There I was, kicking my heels after racing through an absurd amount of content the night of the Destiny 2 Weekly Reset – I’d done some main missions, done the social calls to catch up with each of my vendor pals, and was considering flexing my inner masochist in the Crucible to see out the night. Then, just as I swung my chair around and set my sights on Shaxx, a Reddit post caught my eye… “there’s a new Exotic quest called ‘The Variable’” it said.
Reading on, I saw that it was in the EDZ – that’s all I needed to know. I hopped onto my ship and hightailed it back to earth’s sludgiest battleground. Lo and behold, after a few minutes of scouting the area out on my Sparrow, I’d found it… or, at least, the path to it. Strange Vex data blights pinged off my radar, and a quick-and-easy ‘follow the light’ puzzle later, I’d wandered into a new cave in the old Earth area. And it’s here, against all odds, Destiny would redeem itself.
I’ve not been kind about Lightfall. Yes, I think there are some really cool moments, and yes, I have had some great fun playing through the Legend campaign. But overall, it’s a crapshoot – a weird tonal aberration that undoes so much of the work The Witch Queen did in righting the shaky storytelling of this nearly decade-old experience. But Destiny is so much more than its campaigns; the game lives and dies on its seasonal content, and the way it keeps bringing players back into its best-in-class FPS sandbox. And little missions like this newly added NODE.OVRD.AVAL.ON quest are great examples of where Bungie really succeeds.
First up, you’re introduced to a new NPC – a friendly Harpy! Again! Imagine that! This grumpy Vex bastard talks you through some lofty lore reasons as to why you need to jump into a big new level made out of cyberspace, or something, and crash a malignant entity within. The mission has all the classic Destiny tropes; arena fights that are set up more like combat puzzles, platforming sections that take a sadistic delight in booping you off the edge of the map, hidden little areas full of surprises, and bastard-hard boss fights liable to make you tear your ethernet cable out of your console and try to Crota the whole thing if you keep messing up.
This mission, in fact, has two of those. There’s a mini Gambit-lite bit that wants you to play the objective in a really tight way – or risk wiping. This, paired with a seemingly unending tide of Harpies sniping you from across the room, makes for one hell of a challenge. But it’s peak Destiny; relying on its solid gunplay and ability cycling to give you other tasks, layered on top of simply surviving. It reminds you how much the devs can do with the tools available to them – and it’s amazing how fresh dunking nodes into an objective can still feel, all these years later.
Following on from this little game of ‘dunk and hide’, there’s the boss encounter proper. It’s a remix of an early Strike boss from the game, and a pleasing example of how to re-use content well. This whole mission appears to be prepping us for the new DLC raid; we’re taught how to look for codes and enter them into doorways – a refreshing break from simply letting our Ghost hack away at a barrier as we fend off three waves of hired (or wired) goons.
Calling out codes and clearing adds as you try, desperately, to unblock passageways and clear the way to the final encounter is pure adrenaline. I stayed up until 2am nailing this bastard, praying that my long-suffering Titan teammate would be able to burn the last dregs of its health as I lay dead and hopelessly battered by Vex lasers near a sheer drop. He succeeded, and we won. Our prize? A whole new Exotic, baby.
And therein lies the charm. A level of this calibur could easily exist in a Halo, or a Call of Duty, or another shooter – sure. But to be able to drop things like this in so easily, and task us with fighting through high-end, end-game content to reward us like this? It’s what service shooters should be doing; it shows off why Destiny is the best of the best at what it does. It’s not just uninspired reskin of a shit gun nailed onto the end of a season pass with a hastily scribbled ‘well done’ tacked to it. No, it’s a proper, meaningful bit of kit – presented well, and worked for.
And there’s not too much FOMO in it, either; if I’d missed this quest this week, it’ll hang around for a bit. So if you’re reading this and thinking ‘hey, that does sound good, actually’ just boot up the game, head to the EDZ and figure the little puzzle out that opens the gate to the whole thing yourself. Boom, done. Simple.
For all its flaws, and its aggravating storytelling, Destiny continues to be a shining light in the service game sector – a strong head of the pack, leading by example. I really hope we get more stuff like this in the weeks and months to come… and less of whatever the hell Lightfall’s main story was.