Some exciting narrative developments in Destiny 2's Season of the Deep have left many players wondering why some of this stuff wasn't in Lightfall, an expansion that got a lot of flak for its often vacuous story (some of it from me in our Destiny 2: Lightfall review). In a recent roundtable interview, Bungie leads addressed criticism of Lightfall's story and explained that the expansion was partly a narrative experiment meant to set up more engaging seasons for the current year.
"It used to be where we would kind of nod to what was gonna happen in the next season, and then you jump into it and it would be a whole sort of new story with a chain link between the previous one and this one," begins senior narrative designer Nikko Stevens. "Now I would say we are at the point where the events of [season] 21 lead directly into the events of 22."
"We're building the path to The Final Shape, right?" senior design lead Tom Farnsworth cuts in. "This is a 10-year saga and at this point everything is pointing towards its conclusion in Final Shape."
"These are some of the most serialized and interconnected seasons we've ever done," senior narrative designer Robert Brookes adds. "Just narratively, I think there's more swing toward the fences in that regard. The interconnection between annual releases and seasons is kind of a chain link, and this year's is different in that, normally, we ramp up to an expansion and then we start new stuff with the seasons that come after it. With this one, Defiance and Deep are kind of like the fallout from Lightfall.
"There's a lot of narrative threads that were left very intentionally unresolved to dig into and expand upon and feel the impact of," Brookes continues. "And then from 22 and 23 onwards, it's the ramp up and lead into the dive into The Final Shape. It's a very different shape than what we're used to, so some of the narrative arcs might be done in a different way, and that's very intentional."
Brookes also clarified that since the Season of the Deep was in production before Lightfall was even released, and because Destiny 2 content is developed well in advance, "writing something as a reaction is just physically not possible." My read is that Bungie's undoubtedly aware of feedback regarding Lightfall's story and may act on it in some way, but the writers are ultimately sticking to the plan laid out for year six.
"For the most part, the arcs were there and have been there, and the plan was basically in shape as we were making it," Brookes affirms. "It was the idea that the seasons would be able to take the things that were there, the threads that were set up, and kind of follow them through to their natural course."
Brookes points to Veil Containment as a key foreshadowing reservoir which continues the examination of the cosmic thingamajig called the Veil, and quietly hints at "a lot of stuff to come for seasons and expansions." He says this trail of breadcrumbs is "a way we're experimenting with new narrative delivery systems to tell different kinds of stories and shake things up a little bit from what people have been expecting."
Why wasn't this in Lightfall?
I followed up with the group to ask about criticism of Lightfall's story and the sentiment that what we're seeing now feels like catch-up. I asked how future seasons will fill in the blanks from the expansion, ensure everyone's on the same page, and get the game's story in a good place to ring in The Final Shape and deliver a worthy finale for this decade-long saga.
"I think it goes with the intention that it was always, from the start, expected that there would be mysteries unsolved at the end of Lightfall," Brookes responds, "and that the seasonal stories would expand on them and deliver the answers, and that would be how the narrative progression would go. I think what you're seeing now, the answers that are coming out and the questions that were raised here that are being answered, is the payoff to the setup that was Lightfall.
"Usually our expansions are kind of the capstone of a year of seasons, and like I kind of said before, this was a middle piece instead. It was the capstone of what we led up to in Season of the Seraph, and then it was also starting something different that tapered off into the new year."
Stevens adds: "We aren't done giving answers and reveals in the seasonal content leading up to Final Shape either. There are definitely more things that are gonna be touched upon that have come out of Lightfall, and there are more things that have come out of the Veil Containment activity. Those answers are coming. They're in there, and like Robert was saying, it's kind of that structure of the down ramp and then onto the on ramp into Final Shape."
This is broadly encouraging stuff, but it does reflect what feels like one of Lightfall's biggest problems: player expectations. As a follow-up to The Witch Queen, a straightforward and undeniable narrative triumph, the Lightfall experiment just didn't land well. I maintain that its narrative was disjointed and too anemic no matter the intent, and I don't fully buy into the "80s action movie" motif that was brought up again in this interview. But the Season of the Deep has delivered some impactful and exciting story moments about major players in the plot. Things are picking up, though I can't help but wish some of this stuff was in Lightfall itself.
However, I do wonder how the expansion would've been received if Bungie had loudly said months ago that it's going to do something different narratively and it might not make sense at first. The studio made noises in that direction in some comments and blog posts, but it never felt clear and the Lightfall campaign just left many players feeling confused. If nothing else, it's now good to see seasons picking up Lightfall's slack, and to hear that this is indeed part of a master plan. Surely. I hope the plan works. Onward to season 22.
Speaking of master plans: Bungie's explained why the Destiny 2 servers have been on fire months, and may stay on fire for several more.