Destiny 2: Warmind – Final Review
The grind continues.
In many ways, Warmind succeeds in bringing back the mystery of Destiny 2’s universe. There are plenty of secrets to uncover, new paths of progression to enjoy in both PVP and PVE, and there’s even a short campaign with intriguing lore sprinkled in if you’re looking for some story. However, each of these positives fails to address smaller issues Destiny 2 has been facing for some time. The grind is more confusing than ever, the story seems cobbled together, and the PVP remains a team shooting sport leaving players still asking to shine like before with moments of solo triumph over opposing teams. Still, I’ve been more motivated than ever to sign on and level up so I can take on new challenges be it the Escalation Protocol event, or Spire of Stars Raid Lair.
The actual power-level grind feels less fulfilling than ever before though. This is due to some convoluted and confused leveling mechanics that have you acquiring higher-level rewards for easier activities while more intense feuds give you nothing toward the goal of obtaining more power. When the most enticing new activities, the Escalation Protocol horde mode, and Raid Lair, are locked behind a 370 recommended level, you may find yourself wondering what new content there is to enjoy in the meantime.
Like every expansion, you begin by completing the story. Warmind introduces us to Ana Bray, an interesting (but underused) protagonist trying to uncover the mystery of her family at an old abandoned base on Mars through five missions that take about two hours to complete. That sounds okay, except that two of those missions are later recycled as Strikes which you’ll be running a lot if you plan to keep playing. That said, they thankfully have fantastic mini-boss moments and final encounters that won’t allow you to burn through without a fight. Instead, teamwork and a quick glance at the new Strike modifiers will be required to take down the larger-than-life foes.
Carving out the only unique Strike as a PS4 exclusive is a slap in the face to everyone on PC and Xbox.
Seeing as this is the second expansion to use the model of recycling campaign content as Strikes, it seems that it will be the theme moving forward for Destiny 2, which is disappointing. What’s worse is that the only unique Strike experience with original content is currently PlayStation exclusive, and carving out the only unique piece is a slap in the face to everyone playing Destiny 2 on PC and Xbox.
Although I don’t like that we only get a brief story and poor development of character motivations on both sides, it’s a welcome treat to see characters doing something during missions again, and to have clashing ambitions between protagonists alongside bosses who throw at least a few different mechanics at you as opposed to a scripted moment that results in their defeat. This campaign, while puzzling, gives me hope that we could one day get a fleshed out story experience if Bungie’s storytellers were given more time and leeway to set up these moments before we shoot something in the face with our big guns. One thing’s for certain: the summation of the fiction told is a huge step up from the Curse of Osiris DLC campaign. In addition, it’s all set to a trumpeting orchestral score that keeps propelling you forward with an energizing theme.
You can learn more about Ana and the Warmind by playing the Adventures. This was a joy because it will take you to new, gorgeous locations you otherwise may not have explored. I was also able to read more about the world by finding and shooting the Lost Memory Fragments with the correct element type. These tiny lore additions compiled amongst the secrets you find are going to be huge wins for fans that have wanted to read more into the world and that alone made me feel more invested in Ana Bray’s backstory than almost any character in the sequel.
Not being able to experience so much of what it has to offer immediately is a bit frustrating.
Alongside Warmind, Bungie also released a free game-wide adjustment called simply Season 3. It revamps vendors, the progression loop, and amps many of the exotics up to 11. These tweaks make weapons more rewarding to use and acquire throughout the entirety of the Destiny 2 experience. All of this should be positive! However, Destiny 2 is all about getting geared up for the next big encounter, and there’s an excessive amount to do here. That shiny new Escalation Protocol event you’re excited to tackle has a recommended light level of 370, and to get there you need to dive back into old content, be it completing Flashpoints at old locations, the old Raid, or collecting your powerful clan engram for the week. For the longevity of this expansion and Destiny 2 that’s good: I have a reason to keep playing and grinding toward the new light level cap, I have a reason to hop back into old activities, and I’m even looking forward to the reset to climb a little higher on the power level ladder next week. Getting a new DLC pack and not being able to experience so much of what it has to offer immediately is a bit frustrating since there’s not all that much here and there’s no clear path to progress that isn’t simply returning to the old treadmill to chase a new carrot.
The bigger problem is how unclear the path of progression is. For example, a heroic strike is set to a 350 recommended power level, but if you were to do that while you’re at 345, the reward will still be given to you at around 335 which is entirely baffling. This isn’t a new or difficult formula. If I kill the guy tougher than me, I should get something stronger as a reward. Instead, you’re given items that are completely useless in your climb to be ready for the hardest fight offered, be it the Raid Lair that recommends a 370 gear level or the more immediate Escalation Protocol, which recommends the same.
The current leveling system is baffling, including the still-intact obtuse and messy mod system, and now with this odd Strike addition that rewards you with gear 15 light levels below what it recommends entering with, it’s downright unintelligible. Want to hear something even crazier? The best way to level up your character is to engage with the 270 power level Nightfall or the older Raid, which recommends a 300 power level difficulty but can drop gear up to 380. None of that makes any sense. The lack of greater rewards for more difficult challenges disincentivizes taking them on.
The lack of greater rewards for more difficult challenges disincentivizes taking them on.
On the reward front, the weapons are where some of the most positive changes can be seen with Warmind. Changes like the exotic reworks come as part of the free Season 3 patch rather than the DLC bundle, but they help to make Warmind much more enjoyable. When you pair Sweet Business with Actium War Rig on a Titan you can fire a ridiculous amount of bullets and do a ton of DPS to anything in their path. Graviton Lance kills create explosions that generate smaller heat seeking bombs that seek out other enemies who may be hiding. Add a few more kills into the mix and it can become quite a spectacle of destruction. These changes are great and offer a peek into how Bungie plans to bring back a bit of the fun to grinding through Strikes or PVP.
Though the loot will be below your power level, Heroic Strikes do add random modifiers, giving a new level of challenge if you’re looking for a fight. The combination of exotic changes, modifiers, and strike specific loot in the Nightfall have Destiny 2 slowly starting to feel like Destiny again.
Hellas Basin is visually interesting too, with enormous buildings and gorgeous vistas.
Another way it’s bringing back that special feeling is that there are a ton of secrets to uncover in the new Hellas Basin destination. The space is one of the larger we’ve seen with secrets to uncover, Adventures to learn more about the lore of Rasputin and Ana, and it’s also where the new Escalation Protocol event takes place. Hellas Basin is visually interesting too, with enormous buildings, gorgeous vistas you’ll get to discover through those Adventures that send you to ice caves on one end, and a mechanical heart filled with foreign technological hardware on the other. These things combined make it a vast improvement over other locations.
The only downside to the space was regular lulls in action at the two main landing zones when not activating Escalation Protocol events. This could have been addressed by adding more new Public Events or by reworking the patrols, but all that’s here are menial tasks. Telling me to kill 10 Psions when only three spawn is not a fun gameplay loop. As a general note, the entire patrol system needs a rework. It was also disappointing to see that there was only one new Public Event type in the space, with Warsat returning from the original Destiny alongside other repurposed activities like the Injection Rig which we’ve experienced before.
Now, if you’ve been waiting to uncover hidden gems I’m happy to say that Warmind will have plenty to keep you busy for some time. One example is the IKELOS questline that has you complete objectives like getting kills with a new weapon equipped, or Heroic Strike completions with the weapon. Doing so will reward you with a powerful and coveted exotic. There are also 45 Data Memory Fragments that you can hunt down and shoot with certain damage types to obtain an Exotic Sword at 35 or Sparrow upon completion should you desire scouring the map to find them. These kind of moments are what made Destiny great and are a welcome addition to Destiny 2. Discovering new and hidden treasures in Warmind has been a treat.
The big addition at the end of all this progression is Escalation Protocol, a wave-based horde mode that spawns waves of enemies until you face a final boss. You can attempt it after the main story mission, but with a recommended power level of 370 it’s not realistic until much later. The only way you truly have a chance in Escalation is if you’ve managed to clear the 360 power level climb and have brought in your team of three into an instance where another team happens to be attempting the same event. Up to nine people can join, but the odds of getting nine friends into the same event are highly unlikely or require advanced network tricks.
I’d love to play Escalation Protocol more often if I were allowed to.
That is a huge miss, because Escalation Protocol is a very fun battle that I’d love to play with my friends more often if I were allowed to. Instead, using the current system I must rely on luck to take down the threat. Having only completed the first three waves before hitting the final boss I think it’s safe to say Bungie has offered us the challenge we desired. It’s unfortunate there’s no way to do this with a group though. At least I have another plateau to keep building toward, and I can’t wait to see what loot lays beyond that third boss fight and, long-term, the seventh and final encounter!
The other favorite for high-level PVE players will be the Raid Lair. Spire of Stars offers a few fun mechanics that require participation in puzzle solving from all team members. Without spoiling too much: if you’ve ever held a relic in Destiny, get ready to alley-oop it between friends. I love the mechanics here and the added challenge. This is not a week one victory for many, and even some of the most dedicated community members will be sent home if they come in below the 370 recommended level. With a team average of 360 power on the first week, we were not ready for the final boss, who sits high and mighty upon a 380 recommendation.
The disappointing part of Spire of Stars is that yet again we’re given a puzzle with no boss of any kind until the end, and as much as I love solving problems we desperately need to return to the original Destiny’s formula of pitting Guardians against a sequence of impressive fights. This is also the third Raid that takes place on Calus’ ship, a location that has overstayed its welcome. I am desperate to visit a new location and meet an entirely new enemy.
I think it’s safe to say that currently, most Crucible players are unsatisfied, and Warmind does little to change that. The most competitive aspects, like Trials of the Nine, still requires team-based mechanics or “Team Shooting,” and because your powers have been reduced in the sequel, there are still fewer individual hero moments that occur. Disappointingly, the time to kill also remains the same.
It seems Bungie is chasing its tail trying to rebuild the beloved original game.
What Warmind does instead is add two new Crucible maps in the form of Meltdown and Solitude on Mars. They are available to everybody, whether you have purchased the expansion or abstained. Private Matches are available, with Warmind allowing the creation of your own PVP game on any map with any existing Destiny 2 modifier. Players of the first game will recognize Private Matches from 2017’s Rise of Iron expansion. This “looking back” policy adds itself to a list of additions that you would expect at the launch of a sequel building upon what had already been created. Instead, it seems Bungie is chasing its tail trying to rebuild the beloved original game.
The new Valor and Glory ranking rewards you for playing both casual and competitive PVP, and it’s a great incentive to hop in and play with a team, at least. Valor will rank up as you play the casual mode, but if you’re looking for the coveted Legendary Pulse Redrix Claymore you’ll have to tackle the competitive side of things. That side of the coin is called Glory and your wins and losses affect your ranking here. Hit the rank of Fabled and the coveted Claymore will be yours.
Even so, if you’ve set Destiny 2 aside and are waiting for a big new addition before you jump back in, the team at Bungie has a long road ahead of them to win back your trust. If you’re looking for storytelling, the campaign will be complete in about two and a half hours, leaving you with only the Adventures and in-game text to learn more. Then, to access the Escalation Protocol event or Raid, it looks like the average player is going to need a Fireteam and a little bit of legwork over a few weeks to enjoy it. In the meantime, we have Hellas Basin to explore and its secrets to uncover.