This week, Bungie released the first expansion to its online-only shooter Destiny 2, called Curse of Osiris. The new content comes at a challenging time for the game, as its vocal and divided player base has hit a fever pitch over the state of the series and whether it can be redeemed. A few months after launch, Destiny 2 is a game that finds itself being pulled in every direction by the many contingents of its community, resulting in diametrically opposed opinions on the game and the direction it should take. It’s an environment that taints every discussion about the future of Destiny 2.
Amid all of this turmoil, Curse of Osiris is a solid step forward that brings much-needed improvements and more content to a community of players that’s habitually starving for more. The update brings new story missions and sidequests on a previously unexplored planet alongside new weapon and armor sets and a brand-new six-person raid activity.
After playing roughly five hours of the expansion, including all the new story missions and a fraction of the subsequent sidequests, I’m satisfied with what the $20 expansion delivers. It’s in line with what players should expect from a more minor post-launch piece of downloadable content. (The first really big update is coming in September 2018, Bungie says.)
The campaign, centered on the infamous Vanguard warlock Osiris (a character who stands tall in the game’s opaque lore), is short, repetitive, and shallow in a way that may disappoint players who hunger for a more concrete and answer-heavy narrative. But it is nonetheless beautiful. The lush alien environments rank among the most stunning that Bungie’s artists have ever rendered. The expansion also introduces a unique antagonist with a worthy final showdown, and a handful of post-story activities to further build out the world.
In one scene, players maneuver through a version of a simulated reality in the far past that resembles a carbon-rich planet surface straight out of Hello Games’ No Man's Sky. In another, procedurally generated environments — created by a sentient robotic species bent on manipulating time and space in its favor — construct themselves out of thin air as you maneuver the manufactured replacement core of the planet Mercury. The combat is tight and fun, and I had a blast playing through it with friends on launch day.
Destiny 2 has turned into No Man's Sky pic.twitter.com/4Vacw3wHsj— Tom Warren (@tomwarren) December 5, 2017
But if you’re one of the many harsh critics of Destiny 2 — or if you’ve been bemoaning your empty friends list and spending time reading or writing lengthy grievances on the game’s subreddit community — then Curse of Osiris will not do anything to change that. It is not a radical shift, but a series of subtle improvements tied to a somewhat rudimentary story campaign. The expansion is as meaty as the series’s previous mid-year ones — 2013’s The Dark Below and 2014’s House of Wolves — and it offers enough new customization options and collectible rewards to hold most players over until February, when Bungie is expected to start offering more limited-time events to fill space until the next expansion in May.
For instance, you can now customize existing armor sets by performing in-game achievements, as well as unlock new “Masterworks” versions of top-tier weapons, a change that comes in direct response to players’ clamoring for more variety and uniqueness to the game’s trove of collectible firearms. (Masterworks comes next week in a secondary update.) Bungie also refreshed its in-game store of cosmetic items, which can be earned by grinding XP or paying real money for loot box-style grab bags. Many look fantastic, including a new selfie emote.
There’s also a brand-new raid, albeit a smaller one Bungie is calling a “raid lair” because it will live inside the same environment as the game’s original one. That comes out on Friday and will give players an all-new boss to defeat and armor set to collect. And as is the case with every new Destiny expansion, there’s a new level cap to shoot for — 335 compared with the base game’s 305 — if you like to ensure your characters are maxed out and at the peak of power.
All of the above should satisfy the loudest complaint from die-hard fans, which has been to improve Destiny 2’s “endgame,” or the activities you spend your time performing when there’s no main story content to complete. I say should, but I know it won’t. That’s because Destiny 2 has become a particularly vicious battleground over what players think they deserve and what a game developer can or should reasonably provide. On one side are players who think the game is irredeemably inferior to the original, while on the other are satisfied players and Bungie, which is tweaking its product to appease fans while still pushing forward a franchise that it’s likely mapped out for years to come.
So it’s a good time to discuss player expectations and why Destiny 2 may never live up to its harshest critics’ laundry list of desired changes. The original Destiny was a flawed but revelatory game for the ways in which it combined the addictive elements of role-playing games with the mindless fun of first-person shooters. Bungie created a specific, well-tuned itch that needed to be scratched by millions of players daily, using clever feedback loops, complex reward systems, and some of the best gunplay the gaming medium has ever offered. But the game has always been formulaic in its approach. It relies on seasonal content drops and a series of rehashed ideas, weapons, and activities that try to mask the underlying rigidness of its structure.
Every new piece of content is largely just more of the same: linear story missions with a trove of new gear, some tweaks and changes to how the game doles out rewards and treats combat, and then a raid that Bungie treats like a wacky idea sandbox for experimenting with new challenges for players to collaborate on. You’re always still shooting guns, moving to a new place, and shooting more guns.
When Bungie did announce a large-scale list of changes in response to player feedback last week, it was a rather telling break from the way the developer has historically handled these types of controversies, which is quietly and with little fanfare. It showed that the company wanted to improve its image and communication skills. It also illustrated how the designers were willing to meet players halfway on a number of high-level changes to make the game more fun and rewarding. Still, players keep asking for more.
There are many legitimate complaints with the game in its current state and the overall lack of communication from the developer. The game’s competitive Crucible multiplayer, which is still painfully stale when it’s restricted to just two randomized playlists, is in dire need of more variety. Three months out, that game mode feels too slow-paced and conservative, a result of design decisions Bungie made to make the game feel less random and unfair. You could also levy some serious criticism toward Bungie making some of the most coveted items in the game hidden behind microtransactions, a fine line the company has walked thus far but an approach that may backfire given the recent Star Wars Battlefront II mess.
Yet after observing the outpouring of negativity on the game’s subreddit these past 24 hours, it’s starting to feel like the Destiny 2’s most vocal critics will never be satisfied. It’s unclear that any changes short of duplicating everything in the original Destiny will satiate their hunger. I get a sense that many longtime players want to feel the newness of the original game when it may be impossible to re-create such a feeling with what is, at its core, a sequel. It seems some players also want a game that takes over their lives in the same all-consuming way that the original Destiny did, but that runs counter to everything Bungie set out to do with its sequel. One of the main goals of Destiny 2 was to reach a broader base of mainstream consumers and create something that felt less like second job and more like a fun hobby.
It’s reasonable expect Destiny 2 to incorporate everything the original had and then some, but the reality is that Bungie has rebuilt its product from scratch with a new vision in mind. The original game, this time three years ago, was in far worse shape, despite the rose-colored glasses we like to wear while looking back on it. It was a crueler, more broken game that respected players’ time less, left critical bugs and more severe combat imbalances in place for far longer, and fumbled its first big expansion by changing too much and rushing it out the door just a few months after launch. Curse of Osiris is a smarter, safer step toward what is ultimately a more consistent and refined experience.
So if you’re looking for more story missions, new weapons and armor to collect, and an excuse to shoot aliens in space with your friends, than Curse of Osiris is a perfectly good reason to sink back into Destiny 2. If you’ve been banging your head against a wall over how Bungie could possibly have ruined your favorite hobby, then there’s not much anyone can do to alleviate the situation.
There is a wide gulf between those two kinds of Destiny players, with millions of people who sit somewhere in the middle of the two extremes. If you find yourself there, in the gray area between thinking your time might be better spent not caring about Destiny as much as its community demands of you, then you’ll be fine with what’s being offered in Curse of Osiris. Because if Bungie has succeeded at anything, it’s in delivering a game that fits into your life instead of suffocating it.