Why Destiny 2’s newest secret mission fails to capture the magic of The Whisper quest

Why Destiny 2’s newest secret mission fails to capture the magic of The Whisper quest

Secrets are the lifeblood of Destiny. The first days in the Vault of Glass raid, unlocking the core in Wrath of the Machine raid for Outbreak Prime, and the original Black Spindle Exotic quest are defining moments in the original game. More recently, in Destiny 2, Guardians got to experience The Whisper and Zero Hour secret missions — two near-flawless romps through mysterious areas that rewarded some of the most powerful weapons in the series’ history.

The call of potential new secrets keeps players excited in the doldrums between seasons and expansions — even if the rumors rarely bear fruit. And on Jan. 19, Bungie debuted a new secret mission in the vein of The Whisper and Zero Hour: Harbinger. But Harbinger’s re-used areas and lack of any meaningful reward fail to capture what I love so much about Destiny secrets.

What made The Whisper and Zero Hour so special?

Jumping along the old tower in Zero Hour
Image: Bungie via Polygon

The secret Whisper mission appeared right when Destiny 2 needed it most. The summer before Forsaken, the frustrations of a year of sub-par Destiny 2 were really starting to grind on the community. But on July 20, 2018, players found a portal to a new mission. It took hours for players to discover, and the news spread like wildfire across Reddit and Twitter. Fireteams didn’t know what the mission was or what they’d get out of it, but the community raced to log on and find out.

The Whisper took players deep inside of Io, through several tricky jumping puzzles, and some serious combat. And to add some pep to the Guardians’ steps, the mission featured a 20 minute timer. After a few runs of hunting and exploring, players started beating The Whisper and earned themselves the Whisper of the Worm Exotic sniper rifle, which remained the best Exotic in Destiny 2 until Bungie nerfed it in June of 2019.

A little less than a year after The Whisper mission — during Destiny 2’s dreadful Gambit-focused Season of the Drifter — Bungie created an even better secret with the Zero Hour mission. This time players had a whole questline to do before unlocking the secret mission. Zero Hour let Guardians adventure through the ruins of the Tower from the original Destiny, and rewarded them with Outbreak Perfected, another incredibly powerful Exotic weapon.

When Bungie launched each new mission, it was a massive surprise for everyone. I remember pushing back dinner plans so I could get through The Whisper with some friends, or getting inundated with messages telling me “something is happening,” when Bungie launched Zero Hour.

The secret was a big part of the excitement, but it was also about the quality of the reward. Outbreak Perfected and Whisper of the Worm changed the game’s weapon meta for months — Guardians used them in raids, Nightfalls, and everything in between. The missions also offered unique experiences to Destiny 2, melding speedrunning with heavy platforming. When one of my old friends returned to Destiny 2, taking them through The Whisper and Zero Hour was my top priority.

Unfortunately, both Zero Hour and The Whisper were casualties of Destiny 2’s sunsetting in fall 2020. Harbinger, the newest mission attempting to follow this mold, is a philosophical successor to these missions, but it fumbles too many important features to feel like a replacement.

Where does Harbinger drop the ball?

Jumping through opening section of Harbinger
Image: Bungie via Polygon

The new, secret Harbinger mission wasn’t much of a secret. Players knew some kind of mission involving Hawkmoon was on the horizon after the Exotic quest provided players with an incomplete weapon. The Hawkmoon Guardians originally picked up included the Transformative perk, which stated that future drops of the weapon would include random rolls — suggesting there would eventually be a way to get more drops. And Destiny super-sleuths found the secret entrance to Harbinger over a week before launch, so everyone knew exactly where to go on Jan. 19.

Harbinger starts out with its strongest section, a delicate dance across some trees and onto the dam in Trostland. But after a brief mini-boss chase through the interior of the dam, the rest of the mission becomes the original Hawkmoon quest from December. That quest was fine for a standard Exotic quest, but Destiny 2’s previous secret missions were on a raid-like level when it came to mission design.

Part of what made The Whisper so compelling was the exploration of a new area, and it’s hard to feel like that when you’re jumping through a mushroom cave you just explored a month ago. Harbinger being half-new and half-used made for a disappointing experience on day one and I’m already dreading repeat runs to complete the bonus ship quest (even though the path through the mission varies each week).

But Harbinger’s greatest sin is its mediocre reward. Bungie launched the Hawkmoon quest weeks ago and gave players an incomplete Exotic — a disappointment in itself. Harbinger may complete Hawkmoon, but that doesn’t make up for the fact that it’s a gun I just earned last December. The Harbinger mission had none of the shock and mystery that made The Whisper and Zero Hour missions so successful.

Discovering the previous two secret missions are some of my favorite memories in the entire Destiny franchise, but Harbinger already feels forgettable a week after launch. If Harbinger offered Icebreaker, No Land Beyond, something completely new, or some other original Destiny weapon, I could overlook the mission’s lack of mystery and tension. Destiny 2 needed something to shake up the meta after Bungie removed most of the game’s arsenal, but a different version of a gun I already have doesn’t cut it.

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