For nearly two months now, I have worked alongside my fellow Guardians to procure special supplies for Ikora’s dangerous/brilliant Vex gate project at the Tower. We have dismantled tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of Vex units and brought their parts back from the moon to facilitate the construction of Ikora’s gate, which would allow us to hunt down every inter-planar instance of an evil Vex construct known as the Undying Mind. At every step of the way we were assured that more parts meant more progress, and that soon we would be able to enact Ikora’s plan to end the Vex incursions on the moon. We watched as the Vex gate slowly took shape in the Tower’s central commerce ward, with each weekly shipment of parts adding more pieces, more personnel, and more urgency to our task.
That task was finally completed yesterday, and as I spoke with Ikora about the next phase of her plan, she assured me that the gate was functional, and that she and Titan Vanguard Zavala had used it dozens of times to ensure that it was safe for the rest of us. I expected that, as our conversation came to a close and I was filled with a new resolve to hunt down innumerable copies of the Undying Mind, perhaps a cinematic would show the gate powering up for the first time. Maybe I would be given a new quest to use the gate, or be awarded with an emblem for weeks of assistance in helping Ikora’s plan come to fruition.
None of these things happened. It turns out that after all that work, so many Vex destroyed and so much effort by the game itself to draw attention to the enormous alien stargate in the center of the Tower, none of us would actually get to use the gate. We would not, as had been deeply implied, hop through countless instances of time and space to hunt down every last remaining version of the Undying Mind. There would be no new activity; we would not become interdimensional soldiers bringing war to every possible front in existence, despite that being Ikora’s entire plan as it was communicated to us.
We would, instead, go complete the same Vex invasion activity that we had completed hundreds of times before during the previous weeks, in the same location, against the same enemies, completing the same goals, with the only difference being the final boss. Instead of a Vex gate lord, this time we’d fight the Undying Mind of legend. That might have been enough if the fight were significantly different from what we had been doing, but this Undying Mind encounter is beat for beat identical to the Vex gate lord fight, with the Undying Mind moving from one immunity grid to another while Guardians defeat Vex Minotaurs to bring down said immunity grids. If anything, the Undying Mind is easier than the gate lord was, as it seems to have less health.
After three successful completions of this “new” encounter, players are awarded “Final Assault,” a triumph (read: in-game achievement) necessary to unlock Season of the Undying’s unique title. Beyond this, there is no incentive to complete the activity. It does not grant a unique weapon or anything beyond the standard awards that we have received from this activity every single day since its launch in early October. As a Guardian who takes their obligations to protecting the universe very seriously, and who has spent the last month completing more than 100 Season Pass levels’ worth of Destiny 2 Things™, it’s difficult to express just how underwhelming this conclusion is. I didn’t expect something on the scale of a new Dungeon or Raid, but as the very last piece of new content for Season 8 of Destiny 2, I expected more than this.
Back in September, Bungie put out a 10 minute mini-documentary about its vision for Shadowkeep, Season of the Undying, and the overall future of Destiny 2. “What we want to construct is a world where players feel like their actions — whether personal or as a whole broad global community — are moving the universe forward in some meaningful way,” said director Luke Smith. “We want a universe that’s dynamic and changing; it’s a universe where you can have memories, you can say things like ‘I was there when.'”
And it’s true, I can say that I was here for this. The problem is that with specific regards to finishing the gate and beating the Undying Mind, I just don’t care. I’ve never been given a reason to care. Defeating a palette swap of an encounter I’ve done dozens of times before is not a heroic achievement. It is not a memorable accomplishment actualized despite the arduous conditions of an infinite war through space and time. I do not feel that my work has benefited anyone in the Last City, nor has it been of tangible boon to me, as a Guardian who continues to acquire the same weapons I’ve received for weeks on end.
In contrast, it was deeply rewarding to banish the many phantoms plaguing Eris Morn. Eris is an evocative character whose situation is tragic, and by giving the player a concrete way to improve Eris’ daily life, we were also given a meaningful impact to enact on the game’s world. Every time I went to Eris and saw one fewer ghost than the week before, I felt like I’d made a difference. The moments with Eris at the pyramid overlook, where she confided in me the secrets of her bonds with each member of her long-dead fireteam; those meant something. Those sequences gave me a reason to care, a reason why I should keep working toward that task.
And when I finally managed to banish the last of Eris’ specters, it was okay that I didn’t get an emblem for it, that I didn’t gain access to a new gun or something. It was enough that I had helped a character that mattered to me, and not just in the “thanks for all your work, Guardian” way that we all get when finishing weekly bounties. I did something to aid the recovery of a person suffering from severe emotional trauma, and those stakes were clearly communicated to me throughout the entire process. Seeing Eris without a cadre of ghosts at her back gives me more satisfaction than any amount of broken Undying Minds ever could.
I don’t like to give criticism without offering a solution, and while I don’t think there’s much that Bungie could do to improve the experience this close to the end of the season, I can relate what I would have done differently. It would have been fine to leave things exactly how they are, with the Undying Mind standing in for the gate lord, with no new gear or emblems or anything, if the player had been able to go with Ikora and Zavala on their first test run of gate.
Give me a single cinematic of the gate powering up for the first time. Let me watch my Guardian walk into it with Ikora and Zavala, and give me a brief encounter in the Black Garden where the three of us take down the Undying Mind. Bungie has shown me time and time again that I am the Tower Vanguard’s Most Special Guardian™, that I am their trusted problem solver; the Hero of the Red War; the reason why Guardians even still exist. Give me a tale worth telling.