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Warmind brings the best and worst of Destiny 1 to Destiny 2

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The gear grind is back, but so are the secrets

Destiny 2: Warmind - Escalation Protocol Bungie, Vicarious Visions/Activision

Destiny 2’s latest expansion, Warmind, gives off about as bad a first impression as you could get. The initial campaign is weak from a storytelling and mission design perspective, especially compared to the campaign in Destiny 2 proper. But just as the hope for Warmind and Destiny 2 seems to be at its lowest, the expansion reveals something that players have been asking for since the sequel launched: an endgame.

When you’re first dropped onto Mars, the new playable space, you’re tasked with two, short missions that introduce the story of Warmind. About 20 minutes later, you must go back to the EDZ (a location that’s been in Destiny 2 since launch), complete a re-skinned public event and walk into a lost sector that you’ve probably run a dozen times before. After getting summoned back to Mars, you then run through two missions that are actually just strikes.

In the first of these strikes, you come across Nokris, brother of Crota and son of Oryx, two of the first Destiny’s four final raid bosses. This event is met with almost no fanfare whatsoever before you put enough rounds into the Hive royalty to take him down. The second strike has you taking down a literal god, which has about as much weight to it as meeting Nokris. Ultimately, it leaves the story feeling anti-climactic and pointless. By journey’s end, we’ve dispatched two Hive threats that you’ve known about for two years, but you never feel the impact of your victory.

This is how the expansion begins: by giving players an interesting premise that’s squandered over about an hour and a half. It’s disappointing to watch the mission design and storytelling move backward since the base Destiny 2 campaign, but moving backward is seemingly what this entire expansion is about. While the missions suffer, the mystique that’s been sorely missing from Destiny has returned.

Bungie, Vicarious Visions/Activision via Polygon

As soon as you venture out onto Mars by yourself, with no missions holding your hand, you’re able to see all kinds of secrets and mysterious items. My fireteam and I spent the first hour after the campaign simply wandering around and wondering what every weird, floating diamond was. It turns out these diamonds are pretty easy to open and don’t give much of a reward, but that feeling of small disappointment pales in comparison to how exciting the first few hours were.

Mars is one of the best spaces in Destiny 2. It’s about the size of Titan, the smallest of the vanilla planets, but it uses the space so much better. Every location in Destiny 2 tends to have several pointless walkways that artificially increase the landmass of each map.

But Mars feels dense in a way that Destiny players haven’t seen since the first game. You spend every chance you get peeking around corners and under grates for data nodes and other hidden secrets. Encounters, fights and patrols are happening all around you, everywhere you go. The planet feels alive in a way Destiny 2 hasn’t felt before.

Just as the campaign comes and goes, so too do the secrets scattered around the world. About a week after launch, I’ve collected all the secrets and gotten all the exotics I can reap from the world. However, unlike the campaign, the secrets have stuck with me. Every hunt I made helped me familiarize myself with the map. While I may not have a great reason to go back to some of those places ever again, I know the layout better than planets that have been in the game for months. It feels as though I’ve mastered the space rather than just collected everything available.

Destiny 2: Warmind exotics - The Huckleberry Bungie, Vicarious Visions/Activision

Mystery was always a key component to the original Destiny. Nothing was ever explained particularly well, leading players to discover things themselves. It added longevity to a game that didn’t necessarily have it programmed in. It nurtured a community and helped build them into Destiny franchise fans. The return of that mystery in Warmind helps the expansion feel like something the community has been asking for, even if it fails in other places.

But the excitement of the secrets was quickly met by the return of one of Destiny’s more frustrating throwbacks: a gear wall. The most exciting features in Warmind, namely Escalation Protocol and the raid lair, are both set at 370. Without incredible luck, this is almost un-achievable week one. It feels bad to attempt to engage in a new experience only to be too weak to really make a difference.

And so Warmind ends up being somewhat at odds with itself. It’s deeply frustrating to see the Destiny grind return in such a painful way. But at the same time, it gives players like me a reason to return next week and the week after that, attempting to get more gear and make each new encounter easier.

Destiny 2 had a major problem when it launched: Even once you geared up, you never truly felt powerful. Warmind flips that for good and bad. What’s frustrating today will become exciting next month. The raid lair that took players hours to defeat will be farmed in an hour before the month is out.

Bungie, Vicarious Visions/Activision

This expansion doesn’t fix the issues present in Destiny 2, although it’s much improved over Curse of Osiris, the game’s first expansion. Warmind is instead a bandage while we wait for the big Destiny expansion coming this fall. But still, I can’t help but feel myself getting excited to play more Destiny this week, and for weeks to come. And for a game that players felt could be irreparably broken after its first expansion, that’s a pretty exciting feeling.