Destiny 2’s Black Armory Isn’t Perfect, But It Still Has Its Hooks in Me
You might be wondering if I’m okay. It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything about Destiny 2, and Game of the Year awards notwithstanding, I basically haven’t covered the game at all since the Black Armory content began rolling out at the beginning of December. I’ve been playing a lot of Destiny 2’s latest season though, trying to figure out exactly how to cover it. It’s not possible to review like a traditional game, and even writing this up right now, there is content that is still missing, scheduled to come at a later date. Perhaps that’s enough to turn you away already, but if you’re still with me, let’s first talk a little bit about what the Annual Pass is.
So What Is the Destiny 2: Forsaken Annual Pass?
Bungie’s Annual Pass strategy is a unique new approach to the game that releases content less like DLCs or expansion packs and more like a subscription to a constantly updated MMO or living game. It’s about constantly having new things to do and engage with, rather than burning out on a small expansion’s worth of content in a short time and experiencing a content drought. It is not a season pass. The Annual Pass is a one time subscription fee that gets you into the next nine-ish months worth of Destiny 2 content updates.
Perhaps most importantly, it allows Bungie a little more freedom to unload the content at a slower, albeit more steady pace. They can also continue to give content without having to worry about the nuances and confusing intricacies of who owns what DLC and what’s free or paid content. With the Annual Pass, Destiny 2 splits into two tracks. There’s the free seasonal updates for those who just own Forsaken, and there’s the premium content path that includes Black Armory, Joker’s Wild, and Penumbra.
The idea with these premium content updates is that they further the endgame chase. Bungie can develop activities and content that people will play on repeat, rather than spending time and money to develop a new short campaign chapter that people will play once (or three times, if you run three characters) before moving on. Content chunks like that created content droughts that had players howling for more, and this is Bungie’s way of solving that problem.
What About Destiny 2 Seasons?
Every three months or so, Destiny 2 enters a new season of content. Seasons give Bungie a nice excuse to reset ranks, refresh armor and gear, and a good place to stir the pot with major changes to the game, both in free and paid additions. While paid releases have always lined up with the seasonal changes, Destiny 2’s seasons also give free updates to players who don’t want to pay for the new stuff.
Seasons include seasonal events like the recent The Dawning holiday event and the upcoming Crimson Days, a Valentine’s Day themed event. Power increases are free for all players, but bumping up the power level won’t matter much if you aren’t jumping into the new Annual Pass content. Certain Exotic gear quests and other rewards will be given to all players who own Forsaken, as well as sandbox and quality of life updates that will continue to be made to the game for everyone.
Though seasons and the Annual Pass content are separate, they are inherently linked to the game’s overall experiences, which strives to be an ever evolving and forward moving game. It’s not really fair to call this a review, because things will be different even as soon as a couple days from now, but here are my impressions of Destiny 2’s Season of the Forge and Black Armory content so far.
Grab Your Hammer, Let’s Forge a Weapon
The big headliner for Black Armory has been the new lost forges that allow players to craft exciting new weapons. Guardians can grind each of the three currently available forges (four, if you are reading this after Tuesday, January 8) for different perk rolls on those weapons, giving them a clear path to try to get their perfect god roll. The forges faced a staggered rollout, with new quests periodically launching throughout December. Ranging from exciting missions to frustratingly mundane tasks, getting all three forges unlocked across all three characters was a painful chore. Once the forges were all unlocked, however, it became routine to grind out the weapons. It’s a fun grind, and really helps feel like I’m actually working towards something with a clear path laid out in front of me.
The Scourge of the Past Raid features exciting new mechanics for six-player teams to conquer, including requiring one player to guide the others using a map of the arena. Of course Destiny’s elite players have already found ways to defeat it with fewer players, in a short amount of time (under nine minutes for the current speedrun record), and with other crazy self-imposed modifiers. Bungie finally added a long requested sparrow chase/escape section for this Raid, which is just as hilariously exciting as it is aggravating.
Doing away with a traditional campaign for this content drop, the Black Armory’s story is told through contextual conversations with its exo proprietor, Ada-1, and lore cards. While the deeper implications of long buried secret weapon forges are certainly interesting, Black Armory feels very much like it exists on the fringes of the story being told. Whereas Joker’s Wild and Penumbra appear that they will expand on previously established lore (the Drifter/Gambit and Leviathan/Calus, respectively), Black Armory feels more like an excuse to give players a repetitive grind for new guns and the random rolls on those weapons. The one thing it has going for it is an evolving story over time, which again means that my opinion on this could change at a moment’s notice. The next weekly reset could bring a whole new story development.
While we knew we were not going to be getting a campaign, players did think that this content pack would come bundled with at least some updates to all of the existing modes. Previous DLC expansions have included additional strikes, Crucible maps, and other content to keep the entire game fresh for players. So far, Black Armory hasn’t seen the release of a single new strike, Crucible map, or Gambit map. Each of these modes have been largely left alone as the focus goes to the lost forges. Though Gambit is something I have highly enjoyed, playing the same four maps over and over since the launch of Forsaken has begun to grow tiresome. Joker’s Wild, with its Gambit focus, will certainly turn its gaze to the neglected mode, but it could have used at least one new map to keep things fresh this season.
Additional Exotic weapons were teased and actually shown off in a video just before the Black Armory content started rolling out, but so far, we’ve only seen two of those weapons. Both are currently RNG drops. The Le Monarque bow drops from completions of the forges while making powerful frames, and the Anarchy grenade launcher can drop randomly when completing the new Raid. I personally haven’t gotten my hands on either of these yet. I’m hoping that the timegating of RNG Exotic weapons isn’t the trend going forward, and that future weapons have clear, if difficult, paths to obtain them. It’s not exactly motivating to see the community talking about a new Exotic finally showing up in the game only to find out that it’s pure luck to try to get it.
A Secret Quest, You Say?
That’s not to say that there aren’t some hefty secrets and quests being lined up for players. They just haven’t paid off yet. There’s a mysterious box with four keys that need to be found, three of which can be obtained by shooting hidden drones in each forge. We don’t fully know how to get the fourth key yet, but it looks like it might be that tough quest I was hoping for. There was also an extremely convoluted set of puzzles that the community had to come together to figure out, including secret symbols hidden in the forges, codes, ciphers, obscure texts, and a whole lot of trial and error. Eventually these led to hidden emblems being unlocked that also appear to unlock a timegated next step that is not yet active. It might not be so exciting to a player now that these secrets are found, but following along with the community puzzling out these solutions in real time is part of the reason I play Destiny.
According to the roadmap, January is the last of the big content drops from Black Armory. We’ll get Niobe Labs and the Bergusia Forge this month. We’ll begin the questline to get The Last Word Exotic hand cannon, a favorite from the first game. And then in February, we’ll have the Crimson Days event. After that, it’s on to March which will begin the Season of the Drifter on March 5, and Joker’s Wild likely starting to roll out on March 12.
So far, Black Armory alone hasn’t given a lot of reasons to continue playing other content in Destiny 2, but what about the seasonal update? How does that blend Black Armory with the rest of Forsaken and the wider Destiny 2 game?
Season of the Forge
As Black Armory rolls out, the story of Forsaken continues to roll forward, most specifically the cursed Dreaming City, which has been stuck in a three week time loop since the first fireteam beat the Last Wish Raid. Existing otuside of the loop, every three weeks awoken Queen Mara Sov has given us additional lore and story advancement. The most significant advancement to the story was during Christmas week, when we discovered that a certain dead foe had been resurrected by a Ghost as a Guardian. There are massive lore consequences for this brief scene (which was unfortunately leaked a few weeks prior), and it’s clear Bungie’s setting up a big shift within the world. Whether that’s for a future DLC or Destiny 3 proper, we don’t currently know.
Fascinating lore advancements aside, the seasonal changeover didn’t do as much to shake up the overall sandbox of the game as people had hoped. The Crucible, Destiny’s PvP mode, didn’t receive any new maps or drastic updates. In fact, there’s been a relative radio silence on the part of the Crucible team for the better part of four months, and the community has been upset at poor matchmaking among a variety of other problems. Likewise, the PvE updates were relatively soft, leaving the overall sandbox of the game basically identical to what we were playing back in Forsaken. What we had with Forsaken wasn’t bad, but I’d prefer to see a bit more intense changes going from season to season, better earning the subdivisions of content and updates.
We haven’t received any additional Exotic Catalysts either, which provided a simple but exciting new chase and reason to use different Exotic weapons. If Bungie’s going to adopt this method of slowly rolling out content, it needs to be evenly distributed across all aspects of the game instead of forgetting about things like Exotic Catalysts, Strikes, and Crucible for months at a time.
Forging a Better Destiny
The Destiny 2 Annual Pass is an experiment for Bungie, trying to deliver on the content that the core fanbase wants while pouring the time and development resources into things that people will actually continue to play. From this perspective, I understand the lack of a traditional campaign and the move to telling a story through content that can be repeated. What I miss from traditional DLCs is the update and refresh to all aspects of the game. An extra strike or two added to the playlist to keep it fresh. A few extra maps in other modes like Crucible and Gambit. The heroic story playlist is also devoid of new missions, for obvious reasons.
Though we faced a tedious unlock process to reach them, the forges are fun and quick horde modes that offer an interesting gameplay loop with genuinely desirable rewards. Whereas other repeatable activities from Destiny 2 (namely the strike playlist) can lack meaningful reasons to continue to play them, the forges provide a clear path to gear and rewards that are chosen by the player. There’s still an over reliance on RNG in some areas where it’s more frustrating than fun, but as long as Bungie’s listening to player feedback, I’m confident that will be addressed moving forward.
It’s hard to follow up a high point like Forsaken, which completely transformed the game. While it’s far from perfect, I have to admit that the Black Armory drip feed has worked. I’m hooked on Destiny 2, and eagerly awaiting the next thing, no matter how little. The release of each new forge has been an exciting occasion, and when paired with the seasonal Dawning event that happened in December, there’s been plenty to do for the entire duration of this content release so far. I’m confident that Bungie is on the right path with the Annual Pass, focusing on endgame chases over one-off campaigns. There are plenty of things that need to be tuned to be more fair and fun instead of random and frustrating, but they’ve got the right idea to cater to the core player-base that wants to come back to Destiny time and time again.