Iron Banter: This Week In Destiny 2 - Rhulking Out, Crafting Crabbiness

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Just about every week brings something new to Destiny 2, whether it's story beats, new activities, or interesting new combinations of elements that let players devastate each other in the Crucible. Iron Banter is our weekly look at what's going on in the world of Destiny and a rundown of what's drawing our attention across the solar system.

It's okay to talk about the Vow of the Disciple, now, right? We're two weeks out from The Witch Queen's raid, and it was huge in terms of recontextualizing the background story of the game. If you still haven't played through the raid and you'd like to do so unspoiled, you might want to leave now and come back when you've finished.

As for the rest of us, let's talk about what a big deal Vow of the Disciple is for the ongoing story of Destiny 2.

Disciples all the way down

For years, we've been operating on a specific understanding of Destiny 2 that has slowly been expanding outward. Where we've battled the threats of the Vex, Cabal, Fallen, Hive, Scorn, and Taken throughout the course of Destiny 2, we now have confirmation of something worse. Over the last year or so, Destiny 2 confirmed that there's an entity at least equal to the Traveler out there, and it's coming for us. But we've still been dealing with other alien species all the while, addressing them as tools of this dark entity.

All through the time that Destiny 2 was setting up the Entity--what we would come to understand as The Witness--it was also setting up Savathun, a looming villain who has been manipulating events in the game for years. A big part of the story was wondering where Savathun stood, either with the Witness or against it, while also dreading what disaster Savathun was intending to unleash upon everyone else. With Vow of the Disciple, though, we learned what's worse than Savathun, and everything else we've faced.

In essence, Vow adds a layer for frightening evil over and above everything we've seen before. The Witch Queen deals with Savathun as an existential threat to the solar system, but the raid goes one better to show us what Savathun fears: Rhulk, the evil hidden at the heart of the Sunken Pyramid. That effectively reorders our understanding of the universe, and gives what feels like is a big hint at where Destiny 2 will head with its future expansions, Lightfall and The Final Shape.

Check out the rest of Bungie concept artist Tobias Kwan's excellent Rhulk work here.

Sure, we take Rhulk down, but Vow of the Disciple adds a lot more questions than it does answer. The coolest thing about the raid, however, is how well integrated it is into the story of Destiny 2. Raids of the past have, often as not, been a bit haphazard with storytelling. They might be more or less unrelated to whatever's happening in the game at that point, or fracture off from Destiny's overall tale to deal with what ultimately feels like a side problem. Vow of the Disciple, on the other hand, completely recontextualizes The Witch Queen. It shows us what Savathun was really after, gives us a sharper view of the game's entire world, and provides a new perspective on years of story. It's a great addition to the overall game.

What I like most about Rhulk and Vow of the Disciple is how much new possibility it introduces into the game. We have the Disciple himself, and the suggestion that there must be others--after all, who is commanding the Black Fleet? We have the Upended, Rhulk's weird sun-shattering device about which we know almost nothing. And we have a new history of the Hive and the worm gods, giving us new information about Destiny 2's villains that continues to help play into themes of gaining understanding about our foes and possibly finding some path toward peace with them.

There's a whole lot of story scattered throughout and buried within the Vow of the Disciple, and I highly suggest digging into the lore attached to all the armor and in the unlockable Shattered Suns lore book. If you're looking for a summary of everything we learned in the Pyramid (as near as I can tell, at least--it's dense and not everything is fully clear yet), you can check out our raid story rundown.

Crow's conviction

Speaking of really great Destiny 2 story, this week's Season of the Risen story beat was another extremely strong one--the game's seasonal storytelling was excellent last year, and it looks like we can expect it to be stellar again in 2022. If you haven't played through the week's episode, you might want to do so before we go further.

Crow learning the lesson about conviction and consequence will have repercussions that go beyond his character.

The beat this week deals with the consequences of Crow's conscience, and it's a great addition to the character building Bungie spent all of 2022 executing. Last year, Crow served as an outsider voice in the Vanguard, constantly suggesting to long-established characters that they reevaluate their preconceptions about the game's long-term enemies. Crow had spent time with the Eliksni when he worked for the Spider and he suggested empathy for the Cabal when Caiatl first showed up in the solar system. He's the guy who's wondering if we shouldn't be pursuing peace instead of endless war.

What's great about the Season of the Risen, despite the fact that it seems its story is a bit truncated compared to last year's seasons, is that it pushes back on Crow so that he doesn't always get to be the default "good guy" in any given situation. Crow has been pushing back all season against the psychic warfare actions of the Vanguard. In the PsyOps activity, we've been capturing Hive Lightbearers and locking them in a state of painless but unending, deathless limbo, while Caiatl's Cabal Psions use their psychic powers to plumb the Lightbearers' minds. There's an argument to be made here that this is torture, and Crow has argued against its use all season. That's partially because it's just kind of gross to use these tactics, even against the Hive, a society basically structured on genocide, and partially because Crow was once Uldren Sov, and fears that if monsters such as the Hive can't be redeemed through the Light, maybe he can't either.

Crow has been a great character for adding new perspectives to Destiny 2's existing dynamics and questioning other characters about their beliefs--he's a catalyst for growth throughout the game, for sure. Last year, he kind of acted as the game's protagonist, and that helped Destiny 2 tell more engaging stories than it ever had in the past. Season of the Risen checks Crow, however, putting him on slightly more even footing with the rest of the cast. That, too, is a catalyst for growth, both in Crow and in others; in this case, Lord Saladin and Commander Zavala. These interpersonal conflicts are adding a ton of depth to the game and expanding on characters we've been interacting with for years. I'm really enjoying the softer side of Saladin that we saw this week, as well as the continued establishment of the fact that this super-old, gruff castle-dweller also has an entirely other, unexplored facet as a teacher and mentor.

I also wonder where things will go next from here, as Saladin's move this week--taking the blame for Crow's screw-up that got Caiatl's Psion killed--repositions him in the game's universe. He now serves Caiatl "until the end of his days." That's potentially huge, and could solidify the alliance between the Vanguard and the Cabal, or potentially send shockwaves through the world if Caiatl's goals conflict with our own, and Saladin is forced to follow her orders. Honor is a big deal for him, so it's unlikely that he'll refuse the oath he's sworn if it puts him at odds with Zavala and the Vanguard under most circumstances. A Lightbearer serving the Cabal empress is a big deal on its own; add to that the fact that Calus seems to be on his way back to the story, members of Caiatl's military are defecting as seen in the Vox Obscura mission, and the alliance is still pretty tenuous, and this could be a very big development.

Cleaning up the Relic

There's a lot of potential in the crafting system, but it still feels very experimental.

Finally, we'll depart from the story a minute to talk about crafting, a new system in Destiny 2 that I really enjoy, but which very obviously has a long way to go. Bungie mentioned the system in its TWAB this week, talking about some key changes that are coming down the pipe. First, Bungie is raising the caps on crafting materials so it'll be harder to top out on the bits you need to make new guns and change their perks. Later, it's going to do away with a bunch of those materials entirely, which should streamline crafting and make it work a lot better.

The primary issues with crafting right now is that it can be confusing, and that you're flooded with some of the materials you need, while others are extremely hard to come by. The idea is that when you make a new gun, it's a weak version with some lesser perks. As you use it, the gun levels up, unlocking the ability to add lots of better perks--but they're costly. The speedbumps right now are in reconciling the cost of improved perks with their capabilities. "Enhanced" perks in particular can be very good, it seems, and Bungie made them expensive so you can't just turn out an arsenal of all the best stuff instantly. But getting the materials for those enhanced perks is already difficult (most of them don't include matchmaking, raising the barrier because you need to find teammates to help you chase them), and a lot of the system as it stands makes it tough to experiment to find cool gun perk combinations to make interesting weapons.

Crafting has seemed like an experiment from the beginning, so I'm expecting Bungie to adjust it significantly over time as it gathers more data about how players actually use it and work to find the right balance between the difficulty of making extremely powerful weapons and the ease of experimentation. The upcoming changes sound like movements in the right direction. Destiny has long been overwhelmed by an excess of currencies, so cutting as many as possible from the crafting system is a good move.

What I'd really like to see, however, is a clearer and more consistent path to getting Ascendant Alloy, the material needed for enhanced perks. The stuff drops from top-tier Throne World activities as of right now--master-level Wellspring activities and story missions. Both don't support matchmaking, however, which increases the difficulty of running them and earning Ascendant Alloy consistently. I appreciate that Bungie wants to make Ascendant Alloy hard to come by, but the truly most difficult part of Destiny 2 is, and always has been, scheduling with other players. We need a middle ground that balances the difficulty of earning Ascendant Alloy with the absolute pain of trying to organize three (or six) adults to run these activities. In other words: matchmaking for Master Wellsprings. Please.

The good ideas of the weapon crafting system are there, but Bungie still needs to iron out the smaller details, like how often you should earn crafting materials.

It feels like it's going to take a while for Bungie to find the, ah, final shape for the crafting system, but so far the transparency is appreciated. This is an experiment in finding a way to make this system fit best into the game as it stands, and that'll probably be a fairly lengthy process. Anything that streamlines and simplifies, however, is good, and I'm very interested to see where Bungie takes crafting in the future.

That's about it for this week. With the Iron Banner up, I'm hoping to finally get some significant time in the Crucible, since story and secrets have been my top consideration for quite a while now. Void 3.0 made early experiences during The Witch Queen launch...interesting, and I'm looking forward to see how the community is evolving to deal with the changes. I got completely bodied in my first match, which suggests I'm going to need to shake some rust off. As Saladin says, however, iron sharpens iron.

What's catching your attention in the solar system this week--whether in the story, the raid, the Throne World, or the Crucible? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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