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Destiny 2's Final Shape Brings New Depth To Its Missions And "Defragmented" World

Bungie provided a closer look into the Pale Heart of the Traveler ahead of Destiny 2's next expansion, and it's not all nostalgia and memories.


Ten years ago, the story of Destiny started with the Traveler, a god-like entity the size of a small moon, hovering over Earth and dispensing superpowers to humans to use against encroaching alien hordes. In The Final Shape, Destiny 2's next expansion, we're finally primed to find out what's inside that massive robotic orb.

It's apparently pretty weird in there.

We've gotten a few brief glimpses into the Pale Heart of the Traveler, the new location where the final showdown between the heroes of humanity and the Witness, Destiny 2's primary antagonist, will take place. In a recent hands-off preview event, however, Bungie gave something of an extended look into the Pale Heart, a pocket of the universe where memories and emotions combine with the Traveler's near-magical paracausal power to redefine reality.

The Pale Heart is a place that, according to Bungie, draws on the experiences of whoever's inside it to create the world they see around them. In the early missions of The Final Shape's campaign, you'll see nostalgic elements from the last 10 years of Destiny folded into the landscape--things like giant Ghost shells and overgrown segments of old locations, levels, and social spaces.

But the Traveler's power, the Light, is clashing with the Darkness power wielded by the Witness, and that's also causing the landscape to twist and contort, especially as you delve deeper.

"You can kind of think of it like traversing a world in the process of being defragmented," said campaign lead Andrew Hopps during the preview.

While the preview didn't give an extensive overview of the expansion, it did provide some impressions of what players can expect, showing off portions of the first mission of its campaign and a later Strike that's also part of the story. The mission begins with the Guardian, the player's character, heading into the big pink portal into the Traveler that has been staring players in the face for the last year. It's not just a matter of stepping into the portal and popping out the other side, though. Instead, you'll make your way over a disjointed collection of chunks of architecture, spaceships, and terrestrial locations, all haphazardly thrown together. If the Pale Heart is combining different elements from memory to create a new reality, the portal feels like the place where all those bits are stored until they're needed; like the memories are manifesting into new objects, but without any guidance putting them together in a meaningful way.

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As is probably expected, the path through the portal is home to enemies who try to stop you. These include the Taken, which now sport a spooky yellow eye--an indicator of the Witness's control over them. This is also the place where you'll first start to encounter Destiny 2's new enemy faction, the Dread. Bungie previously detailed the different threats that make up the Witness's new army, but you'll start by running into Weavers, small enemies that use the Strand abilities introduced in the Lightfall expansion to nab you with ethereal ropes. Weavers can grab and yank you toward themselves and out of cover, exposing you to attack or, sometimes, just tossing you off a cliff.

Hopps noted that Bungie has spent time rebalancing the campaign's difficulty, particularly at the Legendary level. The idea is to make sure missions feel tough but fair, whether you're playing alone or with a team of one or two other people, although Hopps didn't go into specifics about what adjustments developers have made. Bungie is also putting a greater emphasis on adding raid- and dungeon-like mechanics to more missions, and in the preview, we saw elements like the Light and Darkness "seeds" that appear in Lightfall's Root of Nightmares raid. These don't work quite the same way as in the raid, and you'll be able to use all these mechanics as a solo player, Hopps said. But in both the campaign mission and the Strike shown during the presentation, there were additional mechanics that should make progressing through the Pale Heart a little more complex than just shooting a lot of monsters.

Bungie soon cut away from the portal portion of the mission, skipping ahead to after the player had finally fully entered the Traveler. Here, we got our first glimpses of the Pale Heart, where the early portions are lush and green. In some moments, plants and rocks are popping into being directly ahead of you as you walk, and soon you're finding strange sights, like chunks of the Last City and those huge Ghost shells, overgrown and almost ancient-looking as they poke out of the landscape.

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"This was something that we did from the beginning in concept for The Final Shape, that we really wanted this big moment after the 10 years of the Light and Darkness Saga to invoke a lot of nostalgia from the players," said expansions project lead Catarina Macedo. "And one of the ways we wanted to do that was by the environment that you go through. So we had this idea that as you go into the Traveler, everything around you is shaped by these memories of you being a Guardian, places that you've been to, things that you've seen, scenes that you've lived."

The level sends the player passing through these overgrown chunks of the City, where they encounter more Dread enemies. These include the "bats with guns," the Grim, which sport a stunning shriek ability that can be particularly dangerous if it nails you while you're trying something harrowing like jumping over a gap. The Grim are also the first flying enemies in Destiny 2 that have wings, which means they bob up and down as you fight them, adding a slightly different wrinkle to combat. Even farther in, players run into a Harbinger--a new Dread enemy that occupies the same place as the Tormentor in terms of danger presented to opponents. Where Tormentors feel like smaller versions of the Root of Nightmare boss Nezarec, Harbingers are more similar to Rhulk, the boss of the Vow of the Disciple raid.

The Harbinger also wields Strand abilities, turning some player powers back against them. The Harbinger can suspend you with Strand the exact same way opponents can in player-vs.-player battles, locking you in place and opening you up to serious damage. Harbingers generally are less mobile than Tormentors but rely on ranged fighting rather than melee attacks.

The landscape of the Pale Heart is reacting to the presence of Guardians, filling the world with elements from their memories and experiences. But the Witness is also having the same effect, and things will get more corrupted and darker as you draw closer to it.

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"We're doing this thing, kind of for the first time, where we do a lot of storytelling through the environment," said game director Tyson Green. "You travel from a place where you know where you are and what's going on, and it feels relatively safe, into a place of increasing danger and proximity to the Witness. It's really a very striking environmental journey that we haven't really done with any of our previous expansions."

After the first mission, Bungie showed off a new Strike that takes place about halfway through the campaign. Here, we've ventured deeper into the Pale Heart in pursuit of the Witness, and the landscape has changed drastically, becoming more rocky, desolate, and barren. This one is themed after Destiny's "wish dragons," the Ahamkara, with players facing a huge Tormentor boss known as "Tormentor of the Ahamkara."

"One of the things that we've seen even in previous releases, especially when we started getting into the pyramids and seeing what their architecture looks like, we saw a lot of reshaping of normal objects. I'm sure everyone remembers the horse with many butts and all that," Macedo said. "Because the Witness is trying to enact the Final Shape [and] reshape everything to perfect stillness, one of the big things that we wanted to do as the Guardian gets closer to the spire where the Witness is at the center of the Pale Heart, we wanted to bring more of that distortion and reshaping, and more unease, and that feeling that this isn't quite right."

"So that was the big inspiration behind that: Take that language and basically turn the knob all the way to 100, and see how twisted can we get," Macedo continued.

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The Strike includes Dread enemies and Taken, while also introducing another foe players will face: the Lucent Brood, the Hive under the control of Savathun, the Witch Queen. Savathun and her forces are also trying to oppose the Witness, Green noted, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're on your side. In the Strike, you'll fight Lucent Hive on a few different occasions.

Like the campaign, the Strike also works in new mechanics that are a little more comparable to dungeons or raids than we've seen in previous strikes. You chase the Tormentor through the Strike, working through gaping caves and barren valleys. As you fight the Strike's major battles against enemies like Harbingers, you'll find weird Darkness goo flooding into the area, as well as major opponents with unbreakable shields. To clear them, you'll need to seek out nearby Ahamkara skulls. Finding an item called Taken Essence allows you to empower the skulls, breaking the shields. It's getting the Taken Essence, however, that's the tough part.

Usually, you'll venture into a side room in search of what you need to empower the Ahamkara skulls. In the sections we saw, the rooms are full of walls and platforms, and when you grab the Taken Essence at the far end, you have to run back as Darkness sludge fills in around you. In one room, the walls close in toward you like a trap in an Indiana Jones movie, forcing you to leap over and duck under obstacles as you hustle out. In another, the sludge fills the room from the floor up, so you need to climb up platforms to avoid it on your way out.

In a later area, you leap through a hole in the wall to find yourself in an environment similar to the inside of Riven, the Ahamkara that serves as the final boss of the Last Wish raid, further solidifying the strange architecture and the reshaping of reality within the Pale Heart. In another section, you'll cross through a hallway filled with giant arms made of stone. The statues serve as platforms, and take the shapes of human and Hive hands, as well as Ahamkara tentacles.

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Also among the locations in the Strike was a town made of the same architecture we've seen inside the pyramid ships of the Black Fleet--suggesting that this location might have manifested from the Witness's memories.

"We don't want to get into spoilers, but a lot of what you'll see are not just your memories, but memories of other things that are in the Pale Heart--so the Witness, even the Dread," Green said. "So there'll be a couple deep lore callouts in there that I can't wait for people to tease out and bring to light."

Bungie ended the preview shortly before the end of the Strike, leaving us guessing where else the campaign of The Final Shape will take players, or what else the world will offer. But we do know that, like Neomuna and Savathun's Throne World, the Pale Heart of the Traveler is a new location you'll be able to freely explore. The story will also stretch beyond the first week, according to Hopps.

"I would argue this is our biggest campaign to date," Hopps said. "It doesn't just end with the raid."

For more from the preview event, check out what we saw of the new Prismatic subclass in action.

The Final Shape is set to release on June 4.

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