destiny lightfall header LRfEl

For all its flaws, Destiny 2’s Lightfall expansion pulled me back from service game burnout

If you have ever burned out on a video game, you know what it’s like. Suddenly, you’re exhausted any time the game you once loved shows up in your Steam library. Any time someone talks about it in your earshot, you’re filled with this pervasive cynicism that won’t quit. Nothing about the game is good, everything is bad, and nobody can convince you otherwise – even if you were its biggest fan mere months ago.

I’ve played – and dropped – a lot of games since returning to this hobby in 2016. But the game I feel like I owe the most to – and associate most strongly with work – is Destiny 2. I got into Destiny 2 at the request of some coworkers, and just as I’ve been working that same job for the past eight years, I’ve been playing Destiny 2 since right after launch.

Watch on YouTube

Here’s the Destiny 2 Lightfall launch trailer to give you an idea of things.

Destiny 2 felt like a perfect game to get into right at the beginning of my reentry into video games. It was simultaneously simple and complex, a buttery-smooth, visually-stunning first-person shooter with intricate lore that sat in tension with what was actually happening in the game. I loved that tension point, and tried to sit inside it as much as possible, those lore entries setting my imagination on fire with the endless narrative possibilities they presented, even if nobody can argue that reading them for hours at a time makes for compelling gameplay.

But as time passed, my relationship with the game changed. The coworkers I started playing it with gradually disappeared. What once was a fun thing to do with friends on nights and weekends progressively became a solo affair. My little issues with the game got bigger, inflating into irritants. Eventually I was identifying full-blown systemic problems with the franchise. Destiny was no longer something I enjoyed in passing, nor even really a game I felt fannishly connected to; it was a burden I bore, something I needed to subject to extra critical scrutiny.

When I played, I played listlessly. When I wrote about the game, nothing came out except hypercritical screeds. I was in no state to be a capital-C “Critic” when it came to Destiny 2, but that’s what I did. It got to the point where, while everyone was celebrating The Witch Queen, I was writing about… the game’s inherent context-free heroism problem (as I saw it) and swearing up and down that I would never write about Destiny 2 again.

Clearly, that’s a vow I’ve decided not to stick to – and now we’re at the beginning of a new expansion cycle. Lightfall has arrived, and it’s certainly been polarizing. Once again, I find myself sitting at an unexpected point of tension, this time between the community’s negative feelings toward the expansion and my own attempts to positively re-engage with it.

I’ve played a lot of Destiny 2 in the past three weeks. I got into the campaign with no issues on day one, and took about two days to complete it. I then spent the rest of the first week on post-expansion “content,” the introduction to Season of Defiance, and raising my Guardian’s power level to something that could more easily handle enemies. For week two, I focused on doing a few exotic quests, the second part of the seasonal story, and the game’s regular “content treadmill.” Coming into week three, my main focus has shifted entirely onto seasonal activities. Looking at it from above like this, it’s more or less in line with my experiences in previous expansions. In fact, I… really don’t hate it overall.

To be clear, I thought Lightfall’s campaign was pretty weak, especially compared to The Witch Queen. We spent 12 to 14 hours running around Neomuna and chasing a single mystery MacGuffin, with a single not-so-quick detour to learn Strand, the game’s new Darkness power. Calus is either the most underwhelming final boss or the most brilliantly subversive, “if you think about it.” The Witness, despite being the hyped-up main series enemy, appeared in what amounted to a cameo’s worth of scenes, and exited the campaign with no pressing questions answered. Nimbus is annoying (though I still love them), Rohan was too much of the buddy-cop “old partner” stereotype, and Osiris was truly infuriating as the main driver of the narrative.

These are all pretty substantive issues! I’m definitely not the only one who has them! So why aren’t I more upset?

I struggle to put my finger on it – and it’s led me to wonder if there’s anything inherent to Destiny 2 that might contribute to burnout, and if any of that’s changed. A couple spring to mind: it’s been going for an exceptionally long time, and it’s a live service – but there are plenty of others you could say that about too. Destiny 2 came out in 2017, sandwiched between Ark: Survival Evolved and Fortnite, smack-dab in the middle of the industry-wide live service trend, a trend that, as more recent games like Marvel’s Avengers or Suice Squad: Kill the Justice League see pushback on their loot-grinding models, looks to be entering a marked decline today.

Destiny 2 does have a beefier narrative than its predecessor, but it’s always retained the core loop of playing through the same limited set of activities, week in and week out. Doing that for six years straight? Not exactly my idea of a good time. Combined with the original Destiny, we’re nearing a full decade of interaction with this specific game model. It would be wild for Bungie to expect anyone to stick with the game every week for nine-going-on-ten years. We have to take breaks! It is necessary for our well-being!

I deleted Destiny 2 from my console’s hard drive after my flame-out. I played other games. I went outside. I put some distance between myself and this game. And to be honest, I really didn’t expect to ever come back to it. The reason I’m here is because, when I watched the marketing for Lightfall all through last autumn, I expected to hear that cynical voice in the back of my head pipe up with every promise and announcement Bungie made. For the first time in years, I didn’t hear it.

Lightfall isn’t Destiny 2’s best expansion. I don’t know what caused its story problems, and I don’t know what it is that burns people out so hard in Destiny 2. But as of now, I’m willing to take Bungie at its word that the expansion was meant to be an entryway to a full year of interesting seasonal stories leading up to The Final Shape. This time, I feel up for the journey – and if nothing else, grappling onto rockets with Strand’s new grappling hook is a lot of fun. Maybe that’s what I was missing before.

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