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Iron Banter: This Week In Destiny 2 - Spay And Neuter Your Ghosts

It's been a couple of busy weeks for Destiny 2, with a ton of great new stuff in the 30th Anniversary DLC, including the best Xur we've ever seen.

Destiny 2 in December has been...eventful. It saw the launch of the Bungie 30th Anniversary DLC, which has brought a whole lot of new content to the game, and has been, in a word, hilarious. I've been having a blast in the new Grasp of Avarice dungeon and playing Dares of Eternity, where the dialogue is excellent. The new guns inspired by Bungie's past games, including Halo, all feel great. Mostly, the whole experience has just been extremely lighthearted and fun, and I've enjoyed every minute of it.

Not everything was positive, though. Last week, IGN's Rebekah Valentine published an excellent, lengthy report detailing stories from current and former Bungie employees about the culture of the studio. It's a long, worthy read about conditions at the studio both past and present, and points out a lot of problems from throughout Bungie's history. It also seems the developer is making some real improvements in the realms of its culture, the safety of its workplace, its dedication to the well-being of its staff, and its inclusivity. Following the report, Bungie CEO Pete Parsons released a statement detailing improvements Bungie said it has made, as well as strides it is making toward being better. Most recently, Bungie's long-time head of human resources stepped down.

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Reports of frat-like culture, discrimination, and poor working conditions abound in the video games industry, and the IGN report shows that Bungie has suffered from a lot of that same rot. The studio also seems to have been working toward bettering that situation, and I doubt it's a coincidence that Destiny 2 has improved significantly as a game during the same period that Bungie has been trying to advance as a studio. IGN's report shows that the studio has a long way to go, however, and it's important to shine a light on stories such as these in order to hold studios accountable and to try to help improve the conditions under which video games are made. Hopefully, Bungie really is making itself the kind of place to work that its developers and fans can be proud of.

I also hope that the incredible work everyone at Bungie has turned out over the last year in particular, including the 30th Anniversary DLC, is a source of pride, and evidence that things at the studio are getting better.

Wheel of Adversity, turn turn turn

When Xur and the horse did the classic
When Xur and the horse did the classic "Say goodnight, Xur," "Goodnight, Xur" joke, I lost it.

It wasn't too surprising, but Bungie 30th Anniversary DLC, Destiny 2's mini-expansion to hold us over for the release of The Witch Queen, turned out way better than it had any right to. The expansion is full of fun and goofy things to chase, like the Halo-inspired Forerunner pistol, the absolutely phenomenal BXR pulse rifle that takes after Halo's battle rifle, and the iconic Gjallarhorn. The infusion of cool new guns into the sandbox has freshened up old activities quite a bit in the last couple of weeks.

A surprise standout, though, is Dares of Eternity. This is the free new activity Bungie added for the 30th Anniversary, and it takes after other great six-player activities from the past, like the Menagerie. It's just simple enough that you can run it with anyone and just complex enough that it doesn't feel like yet another shooting gallery. The real reason it's so good, however, is Xur.

Dares of Eternity imagines a whole new goofy bit of lore for Destiny 2, essentially a cosmic game show that takes place in a black hole and deals out prizes gathered from various colliding realities that blend into one another. The "paraverse" is something we haven't really heard about before in Destiny 2--in fact, while alternate planes of existence have been a thing for a while, I think the paraverse might be an all-new concept in the story, although I'm not so familiar with all Destiny lore to be able to say that definitively. It makes for a good explanation for Halo, Marathon, and Myth stuff showing up in the game, and it also adds a whole new potential dimension to the Destiny universe by making alternate realities a definitive thing that could pop up at any time. The Nine sure are weird.

Maybe this stuff will only be for laughs, but the paraverse presents a lot of fun possibilities.
Maybe this stuff will only be for laughs, but the paraverse presents a lot of fun possibilities.

There are a lot of possibilities here with the potential for parallel universes, but for the time being, the paraverse is just one big joke factory and I'm here for it. Xur in particular has been excellent the last two weeks. The enigmatic Agent of the Nine has been showing up every week for years in Destiny and Destiny 2, and we've learned almost nothing about him. He's strange on his own--a puppet of the Nine, apparently willed into existence by them--but he's also been kind of boring. Without really finding out anything about what Xur's whole deal is, he has kind of become a non-entity in the universe. He's a pop-up store and little else.

Until now, that is. Xur appears in Dares of Eternity to deliver goofy riffs on cliche game show lines, and all of it is great. Stuff like, "From beautiful downtown Torobatl, give it up for the Cabal," "Did you forget to say, 'No whammies?'" and, "Though we are trapped in a formless void, we hope you'll join us next time on Dares of Eternity" set Xur as one of the weirdest and now funniest characters in the game. He's beholden to the Nine and the Starhorse--what even is that?--and he's out here playing game show host seemingly without even knowing what that is or what he's saying. It's a big, involved gag that humanizes both Xur and the Nine in a way we haven't seen before. Plus, it's now canon that the Nine--basically sentient beings representing the planets of the solar system--are fans of daytime Earth television primarily from the 1970s and '80s. Adjust your understanding of the game world accordingly.

Best served cold

A pirate adventure for buried treasure that laughs at you for being a greedy loot-chaser--Grasp of Avarice is magnificent.
A pirate adventure for buried treasure that laughs at you for being a greedy loot-chaser--Grasp of Avarice is magnificent.

Speaking of jokes, let's talk about the elaborate, phenomenal prank Bungie has pulled on the Destiny community: the Grasp of Avarice dungeon. The centerpiece of the 30th Anniversary DLC is an excellent new chunk of endgame content I've really enjoyed running through, full of fun new mechanics and interesting challenges. Like Dares, it's also very funny, most particularly because the joke is on us.

Grasp of Avarice is a long, extremely specific dunk on Destiny 1 players from way back when the game first came out some seven years ago. When Bungie launched Destiny after having worked on it for years, with a specific vision for a live-game loot grind and a plan for how quickly you would pass through endgame content, players immediately broke the game. They discovered the Loot Cave, which they used to circumvent Bungie's planned gear progression. Now, granted, the loot progression was very rough at the time, and it would go through years of iterations and improvements. (In fact, I hated the grind and I fully admit to being a Loot Cave user.) But it can't be understated that, whatever Bungie had planned for those early days of Destiny, players immediately found an exploit to bypass that plan--and kind of ruined whatever work had gone into creating it.

Seven years later, Bungie releases Grasp of Avarice, which is a dungeon-length lampooning of all of us who stood in front of that dumb cave, shooting what were essentially Thralls in a barrel instead of actually playing the game. The dungeon is a funny and good-natured reference to the past and some shared notoriety in Destiny, for sure. It also suggests Bungie has been low-key salty about the Loot Cave for the better part of a decade, and I love that. Easter eggs, callbacks, and in-jokes are rampant in the games industry (the 30th Anniversary DLC is basically made of them), but I've never heard of something this elaborate or pointed or straight-up fun, in so many ways.

I wrote a longer piece on the extremely good, beautifully petty dunk that is Grasp of Avarice that goes into a longer explanation of the Loot Cave, so check that out, especially if you missed those early Destiny days and have no idea what the deal is here. Suffice it to say that I love Grasp in every way, but most importantly because it's a joke aimed at all us Destiny veterans. Touche, Bungo.

Spreading holiday cheer

"Now, we become bakers!"

One last thing to talk about real quick: The Dawning this year is a significant step up from what it's been like in recent holiday seasons. Usually, the Dawning is about baking cookies to satisfy bounties and getting a couple of guns in the process. The gist is the same this year as well, but with much more satisfying story hooks. Just as the Festival of the Lost this year was more elaborate and engaging thanks to the injection of a little ghost story fun, the Dawning feels like something that actually matters to the greater Destiny narrative, if just a little.

The specific parts of the Dawning that have added to my enjoyment this year are its two story quests, The Pigeon Provides and Rite of Dawning. Both quests are pretty short, and they're very text-heavy--don't expect new cutscenes here. But if you take the time to read through them, you realize they're fairly pointed story moments that help the Dawning make more sense within the story framework of Destiny 2.

In The Pigeon Provides, Eva Levante plants the idea with Saint-14 that something nice should be done for the Eliksni refugees in the Last City. Saint's situation in the story at the moment is a precarious one, as he's been traumatized by the loss of Osiris, but he's found new purpose in the protection of the Vanguard's new Eliksni allies. Saint's arc through last season, the Season of the Splicer, was particularly strong, as he realized that his long-time enemies, the Fallen, are also people, not just murder monsters. And he's made major strides toward being a friend to them, rather than a legendary subject of fear in their culture.

So the quest is all about helping Saint make cookies for the Eliksni by gathering ingredients important to their culture. The story is light and funny, even if relegated to a few pages of text, and ultimately, you get to go interact with Eliksni parents and the babies they wear strapped to their chests, which squeal in delight at your holiday delivery. It's a great idea that actually makes the Dawning feel a bit more like a real holiday event--plus you get Zephyr, the new Stasis sword, for your trouble.

Love those holiday-themed implements of destruction.
Love those holiday-themed implements of destruction.

Rite of Dawning tells a similar story but with the Cabal, with Eva suggesting to Zavala that you and he do something nice for Empress Caiatl. We haven't heard much about the Cabal empress since the end of the Season of the Chosen. She's popped up here and there in the lore, but not much: She suggested nuking the Dreaming City to kill Savathun in one entry, but Zavala turned her down; and she's liaising with Crow and having some potentially secret talks with Lord Saladin. Other than that, though, we don't really know much about the state of Vanguard-Cabal relations.

The quest adds a bit there, with Zavala sending you out to gather some key items to Cabal culture to put together a gift for Caiatl. It's a small thing, with a few fun moments scattered throughout, but I really like what it shows about the characters. Zavala goes out of his way to honor Caiatl in the way of her people; Caiatl demonstrates gratitude for that honor. It adds a little flavor to that ongoing story, refreshes the feeling of alliance between the characters, and hits on the themes of reconciliation and understanding that have permeated all the Destiny 2 stories since the launch of Beyond Light.

All of that is to say that I've been really enjoying Destiny 2 in the last couple of weeks. This has been an absolute banger of a year for the game--the best I've ever seen in years with Destiny--and even with minor tweaks, it feels like Bungie has found great ways to punch everything up, including its tried, true, and sometimes repetitive holiday events.

So here's looking forward to a great 2022 for Destiny 2. The Witch Queen looms and stories are picking up speed as they rush toward collision. Especially given the strong finish to this year, I can't wait to see what's next.

Let us know what you've been liking with the 30th Anniversary DLC and the Dawning, or anything else, in the comments below.


philhornshaw

Phil Hornshaw

Phil Hornshaw has worked as a journalist for newspapers and websites for more than a decade and has covered 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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