Destiny 2 has always primarily been, and will likely always remain, a multiplayer game best experienced with kind strangers or old friends. But occasionally there have been times where the loot shooter has invited and even encouraged players to see what troublesome fun they can get up to on their own, and the latest Hawkmoon quest is a perfect example of that.
Added to the game yesterday, Harbinger is a new secret mission located in the European Dead Zone that finally lets players farm additional Hawkmoon exotic hand cannons with random perk rolls and acts as a hyper-difficult remix of the original Hawkmoon quest from last month. Unlike many of Destiny 2’s previous exotic quests, however, Harbinger is trickier to find and extremely difficult to take on by yourself, though not required (you can go in with a fireteam as big as three). But I tried anyway, because I’m a big believer in how fun and compelling Destiny can be when you try to live in the moment versus always being focused on the end rewards and how to farm them as efficiently as possible.
Harbinger begins in a broken down building near the Trostland landing area. To start it all you have to do is light up the fireplace by shooting it with your existing Hawkmoon and activating the box that then appears inside. The mission revolves around following a golden hawk ever deeper into the recesses of the European Dead Zone, beginning outside its vast Dam and ending at a shard of the Traveler hidden beneath it. There are tricky platforming bits (there’s a very handy guide over on Polygon), some light combat puzzles, several waves of extremely challenging enemies, and a final boss fight that’s much more complex than anything players are usually forced to muddle through on their own.
Like a Mega Man robot master, Harbinger’s boss, Akorith, has a weakness, and it’s the Hawkmoon. Headshots deal an enormous amount of damage, but the real danger comes from the waves of additional enemies Akorith summons every time you take down one of his health bars. Taken Knights need to be killed fast to stop enemies from continuing to spawn, all while other enemies snipe you from afar. The room is full of good cover spots, but moving between them is fraught thanks to the 1280 power level of all the enemies. Pools of taken energy keep randomly spawning across the arena throughout the fight as well, sending you flying into the air and helpless if you lose awareness of your surroundings for even a moment. It’s chaotic, but also a perfect coliseum for experimenting with the guns you’ve spent all season collecting.
You can bring two additional guardians with you to make things easier, but Harbinger can be soloed, and it really makes me want to, not because the rewards are any better, but because it’s the most Destiny 2 has felt alive to me since the otherwise mostly quiet Season of the Hunt began. With no one else around to bail you out, every shot, enemy movement, and new decision carries added weight. Crouching behind a pile of rocks as it gets blasted with alien magic never felt so dramatic. Playing through it last night and again this morning (I still haven’t beaten it), Destiny 2 temporarily felt like an exquisitely calibrated single-player arcade game, rather than a grindy slog or loot-driven rat race.
Harbinger is reminiscent of Destiny 2’s Zero Hour and The Whisper, two other exotic quests players had to seek out and uncover for themselves. Unlike those two quests, however, this one isn’t timed, and thus much more conducive to tackling patiently and methodically by yourself. Bungie has been laying the groundwork for solo end game content with Beyond Light’s Legendary Lost Sectors—activities that must be completed alone in order to have a shot at earning their most powerful gear. Those were some of my favorite parts of the new expansion, and Harbinger feels like it’s building on that by offering players an even more fleshed out repeatable mission that comes with the bonus of a randomly rolled exotic (Forbes writer Paul Tassi has a good list of some of the Hawkmoon rolls most worth chasing).
Harbinger isn’t as organic as some of the best hidden quests in the Dreaming City from the Forsaken expansion—a highwater mark when it came to Destiny trying new things—but the juxtaposition of platforming, exploration, and big arena battles in which you’re struggling to just survive reminded me some of past late night thrills trying to play Halo 2 alone on Legendary (operative word: trying). One of my favorite Destiny moments to this day was solo-ing an Omnigul Nightfall strike back during its first year. The rewards were shit but the excitement mingled with a sense of accomplishment and relief was palpable. Harbinger harkens back to that, and I hope shows Bungie will continue to build out fulfilling end game options for armies of one.