What Solstice Of Heroes Tells Us About The Future Of Destiny 2
I recently had the chance to dive into a pre-release version of Forsaken, the upcoming major expansion to Destiny 2, and detailed my thoughts in our cover story. That experience offered a glimpse into some of the core aspects of gameplay (like new supers and a new bow archetype) that players can expect to encounter in September, as well as a sense of how the story will progress. However, the nature of the build I played didn’t provide a clear sense of the all-important “live” experience of progression, grinding, and event play that are so core to the ongoing Destiny 2 experience. For hints of what to expect there, I suspect we are better off looking at the current event roll-out, as Solstice of Heroes suggests some significant shifts in the approach to player investment, and it’s a worthwhile ride all on its own.
Solstice of Heroes began last week, and runs through most of August, so if you’ve been away from the game, there’s still plenty of time to dig in. And, for the record, digging in is worthwhile. While I don’t love everything about this most recent update and event, it has a lot to offer, especially to dedicated players. Moreover, it’s a worthy attempt at pulling players back into multiple corners of the existing game, and offering meaningful reasons to be drawn in.
Solstice of Heroes has an engaging reward concept as its main conceit. You start the event with a low-level green set of armor, and through an array of tasks and grinds, you can upgrade that armor to the power cap. Moving from green, to blue, to purple armor, and seeing the cosmetic changes along the way, adds up to a satisfying loop that emulates what is fun about a new expansion release – the genuine sense of growth and improvement, something that I hope Forsaken provides in spades when it releases in a few weeks. Importantly, it also suggests Bungie is more aggressively exploring the sort of long-tail project play that kept players so invested throughout the life of the original Destiny.
In terms of content to discover, the best element on display (and the thing worth playing through even if you don’t decide to chase the armor set) are the five redux missions. Tapping into the woefully underused story missions from the core game and the locations in which they unfold, Solstice of Heroes reinvigorates five of the best and most memorable missions with new enemy configurations, pathing, and higher challenge, and all to great effect. These feel like legendary retellings of your quest to confront the Red Legion, from the first desperate defense of the City, to the harrowing assault on the sun-destroying Almighty. The brief but excellent “Spark” mission is a particular favorite, complete with hordes of Fallen scurrying out of the ground, and a fun new boss fight against a Servitor that just won’t die.
These reimagined story missions understand the small but essential distinction between reused content and recycled content, and opt for the latter. While much will seem familiar, the missions feel fresh and exciting thanks to reworked design. Many signs indicate Year 2 will be characterized by a similar approach to content. Bungie has already spoken about its plans to reinvigorate old content like Lost Sectors with new battles over the course of the expansion, or add new lore to chase on previous destinations; all of that should come as good news to players who recognize that much of Destiny 2’s existing content could feel meaningful again with some reworking and tweaks.
While the story missions in Solstice of Heroes recycle in a smart way, the same cannot be said for many of the objectives that characterize the armor set chase, and I’m torn about my enjoyment of the grind. On one side, I enjoy the discrete tasks that force me to play in interesting ways, like getting kills with a particular type of weapon, or collecting orbs by playing with a particular subclass loadout; these certainly take time, but there’s novelty in the play experience. But other tasks demand the replay of tired content in ways that simply aren’t enjoyable. For instance, one challenge demands that your character play through ten adventures to completion, but with no variation on this content from when you played them the first time months ago. Unlike the redux story missions, this kind of grind is squarely reusing old material without refreshing it, and comes across as time-wasting. I’m crossing my fingers that Year 2 will stay away from that kind of tedium, especially on content pieces that haven’t seen any adjustments. But, for instance, if the developers were to change up the adventures with new enemies, narration, bosses, and rewards? Bring it on.
Even with some overly time-consuming tasks, I like that the armor set chase pushes players into a variety of activities across the scope of the game, and encourages engagement with multiple tasks at once. At any one time in the game right now, it’s possible that I’m chasing a few of the newly reintroduced bounties, attempting to complete melee kills for my armor, trying to complete a masterwork exotic catalyst, and get through a nightfall milestone, all at once. That layering of projects is enjoyable in a investment and progression-oriented game like this, and it’s clear Bungie sees this style of play as central to how Year Two of Destiny 2 will roll out; Forsaken's leads specifically spoke to me about that structure during our cover story interviews. The bounty system is expanding, and my experience in the early build suggests that the endgame experience in Forsaken’s Dreaming City will also reflect that layering approach, encouraging Guardians to pursue multiple tasks in tandem as they progress.
And while it rolled out officially a couple of weeks before Solstice of Heroes, I’ve also been overjoyed about the surprise appearance of the new ultra-challenging Whisper quest. For those who haven’t been following along, this secret mission was uncovered a few weeks back, and includes a thrilling jumping puzzle, a series of devious combat encounters, some intriguing lore elements, and the chance to snag one of the best exotic sniper rifles in the game, but only if you can beat a 20 minute timer. These sort of hidden missions ignited and united the Destiny community during the first game’s existence, and I’ve been stunned that Destiny 2 launched with little in the way of the same sort of secrets. The inclusion of the Whisper mission this summer makes me believe that the developers also recognize the absence, and I strongly suspect more of the same in Forsaken.
The other big takeaway from Solstice of Heroes is the focus on the grind itself. At launch, Destiny 2 backed away from many of the more grind-heavy activities that characterized its predecessor. Whether you enjoyed that shift or not, Solstice of Heroes seems to suggest a return to more activities that involve high time investment for at least some of the biggest rewards.
That’s not the only thing from the original Destiny that seems to be reappearing. The return of bounties and triumphs, 6v6 Quickplay in Crucible, and a more mysterious and serious tone to the story presentation are all already in evidence in Solstice of Heroes and the Whisper mission. With Forsaken, we know we’ll also see things like faster times-to-kill, a reworked Director that focuses less on weekly milestones as the only main way to progress, and a weapon slot system that returns favorites like shotguns and snipers into the energy category.
Alongside numerous brand-new features coming in Forsaken (like new supers and a dedicated endgame zone), an interesting picture emerges. Year 2 of Destiny 2 isn’t likely to be a total reversion to the styles of play that characterized Destiny 1. But it does seem to represent a conscious effort to take more of what worked in that original game, and add it into what works well in the new game. If Solstice of Heroes is any indication, players should expect a game that at times offers some time-intensive grinds (whether you like that or not), but also more of the secrets, rare rewards, and long-form projects that keep players coming back every week.