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Iron Banter: This Week In Destiny 2 - Science-ing The Trials Of Osiris And Uncovering Ascendant Mysteries

We're seeing more changes to the Trials of Osiris this week, and so far, so good. Plus, the Ascendant Mysteries in the Shattered Realm are expanding Destiny 2's stories in cool and unexpected ways.

Just about every week brings something new to Destiny 2, whether it's story beats, new activities, or interesting new combinations of elements that let players devastate each other in the Crucible. Iron Banter is our weekly look at what's going on in the world of Destiny and a rundown of what's drawing our attention across the solar system.

Bungie rolled out even more Trials of Osiris changes this week, and while I know we've been talking about this a lot, the alterations to the mode continue to sound really excellent. I've spent a little time in the mode again this weekend and remain excited for the adjustments, which is a really nice feeling to have after spending the last year getting amped to try a Trials run and then getting demoralized over the course of a couple hours and some rough losses.

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Now Playing: Destiny 2 Players NEED To Play Trials of Osiris

Trials isn't the only thing going on this week, though. The Shattered Realm has quickly become one of my favorite things in Destiny 2 right now, and the last couple iterations of the mode have done some really cool things with story. Here we go.

Clinical Trials

This week's Trials of Osiris makes a few significant alterations to the mode. First, you should be playing Trials, even if you were a little put off by Bungie's changes last week. During that weekend, we saw a cascade effect where the developer attempted to remedy some Trials issues by shunting off players who achieved a Flawless run into their own player pool--once you hit Flawless for the weekend, you were placed in a pool composed of only other Flawless players. This weekend tweaks that a bit, but the thinking is the same.

And it's a line of thinking I like. Last week, as more players went Flawless, they were shunted off into their own player pool, which basically meant that the pool of non-Flawless players got easier to deal with over time. That continues to raise the floor so that more players are more likely to go Flawless over the course of a weekend as better players take themselves out of the rotation. Making at least one Flawless more attainable for more players is very healthy for Trials, in my opinion--making that goal and the rewards that come with it more attainable gets more people excited to play, and the more people who play Trials, the more fun it is.

The trouble was that mid-tier players kind of got the worst of both worlds with last week's system. If you went Flawless once, especially early on, you were placed in the Flawless pool, which made it tough to keep playing in the mode. Suddenly, you went from a large pool of players with varying skill levels to a much tighter one where the best players congregate. So if you're a mid-tier PvP player most of the time, you were suddenly a bottom-tier player in the Flawless pool. I didn't play much last weekend and thus didn't get a chance to Flawless, so I didn't experience this myself, but the anecdotes I heard from others at GameSpot was that the Flawless pool was too much of a pain. It cut the incentive to keep playing Trials to continue earning rewards because the likelihood of getting rolled over went way up. Effectively, the Flawless pool caused some players to quit after one Flawless and abandon the mode for the rest of the weekend, which undercuts the entire goal of getting more players into the mode to begin with.

All the tweaks to the Trials of Osiris have made the mode a lot of fun to hit up every weekend.
All the tweaks to the Trials of Osiris have made the mode a lot of fun to hit up every weekend.

So this weekend, Bungie is holding back the Flawless pool until Sunday, which hopefully gives all the upshots and fewer of the drawbacks. The benefit is that the larger player pool persists throughout the weekend, and if you manage to Flawless early, you still have the incentive to keep playing and to keep earning drops, or even better, to jump onto a different team and help out your friends. That was the main loss last week: GameSpot's David Ahmadi, a regular on my Trials team, went Flawless early, and thus playing with him meant I would be stuck in the Flawless pool with him--so we didn't end up playing together. The tougher pool removed the incentive to keep playing and to help your friends once you'd succeeded. With the Flawless pool held to Sunday, we can play early in the weekend and try to go Flawless once or even more. If we fail out in the early days, we can try again Sunday or Monday when the Flawless pool is in place, giving us an easier chance to get at least one Flawless for the weekend. Meanwhile, top-tier players can take their winnings early in the weekend, and then go for the higher challenge of the tougher pool later on, as well. Hopefully that creates a situation in which everyone gets to feel like the mode meets their specific needs, and that more players have a good reason to keep fighting.

This week also sees the start of Trials Labs, where Bungie experiments with alterations to the Trials of Osiris game mode. The first week adds a capture point 30 seconds into the round, marked on everyone's screen, and you can win the round either by eliminating the opposition as usual, or by capturing that location. It's a weird wrench that changes up strategies significantly, particularly because the capture point shows up closer to the team that's losing to give them a bit of a comeback opportunity. I'm not sure everyone will like it, but the novelty of having different objectives means that different strategies become viable in Trials, and that refresher to the mode is exciting. We've been thinking about Trials the exact same way for a long time, so having something new to contend with is exciting.

I'm really enjoying the way Bungie has been messing with the Trials mode and making it more viable than it has ever been, and I want to see it continue. The TWAB this week mentions some further adjustments and goals the developer has in the future, and I can't wait until we get to a point where the Flawless pool is totally unnecessary and matchmaking handles making the mode feel competitive and tough, without being all blowouts, all the time. From what I've seen, it's already on the right track.

Mystery Machine

The hidden mysteries of the Shattered Realm are really making it fun to spend time there.
The hidden mysteries of the Shattered Realm are really making it fun to spend time there.

Last week, I briefly mentioned Ascendant Mysteries, a new element added to the Shattered Realm activity. This has quickly become one of my favorite seasonal activities in recent memory, thanks to its heavy focus on puzzles, and Ascendant Mysteries are a culmination of what I like about it. They're just involved enough to give you something interesting to hunt while you're wandering the Ascendant Realm, and they're providing some fascinating minor story tidbits that make chasing them feel worthwhile.

This week's Ascendant Mysteries focus on the Scorn, and as you unlock them, you get some cool dialogue from Mara Sov that recontextualizes the enemies. The Scorn are a weird group of creatures that it feels like Bungie has big plans for, thanks to hints we first saw in the Presage mission in the Season of the Chosen and are now getting this season. What we know of them is somewhat minimal: They're essentially zombie Eliksni, reanimated by a combination of Darkness power and a wish granted by Taken Riven during the Forsaken campaign. Other than the Taken themselves, there seems to be no other people so closely attuned to the Darkness as the Scorn. In fact, in the Presage mission, we see the aftermath of Calus's attempts to use the Scorn as a sort of radio antenna to talk directly with the Entity, the intelligence behind the Darkness (my Anti-Traveler from a previous discussion).

Because they're zombies, though, the Scorn have always seemed somewhat mindless. They certainly do not seem to have much of a real "culture" or identity as a people. The Ascendant Mysteries this week, however, upend that understanding of the Scorn by suggesting that they're learning, growing, and becoming more than they currently are.

In the first Ascendant Mystery, you find the Scorn doing industry--they're minding "Ascendant Energy" from the Shattered Realm and refining it into… something. We don't know a ton about Ascendant Energy and what it's good for, except that it's essential to the Blind Well and other aspects of the Dreaming City. It's important, and Mara suggests the Scorn are getting guidance on how to gather and use it, although she doesn't know to what end.

What're these Scorn dorks up to?
What're these Scorn dorks up to?

In the second mystery, we come across three special Scorn enemies running some kind of combat ritual--a sort of fight club. You chase them down and slay them, but each has a fascinating title: Deepwalker, Listener, and Hungerer. These are all Hive-ish titles, and that feels meaningful. The Season of the Lost has suggested that, along with the Taken, the Scorn are being directly commanded by the Anti-Traveler, or maybe by the Hive god of war, Xivu Arath, the Darkness's main remaining champion.

The first Ascendant Mystery suggests that the Scorn are getting orders that could make them more powerful. The second really feels like the Scorn are either beginning to evolve on their own, becoming more of a real culture and people, or they're being groomed to become something else. Ritual combat sounds a lot like the Sword Logic, the means by which the Hive grow their power by killing other things, including each other. And with those spooky titles invoking the sounds of the Hive, it seems like we might be seeing the Scorn being driven to become more like the Hive in general.

Those are just two little tastes of story that pop up from spending time in the Shattered Realm, and what's more, they're tiny secret events you can watch unfold (and then disrupt). They also feel like tidbits that, in Destiny's past, might have been relegated to lore drops or happened in a distant story campaign where you don't necessarily realize what you're seeing until you read about it later. But Mara's commentary through these little secrets elevates the whole situation. These are tiny activities that feel meaningful to the greater story of the game, and while they're not tough to solve, they're just involved enough to give that sense of unraveling something. I love that--and from what game director Joe Blackburn and general manager Justin Truman told me about The Witch Queen, these Ascendant Mysteries seem like they might be a taste of the kind of detective work we might be doing in the next expansion.

Meanwhile, I'm still really enjoying the interplay between Mara Sov, Savathun, and Crow, who had a lot of great dialogue in the Astral Alignment activity this week that suggests the conflict growing within him. Crow's headed for a breaking point, and I can't wait to see what happens when he either finally succumbs to the manipulations of everyone around him, or breaks free of them. There was some lore suggestion not long ago that Zavala is trying to set Crow up with a new mentor in Lord Saladin, and I'm hoping to see more development on that front. But Crow has too many people telling him what to do, and pretty soon, he's going to have to make new choices of his own.

That's it for me this week; time to jump into Trials of Osiris and try to nab that Adept version of Igneous Hammer, finally. Good luck in the Crucible, Guardians. If you've got something you want to talk about in Destiny 2 this week, like your thoughts on Trials or your speculation of where the story is headed, drop it in the comments below.

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Phil Hornshaw

Phil Hornshaw is a former senior writer at GameSpot and worked as a journalist for newspapers and websites for more than a decade, covering video games, technology, and entertainment for nearly that long. A freelancer before he joined the GameSpot team as an editor out of Los Angeles, his work appeared at Playboy, IGN, Kotaku, Complex, Polygon, TheWrap, Digital Trends, The Escapist, GameFront, and The Huffington Post. Outside the realm of games, he's the co-author of So You Created a Wormhole: The Time Traveler's Guide to Time Travel and The Space Hero's Guide to Glory. If he's not writing about video games, he's probably doing a deep dive into game lore.

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