The overarching plot of Destiny 2's current season is that a vast alien spaceship called The Almighty is being deliberately crash landed into The Last City on Earth as a final act of revenge against the Guardians. Not that you'd really know, as there's barely been a mention of it since the season started. Meanwhile, in the background, the meta narrative is that a (separate) fleet of alien spaceships—affectionately known as the Space Doritos, due to their pyramidal shape—is encroaching on the solar system, seemingly with a view to wiping out all life. Six years after the launch of the original game, their arrival represents the official debut of The Darkness, the Big Bad of the series, and is therefore a substantial deal.
Or so you would think, but for the fact that the Guardians' collective response to this incoming trauma is to organise an ersatz Olympic games in order to decide which of the three classes is the coolest. Because of course it is. Honestly, I wouldn't have much of an issue with the tonal oddity of the event if it was fun, but having logged on for much of last night I'm fairly certain that it is not. No surprise of course that it's a grindfest, involving cranking out bounty and medal completions to unlock triumphs to eventually earn a new exotic machinegun called Heir Apparent.
Normally the prospect of a shiny new gun is enough to make me wade through activities I've completed thousands of times over again, but with Guardian Games I felt fatigued as soon as I saw the three-week grind unfurled ahead of me. Bungie's community managers have acknowledged that bounty fatigue is a clear piece of player sentiment currently, and are soliciting feedback. I would add that the feeling is compounded by a few other factors that make the event feel poorly implemented:
1. Hunters have an unfair advantage
As we noted when covering the announcement, the Guardian population contains a disproportionately high number of Hunters (because people really like capes), giving the class an obvious advantage when it comes to the medal table. Bungie foresaw this problem, and promised to weight the scoring accordingly, but whatever algorithm it used wasn't aggressive enough, because within hours of Guardian Games starting the Hunters were light years ahead of the Titans and (sigh) Warlocks. Without wishing to sound defeatist, there's little point in competing in a competition that's effectively already over. Titans do seem to be making a comeback on the second day, though, so perhaps the crayon eaters will prove me wrong.
2. Some of the bounties are busted
I say this with some sympathy, as Bungie is working under lockdown conditions, but some of these bounties don't feel like they've been tested. Example: The Void Feast bounty for Warlock asks you to get streaks of 10 kills using the Devour ability. No problem, I thought, as a voidlock main. Half an hour later the counter was still stuck at zero, despite a trail of dead thrall littered around. Venturing online it seemed many others were having the same problem. Turns out you don't just have to have Devour proc'd, you have to get every kill with a charged melee ability, which I was only able to do with a very specific build involving the Claws of Ahamkara exotic gloves and Monte Carlo auto rifle. Anyway, point is, either the wording is terrible or that isn't how the bounty is supposed to work.
Another example: the silver Crucible medal is, conservatively, about three times as hard to complete than the gold one. Silver involves collecting 150 laurel points, but laurels only drop from ability or super kills, which are relatively rare in PvP compared to PvE. As a result, after playing six games I'd only wracked up 25 points despite having long completed the gold, which involved notching any kind of kills and game completions. I really don't understand how this isn't the kind of problem that gets discovered, not after extensive testing, but after playing one game. I'd be more forgiving if it wasn't a perennial issue with Destiny 2's quest design, but as anyone who's experienced the horror of the rocket launcher step of last season's Iron Banner quest, it seems to happen way too often.
3. Warmind Cells are pointless in Guardian Games
My favourite part of the current season are all the cool builds you can make using Warmind Cell mods. These enable you to spawn glowing red beach balls from defeated enemies which can then either be blown up, or collected, with accompanying additional effects (think damage buffs, overshields, enemy suppression) depending on how you've set the mods up. All of which is entirely pointless when it comes to Guardian Games because kills from Warmind Cell explosions don't count as abilities, so don't drop laurels, so don't earn any points towards your triumphs. It's baffling to me that Guardian Games is designed to be anti-synergistic with a core part of this season's content. But here we are.
4. Most of the new stuff is in the Eververse store
I actually felt a sense of relief when I checked out Eva Levante's MTX warehouse and discovered I didn't much like most of her Guardian Games stock, which looks like sci-fi athleisure wear. The only item I did pick up was the cherry blossom transmat effect, which should make for a nice weeb entrance on my ninja-styled Hunter.
Still, for those who are fans of the look, it sucks that most of this gear is purchasable via Silver, the game's real money currency. Yes, you can also use Bright Dust to buy from a small daily rotation, but that currency is awarded so stingily as to almost be a non-issue. The anger around the amount of design work that goes into content created to drive Eververse revenue, versus loot that can be earned in game, has been one of the biggest controversies around Destiny 2's current business model. Bungie are smart, so they absolutely know people aren't happy, but it's increasingly clear that this is the financial path the studio deems best for it. How long players stomach that remains to be seen.
In the interests of balance, here's something I do like about Guardian Games: picking up shinies. When you get super or ability kills now, glimmer, laurels and warmind cells can all erupt from the corpse. It's like rolling a grenade into the slot machines in Vegas. Running through the aftermath scooping it all up will scratch a nostalgic itch for those of us raised on hoovering up Mario's coins and Sonic's rings. The rush to grab laurels before they disappear turns Strikes into even more manic speed runs as players dart about like deranged magpies.
If that sounds like faint praise, well, it is. Guardian Games, much like the Annual Age of Triumph grinderama, is nothing more than a bounty hamster wheel, with little in the way of new riffs on old activities, such as Forges, to make them worth revisiting—and even less incentive to do so in terms of rewards, beyond that machinegun. As such it will do nothing to quell the growing unrest at the way Destiny 2's current season pass model operates. All eyes will be on whatever those incoming Doritos bring this Fall, because as things stand a full refresh feels necessary.