The problem that’s plagued Destiny 2 in the aftermath of its launch is the same as the one that plagued Destiny since day one—and, ultimately, the one that plagues all AAA titles that try to reach their fingers into the “live service” model to stay afloat: In trying to appeal to everyone, these games wind up appealing to only a select few. In its launch state, Destiny 2 saw the Destiny series at its most accessible and focused, but treating the game as a bog-standard first-person campaign with multiplayer elements laid bare all of Bungie’s shortcomings as storytellers with a long-term vision for their pet project. Also, the game’s expansions, though they brought a few inspired ideas to the party, did little to entice casual and hardcore players alike.
For better and worse, Destiny 2: Forsaken is a return to some old habits for the series. It directly caters to the wants and needs of Bungie’s loyal audience, namely those who have the time and inclination to play several hours a week, while deliberately reintroducing everything that was ostracizing about the first game. And yet, the end result raises the same question that Destiny did right out of the gate: Who, exactly, is this game supposed to be for?
Pretty much everything about the expansion is a two-steps-forward, two-steps-back situation, and it all starts with the story. Forsaken kicks off in devastating fashion, with Hunter faction leader Cayde-6—Nolan North, subbing for a conspicuously absent Nathan Fillion—getting murdered while containing a riot at the Prison of Elders in the Reef asteroid belt. Tragedy leads to your Guardian going on a kill-crazy rampage against the eight radical Fallen criminals who pulled the trigger on Cayde, as well as their leader, the deposed heir of the Reef, Uldren Sov, who seems to be led on by the ghost of his dead sister, famously killed at the start of Destiny: The Taken King.
After some preliminary tasks, you’re given the hitlist of eight radicalized Fallen—known as the Scorn—who did the deed against Cayde. Each of the leaders has their own captivating lore entries and areas of expertise, and tracking them down is maybe the strongest stretch of the expansion. One of the Scorn is a daredevil, hoverbike-riding marauder hanging out in an irradiated toxic waste dump, and you get her attention by stealing one of her custom jobs, and setting the entire dump on fire. Another, an explosives expert who speaks directly to you like a deranged Cookie Monster, scatters booby-trapped engrams and ammo around his stage, forcing you to think twice about even attempting to reload in a heated battle. Another opens a purgatorial deathtrap made from Cayde’s own memories to torment the player. Some major thought went into each of the main Scorn, and if sweet revenge was the extent of the story, Forsaken would be brief but memorable. Unfortunately, this is Destiny, and well enough cannot be left alone in an MMO.
The straightforward tale of revenge eventually leads you to the second new hub world, the Dreaming City, a beautiful elysian kingdom that’s unfortunately infested with enemies who all sport extraordinarily high power levels deep past the game’s soft new power/level cap. You’re meant to hunt down the abyssal horror that might’ve driven Uldren Sov to madness, but the story gets obtuse around here. The path leading to the ultimate evil at the city’s core involves a needlessly complex public event system, yet another new currency (meant to fund a sacrifice to the arcane gods themselves), and, generally, a slew of new mechanics meant to encourage the very thing the core Destiny 2 experience had gone to great lengths to try and avoid: the grind.
Sure, the grind is the lifeblood of all MMORPGs, but the things that make Destiny fulfill its potential as something better and more expansive than just World of Warcraft with guns have been fighting a losing battle against the capital-G grind for four years. Just when it seemed like Destiny 2 had found the right balance, where investment in the well-being of the universe was going hand in hand with the mechanical routine of building your character, Bungie seemed almost petulant about working within that balance in the two DLC packs that followed. And so, we’ve come to Forsaken, where everything from the ease of infusing weapons to knowing which ammo will fit with which gun has been given an extra barrier against sheer, satisfying ease of use.
Bungie has created Destiny’s worst enemy over the years: its own fans. In not giving the casual fans who fell in love with Destiny 2 a reason to stick around, the developer has created a community where only its most devoted and demanding players are clamoring for change. And in trying to appease them, Bungie has papered over the gateway that might’ve let anyone but the most zealous of Destiny fans enjoy the game without making a career out of it.
The greatest thing in Forsaken is its Gambit mode, a hybrid competitive/cooperative mode where teams of four kill enemies for motes of light, and deposit as many as possible into a portal, which sends bigger enemies to the enemy team’s arena. It’s a refuge of pure brilliance, a reminder that Bungie can please everyone, and do it rather elegantly, but perhaps maybe not on the scale of an entire, living universe. Bungie is still mired in the constant creative confusion of trying to figure out if they want Destiny to be a hobby, or a job, or a lifestyle, never quite content or confident whether anyone’s interested in just playing a game.