The Destiny franchise looks reward “being there” at the start but where do new players fit in?
In all my years of gaming, I’ve never seen or experienced a series like Destiny. Heck, even in this age of live-service, games-as-a-service, looter shooters, shared world shooters, whatever term you’d like to apply, Destiny is still a standout. The numbers don’t lie either – despite competition over the years from incredibly hyped games like Monster Hunter World, Anthem, The Division, The Division 2 and yes, even Fallout 76, the franchise manages to pull in hundreds of thousands of players each month. A quick look at Destiny 2 indicates that player enthusiasm is more or less intact, and this is with the developer splitting from Activision and Battle.net, shifting to Steam on October 1st.
You’d probably think that now – yes, finally, now! – is the time to get back into Destiny 2. The title launched with a number of glaring flaws and Bungie successfully fixed them. The Forsaken expansion built up the endgame significantly and offered a number of different milestones to chase. There are numerous raids worth playing. The Annual Pass also introduced a myriad of modes, from the six player Menagerie to a more insufferable version of Gambit and Exotic Quests, to keep players hooked. The lore! So much lore was added, providing some honest-to-goodness compelling tales to sift through (well, aside from Season of Opulence and it’s admittedly disturbing love-letters about the Guardian from Calus).
There were Pinnacle weapons to grind, Triumphs to unlock, titles to earn and achievements to tout. All of that even comes with you to Steam. And if you choose to go from PS4 and Xbox One to PC, then cross-save finally makes that possible.
What if you’ve never played Destiny before? Is Destiny 2 still a worthwhile experience? This is where the move to Steam becomes even better. Starting from October 1st, Destiny 2 will adopt a free-to-play model and become Destiny 2: New Light. You gain access to the base campaign, Curse of Osiris and Warmind expansions, and all of the updates and free content added till now (barring limited time events which returns when they return). Best of all, with Forsaken launching on October 1st, you get to experience all the great content in that expansion. Want more? The Forsaken Annual Pass has been made free.
Even if you don’t own Forsaken, Gambit Prime along with the Tangled Shore, Dreaming City, Black Armory Forges, The Menagerie and future PvP modes. Sure, you still have to pay for the expansions and Bungie has shifted more to a free-to-play model when it comes to microtransactions (read: more direct purchases) but now is the best time for new players to jump in.
That’s the paradox that Bungie seemingly struggles with, that too when a new expansion was set to launch at nearly any time during Destiny’s lifespan. If you’re simply in it for the new main quest, then most of this may not really phase you. However, those seeking to make this their next looter shooter, their main “live service” game or even, as Bungie consistently insists, their new hobby, Destiny 2 has some serious problems.
First off, I mentioned the Forsaken expansion and Annual Pass. The Dreaming City will be available with Destiny 2: New Light at launch, allowing anyone to partake in the Blind Well event. This sounds good except because no one was really playing it after launch. Don’t get me wrong – Blind Well was popular for about a month after the expansion launched and still serves as a decent place for some fulfilling some quest requirements. But it’s also a publicly matchmade space, much like Escalation Protocol from Warmind or the public event on Mercury from Curse of Osiris. And again, both activities didn’t see all that much play a good month or two after their expansions released (with Mercury’s public event dying far quicker).
There are matchmade activities like the Forges from Black Armory, The Reckoning and Gambit Prime from Season of the Drifter, and the Menagerie from Season of Opulence. However, first-time players, even if they gain access to the Annual Pass on Steam, won’t really find much by way of participation from Destiny 2’s hardcore established player base. There’s the hope that the predicted flood of new players will take care of that but eventually, we’ll be right back to where we started.
That’s because Bungie’s approach to content isn’t like Capcom with Monster Hunter World: Iceborne. It’s not looking to make all content relevant for a good long time. In fact, it’s making changes to activities like the Menagerie to make it less rewarding when Shadowkeep and New Light launch. Can’t have players becoming too powerful, too quickly after all. What about activities like Heroic Menagerie, Scourge of the Past, Crown of Sorrow or The Last Wish which don’t even have matchmaking? These activities require finding your own group. Good luck with that, especially given the lack of an in-game LFG system, still not implemented even after five years of the franchise’s existence.
Armor 2.0 revamps the current armor system to have slots for inserting whatever mods a player chooses – along with mods being reusable, finally. All previously released armor will have Armor 2.0 versions, thus incentivizing players to farm old activities for the same. This should, in theory, cause veterans to hop in the pool with newbies. “In theory” being the key word here. A system which allowed veterans to matchmake with new players and help them in different activities, garnering different rewards in the process, would have been nice (and no, we’re not talking about the failure that is Guided Games). At this point, it doesn’t seem like a veteran player unless they must have Armor 2.0 versions of everything in the game will want to revisit older activities for the same.
But all of this is symptomatic of a bigger issue that Bungie has with anything Destiny 2-related – content is ultimately made irrelevant within a short span of time. So while theoretically, hopping into Destiny 2 when a major expansion launches is fine, the content is made passe so quickly that you might as well not even bother. It’s more than just being incentivized to do new things – the overall structure of the franchise has been developed to reward “being there” at the beginning. The lack of a proper structure for solo players to enjoy all of the content, from Crucible to end-game, hasn’t helped matters.
Bungie has further built this up by implementing various “Fear of Missing Out” or FOMO mechanics into the game. It started off innocently enough – the developer removed Trials of the Nine and Faction Rallies simply because they weren’t good enough, not because they were slated for removal. The decision to not bring them back could range from allocating resources somewhere else – which makes sense with all the work necessary for Shadowkeep, a new Annual Pass, New Light etc etc – to simply having no idea how to bring them back. So if you weren’t there to get the admittedly lame rewards, then too bad (but hey, no big loss either, right?).
Then there were the Annual Events. Didn’t partake in the murder-mystery to help find Master Ives’ killer? Well, you could still earn the Exotic machine gun Thunderlord but it would have to be through Exotic Engrams, which have finicky drop rates. Didn’t farm the Menagerie when its rewards system was broken in the initial week? Then farming all those different Austringer weapon rolls became headache after Bungie patched it. Of course, then it buffed the same and is now getting ready to nerf again.
Then there were the Moments of Triumph, which could be used to obtain Bad Juju (which again moved to Exotic Engrams if you didn’t get it in that time). Then came the Solstice of Heroes and its punishing armor grind. “But you get this set as your first Armor 2.0 variant when Shadowkeep launches!” they say.
However, even players who were there and earned their so-called coveted rewards are punished. Grinding The Whisper mission, when it wasn’t initially guaranteed to start – and only available on the weekends – to pick up the Whisper of the Worm? It’s since been nerfed into irrelevance. Grinding out the murder-mystery with Master Ives during the Festival of the Lost to get the Thunderlord? It’s been nerfed and heavy machine guns in general have received numerous other nerfs.
Oh, what’s that? Even if you farm for so-called perfect PvE rolls on weapons, Bungie is changing critical damage modifiers for minor enemies with the launch of Shadowkeep. You’ll no longer deal 50 percent additional damage on minor enemies with critical shots aka headshots. While weapon damage is being buffed to compensate, there’s still a net loss in damage overall (and the changes to prevent buff stacking don’t help either). Heck, we’re also see perks like Rampage, Kill Clip, Swashbuckler, Multikill Clip, Desperado, Surrounded, Master of Arms and Onslaught nerfed when Shadowkeep releases.
So really, you’re encouraged to be there, day-one, for Destiny content and just enjoy it while it lasts. Because it’s not going to last. Many will point to Bungie just doing its best to rein in the power fantasy so that things remain challenging. Excuses like raid boss design, Crucible balance and so on and so forth get thrown around as well. Which is funny given that (a) not that many players raid regularly anyway and (b) Crucible has always been unbalanced and attempting to rectify resulted in a stunningly bad Year 1 meta for Destiny 2.
But I digress. With Shadowkeep, this FOMO phenomenon will be pushed even further. Bungie’s new approach to Seasons is to remove content once the season is over. No, seriously. Season of the Undying kicks off with Vex Offensive, a new six-player activitiy that will likely be similar to Escalation Protocol. Once the season ends, the activity will likely be gone.
Any loot associated will also be unobtainable – Bungie will shift it to loot pools for other activities. On the one hand, it’s a way to incentivize players who missed previous seasons to play older content once that current Season is over. On the other hand, it bloats the loot pool of those previously activities, lowering the chances of obtaining previous season items. Besides, the next season will be here already and has a time limit as well. Where will players prefer to spend their time, first and foremost?
The new Seasonal Ranks also incentivize doing things in the “Now”. Want that new Exotic handcannon? How about that heavy bow? New armor set? Better get to grinding, especially if you’re on the free track. The Premium version of Seasonal Ranks is included with the Season Pass and to be fair, $10 isn’t the worst price to pay for new activities and cosmetics. The problem is when they’re inevitably gone and if you didn’t happen to reap the rewards, then too bad. Oh well – at least it’s a way for Bungie to further monetize the game by selling catch-up boosters for when the season is close to ending.
I don’t blame Bungie for the various ways it’s trying to make money out of Destiny 2, especially now that it’s separated from Activision. Much as I hate FOMO mechanics, they work from a financial point of view. Games like Warframe and Path of Exile have their own take on the same with Prime Access and Supporter Packs respectively. And besides, some players are happy to see Bungie taking these steps to “evolve” the world of Destiny 2 over a period of time as opposed to keeping things static.
However, as a new player, it’s honestly a confusing time to get into the game. If you want to experience Shadowkeep, you’ll have no idea who these characters are or what’s going on with the story. You might just be here for the awesome gear and weapons. The jury is still out on what new items will be available with the expansion. But the cosmetically minded will likely be disappointed to see a number of great items in Eververse, unless they put down money and time to get the sweet-looking gear from the Season of the Undying Seasonal Ranks.
As a lapsed player, you may find yourself surrounded by tons of content but no one to really play it with. There are things to do solo, sure, but there’s still a large swathe of content that you’re cut off from. We’ll even be seeing changes to the overall reward structure so you might not be as consistently rewarded as you once felt. You may feel weaker due to nerfs. Your favourite Exotics and weapons will probably feel underwhelming, if not outright pathetic.
In the long term, I’d like to see Bungie make more efforts to cater to theplayers who don’t necessarily play with the same groups anymore or prefer playing by themselves. I’d like to see certain activities like raids facilitate NPCs – after all, if the rewards aren’t going to push veterans to sherpa new players through, why not just allow for AI teammates? These would make for incredible missions and opportunities for dialogue and interactions. Heck, take The Division 2’s approach and lock certain items like Raid Exotics behind playing with friends. The upcoming Seasonal Artifacts structure looks to offer a decent reward structure and progression for solo players, which is good. Now if only they weren’t phased out and players’ progress reset with a new Artifact every new season.
At the end of the day, Destiny is still a fascinating franchise. It’s merged together first person multiplayer shooting, social elements, MMO gameplay and live service elements into one odd yet endearing package. It’s managed to endure even as other live service games have floundered or outright failed. It’s commanded the loyalty of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of players, throughout the years. It’s seen incredible highs and unbelievable lows, faced XP and microtransaction scandals while being celebrated for its gunplay and raid design. There’s quite a lot that other live service games could learn from it.
However, while Destiny is a unique experience, one with perks and flaws, it suffers the most from a distinct lack of direction. If you watch Bungie’s recent ViDoc on the Moon and Beyond, you’ll hear quite a lot about this being the year that the developer finally takes Destiny 2 in the right direction. It may sound familiar…because we’ve been hearing this spiel in some form or the other over the years. “This is the year, this is finally the year” they’ll say before everything is inevitably overhauled for the sake of trying something new.
There’s something to be said about change and improving things but also enough to be said about having a clear vision and sticking to it for the long term. As the story changes and shifts, one hopes that this is the year that Bungie has finally achieved its vision while ensuring every player, new or old, is along for the ride. Because if it isn’t, then the next year may very well be a repeat of the failings of Year 1.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.