Iron Banter: This Week In Destiny 2

With the main story beats for Season of the Haunted complete, it’s time to take a look at what we’ve learned and where Destiny 2 is headed next.

Phil Hornshaw

Just about every week brings something new to Destiny 2, whether it’s story beats, new activities, or interesting new combinations of elements that let players devastate each other in the Crucible. Iron Banter is our weekly look at what’s going on in the world of Destiny and a rundown of what’s drawing our attention across the solar system.

After weeks of plumbing the secrets of the Leviathan for answers about Calus’ intentions, we’ve reached the end of Season of the Haunted’s story. The season has spent a lot of time building and exploring the personalities and traumas of characters we’ve been dealing with in the game for some time–in a few cases, for years–while also giving us something of a direction for where Destiny 2’s story is headed in the future.

As far as seasonal storytelling goes, I’d log Season of the Haunted as one of Destiny 2’s stronger outings. Though it was a bit shorter than some of the more recent episodic stories, it used its time to hit a lot of emotional beats while also expanding on the greater world in a lot of important ways. We’ve learned a shocking amount of backstory from Season of the Haunted, while seeing a ton of character development–not only in members of the main cast and current villain Calus, but also in Destiny characters who’ve long since passed on.

First, the Sever missions. The weekly missions each focused on a single character, and while not terribly expansive, they went straight into the psyches of Crow, Zavala, and Caiatl. This acted as a great payoff for Crow in particular, whose arc over the last year and change has been one of dealing with his past as Uldren Sov. I’ve said in the past that Crow has functioned really well as a semi-protagonist for Destiny 2, giving us a viewpoint character who hasn’t been doing the whole Guardian thing for hundreds of years, and thus spends time learning the ropes and questioning the status quo. Crow has drifted out of that role some as he’s grown, but he still shoulders a lot of emotional baggage and a complicated story that’s been unfolding since the Beyond Light expansion. Season of the Haunted put a poignant spin on everything that’s happened with Crow for the last year by letting us watch him grapple with his inner turmoil, on-screen and in missions.

That same approach has been mirrored with Caiatl, a generally brusque and closed-off character who has hinted at a lot going on beneath the surface, but for whom a lot of that struggle has been dealt with in lore drops. We know a lot about Caiatl’s backstory, but she has only talked about it in fits and starts. Sever gave Bungie a chance to display Caiatl’s vulnerability, and that opportunity has expanded her character in significant ways. It seems like Caiatl is here to stay as a major member of the cast, which serves to deepen Destiny 2’s overall story as we get a closer look at the alien races and their cultures–folks we used to only understand at the barrel of our guns are now taking on three-dimensional shapes.

And speaking of characters who mostly existed in the lore, Sever did a whole lot to humanize Zavala, something his character sorely needed. The stoic leader of the Vanguard has obviously been beaten down over the last few years of Destiny 2, but again, it’s something that rarely appears on screen. We’ve gotten a couple of knowing lines of dialogue or deep sighs from Zavala, but much of what has gone on with him, like Caiatl, was dealt with as text lore. As such, it’s been great to see Bungie actually provide Zavala with some emotional beats. The guy has been absolutely crushed under the weight of his responsibilities, and it’s doing a lot for Destiny 2 to bring that to the forefront.

Apart from the stories directly presented in Sever, though, I’ve been surprised by how much story has been delivered through the gameplay, and how much even smaller moments have added to our greater understanding of what’s going on. All over the Leviathan, you can learn about the weird Eregore fungus, the inner thoughts of Calus, and the beliefs and personalities of the Nightmare characters as you’re playing the game. All of the “Behold” patrol missions are edifying from a story and lore standpoint–each one takes you to a spot in the Leviathan where you scan the environment and then hear from Calus himself about what’s going on aboard his corrupted ship. Red blobs of energy in different patrol zones give you insights from characters like Ghaul and Safiyah that further expand on the personalities of the people to whom the Nightmares are bound.

And even completing the many, many Nightmare Containment activities needed to knock out Season of the Haunted’s seal are constantly dumping interesting story tidbits on you in the forms of conversations between the season’s characters. Add in the Duality dungeon, a mind heist that’s literally about stealing memories from Calus, and that’s a whole lot of story that you don’t have to read about in lore books, something that makes storytelling in Destiny 2 healthier, in my opinion.

If there’s a place I think Season of the Haunted falls flat–and this is true of a lot of Destiny 2 storytelling, seasonal or otherwise–it’s in not really laying a clear path for the future. Seasonal stories have gotten a lot better about meaningfully leading from one to the next than they used to be, but with Season of the Haunted ostensibly done with story beats, it’s not clear what’s next.

Destiny 2 does suffer from a “threat” problem a lot of the time, where the story is less proactive than reactive. Most of the time, a new season is about some baddie doing some scary thing, and the players and characters scramble to deal with it. Seasons often end with characters standing around going, “Glad that’s over–but who knows what [Savathun/Xivu Arath/Calus/The Witness] is truly planning,” and Season of the Haunted feels kind of the same way. We’ve defeated Calus on the Leviathan, which has, to some degree, resolved that threat–the story leaves off with the idea that we’re going to spend the next few weeks cleaning up Nightmares like we’re dealing with a bug infestation. But of course, the threat still lingers, and we’re left waiting until August to find out who’s going to take the next swing at us so we can chase them down and shoot them in the face.

It’s an area I hope Bungie finds a means to deal with in a satisfying way, acknowledging that this is something of a video game problem; each season is generally about fighting some enemy, and to provide stakes for that enemy, they need to be up to something we need to stop. There’s also the desire to hold back information and surprise players; keeping details close to the vest worked exceedingly well with Season of the Haunted, after all.

Especially as we’re leading into Lightfall, though, and all that name suggests, I’d like to see some of these seasons conclude on something of a more active note. We got some hints about where things are going next in Eris Morn’s last transmission: The Drifter is in the Reef, enacting some unknown plan, and Eris has made discoveries in the Lunar Pyramid that sound pretty important. But I wish we were privy to more of that information, or actively investigating aspects of it, even if only in a sort of background lore way. Especially lately, Bungie has done a great job of making it feel like the world of Destiny 2 is changing and responding to what’s happening in the story. That approach would be even more powerful if the story suggested we were acting on information we gleaned from defeating Calus or completing the Duality dungeon, taking some time to prepare for the next chapter, but actively helping to shape it.

Still, Season of the Haunted did an excellent job not only of driving Destiny 2’s story forward and building out its character, but of doing it on-screen and making players feel like something of an active part in it–even if all we’re able to do is shoot stuff. We shot the demons and that allowed Destiny 2’s characters to deal with them, and that helped to make Season of the Haunted one of the best stories Destiny 2 has told–a high bar given how strong seasonal storytelling has been since Beyond Light in particular. If there’s an area to improve, it’s in finding ways to make players feel responsible for pushing the story toward its next beat, rather than waiting for and reacting to whatever they are, but given how compelling Destiny 2’s stories continue to be, that’s a nitpick of a complaint.

Closer to the end of the season, we’ll circle back and try to give Season of the Haunted a holistic look, covering its storytelling as well as gameplay content and mechanics. In the meantime, though, that’s my feeling on Season of the Haunted from a story perspective, but feel free to share your own opinions–areas you felt were strong or specifically resonant, elements you thought didn’t work as well–in the comments below.

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