Destiny 2's latest season, the Season of the Worthy, has delivered precisely what many players didn't want to see: more of the Season of Dawn. The core gameplay loop is pretty much unchanged, despite the addition of the Trials of Osiris, so the problems of last season are still around and they've been joined by a few others, a typical side-effect of Destiny's between-expansion dry spells.
At this point, it's pretty clear that this was Bungie's template for Year 3, and it's equally clear that many players aren't enjoying it. I'm willing to bet that Bungie knows this better than anyone, and that's one of the few things currently giving me hope for the game's future - that, and the good ideas buried under the drudgery of the past few seasons. It's a rough time to be a Guardian, but the payoff for this latest round of growing pains could be greater than anything we've seen.
Seasons of Bounties
In January, I explained why the Season of Dawn turned me off after just a few hours, and most of those complaints apply to the Season of the Worthy as well. This season is also about farming materials through rote, repetitive activities, using those materials to level up stations which grant loot and passive bonuses, and completing bounty after bounty after bounty. I'll be blunt: I hate this. It's tedious and ignores the vast majority of the game's activities, pretty much all of which are way more fun. It doesn't help that the new activities this season are just a monotonous Public Event and some Lost Sectors with slightly more enemies than usual. At least the Season of Dawn had the Sundial.
That's far from the only problem this season, mind you. Servers are unstable in many regions, and the only Exotic quest we've had so far was exceedingly dull. There are no Ritual weapons to chase (a terrible Iron Banner bow notwithstanding), and most of the normal weapons this season are pretty weak too, which feels like inelegant groundwork for the upcoming weapon retirement update. Trials of Osiris is less rewarding than many had hoped (which has caused a chain of other problems, but I digress), many old stat trackers were inexplicably removed (though some will be restored), and Eververse is becoming more and more intrusive. I could go on, but I think those are the big ones.
So, what is good this season? Well, there's a whole bunch of new armor and a lot of it looks fantastic, which would ordinarily motivate me to level my season pass. I'm also in love with this season's Warmind Cell mods, which generate orbs of death when you get kills with certain weapons or abilities. These orbs can be detonated, thrown, or used to trigger other, equally interesting mods, and this makes even the smallest of engagements flashy and exciting. These mods have also made good use of the Artifact, which for my money is still too limiting in its selection of mods. Between Warmind Cells and Charged with Light, Bungie is really warming up to MMO-style buffs and mechanics, and I hope to god they double down.
And while I don't like the way the latest seasons have applied material grinds, I do like the idea of activity-specific currencies and loot. I like that they give you clear ways to acquire specific gear, and I like that the Obelisks and Bunkers grant buffs for specific activities. It feels like a mix of the dungeon material grind from Final Fantasy 14 and the shop upgrades from games like Moonlighter or Recettear. Playing this thing gets you the stuff you want, and the more you play it, the more comfortable and beneficial it becomes. That's a loop I can get behind.
The problem, as ever, is that the thing we're all playing right now is just a glorified bounty farm. Bounties come before everything now. They're more important, and more rewarding, than anything else in the game. The value of core activities like Strikes, Crucible, Gambit, and even Raids has fallen off a cliff since seasonal bounties force players to do limited activities in stupidly specific ways, which gets very old, very quickly.
Betting on Year 4
It's easy to look at this laundry list of problems and wonder why Bungie didn't fix them after players complained about the same things last season. But the fact is that Destiny 2 is a huge game, and its content is prepared well in advance. This makes it more difficult to respond to feedback and integrate changes before the next update - or in this case, the next season - is shipped, to say nothing of how long it takes to actually formulate and prepare those changes.
Bungie's driving an 18-wheeler; it can't turn on a dime. I don't know the studio's exact development pipeline, but I'm willing to bet that the Season of the Worthy was finalized around the start of the Season of Dawn, and I'm guessing the next season is already near its final stretch as well. In other words, Year 3's seasons have been similar because they were cut from the same cloth, and probably fairly close together.
The bad news is that this suggests we're in for at least one more season of bounties. I fully expect the next season to feel just like the previous two, and I'm already planning on skipping it if that's the case. We might see some minor tweaks and quality of life improvements, but it's likely too late for the fundamental changes that Destiny 2 needs. Those will come this fall with the start of Year 4, both in the first season of the year, and in the Shadowkeep-sized expansion that kicks it off, assuming Bungie sticks to its usual release schedule.
The good news is that Bungie is seemingly preparing those changes, and actively sharing its goals with them. Between weekly blog posts, video developer diaries, and infrequent essays from director Luke Smith, Bungie has acknowledged many of the issues that players have called out in the past few seasons. That doesn't change the fact that the game has so many problems right now, but it's better than nothing.
Bungie wants to reduce FOMO, revitalize core activities, and move away from temporary activities which tie the game down while simultaneously wasting development resources. It wants to rework the Power system which is hurting end-game activities, and it wants to create exciting weapons which justify weapon retirement. Bungie's goals don't always line up perfectly with what players want - and there are many, many reasons for that - but I don't think the gap there is as bad as the past few seasons would suggest. Bungie isn't happy that players aren't happy, and if nothing else, it has communicated that.
This is Destiny's usual pattern: a great expansion followed by weak seasons. We've been here before, and nobody wanted to wind up here again, especially not this quickly, but there's so much change in the air that I'm still optimistic about the next phase of Destiny 2. Bungie's trying a lot of new things and, hopefully, learning a lot from them.
The Obelisk and Bunker grinds are far from perfect, but Destiny's never had anything quite like them, and they aren't totally without merit. Charged with Light and Warmind Cell mods were unthinkable just a year ago, and I can't wait to see how Bungie follows them up. Trials of Osiris is finally back, and while it definitely needs work, a huge gap has been filled. I wish we didn't have to straight-up eat a bad year to make these things happen, but I'm hopeful that Bungie can build on them in the seasons to come. And it certainly needs to, because Destiny 2 cannot continue like it is.