The Destiny franchise is about to turn 9 years old. Let that sink in.
For a game with a topsy-turvy reputation like Destiny, its actual resilience over its almost decade long existence is quite admirable. Even when its hardcore fan base gets so riled up about it, it comes from a place of love. For all its faults, there is nothing quite like Destiny’s hybrid of shooter/MMO, especially in the live service era where many have tried and failed to sustain an ongoing game. Yet Destiny makes it look easy even with its faults.
With the launch of Destiny 2‘s latest expansion, Lightfall, releasing this week, and with the franchise getting this close to fulfilling its initial “10 year journey” with next year’s The Final Shape expansion, it is time to take a trip back down memory lane to the base launch games of the original Destiny and Destiny 2, along with all of their respective expansions. Which one is the best? Which one is the worst?
Eyes up, Guardian, and let’s step into a war with the Cabal!
12. Curse of Osiris
Any hardcore Destiny player knows that there has been no lower point in the franchise’s history than Destiny 2’s first expansion, Curse of Osiris. Released three months after Destiny 2‘s initial honeymoon period was over, the game’s issues with its long tail were getting massively exposed, showing a game that was fairly shallow in its endgame with no stickiness compared to the original.
Instead of fixing any of these problems, Curse of Osiris was an amalgamation of all of them, providing a fairly rote campaign and shockingly little in terms of providing any reasons to stick around long term, other than the Raid Lair “Leviathan: Eater of Worlds.” Other bigger long term problems of the initial Destiny 2 launch (double primaries, fixed weapon rolls, super slow ability regen/use, stale PVP meta with long TTK) were felt more during this expansion, making it a miserable time to be a Destiny fan.
11. The Dark Below
The Dark Below, which released three months after the vanilla launch of the original Destiny, was a similar low point akin to the latter game’s Curse of Osiris. Coming from an initial base launch where the game didn’t quite reach expectations and was trying to find itself, The Dark Below only provided a measly amount of content. It felt like a slap in the face to a game that was already so anemic in content at the time. With barely more than an hour of campaign content, a new strike (two if you were on PlayStation), a considerable grind with the new vendor in Eris Morn, and new gear that made all the hard earned effort of the base game moot, The Dark Below escapes being the very worst expansion thanks to its raid, “Crota’s End.”
While far from being the best raid the series has ever seen, at the time where raids were the absolute best content the game had to offer, getting more of that was a true highlight. Compared to how little reason there was to stick with Destiny 2 with its Curse of Osiris, the “Crota’s End” raid was a reason to stick around long term, just edging The Dark Below out of being the worst expansion in the series.
The moment that kicked it all off, the base vanilla launch of the original Destiny was the clear example of a game promising the sky yet not quite hitting the mark. While it certainly provided a fairly decent amount of content, it was a far cry from the grand game Bungie originally pitched it as, instead feeling like a game with missing pieces to it (something we eventually learned with the messy BTS stories of the game’s development). Despite its drawbacks and the things that were missing, the game, at its very core, was top of the line, and the systems in place were fairly sound, keeping players engaged once it let its RPG elements sink in. Especially when the first raid, “Vault of Glass,” became available, the potential of what Destiny “could be” showed itself. The game went to eventually realize its ambitions with further expansions, but there will always be something special about finding the good parts of this initial release, even knowing it could be better than it was.
9. Destiny 2
If you were a vanilla Destiny player that never bothered to check any of the expansions (either the two mini ones or the two meaty ones), the leap in quality from that to where Destiny 2 started was fairly significant. The base game absolutely wanted to make a better onboarding impression than the vagueness of the original campaign. The story, pitting us against Dominus Ghaul and its Cabal legion, was fairly simple, yet it was an improvement for at least having a coherent narrative with a clear villain (even if it felt more like a smaller scale affair compared to the original Destiny’s more grand space opera aspirations).
Unfortunately, all of the improvements that went into ensuring the game had a better first impression didn’t carry over to the real meat: the post-game endgame content. Whereas the original Destiny showed hidden depth that unlocked the more you engaged in its higher end activities, the sequel took a massive step back in the post game, leaving it as a weird, stale, long tail game compared to its progenitor. On top of that, the disappointment of seeing that a lot of the quality of life improvements introduced in the original game’s expansions were straight up missing here was painful. But the strength of its start still puts it above the original.
Warmind is an interesting dichotomy when it comes to the mini expansions for Destiny 2. Following the low point that was Curse of Osiris, Warmind wasn’t necessarily this grand return to form the game desperately needed after its lowest ebb, with another batch of campaign missions utterly wasting the opportunity of finally learning about the legendary Rasputin.
However, this was the expansion where Bungie was making strides at trying to fix the systemic things they broke with the launch of the vanilla version of Destiny 2. While the double primary system was still present, and the fixed rolls on weapons made chasing loot a boring mess, the sandbox exotic and ability tuning they launched with the game’s Season 3 brought back a bit of the power fantasy solely missed in the balanced, stale sandbox of proper D2. On top of bringing back interesting stuff to do post-campaign that was closer to the spirit of a certain game-changing expansion from the first game, Warmind showed that Bungie was still capable of righting a ship that shouldn’t have derailed in the first place. If only the raid lair, “Spire of Stars,” had been better…
7. House of Wolves
The second of the two mini expansions released within the first year of Destiny, if there is something real notable about House of Wolves, it was how it started the turning point for the main game when it came to systems and quality of life. While the campaign itself was another short 2-hour diversion (though one with a rather stunning-looking final level), it showed at least a semblance of more thoughtful design than both the base game and The Dark Below.
While the expansion disappointingly didn’t include a raid, the introduction of “Prison of Elders” as an alternative PVE endgame activity helped soften the blow and at least showed some versatility to what could be endgame content not designed exclusively for 6 people. But House of Wolves is definitely best remembered for introducing endgame PVP content in the form of “Trials of Osiris,” the elimination 3v3 mode that shined the brightest in the original Destiny gameplay sandbox, and it showed the potential of what high skill PVP could be in a game that continuously struggled in that regard.
The most notable thing about Shadowkeep was how this was going to be Bungie’s first big expansion in the wake of their split with Activision-Blizzard. While there was always a negative perception towards Bungie’s association with such a money grubbing company, the truth of the matter is that Activision-Blizzard did also provide Bungie with extra development hands in the form of the now defunct studio, Vicarious Visions, as well as High Moon Studios, which proved crucial in the development of the first two years of Destiny 2, especially its second year.
The lack of the support studios could be felt in how relatively anemic Shadowkeep felt to the base expansion of the year before. The campaign content itself was razor thin, even if the story implications of it were very tantalizing. However, even if the content itself wasn’t the very best, some pieces of it were very strong, like the “Pit of Heresy” dungeon. While not the best raid, “Garden of Salvation” did show the ways Bungie was willing to try new things mechanically.
Shadowkeep also continued the previous year’s commitment to providing new content year round with the seasons. However, unlike the seasons from the year before, this would only be seasonal content that would last 2-3 months before being permanently removed from the game, adding a sense of FOMO that the fanbase wasn’t particularly fond of. Being that Bungie was the only one doing this content this time, the seasons ebbed and flowed in quality.
Season 8, “Season of the Undying,” was anemic to a fault, and only saved by its inclusion as something more to do at Shadowkeep’s launch. Season 9, “Season of Dawn,” is one of the strongest seasons Destiny 2 has made to date, with a memorable activity and some best-in-class seasonal loot complimenting the cool story it told about the return of Saint-14. Season 10, “Season of the Worthy,” on the other hand, was one of the worst seasons of the game ever, with the thinnest PVE content possible in order to make room for the return of “Trials of Osiris,” which paled a significant amount to how the mode used to be back in the original Destiny, leaving that season in an absolutely rough spot, even with some interesting weapons and seasonal builds. Season 11, “Season of Arrivals,” could have been the strongest season of the bunch with the best loot of the year, a story with actual consequence, and the introduction of the latest dungeon, had the next expansion, Beyond Light, not have been delayed, stretching the season’s content to its limits.
The highs and lows of the expansion and the content, year-round, all added up to provide the weakest year post launch for Destiny 2. But it is one that still comes ahead of the lowest points of the franchise. There were definitely growing pains showcased during Bungie’s then newfound freedom, but they got better from that point onward.
5. Rise of Iron
There are many reasons why Rise of Iron, the expansion that came into existence due to the year long delay for Destiny 2, shouldn’t have worked. Its condensed development timeline in lieu of the big delay made it seem like a piece of content that would pale significantly to the year before, and, in some ways, that is exactly what it was when it came to content breadth. The campaign was significantly shorter, and only one new strike was added. But what really brought Rise of Iron together was not only its best in class raid, “Wrath of the Machine,” but also that it provided us with a better taste of how Bungie could meaningfully keep the game updated for an entire year after the year before suffered a significant drought.
It was an entire year propped up by bringing Destiny to its best shape for its last hurrah. This was best exemplified with the “Age of Triumph” era of the game, which brought all the raids back to the max level, making the original Destiny a complete thought with some of the best quality of life applied to many of its different aspects. While not everything was perfect (sticky grenades and special ammo nerfs leaving its PVP in a strange spot), the state of the game in Rise of Iron truly helped elevate what would have been a meager offering. The quality of life in that expansion is still something players wish to see back in Destiny 2, which says a lot.
4. Beyond Light
If Year 3 of Destiny 2 provided some growing pains as Bungie adjusted to its new development structure, Year 4 of Destiny 2 would present the scenario of what needed to be given up for the game to keep growing for the years to come. Beyond Light was an interesting inflection point for Destiny 2, as what could have been the new beginning of a theoretical Destiny 3 was instead repurposed to the ongoing reality that would be the perpetual, continuous existence of Destiny 2.
On top of one of the freshest additions to the game in the form of the planet destination of Europa, as well as the introduction of the first ever playable darkness subclass in Stasis, Beyond Light also saw the reality of Destiny 2 shrinking from the game it had been over its first three years, with a massive amount of content removed that left the game in a very weird spot during the base content of the expansion. And, while the campaign and some of the endgame additions of Beyond Light were definitely a step up in quality from Shadowkeep (with the “Deep Stone Crypt” raid ranking high up as one of the best ones Bungie has done), throwing the “Sword of Damocles” in the vault cast an unflattering pall over the game for a while. Not to mention the fact that two big parts of the game, Crucible and Gambit, either were destroyed with the new darkness subclass (in the case of PVP), or were neglected for an entire year (Gambit).
Fortunately, when it came to Beyond Light’s complementary seasons, Bungie more than picked up the slack in that department. While they were still not permanent additions to the game, the seasons this time would last up until the launch of the expansion, improving on the feeling of FOMO. While the season that launched the week after Beyond Light’s launch, Season 12’s “Season of the Hunt,” wasn’t much to write home about, it did show Bungie’s attempt at more meaningful ongoing storytelling. Season 13, “Season of the Chosen,” showed the potential for seasons when it came to ongoing gaming content with the introduction of Battlegrounds and the seasonal mission, “Presage,” Bungie’s attempt at horror since the Flood days of Halo. Season 14, “Season of the Splicer,” continued Bungie’s attempts at meaningful storytelling with their most political and thought-provoking seasonal story yet, while also successfully reprising an older raid. Season 15, “Season of the Lost,” managed to tie the entire year in a nice bow, and managed to sidestep the problem Season 11 faced with its content stretched thin by an unforeseen expansion delay with the launch of the 30th Anniversary celebration pack.
If things may have seemed shaky with the beginning of the expansion, this was the rare time in Destiny 2 where the year managed to get progressively better as it went along, really lifting Beyond Light from its meager beginnings into one of the better overall years for Destiny 2.
3. The Taken King
AKA “The Turning Point.”
If you are a longtime Destiny fan, you know how massive the launch of The Taken King was, not only for the original Destiny, but for the franchise as a whole. After the vanilla launch of Destiny came up short and questions about the long term viability of this franchise were asked so early, The Taken King was Bungie putting the stake in the fork and proving they could fulfill the potential of this franchise even with its slightly botched beginning.
The amount of systemic changes to the game around this time were sequel-worthy, improving ten-fold the quality of life of the base game and showing what a really, REALLY good version of Destiny could be without the caveats. The quest against Oryx gave us the best campaign and endgame content for the original Destiny, finally fulfilling the game’s MMO aspirations (even if they still refused to call the game an MMO at the time), while finally setting the template of what a successful version of this game could look like in the long term.
While the sentiment around The Taken King is some of the highest seen in the franchise, this entire era of the game is seen with some slight rose-tinted glasses by many in the fanbase. When many always yearn to go back to the days of The Taken King, it seems like people forget just how UTTERLY BARREN the game became once all of its expansion content ran out. This is one of the few years where Bungie put all its heart and soul into the expansion, but didn’t properly take into account the importance of setting your player base with proper expectations of what the long term plans were after its launch.
Other than the introduction of the limited Sparrow Racing League during the winter, as well as a quality of life update during the Spring that changed the introduced Infusion system for the better, the entirety of the year after The Taken King came out was a total wasteland. One could even argue this was one of the worst overall years of the franchise, ever. While I am not making that claim, there can be a slight validity to it. But the overall quality of what was there in The Taken King, to me, propels it to one of the franchises’ best moments ever, even with Bungie’s mishandling of post-content launch after it. Because Destiny is an ongoing game, it’s something that can’t be ignored, and it’s the reason The Taken King is not the all time best expansion.
2. The Witch Queen
Definitely taking inspiration from The Taken King on the naming convention alone, this was the beginning of what game director Joe Blackburn called, “Destiny’s best days ahead.” Based on how it all started, there is a strong validity to those claims.
Whereas the majority of the content in almost every Destiny base game and expansion has saved the very best content for endgame time, The Witch Queen was Bungie’s attempt at making a very, VERY strong first impression come campaign time. Simply put, The Witch Queen is the best campaign Bungie has put out for Destiny in its close to 10-year existence, with a level of craft not seen since their Halo heyday. The combat design and storytelling was Bungie at the peak of their abilities, and the introduction of the Legendary difficulty unlocked hidden depth most didn’t even know was there in the game’s sandbox. Never has an expansion created such a monumental first impression like this one.
Therein lies the problem.
The content of The Witch Queen campaign was SO DAMN GOOD, it actually cast the rest of the game in not a stellar light. Some of the content of The Witch Queen showed us a nice peek into the future. A nice peak into what an evolved, better version of Destiny could be. A version that sadly, at this point in time, didn’t translate for the rest of the game.
There was a strange schism where now that we got a taste of this new, better version of the game, we got the rest of the game that hadn’t been updated to reflect the new, systemic changes. The introduction of the Light Subclass 3.0 versions of Void, Solar, and Arc unlocked the game’s potential for build diversity, but power crept us close to oblivion, trivializing almost all base content. This was felt even more with this year’s seasonal batch, where Bungie kept the same level of quality as the seasons from Beyond Light, yet now they felt formulaic and antiquated in light of seeing advancements early on in the expansion.
And even some introductions, like the crafting system, definitely meant to alleviate the game’s ruthless loot RNG, eventually created a new mountain pile to grind that hurt rather than helped the enjoyment. And with base playlist activities like Strikes, Crucible, and Gambit feeling even more behind the times on the new sandbox, it all led to the game feeling slightly lopsided and in need of major revisions to finally bring the entirety of it up to the standards set on the early goings of The Witch Queen.
And what damn good times those early goings of The Witch Queen were. The campaign in its entirety. Some of the post-game content. The complexity of the “Vow of the Disciple” raid. If the final two expansions can level the playing field, we truly will be in the best days of Destiny yet.
The one that set the standard of what an overall healthy year of Destiny could look like.
Tasked to do for Destiny 2 what The Taken King did for the original Destiny, never has an expansion and year of content pulled the double duty that Forsaken did back in 2018. Fully capitalizing on the sandbox changes started in Warmind, Bungie took the opportunity to show there was a way to “unbake the cake” of the questionable systemic decisions they launched with for Destiny 2, and introduce systems that would not only bring the game back close to where it was by the end of Rise of Iron, but could still add meaningful additions to help grow the game for the better.
The amount of additions the game saw during this period was astonishing, with every facet of the game showing time, love, and care. Strikes got a healthy amount of fair additions. PVP was added to it, fairly. An entire PVPVE mode in Gambit was added. An entire space that would be an endgame zone in the form of the Dreaming City was added. The idea of the game’s world changing following the completion of the raid was added. Meaningful seasons in the form of Season of the Forge/Black Armory, Season of the Drifter, and Season of Opulence were added, fixing the game’s post-launch content drought. Listing it all, it’s crazy that Bungie managed to pack all this in at once in an expansion, which made sense as they needed to rescue Destiny 2 after its incredibly poor reception post-launch.
While there are elements of other expansions that I would say are better (The Witch Queen campaign, alone, could propel it to #1, easy), Destiny and Destiny 2 are games defined by the quality of all its parts. These days, it always seems like the game is laser focused on nailing specific aspects while neglecting others. Forsaken was a taste of what Destiny as a game can be when all of its individual pieces are working in tandem with as few caveats as possible. It’s the healthiest the franchise has been, and even ‘til this day, the shadow of what Forsaken did is one Bungie continuously chases.