Destiny 2 Didn't Find Buried Treasure With Season of the Plunder

nov 5 2022

So, I just finished playing through the core story of Destiny 2's Season of the Plunder. I was a couple weeks behind the story, because, well... I just wasn't very interested in the story. While the story isn't the only reason why I play Destiny 2, it is a big reason, and I was already feeling pretty burned out on the gameplay (and MMOs in general) after heavily engaging with Season of the Haunted.

Unfortunately, the problems that kept me from loving the story in the first place never really got any better; in fact, they got worse. I think Plunder suffers from a lack of overarching themes, little to no strong or pressing conflict, and lack of some kind of emotional core. It really feels like the narrative designers were sitting in a room together and someone said, "Wouldn't it be cool if we did a pirate themed season?" and everyone else enthusiastically agreed, before realizing they didn't actually want to tell a pirate themed story or have any ideas for how to do so. Sorry, that's kind of mean and I don't want to discount the writers' hard work. But to me, the story has a lot of issues.

The story suffers from an incredible pacing issue, which is a problem because there really is no strong, pressing conflict. There is no sense of danger and no sense that you're really struggling or trying to overcome the odds. And look, I get the reasoning behind having a silly, fun, pirate season; Haunted was incredibly dark and dealt heavily with grief, which is a more real and emotionally taxing conflict than Destiny 2's typical season conflict like "Hive worm god of deceit is up to something." I think it was a good decision of them to pull back on that a little and have a season that was more lighthearted and fun.

But I don't think Plunder is lighthearted or fun. Yes, it's about pirates, and yes, it doesn't have a super strong central conflict, but it seems to be trying to be kind of dark and gritty. Eramis comes back and is being used by the Witness, Eido and Misraaks fight over pacifism vs violence, we get lore pages about the Long Drift and the horrific conditions Eliksni suffered during that time, and the whole time we're hunting zombie relics of darkness.

That's not light or fun, and the seasonal activities and storyline don't do much to make you actually feel like a swashbuckling pirate on an adventure. We're hunting down relics, which I guess is supposed to be some kind of pirate treasure hunt, but there is no big payoff for this. We have no idea what they're actually for and Eramis never even manages to steal one of the relics, so why am I supposed to feel happy and excited about getting them?

The best Destiny seasons have had some kind of overarching theme and emotional core (and the best of the best have tied that emotional core to the overarching theme). This was what made Haunted such a great season narrative-wise; even though a lot of people ended up disliking the gameplay, I've never seen people complain about the story. It had themes of grief and the strong emotional core of 3 main characters confronting past trauma, which helped develop their backstories and current character arcs in interesting ways.

Compare that to Plunder, and you start to see where Plunder comes up short. There's a lot of potential options for emotional cores; Misraaks coming to terms with his past, Eido reckoning with Eliksni generational conflict and cultural violence and what that means for the future, or Eramis' manipulation by the Darkness. Instead, the writers went with very tired and contrived-feeling conflicts that end up feeling out of place and out of character.

One of the main emotional conflicts of the season is Misraaks and Eido fighting over Misraaks being an overprotective father. The overprotective father thing is just honestly not compelling to me (never has been), so maybe this conflict was compelling to others and I'm just an outlier. Nevertheless, Misraaks has in the past let Eido do potentially dangerous things and be her own person, yet all of a sudden when they can't figure out any other way for them to naturally have conflict Misraaks is King Triton and she's Ariel. It was also weird that the narrative seemed to be 100% on Eido's side and not willing to actually consider what Misraaks justification would be for acting the way he does. Eido is treated as completely in the right and Misraaks is completely in the wrong, which is what leads to the conflict feeling contrived.

I would say this also feels out of character for Misraaks, but I think an underlying problem here really is that Misraaks has no consistent character. When we first met Misraaks back in base Destiny 2, he's nothing more than a friendly Eliksni. Then, he's just "that Fallen Captain in the Farm who gives you the Zero Hour quest." There was no attempt made to actually establish a character for him. In Forsaken, he was given a bit of character development via lorebooks, mostly being portrayed as a wary and jaded Eliksni who was slowly warming up to humans while dealing with his adopted daughter.

There's a lot they could've done with this lore characterization, but when Misraaks actually finally showed back up in-game they decided to change him into Hackerman instead. Don't get me wrong, I liked Splicer a lot and thought this direction for his character was fun, but there was no attempt to really merge the identities of lore Misraaks and the new Splicer Misraaks. Things only got more muddled when he came back in Plunder and now is suddenly not talking about Splicing all and is moreso the typical "clan leader," stepping into the role of Eido's saintly,pacifist father who disapproves of violence. The thing is, it's pretty easy to merge these two identities; they have to just stop completely dropping his past interests and motivations in order to give him new, plot relevant ones.

Going back to the seasonal conflict itself, Misraaks and Eido later fight about Misraaks never telling her about his violent past. This feels contrived for a couple reasons. Why would Eido, who has previously been okay with violence and says violent things like "Send them to the void" during Ketchcrash, have a problem with Misraaks being violent in the past? And why, as a Scribe, would she not have already known about his past? The Eliksni are functionally immortal; while they can get hurt and die, they don't age. It's frankly unbelievable that not one House Light member knows about Misraaks' past, especially since the writers set Misraaks up as this great leader who looks out for the ill and infirm.

Eido even says during an argument with him that she's not mad at him for being violent, she's mad at him for not telling her because it must mean he thinks she's a child who can't handle it. I mean, this is a really stupid reason for her to be upset because he's not really saying or implying that at all, but Eido is a teen and its natural for teens to think they're the center of the world and get upset at their parents for not telling them stuff like this, so I guess I'm okay with it. But then, Eido brings up that she's a Scribe and she would have found out eventually.

I guess the writers have her bring this up as a sort of explanation or argument as to why Eido is so mad and why Misraaks was stupid to hide it from her in the first place, but it just hammers home how contrived and unnatural this conflict is. At least if she was just super morally against violence it would make sense for her to be upset about his past, but her being so upset that Misraaks just didn't tell her about it doesn't make sense because Eido should already know about his past because it is literally her JOB to chronicle the past!

In my opinion, a better way to go would have been to have a more introspective conflict about Eido coming to terms with the fact that her father isn't a saint like she thought. I think this is a more realistic and understandable conflict; a lot of children go through this period of realizing their parents are human and not infallible gods. Eido could already know about her father's pirate past, but romanticizes it and thinks that he must have been a swashbuckling hero who never really hurt anybody. Then, she gets a taste of real piracy and realizes most of these crews are simply desperate Eliksni doing what they need to do to survive. She does more research and talks to Misraaks about his past again, with him being very remorseful about what he had to do. Eido realizes her romanticization was wrong and hurtful to Misraaks, who wants her not to follow that path and instead work on building an Eliksni society where no one has to turn to piracy.

Because that's another thing that really baffles me; in a season revolving around piracy, violence, and crime, there was no effort to actually examine why people (well, Eliksni) commit crimes. They commit crimes and become pirates because they're bad and violent: the end. Misraaks was violent not because he was conditioned to be by poverty and generational trauma, but because space magic zombie parts made him. The revelation that the Nezarec relics actually emit some kind of Violence Forcefield and that’s why Misraaks and others turn to piracy is just a odd one, stripping the discussion of any nuance or complex discussion.

It's disappointing, and I'm not expecting some Angela Davis Are Prisons Obsolete? level deconstruction of crime and poverty in a scifi looter shooter game, but I wish they had done a little more. There is genuinely so much to talk about here in regards to circumstances trapping people in violent lifestyles, generational cycles of violence and trauma, the idea that maybe it's a little more complicated than violence = bad and people who have been violent = irredeemably evil. But they don't ever go deeper than that, and in Plunder it isn't actually more complicated than violence = bad. It's more nuanced in the seasonal lore books, but I hate that we've taken a step back to "go read the lore if you actually want a nuanced and complex story," when they've proven that they are capable of doing that in-game.

I also dislike Misraaks' past being simplified down to "he was violent because the Nezarec relics influenced him to be violent." It's just bad writing, to be honest. It strips Misraaks of his agency and his potential complexity in order to keep him a fundamentally good person who has never made a mistake in his life, while also condemning him for that violence and acting like he can never make up for it. People do bad things, especially in situations like Misraaks', and that doesn't mean they're evil. They don't need to use a mystical relic as an excuse for Misraaks doing bad things, because good and likable people can still do bad things.

It’s like we've taken ten steps back from Splicer writing. In that season, they took Saint-14, a fan favorite character who was extremely likable, and added complexity to his character by examining already established character traits like his violence towards the Eliksni from a different perspective. It wasn't an arc where everyone realized "Saint-14 is a bad person," but rather an arc where the message was that even good people can do bad things and that the Eliksni-Human conflict wasn't as one-sided as it seemed.

That was really good writing, but now we've somehow gone to almost the opposite of that. Now, fan favorite character Misraaks is somehow simultaneously getting the "plot twist: he's actually a violent person" treatment while also getting the "actually, none of that was his fault and he's never done anything wrong in his life" treatment. It's just not compelling writing, and again it feels completely detached from the overall seasonal plot and theme.

Because what really is the theme of this season? "Being a pirate is cool"? "I hate my dad"? The weird thing is, there are a lot of elements of this season that should be compelling. Eido learning more about the Eliksni past and human culture, Eramis being freed from the ice and being manipulated by the Witness, getting to learn more about Eido and her relationship with her father, Spider moving to the City, and lots more was set up. But it feels like they chose the most basic ways to explore and follow through with these themes and plots and focused the majority of the season on "pirate vibes" and out of character Drifter and Eris "flirting." If I really liked pirates or DriftEris, maybe that would be enough for me. But I'm lukewarm on pirates and I don't like DriftEris, so I'm pretty disappointed with this season.

I was just not compelled to play, which is sad because Haunted consistently kept me logging in each week to see the story progression. I think the lack of a strong antagonist was also a weak point of this season. It has this huge awesome start with Eramis breaking out of the ice and joining the Witness, but then she immediately vanishes offscreen and becomes a force in the distant background doing... something. She's trying to steal the relics, I guess, but she fails so spectacularly that she doesn't feel like an actual force to be reckoned with. She doesn't manage to steal a single relic for the Witness! We don't even see Eramis until around Week 5, and she's doing majorly threatening things like... politely parlaying with Eido and Misraaks and getting involved in their family drama for no reason at all, and then saving Eido from the Lucent Hive. Ahh! The horror!

It's also revealed in Week 5 that the Lucent Hive are also after the relics, which again is a huge missed opportunity to actually have some central, pressing conflict that feels like it matters. Why is their involvement treated as a secret? Why not just have them be an additional threat from the beginning? Sure, it's mentioned in some earlier pirate hideout quests that someone other than Eramis and her Eliksni crews are after the relics, but it's not treated as a mystery or puzzle. If it was meant to be, it wasn't a compelling one. They should have either just revealed this straight awawy, or treated it like an actual mystery and included clues and stakes for figuring out who it is.

Oh, I know why they didn't want to treat this as a big deal. Because it isn't! The Lucent Hive vaguely threaten Eido, but only because she was stupid enough to run into their lair and get trapped there, not out of any active malice or trickery from the Lucent Hive. They never actually come close to being a real threat. Again, my question is just... why? Why introduce them if they're not going to do anything? Why wait so long to introduce them only to have them barely matter? There are ways to make this season lighthearted and fun while still feeling like the stakes are high. In Plunder, there are no stakes. There are no villains, and not in a fun, nuanced way where even the antagonists seem to be morally in the right; in a bad way, where there is no strong conflict and nothing matters.

Drifter: Drove Eramis off, stopped whatever plan the Witness had, and brought home all the pieces of Nezarec. Not bad at all.
Drifter, I'm loving the positive energy of this post-season pep talk, but Eramis actually just left on her own, I've seen the promo material for Lightfall so I know we didn't stop a damn thing, and there's no point in having the pieces of Nezarec if we don't have a clue what they do (which we don't)!

There's still a rumored "post-season community event," but it doesn't seem to have anything to do with actual story. From what I can gather, it's just connected to tidying up the Eliksni Quarter, so I really don't think this community event is going to make the season do a complete 180 for me and I feel comfortable writing and posting this review even though the season isn't technically "over." If this community event is actually a heartfelt and passionate story about Misraaks and Eido making up and growing to understand each other than I will just take the L.

Bungie swung and missed with Plunder. It happens! I definitely don't think this season is a red flag, a sign we're going back to the bad story days, but it wasn't a compelling or well put together story for me. I thought that maybe it was just personal taste (again... not a pirate person or a DriftEris fan and the Eliksni have always intrigued but not really fascinated me) but I truly do think that this season suffered from a lot of half-baked, bad writing. I don't think they knew what they really were trying to do or say and it shows. It's not horrible, let me just say that. It's not horrible! But it's just kind of nothing, and coming hot off the heels of Haunted, some of their best narrative work, it's noticeable.

Overall, I had lots of problems with this season and the best I can hope for is something more interesting next season. Like I said, I think the formula to success is having a central and visible conflict, a strong emotional core, and some kind of overarching theme tying the two together. Lower the flag, boys— no more pirates.