A Poem for Parkland

This wasn’t the article I wanted to be writing right now.

I normally don’t go out of my way to express political opinions online.

But with the Parkland Shooting happening so close to someone I care about, the walk-outs happening in high schools across the country today, and no definite sign that Congress is going to do a damn thing about it, I felt like there was something I needed to express.

So I wrote a poem.

An Ivory Sunset

Now, I’m almost done with college, and I have no personal experience with school shootings, nor do I know anyone who has gone through a school shooting, so over the last few years I’ve become about as numb to it as most people are nowadays, when it’s just headlines and Thoughts & Prayers™ being sent out every couple weeks.

So when I started writing this poem, I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to say.

Then I started researching the Parkland Shooting.

I read about all 14 students and 3 teachers that were killed.

I read the details.

I can’t forget them.

What struck me most was all their selfless heroism, their willingness to give their lives just on the hope that they would help a few more people live. In the face of a killer who gave neither reason nor mercy.

It was at this point that I knew what I wanted to say.

Here it is.

Arguing Over the Open-End of a Semi-Auto (But Open Wounds Are Not Open-Ended)

The Ides of March will be so clear this year. Relatively. This generation of jagged prismatics is already burning righteous ruptures into the putrid ivory sunset; it can’t shine too bright if half the country fights it, right?
But the idea of marching came too late, critical mass murder rose in the east with all 17 of its thorns under the high tide sunrise as newborns cried out that THIS SHOULD NOT BE NORMAL but money speaks louder than death, I guess.

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Politically, I try to have an open mind at all times. Some Liberal ideas are really sensible, some Conservative ideas are really sensible, and both major political parties are pretty terrible. So, I’m constantly trying to not fall prey to the echo chamber that Seattle is most of the time.

To be frank, however, this issue isn’t even something we should be having this debate over.

Literal children have been killed, and there are concrete steps that can be taken to try to stop that from happening ever again.

Now I understand, some people need guns as part of their daily lives, like if they live on a farm. Other people just like having and using them for recreation. I don’t personally want a gun but I can respect the wishes of well-trained, intelligent responsible, mentally fit individuals who want to own and carry one. Ain’t nobody gonna steal y’all’s guns. I do understand being afraid of how far the gun restrictions could go in the future, however, especially if it’s non-gun owners creating the legislation.

At the same time, I don’t care what anyone says, there is no valid reason to oppose sensible gun control. Responsible gun owners are getting a bad name thanks to the crazies who keep shooting people. Guns are literally built to kill things, and we should treat them as such. At least they should be more stringently regulated in this country than marijuana. More guns in the world will definitely not make me feel safer.
(Also, side note, if you need an automatic rifle to go hunting, you’re not very good at hunting)

We can work together to make gun regulation a good thing for everyone. Nobody wants their kids to be in danger. There is a political middle ground here where everyone can be happy with the outcome.

Apparently it just isn’t safe enough right now. Let’s make things better for everyone.

I’m looking at you, Congress, you putrid ivory sunset, you. You’ll be hearing from me later this week.

Until next time, take care of yourself, take care of each other, and we’ll all be alright.

(As a writer, I’d really appreciate it if you would take a second to comment down below about the poem, what you like, what you dislike, what you think the images represent, if the metaphors are really vague. Anything helps!)

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How Doctor Who Season 10 Was Almost Perfect

Hello there! I hope you’re having a lovely day, maybe you’re getting the snow Seattle is so desperately lacking.

When I started writing this, it was 92 degrees inside the house, Canada was on fire and the my entire house smelled like curry, which isn’t exactly normal to say the least. I put this post on hold because I didn’t feel like I had the time to sum everything up correctly.

Now, with Doctor Who Christmas Special coming up in 4 days, I think it’s time to finish this.

The Season 10 finale aired this summer, and I have to say, compared to the rest of the season, it was pretty meh. I liked most of it, but the overall plot felt mediocre and a bit unsatisfying in a whole lot of ways.

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Bill, the Doctor, and Nardole, enjoying a casual adventure through space and time.

Now, I’ve loved Doctor Who ever since I saw my first episode when Matt Smith was the new Doctor. The series is witty, intelligent television, sci fi with the heart of a fairy tale, holding a cup of tea and wearing a bow tie made of corny low-budget action sequences. It’s hope in the face of ever-increasing danger, a dream amongst nightmares, and I’d be lying if I said the reboot hasn’t been one of my favorite TV shows of all time.

Unfortunately, the first time I watched the finale I didn’t find it to be one of the highlights of Capaldi’s tenure. As always, I had to go back and rewatch it, and having done so I actually quite like it. There are lots of really good moments in the episode, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t applaud the acting; Capaldi has perfected exactly what his Doctor should be like, Michelle Gomez is always great as Missy, and was especially entertaining working alongside John Simm as the Master, and Pearl Mackie is so fabulous and believable as Bill.

Still, I feel that the season as a whole introduced many elements that it didn’t bring to their natural conclusion. Season 10 was actually my favorite season with Capaldi, and I see a lot of potential that was left untapped.

So, in honor of a wonderful show with a bright future, I’m going to continue this new trend I’ve started of rewriting the endings to stories I liked.

Let’s get started, shall we?

*Beware of SPOILERS for the last two episodes of Season 10*

The first episode of this two-part story arc actually set things up really well for an appropriately explosive ending. Allow me to set the stage for the finale.

The TARDIS, the Doctor’s time machine, is at the top level of a 400 mile-long space ship that is trapped but stationary in the pull of a black hole. Because it’s on the closest level to the black hole, time moves much slower there than it does at the opposite end of the ship.

Bill, a normal college-age girl, has been traveling the universe with the Doctor. She was taken to the lowest level of the ship where the Cybermen, an army of emotionless cyborgs bent on converting, or “upgrading,” all life into Cybermen, are upgrading the crew. Bill has been turned into a Cyberman/woman, but somehow can resist their mind control, because plot devices. Because she still has her personality, we see her as human for most of the episode.

The Doctor is the Last of the Timelords, aliens with the ability to regenerate into a completely new body when they’re about to die. He’s just arrived at the lowest level with Nardole, the comic relief robot-that-might-as-well-be-human.

And then there’s Missy and the Master, the other Last of the Timelords. They’re the same person at different points in time and different regenerations. The Master was the Doctor’s longtime nemesis, but Missy is an older incarnation and is trying to change her evil habits. For the moment, the Master controls the Cybermen and thinks Missy has joined him in trying to kill the Doctor.

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Missy, the Master, and the Doctor in the middle.

Steven Moffat, the current showrunner, is being replaced after the Christmas Special coming out this year, and in order to give the next guy a clean slate, he decided he was going to get rid of all the supporting characters and have the Doctor regenerate.

Now, in the finale, the Doctor and everyone else escapes to a mid-level of the ship with no Cybermen, just a vaguely-sized agricultural community that hadn’t been captured yet (I say “vaguely-sized” because the Doctor says there are several hundred people, but we only ever really see 15 adults, so the stakes in saving all of them never seem very high). Basically, the Doctor sees no way of getting back to the TARDIS without being intercepted by the Cybermen since time moves faster at the lower levels, so instead of devising a clever plan to save everyone, he decides to sacrifice himself to save a few adults and about 20 children. Nardole is designated to lead them up a few levels to be stuck living on the ship, hopefully safe on another level.

And that’s it. Most of the adults die and the Doctor blows himself up to defeat some of the Cybermen. The Master escapes to his TARDIS on the lower level with a stab wound that causes him to regenerate into Missy, and the last we saw of Missy she was fatally wounded before the battle, the Master having somehow prevented her from regenerating. It’s just Bill alone crying over the Doctor, when suddenly her love interest from the first episode, Heather (AKA a water-alien called The Pilot that merged with Heather) swoops in, turns Bill into an alien like herself, puts the Doctor in his TARDIS, and then disappears with Bill to explore the universe.

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Heather, the water alien that I totally wouldn’t run away with if she asked me to. Ahem.

 

I deeply respect Moffat’s skill as a writer, but this Deux Ex Machina is as lazy as it gets. The justification for the Pilot showing up when she did was her basically telling Bill “I left part of me in your tear ducts so I could find you when you cried” (the Pilot being composed of about 99% water). The timing of her arrival doesn’t even make sense because, at the end of the previous episode, we very clearly see Bill crying through her Cyberman mask, yet the Pilot didn’t show up then. It’s adorable, but a little too convenient for my taste.

That being said, there are only a few changes that I think are necessary to bring the finale that much closer to absolute brilliance.

Variations on the Theme 

The Doctor’s sacrifice was the thing that made the least sense to me. While the finale can be seen to represent the futility of war and the importance of helping people even in hopeless situations, it really bothers me that the Doctor just decides that he has no chance of surviving. While valiant, his lack of self-preservation blatantly contradicts his aggressive desire to not regenerate at the end of the episode. I think the writers wanted to show that the value of saving lives is always worth the sacrifice, no matter how few you save, or for how long.

But some sacrifices are too great, and there’s almost always a better way to save people and be kind. Therefore! I contend that the Value of a Single Life is what you do with it, or in this case who you sacrifice it for. In fact, that’s a major theme throughout the entire season: finding out what one’s life is worth, and how that value is decided (the Doctor literally has a speech about it in the third episode). I’ll get to why this idea is important in a moment.

First, here’s how things could have been different.

The Season Capaldi Deserved

Let me say this outright: this season is about the relationship between the Doctor and Missy.

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Best Friends turned Enemies turned Allies.

Or it least it should have been. She was literally the mystery inside the big box in the first episode, but she didn’t actually play a role until the final three episodes. Missy herself wasn’t even present before then, even though the mystery box was a huge deal. If I had things my way, she would have been released earlier so she could tag along with the Doctor for a few adventures. We’d get to see how she slowly learned to be good, and how she and the Doctor would react to suddenly being on the same side again (they were best friends when they were young).

By the finale, she would have almost become comfortable with the idea of being the selfless hero. She and the Doctor could be an inseparable and unstoppable duo. I would give anything to see that! It would all culminate in Missy literally facing her past demons in the form of the Master. It’s brilliant, and it almost happened! But alas, ’twas not so executed.

Doctor Who usually has great season-spanning story lines, but here they missed an ENORMOUS opportunity to do something cool with the elements they introduced.

The Finale Capaldi Deserved

So, going back to the Value of a Single Life, there’s one simple thing that would to speak to this idea and also make the Doctor-Missy relationship paramount:

Have the Doctor sacrifice himself for Missy.

Have that lead to Missy sacrificing herself to save everyone else. I originally thought it rather poetic that the Master and Missy killed each other, but Doctor-Missy complementary sacrifices is a lot more epic and impactful on so many levels.

Picture this: the Doctor is mortally wounded while saving Missy from being killed by the Master. In turn, this persuades her to sacrifice herself to save the humans from the Cybermen, thus concluding her redemption arc from evil nemesis to best friend.

That simple change alone would make the episode better, and if the entire season had included Missy more, then at least there would be some sort of season-spanning plot.

I have a lot more to say about the finale, but this is the most important change in my mind. If you want to read my full reimagining of the season finale, click here. If you like Doctor Who, I really suggest checking it out, it includes a lot of ideas that I’m really excited about.

 

 

To sum all of this up, there’s one quote in particular that seems rather appropriate for Capaldi’s time as the Doctor, and for the idea of the Value of a Single Life. It’s from a Halo TV miniseries, spoken by a former Spartan super soldier:

“Death will come to all of us. Especially soldiers. It will come, inevitable as the sun. It is only to be feared if you fear what is on the other side of it, if you see darkness in your soul rather than light. In a way, I suppose soldiers are gods. You give your life away so others will live in peace, even if it’s only fleeting. The ones who live carry parts of you with them, your deeds become seeds for theirs. The sacrifice carries forward. And in their final moments as a soldier, you know they will have to answer the same question you did in yours: with your life, would you only create death, or with your death would you create life? That is my question to you, Commander Locke, how will you die? And for what?”

– Spartan Randall, Halo: Nightfall, Chapter 5

The Doctor is a warrior, through and through, except he fights with his brain and his hearts rather than a gun. If there’s anything the Doctor stands for, it is the life that one can save with one’s own life. And if there’s anything Capaldi’s incarnation of the Doctor stands for, it’s the idea that everyone is worth saving.

That there is value in every a single life.

Before I go, I just want to appreciate Peter Capaldi for being a wonderful Doctor, and Steven Moffat and everyone involved in Doctor Who for making the show something truly special. They’ve done a wonderful job, and I’m as excited as ever to see what comes next with Jodie Whittaker and Chris Chibnall as the new showrunner.

Now, all there is left to do is wait for the Christmas special! If you have any thoughts at all, feel free to comment down below.

Hasta la vista, muchachos/as. Happy Holidays and whatnot!

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Reimagining the Doctor Who Season 10 Finale – The Juicy Details

Greetings, fair wanderer. This is where you’ll find every last prosaic detail of my rewrite for the finale of Doctor Who Season 10.

If you make it to the end of this, there’s a small gift for you.

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*Again, Beware of SPOILERS for the last two episodes of Season 10*

Reworking the Farm Battle

Now, I actually like how the finale built up the conflict. The Doctor should still set up a battle on the farming level, planning it as a distraction while he tries to evacuate all the humans directly to the top level with the TARDIS.

Side Note: Maybe I’m missing something about how the black hole’s gravity would affect time, but I see no reason not to go directly to the TARDIS. Sure, time moves fastest on the level with the Cybermen, but if the doctor gets everyone on an elevator before the Cybermen reach their level, they could still reach the top level before the Cybermen, right? Even if for some reason the Cybermen could intercept them or stop the elevators, then they could work their way up a few levels at a time, even if it took years to reach the top. Honestly, it really bugs me how quickly the Doctor conceded to the hopelessness of the situation.
Also, 5 minutes on the first floor and a trip down the elevator equated to ten years for Bill on the 1056th floor, where the Cybermen were. But the Doctor says the Cybermen will have “thousands of years” by the time they reach the top. That’s just not right, and I’m surprised they missed that detail. Given this, I’m further convinced they could have evacuated to the top floor in time.

The battle on the farm should happen halfway through the finale. (Let’s say the finale is an hour and a half with commercials so there’s enough time to build up to this, and build past it). Most of the character interactions from the episode still take place. The Doctor makes his heartfelt plea to the Master and Missy to stay, Bill realizes she’d rather die than stay a Cyberman, and Nardole flirts with a lady who’s into cyborgs. After those meaningful interactions, the Cybermen arrive. Instead of killing everyone, though, the Cybermen surround the people before anyone can evacuate to the elevators and bring them down to the bottom level to be upgraded into Cybermen.

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Random picture of the Doctor and the TARDIS, because I like this one.

The Standoff, The Cleverness, the Sacrifice

Now, this leads directly to a scene similar to many of the stand-offs David Tennant had while he was the Doctor. The Doctor, Missy, the Master and Nardole are unique, so they’re restrained in the Cyberman Control Center. The humans are locked up and being prepared to be upgraded, and Bill is free pretending to be a normal Cyberman. Meanwhile, the Cybermen have actually captured the TARDIS and brought it down to their level to break into it. Just so that twist makes sense from a timing perspective, the Cybermen originally sent a team to capture the TARDIS around the same time the Doctor came down from that level.

With all the pieces set, no time left, and everything on the line, it’s a perfect time for the Doctor to clever his way out of trouble, science an answer out of the enemy’s stronghold, and save the day!

With a heartwarming speech and some technobabble that tie together thematically with how important it is to at least try to be a good person, the Doctor frees himself and temporarily scrambles the Cyberman network,or incapacitates all the Cybermen in the room (I like to think he’d precede it with something like “Someone throw me a fez because I’m about to be so very clever”). In a perfect world, he and Missy would work together to break free, since this is the last chance to see them work together so harmoniously. It’s just such a waste for Missy to have made progress towards being good without any examples of her actually DOING something good. She and the Doctor free the Master and Nardole, and the Doctor goes to free the captured humans.

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Everything is looking up, but things quickly get complicated. Immediately the Master denounces Missy for joining the Doctor, but she has made her mind up. Missy realizes that he has to go to his own TARDIS, so she gives him the replacement part for his TARDIS and stabs him to make him regenerate, prompting the Master to try to zap her. The Doctor sees this and in the heat of the moment throws himself in front of Missy to protect her, absorbing the full blast. He knows it might be his final kindness to her, a promise that he believes she can change for the better, even if he doesn’t live to see it.

He doesn’t even hesitate to sacrifice himself for Missy, even after everything she’s done to him in the past. Surprised, moved, and more than a tad furious, Missy threatens the Master and scolds him, saying “Get out, your time is up, no more gorging your ego on other people’s lives” or something to that effect. He crawls away to regenerate into Missy, and Missy leans down over the Doctor, who’s nearly delirious with pain and possibly unable to regenerate. The only thing she can think to do is use some of her regeneration energy and some kind of Timelord mind meld to try to save him. “Come on you old sap, you’re alright, it was just a zap, I’ve done worse to you before.” She puts him to sleep to ease his pain, and then carries him into the TARDIS. The whole time, Bill and Nardole were watching in shock, but now they realize that the humans are still in danger.

Missy takes a moment in the TARDIS, over the Doctor’s dying body, to consider what just happened. Normally she’d take the TARDIS and the two companions and get out of there, but… seeing the unquestioning sacrifice of the Doctor, how much value he places on her life… She doesn’t want to let it go to waste.

Missy’s Sacrifice (There’s a First Time For Everything…)

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Missy heads back out, taking charge. She goes back for the humans. She pretends to do so begrudgingly, but inside she can feel something different taking form. Almost as if there’s a little pin that pricks her hearts when she thinks of abandoning people the Doctor would have saved. Of course on the outside she’s as sassy and prickly as ever.

She tells Bill to stay and guard the ship, and then leads Nardole to the humans who are captured in some sort of force field or some electrical restraint connected to the ship. They look for a way to open the restraints, and in the meantime Nardole asks Missy if she has any clue how to return Bill to normal. Of course, Missy knows a few ways but they’re questionable and risky.

All the while, more Cybermen are approaching. A minute later and there’s no time left.

Missy knows what she has to do.

As the Cybermen round the corner, she uses her own body to short circuit the restraints, which frees the humans but also gives the Cybermen a perfect chance to shoot her. Nardole reacts fast and manages to quickly redirect the charge to shock their attackers, leaving them incapacitated. Missy falls to the floor, barely conscious. Bill heard the ruckus and came running, and once there has to carry Missy back to the TARDIS.

Bill and Nardole manage to wrangle most of the humans into the TARDIS, although  a few people won’t survive while the Cybermen attack. Once everyone is aboard, Nardole prepares to take off but suddenly a Cyberman bursts through the door and goes straight for a little boy. Rushing to the rescue, Bill, Nardole, and some people manage to destory it, but Nardole and some adults get injured. I think more scenes like these where we meet the farmers are necessary because they help make the farmers seem less like a plot point and more like a real community that we should care about.

The Doctor’s sacrifice here is meaningful because it shows he believes in the redemption of even his arch nemesis, even as that same nemesis tries to kill him. If Missy’s sacrifice is to mean anything, then the people she sacrifices herself for must mean something, and should gain something from her actions. That was the problem with the Doctor’s sacrifice in the actual finale.

Aftermath and a Deus Ex Machina

Now that everyone is safely aboard, Nardole transports them to an inhabited planet where the humans can start a farming community. Shortly after they land, the farmers start to unload some basic resources from the TARDIS and Bill and Nardole check on the Timelords. Missy is still dazed but conscious, and the Doctor is struggling between bouts of consciousness.

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Cyber-Bill and the Doctor

With all the commotion around her, Bill looks like she’s just remembered a terrible truth. Indeed, she knows that even if the Doctor or Missy live, she will be a Cyberman forever. She doesn’t want to live like that, always striking fear into the eyes of everyone she meets, never again being the person she was. So she tells Nardole, “I’m going. I know the Doctor wouldn’t have really let me make this choice, but I can’t go on like this. I just need to say goodbye.” So while the doctor is oblivious reliving past incarnations of himself and making pained wisecracks as he fights regeneration, Bill says her goodbye to him.

He knows what she’s doing and he wants to stop her, but he doesn’t have the strength to fight her. He can’t let her go, but he can’t continue the conversation, so he acquiesces to her choice. Moments later he’s unconscious, and the next minute he’s awake, seemingly having forgotten Bill’s goodbye and rolling about in pain as he fights his injuries. Nardole tries to calm him down, and Bill begins to walk towards the river when a tear falls from her cyber-eye. As if on cue, the Pilot arrives to save the day.

The Pilot and Bill have a heartfelt conversation about traveling the universe and Bill gets turned back into her normal self. Nardole says they need to get the Timelords some medical help, so he helps the Doctor back into the TARDIS and comes back out for Missy.

Then the Doctor starts to regenerate.

This can sometimes be a very explosive process, so even as he fights it, the energy he releases damages the TARDIS, causing her (the TARDIS is sentient, if you didn’t know) to freak out and teleport away.

So the Doctor is gone, and there’s no way to find him.

Everyone is a bit stunned by the sudden change of plans, so Bill goes over to Nardole. The Doctor never explained that he could regenerate, so Nardole has to. A feeling of relief rushes over Bill, but also a feeling of pain because the Doctor never felt the need to tell her himself. They have a chuckle, and then Bill goes with the Pilot on their adventure to by merry (or should I say married) and gay all across the cosmos. Nardole declines an offer to be turned into the same creature as the Pilot, saying he’ll be alright helping the settlers build their community. Also, someone has to look after Missy. It’s at this point that he asks some farmers to get her a comfortable place to rest and warns them that “she might have a bit of a face lift by morning.” Oh Comic Relief, what would we do without you.

Then the Doctor wakes up in the TARDIS, refusing to keep keep changing like he always has. The TARDIS takes him someplace snowy, and there he finds his first incarnation. Really, there was no better way to end Capaldi’s final season, and only time will tell if the Christmas Special does him the justice he so dearly deserves.

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The Doctor, just before he stops his regeneration.

Also, to avoid continuity errors in which the Doctor doesn’t go back for Nardole and Missy, I believe his regeneration energy could damage the TARDIS logs so he can’t see where Nardole landed, or there’s some sort of temporal wake surrounding the planet because they came from a black hole, making it difficult to time travel on that planet.

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And so, our heroes find themselves in exactly the same positions in which they were left in the finale, but the journey has been a bit different. The Doctor sacrifices himself for his best friend. Missy concludes her redemption arc in a way that makes her inevitable revival in a later season make more sense. Bill, the Pilot, and Nardole probably live happily ever after. The stage is set to send Capaldi off with a meaningful whisper on Christmas, and welcome Whittaker in with a snowy stage set just for her.

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😀

There’s one more thing I think I need to mention: None of this crap about Bill implying she’s attracted to the Doctor before the battle starts. I’m not saying she can’t be attracted to any guy or girl she wants, but the writers spent more than enough time during the season making it clear that she only liked girls; it was entirely out of place for them to say that alas, even Bill had some kind of romantic feelings for him. As cool as the Doctor is, he’s old. He’s her teacher. It’s just weird.

 

 

Geez that was long. Congratulations, you made it to the end! Here’s a digital cookie for your time. 🙂

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Destiny 2: A Narrative Appraisal

Hey, long time no see!

I have good reason for being gone, I promise. Aside from preparing for my last First Day of school, the past two weeks have consisted mainly of sleeping, writing some poems/songs, and Destiny 2.

I’ve been waiting for Destiny 2 for basically two years, and oh my has it delivered. My first impressions of the game have been favorable (No Spoilers contained herein, I swear). The story is fantastic compared to Destiny 1’s story, with a much richer world included in the game itself instead of an online database.

AND the Raid has finally dropped and it’s even crazier than I was anticipating. #worldeatingspaceslug #itpeeswine #forspacerhinos #don’taskmewhy

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It’s clear that Bungie, the game’s developer, spent a lot of time weaving stories into this game. In D2, there are two kinds of missions: campaign missions, which are about the fight against Ghaul and his Cabal, and side missions called Adventures that tell smaller, mostly self-contained stories. From here on out when I refer to “the story,” I’m referring only to the campaign missions, which contain all the cutscenes and plot points.

Overall, Bungie created set of campaign missions that was more diverse in gameplay mechanics, more driven and linear, and more epic than anything in Destiny 1, which is all I needed to love my runs through the story. It’s kind of like Star Wars in a way: it’s fun, there’s lots of action, memorable moments, the story hints at huge secrets, and once it’s over you can’t stop thinking about it.

Perhaps the best thing about the new story is the fantastic voice acting done for supporting characters. It brings them to life in a way that almost makes them seem like real people. The new bad guy, Ghaul, had arguably the most complex motivations yet, and his opening scene is phenomenal.

My favorite character in the whole game has to be Failsafe, the AI of a crashed colony ship who has a split personality, often switching between a helpful robot assistant and a moody teenager. She’s so sarcastic and adorable, it’s fantastic.

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Yes I do have a mini Cayde-6 statue, why do you ask?

While there’s no doubt Destiny 2 has a superior narrative to anything its predecessor had to offer, and despite the fact that the ending is a hugely satisfying and exciting, I still feel like there’s still something missing from the narrative.

It’s hard to explain, but let me try: Most of the campaign doesn’t have a story that I want to go rave about to my friends.

In all fairness, Destiny isn’t a narrative-based game, but the marketing really hyped up the story this time around. Destiny 2 has an enjoyable, superficial story, because aside from the first and last couple missions, a good chunk of the plot still feels like we’re running someone else’s errands.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m thoroughly enjoying the game. Sadly, the story is simplistic in order to make it easier to focus on shooting aliens and collecting loot, as was the case with D1.

I think this might always be the case, because four things have always been true of the story in Destiny and its DLC:

  1. You will ALWAYS beat the main villain by the end, but…
  2. You will NEVER be done killing all the bad guys.
  3. The main character is a blank slate made for everyone, so…
  4. Your character has no agency or emotional investment in the story.

The best part of the story is the cast of side characters, because their personalities and stories can evolve naturally, but there’s simply no way for the main story to progress meaningfully since those four things have to be true for Destiny’s game structure to make any sense.

Destiny is an addictive experience by design.

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This laughably shameless partnership actually happened

Most of Destiny’s content is designed like a bag of potato chips: short activities, you always gotta have one more, then you run out and are eating the crumbs until the new bag of DLC BBQ chips comes out. They want players to keep coming back for more loot, every week, forever.

Destiny is a power fantasy.

So of course we will always triumph, but we never have to stop fighting. The solar system can change slightly, background stories will move forward, but we can’t have an emotional story with real stakes when we know that everything will be fine.

 

The nail in the coffin is the fact that your character does not have a personality.

Let me say that again.

Bungie appallingly decided that the protagonist of the story should have no voice or agency, just to be easier for players to project onto. There are jokes about it in multiple cutscenes. Our character does express some emotion through body language, but those moments are few and fleeting.

In a way it makes sense. Destiny is about your legend, and the game is designed to make you feel like your Guardian is you. Giving the character any distinct personality would draw some players in and push others away. So Bungie chose to not favor anyone.

Just to prove it’s purposeful, here’s an eloquent quote from an IGN interview with Luke Smith:

IGN user Ranondra asks: Will our characters remain mute through the sequel?

Destiny 2 Game Director Luke Smith: “Yep.”

I love Luke Smith, but this seems like a counterproductive choice to me. I don’t know about you, but it’s harder for me to identify with a voiceless blank slate than it is for me to identify with a person that has any personality at all.

The finale is a HUGELY fulfilling spectacle that I’m struggling to avoid writing spoilers for. Playing through it was really fun but thinking back, the scene could have been much more epic if our character expressed personal stakes in finishing the fight (Halo 3 anyone?). As it stands, our character can’t even express anger at Ghaul (let alone a complex emotion), so we players have no one to empathize with.

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There’s a difference between a good silent protagonist and an empty protagonist.
The Master Chief from the Halo series is mostly silent, but he still speaks, and because he has personal stakes in the galactic events taking place around him, so do we.

His gun is the most important thing about him, but that’s not why we like him. He’s a badass because he does incredible things and chooses to remain silent, and thus every time he speaks it’s important.

Our Guardian does badass things but you can’t like him/her because there’s nothing there to like.

When you combine the piecemeal mission structure that breaks up Destiny’s story, the silent protagonist with no agency or personality of their own, and the fact that there are never any real stakes, it becomes nigh impossible for Destiny 2 to have a really successful, lasting story.

Bungie has created a beautiful, living universe that you get to experience through a brain dead vessel. I love the game, but I want emotional stories in the campaign that make it easier to care about what happens in said game.

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Alright I’m done complaining. Here’s how Bungie can improve this in the future.

There are two simple steps:

  1. Write each smaller DLC expansion like a short story with a renewed focus on character-driven narrative, the heart of the story being one or two side characters.

The story’s greatest strength lies in the diverse cast of lovable characters that give us our missions. Destiny 2 does a wonderful job introducing players to them. Now it’s time to make it pay off.

By letting players experience events through the other characters’ eyes, Bungie could easily make each DLC’s story more impactful on a personal level. Then the missions would have more significance than just the call of duty and looty.

In my opinion, a story driven by its characters should be more than a series of scenes pushing players to the next mission. There should be cutscenes or even short missions dedicated to character building for the people we are about to take a journey with. Let us see their pain and joy, give us moments that aren’t just about “The Next Mission.”

Let us meditate with Ikora in a field on Io, show us Zavala hanging out with other Titans. Then the emotional and action-packed moments in the campaign will carry more weight. I know Bungie can do this because the first two missions are close to what I’m thinking of.

That kind of storytelling would be beautiful, and in some ways superior to other narratives in games like Halo which are confined to a singular plot that has little room for smaller stories. That’s why there are so many good TV shows right now: they can take the time for character moments and smaller stories.

I’m optimistic because Bungie seems to be moving in this direction. The next expansion deals with Osiris, a crazy rogue Guardian that once trained one of our Vanguard mentors, Ikora, which is a great setup.

2. Give our character more personality, AT LEAST through body language, if not
minimal voice acting.

These two additions aren’t as likely or important, but they’d help quite a bit. Voice lines would be great additions as D2 has an amazing cast, so it would be easier for our character to make small jokes and be characterized by the strong personalities around them.

If they don’t get voice lines, body language can still really help characterize our character, at least so they react as if they have some emotions. Destiny 2 has one extremely powerful moment of body language at the end of the first mission. This cutscene gave me chills the first time I watched it. Ghaul’s monologue is so cutting and true, but what made me feel something for my character was one small motion he made. Sometimes that’s all it takes.

(I know parts of this section have been commands, as if the heads of Bungie are going to read this, so let’s just call it Wishful Syntax)

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It’s hard for me to say this, but in some ways I liked Destiny 1 better. D2 honestly feels like Disneyland. The open world is so dense and hectic yet scheduled that it doesn’t even feel like a real space. The loot drops are WAY too frequent for me to even get to know my guns. They’ve removed most of the reasons for people to keep playing long-term.

The game just doesn’t feel as relaxed and welcoming. Maybe that’s just because I need more time to get used to it after three years playing D1.

But I have a feeling I’ll have plenty of time to get used to it.

Anyway, I have to get back to the grindstone. I’ll have another article out soon about Halo and Destiny and their comparative strengths and weaknesses.

Hasta la próxima, manténganse los ojos arriba, Guardianes.
(Until next time, keep your eyes up, Guardians).

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Resident Evil 7 – How I’d Change the Endings

Greetings! Long time no see, how’s the family?

Okay I’ll spare you the pleasantries, I want to get to right to something that’s been on my mind for a while: Resident Evil 7.

Now, I’m not the biggest fan of horror games, but I do like the few I’ve played because I enjoy the challenge of seeing how scary things can get before it really freaks me out, and having to perform under absurd pressures.

I think of horror games like spicy food, I always want to see how much I can handle.

The Dead Space series is probably my favorite horror game series, and Until Dawn was quite unique, (and I can think of few things scarier than being put on a team with five mediocre players in an Overwatch Competitive match *shudders*).

RE7 (as I’ll refer to it from here on out) was an interesting game to tackle, and it did truly freak me out a couple times. The basic premise is that you’re a guy named Ethan searching for his wife Mia in a seemingly abandoned house when you’re captured by a crazy family, the Bakers, who are made seemingly invincible by this magic mold that has infected their minds, bodies, and entire estate. They then proceed to try to infect and/or kill you, and you must survive and save your wife in their madhouse.

The main reason I made it through was because the mysteries of the story kept me intrigued all the way until the end of the game. The developer really did a good job of pacing the reveals so you always want to find out just a little bit more.

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RE7 had a few shortcomings, though, like the second half of the game becoming progressively less scary once you know all their tricks, or the fact that I personally consider it to be a less freaky version of the Silent Hills game that P.T. gloriously promised.

With that said, I have some changes that I would make to the game in order to keep it suspenseful and deliver a worthwhile finale. Let me be clear: I really like Resident Evil 7, but as with anything in this world, it could have been better. The best word to describe it is “suspenseful,” and I think I’ve devised alternate endings that are true to the spirit of the rest of the game.

*BEWARE OF SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT*

For me, the biggest let down was the endings of the game. There are two possible endings to the game: in the Happy Ending™ you cure your wife Mia of the infectious mold disease. In the “bad” ending, you “cure” Zoe, the infected daughter of the Baker family who betrayed the family to help you escape (don’t even get me started on how underdeveloped Zoe’s character is).

I was initially very excited to play both endings, but then I realized that they were both basically the exact same with minor changes to cutscenes. Neither really delivered as satisfying a conclusion to this fight as I was hoping for, and I saw a lot of wasted potential. And to prove that I’m not just an entitled gamer who thinks he could do better than the developers, I decided I’d rewrite both endings to be satisfying both gameplay- and story-wise.

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Your wife Mia on the left. Your savior Zoe on the right. Choose wisely. Or don’t, it doesn’t matter either way.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

First, The Good Ending.

To start, I’d like to say that I think this game never needed two endings, especially given that both are basically the same. The only reason to have two endings is if they are drastically different. The most important thing, in my opinion, to creating successful divergent endings is to make the big decision that splits the narrative meaningful to the player. Choosing between saving your wife or a woman you hardly know is not a tough call; its only made uncertain by not knowing what you’re missing in the other ending.

This lack of stakes in the decision could have been fixed by letting us get to know Zoe much more during the entire game, so that it’s a choice between our friend and savior, or our lying, (sometimes) murderous wife.

In the Happy Ending™, you basically end up returning to the Baker house for a final showdown with Eveline, the little girl who’s been causing all the mold to infect the buildings and people in the game. You hallucinate attackers all through the house until you get to Eveline (Evie for short), and walk through the maelstrom of her mental tricks until you are close enough to inject her with a special necrotoxin meant to kill her and then…

It turns out Eveline was actually the Grandma in a wheelchair that’s been asleep for the entire game.

She then proceeds to vomit black mold all over you and turn into an enormous old lady face made of black tentacles with huge swirling tentacle arms that are somehow in the walls (I wonder if this game was a subliminal PSA about checking your house for mold…), and she tries to eat you as you shoot her face.

The final fight of the game sees you outside, unable to move, shooting up at Evie’s face until the Corporation that created her arrives out of nowhere. You defeat her through quicktime events that push you close enough to pick up a special gun that kills her instantly.

Basically, it was really easy, really weird, and not scary at all.

Up until this point, you’ve been collecting so much weaponry, ammo, and healing items that you hardly have to worry about any of the normal enemies killing you. The game loaded me up with so much stuff I couldn’t even carry it all. You spend the whole game in total control, using your wits and reflexes to survive, and by the end you’re ready for a big boss fight that forces you to think on your feet and use every tool the game has given you.

You’re a mother trucking badass, ready to take on the final challenge and make it say your name right before it shatters into a million moldy pieces. And what’s the payout?

Basically a boss fight with no control, and a boss you just shoot in the face with a random gun that literally appears out of nowhere?

No, excuse me Capcom, but that’s a terrible way to end a game like this.

If I could change it…

Honestly the best part about this ending is the reveal that the grandma is the big bad final boss. She’s pops up periodically throughout the game, always asleep in a wheelchair, so I assumed she was unimportant. When I figured out that she was really Eveline, I actually had to pause the game to laugh for a good minute.

I love this twist so much that I’ll keep it, but the subsequent fight has to change.

You’ll inject Eveline with the serum, and she’ll turn into the huge tentacle monster like normal, but now she infects the whole house, or straight up destroys it and surrounds you completely.

The idea is that the boss fight happens in five or so asymmetrical rooms that connect in a ring, all of which are made of the writhing tentacular bowels of Eveline. You have to run around the surprisingly big area destroying nodes to hurt Evie while she’s trying to crush you.

She periodically sends out lesser enemies to hurt you, which are made even more dangerous by the fact that they are silent underneath the music and gross sound effects of Evie all around you. This is made worse by the fact that she’s still in your head causing hallucinations, so you can’t always tell immediately if an enemy is real or not, or if anything you’re seeing is really there.

Eveline tries to crush you and you have to use all the weapons at your disposal and plenty of med packs in order to survive long enough to hurt her. After you destroy all the nodes, she moves in to swallow you, but the Corporation blows two holes in her and enter to try to set off a special explosive to kill her.

She immediately dismembers them, leaving you to snatch the explosive charge and run to the opposite side of the area to grab a detonator from the second team that entered.

Then you have to set it up directly on Evie’s heart, which was exposed by the Corp’s bombastic entrances.  All while fending off Eveline and her minions.

Then you blow her up and save the day and live happily ever after with your wife. Yay! Except not, because the mold still has infected the whole area and a short cutscene reveals that, without Evie’s control, it’s spreading.

I feel like this ending is way more satisfying for this kind of game. It forces you to use all your skills and everything you’ve spent the game collecting, and gives far more control to the player to mess up and learn from mistakes. At its best, this is what RE7 forces the player to do: face their fear and suffer through the suspense. And this would be suspenseful as hell, trust me.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

As for The Bad Ending…

Just a small warning, this section does get a little graphic.

I have some major rewrites to this ending. Let me first explain what I was expecting from this ending after finishing the good ending.

The good ending is SO sweet and perfect that I thought it had to be a joke that would be in stark contrast with the bad ending. I thought we’d get a whole different section of the game after choosing to save Zoe. I thought it would explain a lot of the mysteries that the other ending had glossed over. I thought we’d get to understand the Baker family better.

Turns out it was exactly the same ending just without your wife surviving.

So! Instead, I want this ending to be as dark as possible with absolutely no hope and a completely different final act. This is a horror game, after all. Might as well turn it up to 11.

To start, you save Zoe but instead of her dying unnecessarily, she is taken over by Evie and tries to drown you. Then you end up back in the scary house playing as Mia, whom you abandoned for Zoe. Since you have no hope of escape without the serum to cure you, you’re trying to find a way to defend yourself and possibly kill the remaining family members (Zoe’s brother Lucas, and Evie).

You’ll wander into a new secluded section of the property, one that Zoe used to live in, and here is where more of Zoe’s backstory and life history will come to light. This is a perfect chance for answers, and in a perfect game we would already have gotten to know Zoe so we’d be curious to learn her history. This would contrast with the Good Ending where we learn more about Mia and her relation to Evie.

After collecting answers and guns, you’ll find out through Lucas that the person you played as for the entire game, Mia’s husband Ethan, is trapped and being infected with the virus. You go to find him in the barn, but it’s a trap; Lucas plays puppet master as he locks you in a large pen and forces you to fight Zoe. Zoe looks physically infected, as if she’s rotting from the inside as the virus takes over her body, and seems to have lost her free will as she mumbles about getting away (think partially lobotomized and under mind control).

You fight Zoe in the pen as Lucas causes all sorts of environmental hazards to hurt you and Zoe. There are electrical traps, falling barn debris, occasional infected minions, fire traps, fake exits that hurt you, and possible other hazards. These hurt both you and Zoe, but as Zoe takes damage, she gets more dangerous and she starts looking more and more monstrous and terrifying.

If you play your cards right and use the traps to your advantage, you manage to incapacitate Zoe. Then, one way or another, you are put into a scripted sequence where you short circuit an electrical trap and injure Lucas who’s been controlling things from above you.

You think you’re safe.

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Spoilers: You’re not.

Of course you aren’t. Ethan then comes out of nowhere and lumbers towards you. It’s quickly revealed that he’s fully infected and he attacks you. You try to shoot him and escape, the player in full control, but it’s impossible to kill him or get out. Your movement speed gets slower as you tire of running away, and he eventually catches you. You can hear Evie ordering him to kill you, which he does in a very gruesome manner, and you get to witness in first person. Yay for horror!

Ethan then narrates a disturbing cutscene where he’s clearly gone insane from the infection and is just as deranged as the Bakers were, if not worse. It’s then implied through the visuals that Evie is going to spread the infection and make everyone in the world part of her twisted family.

So to recap, the infection is still controlled by Evie, Ethan is infected, Mia is dead, and Zoe and her brother are entirely under Evie’s control as she prepares to expand and take more lives.

Now THAT is the dark ending that RE7 needed, and honestly I’m somewhat disappointed that they even put two endings in the game if they were going to be so insignificant to the way things played out.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Anyway, that’s just what I would have liked to see from this game. I thoroughly enjoyed it, although I wouldn’t suggest it for people that aren’t into suspense, gore, survival horror, or who have a fear of mold.

I know it’s been a hot minute since I posted anything, but I have a lot of things in the works that I cannot wait to share, so stay tuned for more.

Hasta la vista, bebe.

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I’m Writing a Story

Hey, how are you doing? I hope you’ve gotten some time to enjoy the return of the sun. Is that a new haircut? It looks nice on you, you should keep it.

With finals over and a bright, eventful summer on the horizon, I have finally gotten around to working on a short story that I started writing last year. The premise and overall plot are, for the moment, things I’d call “spoilers,”  but there is one thing I can share.

This gorgeous image is the main inspiration for where the story begins.

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Artistic Credit goes to the wonderful Jane White. You can see more of her artwork here.

Without going into too much detail, the girl in the picture is named Viala, and has lived her whole life on a large remote island that no one has left in a long time (it’s sci fi so braving the endless sea is not as simple as getting a sturdy raft and a picnic blanket on a big stick, of course). Her people hid there long ago to protect themselves from a conflict they refused to take sides in. No one knows what has happened beyond their borders since, and her people don’t approve of those who abandon their families and home to go exploring.

There’s a galaxy just beyond their shores, and Viala is dying to see it. This internal and external struggle sets up the events that come after she finally makes her choice on whether or not to leave.

Sometimes Viala just needs to get away from that constant friction, and this cliffside is where she goes to find herself, to be free, if only for a time.

There will be love and loss, troubling friends and troubled enemies, and tons of lasers. There is plenty more coming, and I am so excited to share it with you.

As I write more, I’ll post a chapter at a time here. I have no timetable for when they’ll come out, so stay tuned for more. As always, keep your head up and your feet on the ground, and I’ll see you soon.

 

But seriously, keep the hairstyle, it suits you.

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Destiny 2 Gameplay Revealed – A Balance of Hype and Concerns

Last week, Bungie finally revealed gameplay for Destiny 2, the much-anticipated sequel to their 2014 release. The sheer amount of information that has been released to the public since last Thursday has been absolutely astounding (given how many information/content droughts Destiny 1 experienced).

From details on the revamped weapon system, to glimpses at boss fights and new exotics, to an awesome premise that promises many possibilities, it is hard to contain my joy. It seems that Bungie has learned from many of their past missteps and are doing their best to make Destiny 2 deliver on many promises they made for Destiny 1.

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Now, in the heat of all this excitement, it’s easy to make a snap judgment on the game. Bungie has a knack for inciting hype that few other companies can match. As such, I want to take a look at the positives and negatives that have come up so far.

Let’s start with what seems genuinely good about Destiny 2.

1. The story is going to be focused, purposeful, and more deeply involve established characters.

Most people are aware of the horrible decision made by Bungie higher-ups just before Destiny launched. How the story that had been developed over years was thrown away, and the higher-ups themselves pieced together a new story out of existing missions and cutscenes (think Frankenstein’s monster with less personality).

It seems that Bungie has focused heavily on making Destiny 2 heavily story-driven.

Not only do are they giving players a focused, epic objective in taking back the City and defeating the Red Legion and Ghaul (or Gary if you enjoy Bungie’s sense of humor), but they also plan to weave in personal stories involving all three Vanguard leaders coping with the loss of their powers.

The more intimate and character-driven the story can be, the better, in my opinion, because it gives players people to connect with and new perspectives to view the game world through.

2. The Crucible will be better, all-around.

All Destiny fans have had their fair share of complaints about Destiny 1, but the one area of the game that never seemed to satisfy everyone was the Crucible, the multiplayer PvP mode. Weapon balancing in competitive play is difficult (especially with guns that regenerate ammo) and its significantly less fun to play with only one gun. Connections weren’t great because there were no dedicated servers. Vertigo has never been fun to play on. Etc.

Without going into too much detail, suffice it to say that things in Destiny 2 look like they’ll be better, which is because of a few fundamental changes to the game.

Firstly, all special weapons (aside from sidearms) are now heavy weapons, and the heavy slot is now called the power weapon slot. You can have any two primaries equipped at once. One of these primaries will be kinetic, the other will have an elemental damage type applied to it. So, similarly to Halo, shotguns and snipers will be power weapons just like rocket launchers and alien laser beams.

Secondly, while there won’t be “dedicated servers”, per se, Bungie is putting more of the load-bearing responsibility on their end. I don’t pretend to understand how it all works but Destiny inherently must use some peer-to-peer to make its seamless transitions between loading zones for characters sharing the spaces. Connections should be better with the new system.

Here’s to not getting sniped through walls anymore!

3. It looks sick.

Because of course it does! The epic battles they teased, the abilities, the new guns and stories – everything looks bigger and better than before. Cayde is genuinely funny, and possibly my favorite character in the game.

Granted, the art style doesn’t look drastically different from Destiny 1, but I don’t think that a drastic leap in art style would have been the right choice. Destiny is a familiar experience, and the sequel should be everything good about the first game with enhancements all across the board.

Also, did anyone else notice the sun exploding?

Just me? Oh well, all secrets will (hopefully) be revealed in time.

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Now for what’s nagging at me.

1. Bungie’s history of hype

Bungie has a long history of overhyping their games before release.

Halo 2 had a lot of things working against it. Bungie such an impressive E3 demo that it physically couldn’t run on the original Xbox, so they used a PC instead. The same segment in the official game was far less impressive. Given pressure from Microsoft, the game was rushed and had to end on a cliffhanger that Halo 3 (somewhat) resolved.

2. No more Grimoire cards

This is more of a personal gripe, but I really enjoy having the game lore in my pocket at all times, readily available in the app. Literally none of it was in the game, but I could find these stories whenever I wanted and draw inspiration from them.

I have no qualms with Destiny 2’s story being filled with the lore, that was one of the biggest problems with the original’s story/lack thereof.

But…

In my perfect little world, the story would be rich with lore and point to a larger story that would be expounded upon in great detail in the grimoire.

I know not everyone cares about the lore or the grimoire, but honestly those dumb little playing cards were probably the reason this game has become so important and interesting to me (that, combined with the fact that Destiny is designed to addict you, but I’ve come to terms with the love-hate relationship I have with this game).

3. Destiny 1 has been spoiling us

As much as everyone loves getting loot, Rise of Iron and Age of Triumph made loot drops really frequent and very high leveled.

To quote the dev team…

“We’ve been generous as f*ck.”      ~ Bungie

Year 3 of Destiny was meant as a sort of final huzzah, a victory lap while we waited for Destiny 2. To satisfy the community as much as possible, Bungie made it as rewarding as possible.

This is great for the average player, but it feels almost like they were spoiling us. Odds are that drop rates will be back to their normal, lower rate in Destiny 2, and that might be hard to get used to again for most people.

But that’s mostly speculation. We’ve seen but a short glimpse into the future of the series, and final judgment will come to pass with its release in September.

That’s really all I have to say for now. I’ll have more updates and articles on D2 over the course of the summer, exploring more niche and curious aspects of the game as we learn more.

Until then, keep your eyes up, Guardian. We’re just getting started.

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