Destiny's latest update The Dawning is more than just a Christmas event, Bungie has said, and after half a day's play I'm pretty happy to agree with that. There's more here than just a snow-capped Tower: Bungie has returned a fan-favourite activity, built yet more onto Destiny's core gameplay and responded to several important points of fan feedback.
Oh, and it even manages to get Nathan Fillion out of retirement to steal the show once more.
The Dawning is a free update for Rise of Iron owners which brings Destiny up to version 2.5. It is headlined by the return of the much-loved Sparrow Racing, although its second big feature - the introduction of a new challenge mechanic for the game's strikes - will likely leave the larger impact.
Out on the racetrack, two new courses join last year's pair. These fresh areas, set on Mercury and in Rise of Iron's Plaguelands zone, see you dodging Vex and Splicers, jumping through warp gates, ramming opponents and avoiding a fiendishly-placed forklift truck. There are fancy new Sparrows to collect and some amusing new Sparrow horns, along with the usual compliment of gear, emblems and shaders. And, happily, the mode will now stay put, at least as an option in private matches, after The Dawning ends on 3rd January.
The Dawning's new Strike scoring system - another permanent addition - is the bigger surprise, and a welcome update to the game's ageing set of three-player activities. Points are awarded for each kill, while medals are awarded if you go on a killing spree with a particular weapon type, for example, or if you punch lots of Dregs in the face. It makes for a more competitive feel to the mode, and comes with its own full set of daily and weekly bounties where you can earn some shiny new armour and a chance at reacquiring Ice Breaker, Destiny's much-missed Year One sniper rifle which automatically refills ammo.
To complement this, three existing Strikes have been refreshed with enemies from Rise of Iron - the in-game logic being that the various bosses you've defeated before are all back for another go. This trio comprises Taniks ("you have been challenged... in the ways of old") the Nexus Mind (the one on Venus with the circular boss cave at the end) and Omnigul (aka the boss who just screams constantly). Each of these comes with a new mechanic in their final encounters: Taniks requires you to clear the room of SIVA nodes at certain points to down his new shield, the Nexus Mind has raided the Vault of Glass for the ability to mark players and require you cleanse yourself in order to stay alive, and finally Omnigul now warps in and out of the room, so you don't have to just shoot her from the doorway.
Each revamped Strike shows evidence of Bungie looking at how players previously tackled the mission to tweak it for this new go-around (oh, and your cheese spots have been plugged with obstacles). But the highlight here - and perhaps of the whole update - is new mission dialogue from Zavala, Ikora and Cayde, your Vanguard leaders, who have not had anything new to say since September 2015's Taken King. Zavala is grumpy and serious, Ikora is playful, while Cayde once again is the breakout star. I criticised Rise of Iron for its replacement main characters and overall lack of humour. With The Dawning, Bungie manages to make some form of amends.
Alongside these new additions, Bungie has used the update to address several critical points of feedback from fans. For example, I haven't mentioned a cost for any of the above as there isn't any - a significant change. Last year's Sparrow Racing event came with a Ł7 record book to track your progress and which unlocked a unique set of rewards for your accomplishments. It was a way to monetise the mode's development, although the rewards for those who did stump up were fairly slight. But this was nothing compared to the furore surrounding this year's Festival of the Lost, Destiny's Halloween event, which left many fans up in arms over changes to the way loot boxes were handed out and the huge amount of enticing gear which could only be acquired by paying cold hard cash for blind boxes of rewards. The balance has been flipped with The Dawning - it's pleasing to see this addressed.
This latest update still has a huge pool of loot to acquire only by parting with your money - but these extra Sparrows, gear set and consumables are better balanced out by the amount of new things to see and do elsewhere. You'll also get one loot box free for per week for the foreseeable future, too, as these will remain available after the event concludes. Unlike Halloween there's no need to buy the boxes before they disappear for good.
The Dawning also manages to straighten out Silver Dust, the recently-introduced currency gained in minuscule amounts from simply playing the game, but ostensibly from dismantling items bought using real-world money (which is converted to in-game Silver). Previously you had to use Silver Dust to apply Ornaments to your armour, even if these were earned through the completion of the game's hardest activities. Any Silver Dust requirement not already removed has now finally been taken away, leaving the currency simply as a way to buy specific items previously sold through Eververse. A new Silver Dust kiosk in the Tower includes Eververse items from the past - older weapon Ornaments, Sparrow horns, emotes and the like - which you can now purchase directly using Silver Dust, without the need to rely on RNG. It's a fairer system, and a positive sign to see Bungie responding to concerns.
The developer has stuffed The Dawning with other little tweaks and additions, too - daily presents of helpful items, new music, a feature to 'wave off' heavy ammo in multiplayer matches, the automatic dismantling of useless green-quality gear, the ability to simply buy useful upgrade items like exotic shards and Wormspore, new exotic versions of the Thunderlord machine gun, a new hidden Sparrow...
As Destiny's third year continues, Bungie has served up a good reason to revisit the game and found perhaps its most comfortable middle ground yet in the game's constant push and pull of monetisation. More importantly, it has gifted players a game update that will benefit the game beyond Christmas and for however long Bungie continues to support through 2017.