Field Notes is a series of diaries by Caty McCarthy, exploring the personal stories that emit from the games we play over extended periods of time, and beyond. Currently, Caty’s diving into Destiny 2, a shared world first-person-shooter about aliens destroying all your stuff. Also a note: My apologies that my previous Field Notes series on The Long Dark never panned out. I hit a lot of work, and ended up neglecting the game and this column indefinitely. Worry not though—this special Destiny 2 edition will update daily through the entire week. Yay!
Dear diary, apparently if you press L2 in Destiny 2, you can read some lore. Not everywhere, that is, but at least in the abilities menu if you're down to learn about some swords.
This wasn't always the case in the world of Destiny. Lore was elsewhere, buried in online Grimoire Cards and in-game item descriptions. Destiny's lore was rich, but the problem was that hardly anyone knew about it, nor even cared. Instead, it was relegated to outside sources like movie-length YouTube explainers.
Destiny 2 kicked off at 9 p.m. last night for me. The servers tanked immediately, so in reality I didn't get to playing until around 9:30 p.m…. then I spent a half-hour making a character, and yada yada yada. Y'know the drill.
Anyways, prior to release Bungie's been hyping up the story campaign, like a cheerleading squad trying to keep the crowd positive when a team is losing. My colleague Mike even compared it to Halo, a classic that Bungie began before abandoning it for greener pastures. (You could say it was their destiny. Thank you, thank you.) The big problem with original Destiny—that's Vanilla Destiny, Destiny before The Taken King, etcetera—was that its story was hardly present. I can't remember anything about it, except for Tyrion Lannister voicing a robot that followed me around. (Later, Tyrion was replaced with Nathan Drake, because of course he was.)
Also, there was a wizard on the moon, or something.
Destiny 2, Bungie insisted, would fix these worries. There was an actual villain now; a scary Orc-lookin' fellow who destroys your home, loot, gear, and probably some friends too. Destiny 2 firmly places stakes into your own Guardian's hands, embedding anger before you're kicked quite literally off the peak of a tower.
I've spent hours with Destiny 2 at this point, not as much as dear ol' Mike, but enough. So far I worry it's fallen into the same trap as the original. Despite an explosive (even if a bit shrug-worthy) opening mission, the rest has fallen into the same familiar trappings we know of Destiny: go into this decrepit place, shoot baddies, retrieve something, hurrah. There's more cutscenes than before, sure, but the characters I've met so far don't do much more than exist.
Beyond that, the cutscenes and story tidbits haven't been much better. Hell at this point, I'm almost rooting for the bad guys because at least they have some personality and some sense of a motive. Despite all the big changes urged around release Destiny 2's story is only negligibly more interesting, especially in the face of its mission structure feeling a heck-of-a-lot more of the same.
The one mission where I saw things shift was where I set up an ambush; even if I wish I did more to actually plot the traps. Nonetheless, I enjoyed baiting enemies into lasers and watching them explode in a flurry of red barrels. Despite the brief enjoyment, I was quickly thrown back to the European Dead Zone, ready to plot my next dangerous foray to Titan, one of Saturn's moons.
As I shot wave after wave of foes, I realized something. I don't think Destiny's story matters, unless you're the type who watches those movie-length breakdowns of lore or whatever. As mythologized through illustrations at the start of the game, the big moments hardly mattered in Destiny and across its expansions; what mattered was the experiences you made through it. As raids and more events danced across Destiny 2's opening, as did dates and the names of the people played with. In a downright corny way of phrasing it: the journey wasn't about the lackluster destination, it was about all the friends you made along the way.
Since I've been playing alone so far unfortunately, I've still found the game to be a bore to prance through with no acquaintances. (Again, antithetical to the promise of making a more endearing game for solo players.) Running into people in the same world doesn't net me the same layered, unexpected experiences as something like Absolver. Instead we just shoot at aliens together, and then run our separate ways. It feels like we're all just singular in our own paths; unwilling to squad up; unwilling to lend more than a helping bullet or laser; unwilling to even emote at one another cheekily (despite my best efforts).
When I embark on Destiny 2 wholly alongside friends, comrades, partners in Superman-jumps tonight, I imagine I'll be singing a different tune. As in Destiny 1, I'll experience things, make dumb jokes, and fondly remember my times with the game in the future. Yet in the end, our warm experiences don't even need a Destiny to enable them. We also have Overwatch, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, every MOBA to survive by. The biggest charm of Destiny is its sole purpose of being a shared world shooter. Not quite MMO. Not quite an epic adventure like Halo. It's the in-between that makes it desirable: an active chatroom with good-ass guns for the pew-pewing and loot for the harboring.
So, sure, the story doesn't seem too interesting so far. The characters are bland. The missions are repetitive. But it doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things. I don't play Destiny for another legend-making space opera. I play it to glide around and headshot all aliens in my vicinity, while goofing off with my friends. Destiny 2 may just be more Destiny so far, but it's already keeping my attention far more than the first one ever did. That must count for something.
Next time: Caty finally brings some friends along for the ride. Maybe even some familiar USgamer faces?