With just two weeks left in Destiny 2’s Season of the Undying, we’ve seen pretty much all it has to offer. Bungie is unlikely to spring any surprises on us in the transition over to Season of Dawn on December 10, except perhaps some kind of cutscene or something to move the narrative forward into the new season of content. Gameplay-wise, however, I’m about 99% certain we’re finished with any kind of new content.
I already wrote my review for Shadowkeep, the new Destiny 2 expansion that launched us into Season of the Undying. But still, the season continued to churn on. Past the Moon, past the Raid, and past the Vex Offensive seasonal activity that was introduced shortly after Shadowkeep launched. In fact, Bungie had a whole slate of activities planned out for the season. With some free for all players, some limited to Shadowkeep owners, and some exclusive to the Season Pass, it’s hard to know exactly what to review when looking at specific content or the Season as a whole. Is a Season of the Undying review just for the Seasonal content, or for the breadth of things that happened during the Season of the Undying window?
For the sake of this review, I want to take the Destiny 2 experience as a whole during the timeframe of Season of the Undying. That includes the free events like Festival of the Lost, however, I’ll be leaving out elements like the base Shadowkeep campaign and the Raid, and any features that I haven’t swayed my opinion on since writing that review. Essentially this review asks “What was the experience like after completing the Shadowkeep campaign and the Raid?” How did Bungie continue to draw players in and keep them there throughout the Season?
After the Raid – Vex Offensive, Nightmare Hunts, Dungeon
Once the Raid launched, that’s when Season of the Undying truly kicked off. The new Seasonal activity, Vex Offensive, presented Guardians with waves of Vex to beat and some light mechanics to get through the encounters. While it was a fun mindless activity to run through a few times, it lacked any kind of variety. Each and every time you play it, it’s the same set of encounters with the same “shoot the Oracles with the Vex heads” mechanic up until the final boss. The final boss then became “shoot the boss shield with the Vex heads” to initiate damage phase. Even the grand “Final Assault” that we’d been building to all Season didn’t do anything to shake this formula up (more on that later).
Now that Bungie is moving towards more disposable content each season, it makes sense that Vex Offensive didn’t feel more like a staple activity that was meant to stick around, but it still would have been nice to get moments of variance throughout that didn’t make repeated runs so increasingly dull. The Menagerie’s randomized encounter structure is a great template, though perhaps a bit too labor-intensive for Bungie considering the temporary nature of Vex Offensive. Vex Offensive was structured as a great way to farm for random rolls of its weapons, but the limited loot pool (only picking a select few Forge weapons from Curse of Osiris) meant that even this chase quickly wore thin, with objectively better weapons to go after elsewhere in the game.
Nightmare Hunts and Iron Banner
Increasingly difficult Nightmare Hunts were added, though Bungie didn’t really give players a good reason to want to play them all. This was probably the content I touched the least this Season as they were lacking unique and interesting rewards that made the difficulty worth it. Nightmare Hunts will at least be sticking around into future Seasons should I want to dive back into them, but right now they fall into the category of “things to do” rather than “things to get.” With so much else to chase this Season, putting time into Nightmare Hunts was something I just couldn’t justify given the lack of rewards.
This Season’s Iron Banner introduced Pinnacle rewards, gear that furthered the chase up to the elusive 960 Power level. The +1 (and then +2) gear that could drop over 950 gave a strong incentive to play the mode each time it came around. It was a great solo way to earn Pinnacle gear (as well as introducing Pinnacles to a PvP environment) to help the game have a bit of balance across all content.
New Exotic Quests
The Exotic quests this season were fun contextual moments that both furthered the story and gave us cool gear. Xenophage (while unintentionally underpowered) told the fascinating story of one of Eris’ lost fireteam members. Leviathan’s Breath gave us a sad closer look at Banshee-44. And the Divinity trace-rifle finally reworked the random drop nature of Raid Exotics, much to the delight of people like me who still don’t have 1000 Voices, Anarchy, or Tarrabah. While I do think there is something to be said for the excitement of a random drop (being the first of my group to get Mythoclast back in Destiny 1 was a legendary moment for me), it was really nice to have specific tasks to chase this time around in order to earn the gun.
Festival of the Lost, Dungeon, and Momentum Control
Festival of the Lost’s launch week was heavy with new content, from the Seasonal Halloween event, to the launch of the new Dungeon, to Momentum Control coming to Crucible, and even the aforementioned Xenophage Exotic quest. It was almost overwhelming, and this is coming from somebody who pours a lot of time into Destiny 2, often hours every day. I can’t imagine how more casual players felt having all of that dumped on them at once. (My guess is some of the scheduled events became crunched together due to the initial delay of Shadowkeep, which is what created such a content-heavy day. Future full three-month Seasons shouldn’t have this same issue.)
The Tower became impressively decked out with decorations, perhaps the most decorated I have ever seen our Guardian’s home base. I was impressed on that alone. It came with the return of the Haunted Forest activity and a subtle rework to how masks were applied (via ornamentation). While not much changed in terms of gameplay from last year’s event, Bungie really went all out with how the event changed the look of the game this year and that alone made those three weeks feel very different. It was also great to be able to earn candy just by playing the game normally.
The new Dungeon was a lot of fun to conquer, along with the corresponding new public event on the Moon. If I have one problem with how the Dungeon was handled, it was the lack of surprise. It was scheduled on the calendar. We were shown multiple parts of the dungeon and even the final boss in ViDocs. If Bungie wants players to have those “you had to be there” moments, it needs to lean into delighting and surprising players, rather than scheduling everything out and spoiling half the content in early trailers and ViDocs. Remember when Shattered Throne launched? A complete surprise for the community to discover? I miss those exciting days.
Momentum Control was a great twist on Crucible focusing on gunplay and throwing the usual meta out the window. This is the kind of ultra-competitive game mode I’d like to see become more of a staple in Destiny, tossing out some of the differences between weapons and letting players duke it out on sheer skill of aim.
Ongoing Narrative and the Final Assault
Season of the Undying was the first to really lean into Destiny 2’s ongoing narrative, letting the progression of time and events tell the story of the world of Destiny. We saw this with phenomenal weekly Eris Morn quests that helped her cope with the loss of her fireteam. These activities may have been really generic in terms of tasks, but even so, it was perhaps one of the heaviest and most emotional quest investments we’ve had in Destiny.
We also saw ongoing changes week to week as Ikora Rey built her Vex portal in the Tower (or rather, Vex portal attachment). These small changes really made the world state of Destiny 2 feel like it had a progression, and I’d love to see Bungie continue to explore what’s possible here. They shouldn’t be afraid to change up the state of the world, both in social spaces and the wider patrol areas, depending on the narrative context. Many weeks, running over to Ikora’s portal was the first thing I did, checking to see what had changed since reset.
Of course, we all know that the Portal led to the Vex Offensive: Final Assault, the task that would see Guardians ending the invasion once and for all. But for all the build-up, Final Assault ended up being an enormous letdown. Vex Offensive: Final Assault was identical to the normal version of the mode, save for replacing the final boss with the Undying Mind. But even that was largely a visual change. The mechanics around the fight didn’t change at all and there was no new loot to earn. Why build up hype towards this moment by putting it on the roadmap and by having Ikora build a portal? The change was aesthetic in nature, and it severely impacted the progress Bungie had made in feeling like the world state was moving forward. It essentially pulled back the curtain and revealed the smoke and mirrors. Nothing was actually changing and that revelation was disappointing. I played my three I needed for the Undying title and haven’t touched Vex Offensive again since.
I (and the rest of the community) had a lot of ideas for how the Final Assault could have gone down. Given its three-week period before the end of the Season, this could have almost been a Seasonal event. There could have been a community event surrounding it, challenging us to get a certain number of kills. The final encounter could have had different mechanics to account for the new boss. Some people saw it adding a new strike to the game once the portal opened (maybe a reprise of the original Undying Mind strike from D1). Hell, did you know there’s actually another strike added with Shadowkeep that could have served this purpose?
That Other New Strike
Shadowkeep came with a new strike that sent Guardians to the top of the Scarlet Keep to defeat Hashladun, a daughter of Crota. It was part of the story of Shadowkeep and came up a few times in missions for various things. It also was featured consistently on rotation in the Strike playlist, and was even a Nightfall. But did you know that Shadowkeep came with another new Strike?
For reference, I’ve earned and completed more or less everything there is to get and do in Season of the Undying. That includes a lot of playing Strikes for the Seasonal Strike quest and ritual weapon (not to mention just for weekly bounties and experience). And yet I have played this new Strike exactly once in all that time. It was probably late October or early November before it randomly popped up in the Strike playlist, a fairly important Strike from a narrative perspective with lots of lore implications about the impending threat that Savathun is. Yet it was never featured elsewhere. It wasn’t a required Strike for any Exotic missions. It wasn’t a part of the campaign. It was just a whole lot of work for a Strike that I’d wager very few people have actually played.
So Bungie is willing to put effort into a Strike that gets effectively hidden and shuffled into the Strike playlist, but when it comes to a major event on the calendar, the big event that the whole Season has been building to, we effectively got a palette swap on the end boss. I’m not fooling myself into thinking Bungie has unlimited resources. I know they have to triage what to work on. But it seems a waste to have created a whole new Strike that effectively goes unused and unappreciated, while major Season events have lackluster launches, making the Season fizzle out instead of going out with a bang.
The Season-Long Chase
If there was one thing that kept me coming back again and again, it was the Season-long chase for things like bonus Power levels and the Season of the Undying’s limited-time Seal and Title. While it was a bit of a grind overall, there’s no denying that it is these very checkboxes that present a desire to play content. People want to get things and complete things. It’s this reason you see them hopping back in to run something. Even the simple act of adding a Seasonal Triumph saying “play X amount of X activity in Season 8” presents a psychological means for people to play something they might otherwise not.
Now, I’m not saying it’s as simple as the psychological manipulation of players. People are smart, and the chase has to be desirable on some level. Pinnacle weapons became ritual weapons this season, perhaps not as hard to obtain as pinnacles, though the grind was lengthy. I never felt without something to do throughout the whole of Season of the Undying, and the best part of Destiny is figuring out how you can maximize the grind, going for multiple chases at once. There are a lot of rewards and chases that crossover with one another, which makes progression feel dynamic across the entire game. Even without things like inherently new Gambit content, I had fun going back and playing it when the chase dictated.
Is part of this chase founded on FOMO, or the “fear of missing out?” It is, but I can’t see how Bungie could get around that. That thrill is what makes these kinds of grinds exciting. Some of the most thrilling moments in Destiny have been the “you had to be there” moments that come up. It makes those limited experiences special to the players who were a part of them. For example, I proudly wear my 2,500 Iron Burden kills emblem from a time when Bungie was experimenting with Iron Banner. It’s a chase I was ecstatic to accomplish, and one that nobody can ever go back and do again. A healthy mix of chases for cosmetic rewards like emblems, bragging rights, and usable gear presents a good case for reasons to keep coming back. Now if I can just hit that +20 bonus Power for the Triumph. Only 1.5 million experience to go.
Stuff to Get or Stuff to Do?
Ah, the age-old question. What do Destiny players want more? Do they want loot to earn, or do they want activities to play? While I’m certain no one is saying no to getting new activities in the game, it’s not the activities themselves that drive repeat play for a vast majority of the players. It’s the chase. It’s the reward at the end of the tunnel. Gambit, for example, is a mode that I rarely play anymore except when it gets a new quest or ritual weapon that requires me to hop into it. I haven’t played Reckoning since I got my Reckoner title. Strikes serve as experience fodder for me at this point as a just do the daily and weekly bounties.
New activities are fun and great, and I want to keep experiencing them. I’m in no way suggesting that Bungie stop adding new narratively contextualized activities to the game, but I do think that a massive appreciation could be given to putting a magnifying glass on reward structures for existing content. There’s a lot to do already in this game, and if Bungie can recontextualize what’s already there through new rewards, chases, and reasons to play, I think they’ll win over a lot of people. At the end of the day, whether it’s a new activity or old, player sentiment comes down to wanting more loot and stuff to chase.
The Eververse Problem
It always rears its ugly head as Bungie balances and rebalances the Eververse in-game store. The balances this season felt especially unfun, particularly when it came time for the old Festival of the Lost. I wrote a more extensive piece about Eververse’s problems, but having a whole Halloween-themed event with no way to actually earn the Halloween-themed cosmetics in-game (aside from pre-storing up Bright Dust) really highlighted the fact that there were over $125 worth of new cosmetics to buy in the store, and that didn’t include prices on last year’s stuff either. I feel bad for new players who just wanted some cool emotes or a broom Sparrow with no way to earn them through the Seasonal event.
Bungie’s changes to Eververse, Bright Engrams, and Bright Dust have left a sour taste in my mouth for the Eververse Store. Previously, when I felt that I could reasonably earn new cosmetic items within the game, I’d have no problem chipping in a few bucks here or there for extra things I wanted. Now, Bright Engrams feel meaningless. Bright Dust bounties feel stingy. And Eververse prices seem absolutely absurd. I have a hard time justifying dropping nearly $10 on a single armor ornament, but give me three for the same price and I just might start considering picking up some of the cool cosmetics in there. Likewise, letting me earn at least some of the new stuff in-game has a psychological effect on me (and I presume other players) that greases the wheels and gets us to actually open our wallets more often.
Anyway, I could wax on and on about Eververse needing a rework (again), but I’ve already said my piece about Season 8 Eververse before, and there’s still plenty else to talk about with Season of the Undying.
Under Promise, Over Deliver
Also known as: Keep it Secret, Keep it Safe
If the Destiny community is notorious for one thing, it’s letting their expectations get out of control. I don’t say this in an accusatory manner. I’m just as guilty of it myself. We have high hopes for what this game can be. This can be a catch-22 for a studio that wants to be communicative with its players and has limited bandwidth for what it can produce. Bungie laid out the calendar of events for the duration of Season of the Undying. They stuck to that calendar of events. Yet the Season held few surprises, and when listed activities weren’t all that the community had expected, disappointment ensued.
Lean into the surprise. Tease, don’t tell. When Bungie lays everything out for us, we expect that and then some. When those kinds of surprises aren’t laid out, it tempers expectations and makes the revelations and new things more exciting.
The most notable quests and moments in Destiny aren’t the ones we know are coming. They are moments like the discovery of the Whisper of the Worm quest. Finding the Shattered Throne beneath the Blind Well. The unknown creates a sense of wonder. Putting them on a calendar and in a ViDoc subsequently turns them into expectations. The new Shadowkeep dungeon was cool, but knowing exactly what day it was going to launch, exactly how to launch it, and even seeing the final boss in a ViDoc was a big letdown for the wonder that the moment could have held. And let’s not even talk about how putting “Vex Offensive: Final Assault” on the calendar created a false cloud of expectations that this grand culminating event would be more than visual swap of the activity’s final boss.
Now, there’s a balance between clear communication from the developer and retaining the air of mystery around content releases. Bungie, I am not asking you to stop talking to us. Keep telling us things. But also maybe don’t overshare? Don’t tell us too much? Promise us more is coming, but don’t lock it down day and date with plenty of spoilers. Let the players have some of that discovery back.
Leaving that mystery in play also allows the world to tell its own story. Instead of Bungie telling us “welp, Final Assault is coming on this day, just so you know. That’s what Ikora’s portal is building to,” let the game world be our narrative guide. Let players discover and share with each other. Let us speculate about when the portal could be finished and what could happen with it. Let us be surprised when Ikora finally says “It’s ready,” and a classic enemy comes through. All of these moments of player wonder and discovery were stolen from us when Bungie decided to spell things out on a roadmap months ahead of time.
Communicate the important stuff, the regularly scheduled events like Iron Banner or Seasonal events, but let us discover new Exotic quests. Let us find that new dungeon that just got added. Let players discover how the narrative is driving forward. Don’t break the illusion of a meaningful narrative and persistent world by laying out the story beats on a calendar. We already get enough spoilers as it is by knowing when each season will end and the next one begins.
A Frontloaded Season
Part of this may be owing to the Shadowkeep delay that squashed the Season down by a couple of weeks, but Season of the Undying felt almost overwhelming at the outset, with new things to do nearly every few days. By comparison, this trickled out into a rather dull and uninspiring latter half of the Season. By the final week of Festival of the Lost, there wasn’t really much “new” headed to Destiny 2, and the lackluster Final Assault did very little to renew the fire.
With Bungie’s new way of presenting content over Seasons rather than as content “packs,” they don’t need to frontload activities and events at the start of the season anymore. It made the first half of the season feel frantically busy and the second half feel dull by comparison, after burning out. Imagine if that second new Shadowkeep Strike hadn’t launched until the end of the Season. Or if some event had brought a new Crucible or Gambit map to the fold later in the Season. Bungie can trickle out content like that instead of overwhelming us with a bunch of content all at once. I’d love to see a better balance of this content rollout in future Seasons, and more surprise and discovery in regards to when activities and new content rolls out.
As with every new Destiny content release, I applaud Bungie pushing the line and trying something new. Sure, some things simply don’t land, but it’s far from Destiny 2 getting stagnant. It also provides the studio an opportunity to collect feedback and adapt future content releases based on what went right and wrong previously. Season of the Undying wasn’t perfect, but I felt engaged and drawn in. It was a fascinating new vision for the long-term future of the game if Bungie can pay attention to what the community loved and wasn’t so keen on. I’m expecting Season of Dawn to be largely similar to Season of the Undying based on the short turnaround time for feedback. I just hope that community feedback to some of the downsides of the Season doesn’t break Bungie’s resolve on this incredible new dynamic world narrative, presenting on evolving Destiny experience that can keep growing with its players.
Destiny 2 Season of the Undying Season Pass review code provided by Bungie (as part of the Shadowkeep review code). Reviewed on a PS4 and Stadia. For more information, please read our Review Policy.