The arrival of Season of the Drifter, the second installment of Destiny 2’s annual pass, provides a few more crumbs on the slow, long trail towards the perfectly looter shooter endgame that Bungie is presumably baking. While Season of the Forge introduced some high-level PvE challenges as the first third of the Annual Pass, Drifter's focus is on Gambit, Destiny 2's unique PvPvE hybrid.
It's not all about Gambit though: you also get the game’s latest spin on a not-quite-horde mode in the form of The Reckoning, and lapsed players will be happy to know they can jump into the new content much quicker now, thanks to some catch-up bounties that'll get your light level up to snuff in under an hour. With nearly three months of content already in place from the Annual Pass, now seems like a sensible time to give Destiny 2 another shot, and see how the Annual Pass is panning about. Bear in mind, that Season of the Drifter’s content will continue to roll out over the following weeks, and with stuff like the Thorn Quest still to be formally revealed, it’s too early to take any sort of definitive position on Drifty boi’s star turn.
That said, I do have some reservations about whether anyone but the most stubborn of D2’s playerbase are going to enjoy an entire season with grinding Gambit Prime as the main gameplay loop. Here's how I'm feeling about the main attractions so far.
In vanilla Gambit, two fireteams race to slay enemies and bank the motes they drop in order to summon and destroy a big Taken boss, all the while fending off intermittent player invaders. Gambit Prime is Season of the Drifter's slimmer, sharper take on Gambit, reducing matches to one round from the previous best out of three, while introducing team roles and adding some slight complexities to the Gambit ruleset.
Roles aren't necessary early on, though I'm happy Bungie is reinforcing team communication and diverse playstyles by giving each archetype their own armor with wild colors and perks just for Prime. Reapers specialize in killing mobs, Invaders make sure the opposing team has a bad day, Collectors have a thirst for motes, and Sentries take on enemy invaders. You're not locked into a role and don't choose one from the start because the ideal Gambit team does a bit of everything, but you'll have certain advantages performing certain tasks in a given match. That's only if you've obtained multiple pieces of your role's armor set to unlock the perks first, though.
Our friends at GamesRadar have a complete Gambit Prime armor perk list for easy reading if you need some help figuring out which role suits you. I'm partial to the Collector, who drops motes on death rather than lose them, though the Sentry's ability to mark invaders sounds like a godsend. Screaming "Behind you! Behind you!" doesn't seem to be enough in the age of ping systems. The Invader role can drain enemy banks, which sounds delightfully cruel, and Reapers generate special ammo with multi-kills, ensuring the slay train keep rolling. It all sounds nice, though the perk table isn't too surprising at the moment. At a glance, I'm not certain they'll change how Gambit is played, but because they buff each playstyle you can bet you'll need an especially communicative team to make use of and counter each archetype.
I'd be excited to grind out my first set of Prime gear if the Primeval stage didn't feel so broken right now. The final bosses (primevals in Destiny-speak) are untouchable until you take out three elite enemies (envoys) strewn about the arena, and if blockers are left on the bank too long, they'll drain your mote supply over time. The changes call for closer coordination in order to succeed, but all of it is for naught with how many damn invasions happen in the final stage.
Any kills an invader gets during the Primeval stage heal the opposing team's boss, and because primevals take a few extra steps, and thus more time to kill, nearly every match I played ended in a mind-numbing tug-of-war that undid the supposedly snappier design of Prime. Matters are made worse by the Well of Light that forms once you finish off the envoys, a small AoE that buffs damage against the boss. Sitting in it makes everyone an easy target for the invader, and a well timed invasion can force everyone to abandon the well completely, incurring another round of envoy elimination. Even one kill from an invader is enough to heal a significant chunk of primeval health and give the other team enough time to catch up.
That is, until you send an invader their way, giving your team time to focus on the primeval for a bit before the next invasion, and the next, and so on forever and ever. There needs to be more weight placed on invasions in the final stage. Without any restrictions or higher penalties for failed invasions, Prime is just going to play like primeval ping pong. As things stand, as the leader of Clan Redeem explains in the video below, you’re actually better off not bothering to do that much damage on the first DPS cycle against the boss, saving your power ammo for when the Primeval Slayer stacks which accrue with each cycle.
That strategy makes sense, but I’m not sure it makes for much fun. It's a shame, because I love how Prime condenses the drama and tension of a three-round vanilla match into a single round. Nothing of importance is lost in the translation, but adding more steps to the primeval stage while leaving invasions relatively untouched feels like a massive oversight.
Once you get some rounds of Gambit Prime under your belt, you'll get access to The Reckoning, a timed PvE activity set in the bleached celestial plane where the Trials of the Nine takes place. While we only have access to Tier 1 of the activity this week, it's not particularly novel or challenging, and doesn't have any apparent hooks for anyone but Prime players, given that the reward is armor with perks that are only relevant for Prime.
Taken spawn in all over the arena, and you'll need to do the Destiny thing and make them go away with guns and space magic before the clock runs out. Do that, and a boss will spawn with its own timer. Things are spiced up slightly with a persistent modifier, borrowed from the old raid lairs. This week, that means the elements take turns doing the most damage while the others take a debuffed backseat. It's nothing new, but I appreciate the incentive to keep your kit diverse and weapons changing often.
So yeah, you're shooting stuff, and quickly. It's Destiny's bread and butter, and it still feels amazing. It's what you get from The Reckoning that sets it apart anyway. Insert a role-specific synth into a synthesized mote and and upon a successful Reckoning run you'll get a piece of that special gear with Prime-specific perks. Yeah, I'm not sure what I just wrote either. Unless you love Bungie's history of introducing convoluted materials and processes, then expect to have no clue how to get Prime armor from The Reckoning without turning to a wiki, or like me, a Discord server full of Destiny vets who also still don't quite get it completely. Don't worry, the armor will glow in one of four pretty colors once you have a complete set, so it's worth all the trouble.
But if you don't like Gambit and can live without the brightly lit Prime armor, there's no reason to spend time with The Reckoning unless you're grinding out weekly bounties. Maybe once the higher tiers become available in the coming weeks we'll find some new reasons to check in, but for now it is strictly part of the Gambit ecosystem. Good news for Gambit-lovers, not so much everyone else.
Besides the big stuff, you'll get a few quests leading to new weapons and exotics. There are three new pinnacle weapons to chase through Vanguard, Crucible, and Gambit play. And the guns you get from Gambit Prime are great! They're bundled with some new perks (see 'em all here) that make sense in and out of Prime. Multikill Clip grants increased damage after a reload based on the number of rapid kills beforehand and my favorite, One-Two Punch, increases melee damage if every pellet of a shotgun round hits an enemy. Sounds like a terrible tool for close-quarters skirmishes in Gambit and Crucible.
New gear always lights me up, which is why it's baffling the loot table is such a bottleneck for Bungie. A total vendor refresh is overdue. I'm tired of the same old Vanguard and Crucible gear, and I'm still not sure why the Year One guns and gear haven't been rolled back into Destiny's updated loot system. Gear diversity has long since dried up, and I'm so, so thirsty for more. Let's hope the final stretch of the Annual Pass is all about the gear.
The Eververse has a bundle of new cosmetic items to try for as well, or buy outright. None of them really grabbed my eye, though I'm swimming in season specific gear I promised myself I'd upgrade. Infusing is still a massive resource hog and timesink.
Lore is on the menu too. I'm told Season of the Drifter could be big for Destiny's story as we'll get to learn more about the Drifter's connection to the Nine, if that means anything to you. I'll be binging MyNameIsByf to make sure it means something to me.
A personal Drifter highlight are the introductory catch-up bounties the Drifter offers to any players that don't play Destiny every week. I haven't touched it much since Season of the Forge's steep onboarding grind sucked the life force from my mousehand, so it was an intense relief to knock out four bounties set across all the activities Destiny 2 has on tap and hit 640 in less than an hour. Longtime players that put in the time to get those light levels might be hurt, but I'm so grateful that Destiny doesn't need to be my life in order for it to be in my life. Leveling is best when you have specific gear or goals in mind anyway, not an arbitrary number that forces you burn through gear just to squeeze out every last bit of light.
And now that I'm all caught up, Destiny is back in rotation. I'm disappointed that Season of the Drifter's marquee addition feels so broken right out of the gate, but Bungie has made it clear that the Annual Pass is their first foray into becoming a more responsive live game. I expect to see it tinker with Prime throughout the season and into the next, though I hope it doesn't take too long to fix the cadence of invasions.
Either way, Season of the Drifter promises enough to get me checking in with every patch and popping into Gambit more often now that it's not a 45-minute commitment. I'm enjoying everything the Annual Pass has added, but it's all stuff I wish was in the endgame from the start. Dreams of new strikes and story arcs still dance around in my head, but the Annual Pass has the potential to be a brand new foundation to build that stuff on top of.
This isn't Destiny 2's second second coming, just a smattering of new rewards and activities that, in the usual Destiny tradition, need some refinement before they make sense as part of the greater whole.