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Destiny 2: Forsaken’s opening mission is a nostalgia trip

Prison of Elders, yessssssss?

Destiny 2: Forsaken story - running across a metal bridge Bungie/Activision
Ryan Gilliam (he/him) has worked at Polygon for nearly seven years. He primarily spends his time writing guides for massively popular games like Diablo 4 & Destiny 2.

At an event at Bungie early last week, I was able to sit down and play through the first parts of Destiny 2: Forsaken. The opening mission is about what we all think it should be: Cayde-6. But the locale is also familiar for most Destiny players. The mission is called “Prison Break,” and takes place inside the vast Prison of Elders.

Earlier this year, we wrote about how successfully Destiny 2: Forsaken’s first mission trolls players. But Forsaken’s opening mission is as much of a stroll down memory lane as it is a last hurrah with Cayde-6. And it shows off an impressive new level of environmental storytelling for the Destiny 2 team.

While I’m more than familiar with the Prison of Elders’ four arenas from the original Destiny, this new look at the prison took me below, to cells filled with all the baddest Destiny foes there are. We won’t get into too many story details here, but you’ll run into Cabal, Fallen and Hive along the way, and blast them out of the way as they attempt to kill one another.

While the parts of the prison you visit in “Prison Break” don’t bear much of a resemblance to the arenas from the wave-based Prison of Elders mode, the interior mechanics and sound effects are all the same. The cylindrical bulk doors, the chime before an enemy wave spawns — it’s all here in Forsaken.

When combined with the new weapon system — allowing players to go back to a more traditional Destiny loadout — the look, feel and the sound of “Prison Break” helps you feel like you’re back in the arena with Variks, frantically dismantling mines. After Destiny 2’s rough first year, it’s the perfect nostalgia play to get players excited to jump back into the world of Destiny.

The most notable change in Destiny 2’s vanilla campaign is Bungie’s successful storytelling tools. Destiny 2 finally introduced a world where NPCs like Lord Shaxx or Osiris can interact with you during missions, breathing life into the characters. But something about the locations themselves felt a bit more hollow than the original game’s settings, even when adventuring through familiar places like the old Tower.

Forsaken solves this problem immediately. The underbelly of the Prison of Elders feels like the same strange space station that we fought in all those years ago. During “Prison Break,” you never see Variks or any of the arenas from House of Wolves, but your brain is able to make the connection through the sheer power of the space’s art direction.

Watching Cayde-6 bounce around in his final moments — spouting his usual goofs and making fun of his fellow Vanguard — is as bittersweet as Dave described earlier this year. But in those moments when you’re alone, and it’s just you and the prisoners, the Prison of Elders itself begins to feel like a character.

Regardless of how you may have felt about the Prison of Elders mode in Destiny, the reimagining of it in Destiny 2 is impressive to say the least. There was always a sense in the original game that the Reef had an unknown depth to it, and that we were just scratching the surface of the Prison of Elders on our adventures with Variks.

Bungie has pulled back the veil, and we can now see how truly deep the prison goes. Seeing these two locations from two different games connected so well is the standout feature of “Prison Break,” and it leaves a great first impression. Whether Bungie can keep up this level of solid, environmental storytelling in the rest of Forsaken’s campaign is unknown, but so far, so good.

The next level of puzzles.

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