Getting better, but not there yet
Warmind wasn’t ever going to be anything other than a Band-Aid for Destiny 2.
It’s best to go in with that mindset firmly in place. There’s a lot to like about Bungie’s hit online shooter after all the changes wrought on May 8, but veteran players will quickly realize that the game’s biggest issues will continue to persist until at least this fall.
Let’s start with the good. Before you even get to Warmind, the thing you pay for, there’s update 1.2.0. This free addition makes a number of big changes, including meatier hooks for Crucible (the PvP mode) and Strikes/Nightfalls — it’s all covered in great detail right here.
The most immediately apparent changes for most longtime Destiny players will be the overhaul of the game’s exotic-tier loot. A significant number of Destiny 2‘s signature weapons have been re-tooled with updated/enhanced core abilities that, in most cases, make them feel very different than they have before, for the better.
The changes are so significant that anyone who’s amassed a sizable exotic collection already — which probably applies to most players who are still on board at this point — will want to immediately dive in and test everything out. I’ve already found new favorites in Crimson and Graviton Lance, which have always been promising exotics held back by one limitation or another.
Then there’s Warmind. You get a (very short) new campaign, two new Strikes that repurpose and toughen up story missions, a couple of new Crucible maps, a pile of fresh loot to chase, and a whole new exploration space on the surface of Mars.
The campaign, short though it is, provides an entertaining few hours of Destiny 2 spectacle, so long as you don’t think too hard about the story. In typical Destiny fashion, it veers all over the place and seems to be written around introducing new elements of play rather than delivering a coherent narrative.
The new patrol zone on Mars, however, is a welcome addition. Unlike the previous Curse of Osiris expansion’s pint-sized Mercury, Hellas Basin on Mars is a multi-zone environment that’s filled with all sorts of mysterious points of interest.
The campaign provides an entertaining few hours of Destiny 2 spectacle.
In some ways it feels like the early days of The Taken King. The original game’s one-year-later expansion introduced a huge, new exploration space in the Dreadnaught. It was filled with secrets that kept players busy for weeks, and Mars, with its unusual diamond-shaped beacons and tantalizing “data collection” hunt, fosters that same sense of mystery.
Mars is also the home of Warmind‘s most significant day one addition: Escalation Protocol. This endgame activity is built for players who have reached the upper echelons of the game’s power climb. It’s a survival mode activity in which players face off against seven waves of increasingly challenging Hive enemies and bosses, and it plays out entirely in the public space — meaning anyone can join (or leave) an event in progress.
The arrival of Escalation Protocol addresses one of the big problems in Destiny 2: A lack of endgame activities that really reinforce the game’s philosophy of appealing to hobbyist players who return week after week. But it’s also not as exciting as it first seems.
Before Warmind launched, player power levels capped out at 335. The new content bumps that cap up to 385, and running through the story should bring most high-level players to around 340-345. The next new bit after the story is Escalation Protocol, which carries a recommended power level of 370.
Without diving too deeply into the weeds of Destiny 2 leveling: That 25-point power gap separating the end of the campaign and the the new activity represents weeks worth of effort. That’s because you can only level up so much in every seven-day period, by completing a set of weekly activities.
It’s a difficult balancing act for Bungie here. On the one hand, the studio no doubt wants players to take their time and not run through all the new stuff super fast. But artificially capping the progress any player can make in the space of a week cuts out the thrill of progression. You sign in, you put in the “work,” you get your weekly allotment.
This isn’t a new problem in Destiny 2. It was mitigated to some extent in the previous game because there was a large loot pool that depended heavily on random stats, which in turn kept players hooked as they sought the ultimate versions of their favorite weapons. But that sense of randomness in the loot pool has been replaced in Destiny 2 by a new “Masterwork” system that just isn’t as effective or exciting.
Coming back to Warmind, the big problem with a new addition like Escalation Protocol is it exposes the artificial leveling caps for what they are. The recommended power level attached to it is way too high, making it virtually impossible to fully enjoy this significant new endgame activity right off the bat. The same will be true on Friday when the new raid lair — the pinnacle of Destiny activities — arrives, likely with a similar recommended power level.
You can play it, and you might even make some progress… but all along, you’re nagged by the knowledge that you won’t be able to fully engage until you’ve completed a few weeks of regular Destiny 2 “chores.”
As ungainly as the first Destiny was, at least the leveling, the sense of progression, felt somewhat organic. Destiny 2 turns it instead into a weekly equation: I can get this far and no further if I finish this limited set of activities.
Warmind makes a great first impression, but even after just 10 or so hours all of those same, old faults shine through clearly. Destiny 2 is in a better place now than it was prior to May 8, but it’s still got a long way to go before it can hope to recapture the magic of its predecessor.
You can buy Destiny 2 here.