission. Just like previous Astral Alignment events, it’s matched so both solo players and groups of friends can enjoy it. The mission itself is exciting and action-packed, but not complex enough that a wide range of player skills can’t surpass it. And, perhaps most importantly, it provides an exciting entry into the next piece of content in the Witch Queen expansion. We had an exciting chase on the bridge, desperately defending the queen, and a real exorcism – fun stuff. Like the end credits of a major comic book movie, the closing moments of the related movie cutscenes create excitement about what happens next.
In all these respects, it’s the model I’d like to see from the game world in progress. The ever-growing dynamic of fiction that makes the game world feel like a real place, I’m more immersed in it if I feel like I’m playing a key role in shaping the future of gaming at an important moment. I’d much rather have a novel gaming experience accompanied by movie moments, because this exorcism quest turned out to be like that.
Meanwhile, as anyone who has been to the event when it launched last week, can tell you that not everything was smooth sailing.
Perhaps the biggest offender is one of the mistakes developers have to fear. The final key narrative cutscene that ended not only the mission but the entire season turned out to be skippable. And any member of the current matching fire team can skip. Last Tuesday, as I sat excitedly watching the ending of the story, I was suddenly bounced back on track and the story was incomplete. My solution is to watch streaming recordings of events on YouTube. Presumably, this is a shame, overlooked in the final hours of what I’m sure is a challenging content rollout. But no matter how you cut it, it undercuts the thrust of the narrative.
The other question is more about timing. The Exorcism quest arrives a few months after finishing the rest of the season’s story, for enthusiastic players of the season’s content. It’s like reading a book in August and September, only to be asked to wait until February to read the last chapter. While I respect the desire to have a big moment before the new expansion rolls out, in this case the flow of the narrative is too confusing, further hindering my enjoyment.
In the end, I’m baffled by Bungie’s decision to make the exorcism event so short-lived. Unless Bungie surprises me by leaving the event in place when The Witch Queen launches (which seems unlikely), this major story beat only seems to be available for a week in the real world. I’m lucky to have time to play this week, but what about my friends who are on vacation right now? Or the player who doesn’t watch every moment of Destiny’s online chat every week and just misses what’s going on? I understand the desire to create a living world where players feel like they are in a certain moment, so they have that special memory. But a week, with little advance publicity about the nature of the service that will be offered, feels like a particularly egregious example of the fear of missing out on driving engagement. That’s one thing I don’t want to see Bungie or other studios use as a model for living and continuing gaming.
In fact, in more general terms, Destiny 2 has been making steady progress in its narrative rollout over the past year. I dug into the dynamic and dramatic heft we’ve seen from recent character beats and storylines. I love how Bungie incorporates the depth and sci-fi complexity of the wider lore into its narrative – with the increased complexity of themes and exciting concepts, the game is so much better. Exorcism is very close to what I want to bridge between seasons and the next, even if there are some big issues along the way.
Regardless of these questions, I’m excited about what’s coming next in this big story that unfolds over the years. With the witch queen coming tomorrow, we’re about to give the story a massive infusion.