This week brings the start of the latest season of Destiny 2. It's a season that has a lot to live up to given the underwhelming content Season of the Hunt had and the awkward position the game as a whole was left in in the wake of the Beyond Light expansion. After spending some time with the new content, the good news is Season of the Chosen is a major improvement and holds a lot of promise for Destiny 2's long-term plans.
Challenged By The Empress
The minute you log in, you are treated to a cutscene setting up the conflict for this season. Empress Caiatl, the new leader of the Cabal, is trying to negotiate peace with Commander Zavala of the Vanguard. She reasons that we can't fight among ourselves with the Hive Wrathborn and the evil space pyramids of The Darkness knocking at our doors. Eventually these talks break down since neither want to defer to the other, so instead of losing resources with all-out war, Caiatl throws down a challenge: an ancient Cabal battleground ritual that will determine who's strongest and worthy to lead.
Hence the introduction to the new seasonal activity aptly titled Battlegrounds. The minute this cutscene ends, your character is loaded into this activity and thrown right into the thick of it. On paper, it's a straightforward co-op activity. It's not as long as a Strike, but is much more intense with near-constant battle happening against Cabal enemies. In many ways it reminded me of the Sundial activity from Season of the Dawn because it is short, action-packed, but still varied and accessible.
Everyone at the HELM
After finishing this Battleground activity, you return to the Tower, but not the same public space. Instead, you are taken to a brand new location called the Hub for Emergency Logistics and Maneuvers, or HELM, which helps set the scene for the rest of the Season. In short, you gained access to several Cabal artifacts that allow you to participate in the battleground ritual and slowly chip away at Caiatl's War Council. You gain resources to access more Battleground locations by playing any of the game's activities: Strikes, Crucible, or Gambit matches, clearing Dungeons, doing Blind Well runs, etc. As the Season progresses, you'll unlock additional perks and abilities to help with the escalating Battleground challenges; pretty standard fair. The HELM's war table also includes brand new interactions with Destiny 2 support characters such as Lord Saladin, Osiris, and the breakout star of last Season: the conveniently disguised Crow.
Overall, the HELM illustrates Bungie's push for a cleaner, more streamlined experience, and it's a great step in that direction. Unlike the Tower's public space, which can be a pain to get into due to server limitations, the HELM is treated as a solo instance, allowing you to go back and forth as you please while severely cutting down on downtime. Helping this even further is that it includes a postmaster kiosk and access to your personal vault, which makes it great if you just need to get something out of your collection or need to sift through anything you missed from your last activity. Finally, it looks like Umbral Engrams are back from Season of Arrivals. These special legendary drops can be refined and guided towards a specific kind of loot drop which helps cut down on RNG.
The only problem with the HELM is that there is no way to get bounties from this location. If you want to stock up, you'll have to load into the public Tower space and talk to each individual vendor as usual. This is curious since this season of Destiny 2 implements a new weekly challenge system. Weekly Bounties have been removed from all locations, which amounted to some long-term challenges that could be finished for a big pay out, but also led to a lot of players just sticking to their preferred activity and not branching out.
Replacing them are these new challenges, which are smaller but are more widely spread across multiple activities and locations. There has been some handwringing here since both of these activities are the only way to earn Bright Dust, Destiny 2's in-game alternative currency to its premium store, and people are worried that this will make the currency harder to earn, pushing players to spend real world money. It is a valid criticism since the game has been free-to-play for some time.
Based on my time with the new system, it appears that if you stick to clearing weekly challenges with the vendors, the Bright Dust yield appears to be slightly lower. For comparison, completing the two Weekly Vanguard bounties by grinding out Strikes for Zavala before would yield 200 Bright Dust. Now, by finishing eight daily bounties, you would gain 120 Bright Dust after speaking to Zavala, followed by 75 from the Seasonal Challenge menu after ticking it off, leading to 195 total. It's a noticeable dip, not made better by the few extra steps needed. But, I'm hesitant to call out this system since these challenges aren't just tied to vendors, which could theoretically lead to more Bright Dust earned per week, and it also fails to mention how the new Season Pass rewards include more Bright Dust at various levels. It's too early to tell, but call me cautiously intrigued by this change.
New Stasis Aspects and Old Catalysts
The last bit of new content worth talking about this Season are brand new Aspects for the Stasis subclasses, as well as the return of various exotic weapon catalysts.
Aspects are special modifiers that are unique to each of the three Stasis subclasses, and they can have devastating effects if paired properly. Thankfully, unlocking these Aspects aren't as convoluted or circuitous as they were before. You simply speak to the Exo Stranger on Europa and are given a Quest. Finish it, and the new Aspect is yours. So far, the new Aspects appear to be adding even more variety to this new elemental subclass. One of them lets Warlocks convert their grenades into ice-slinging gun turrets for example, which is probably making certain Crucible players cry salty tears right now. It's a sign of good health since Stasis is the new flavor the game has, and the additional variety will help keep it fresh.
As for the returning catalysts, I'm concerned. Bungie has gone on to state that they wish to eliminate FOMO in this game, to make sure that anyone playing Destiny 2 right now won't be locked out of getting something if they weren't around at launch. This is important because these returning catalysts are for exotic weapons that were greatly tied to extremely challenging endgame activities that are now no longer available.
Earning these weapons was hard by itself; the catalysts needed to further improve them took monumental time and effort. For example, to get the catalyst for the Legend of Acrius shotgun, you needed to complete the Leviathan Raid on Prestige difficulty, one of the most demanding Raids in all of Destiny 2, and hope that it dropped. Now with Season of the Chosen, I got that exact same catalyst by casually finishing a Nightfall Strike on the lowest difficulty. That could have been a case of monumental good luck on my part, but it was a little jarring seeing something with such cache drop up like that. According to Bungie, this will not be the case for all returning catalysts, stating they have something in mind for the more notorious ones like Whisper of the Worm and Outbreak Perfected. It's a difficult tightrope to walk between not wishing to gatekeep but still wanting to engage. I just hope they can pull it off.
All in all, Season of the Chosen is shaping up to be great for Destiny 2. There's a lot of stuff to dig into, the new content is quick and engaging, and it does set the stage for more intriguing story hooks down the line. I am tilting my head at some decisions being made, but time will tell if these were for better or for worse.