Does Bungie Being “Free” of Activision Mean A Better Future for Destiny?

Given the developer’s track record, we’re cautiously optimistic about the franchise’s future.

Posted By | On 11th, Jan. 2019 Under Article, Editorials

If you’ve been following the news – and we know you have despite the hate for Destiny – then you’ve no doubt learned about Activision’s split from Bungie. Bungie will self-publish its own games and retains the rights to the Destiny franchise going forward. As sources speaking to Kotaku’s Jason Schreier revealed, Bungie cheered during its meeting with the publisher, seemingly mirroring its reaction to being separated from Microsoft all those years ago. Of course, Destiny 2 on PC will still be supported through so fans don’t have to worry about that.

There are a few other things to dissect though. Research firm like Cowen and Company believe that the split from Activision was due to the difference in vision over the game’s direction. Schreier notes that an annualized format of content release was a source of tension as well. Activision is also apparently looking to strengthen its own brands like Call of Duty, even if that means a short-term financial slump from losing Destiny.

Destiny 2

"Those who have been in touch with reports over the years know that the situation between Bungie and Activision wasn’t quite so cut and dry."

Not that it matters to fans cheering at Activision’s removal from the equation. The Destiny subreddit wants to proclaim this as Destiny Freedom Day”. Others have suddenly become more interested in purchasing Eververse items since Activision is not involved. Many believe that Bungie will finally have a chance to shine without an overbearing publisher looking over their shoulder.

Those who have been in touch with reports over the years know that the situation between Bungie and Activision was more than a little complicated. When the much-hyped 10 year deal was penned between both companies, Bungie agreed to deliver numerous Destiny titles and expansions in between those sequels under Activision’s label. Plans went for a toss when Destiny had been delayed from its original 2013 release date to early 2014. It then received another delay to September 2014.

Reports from Schreier and high-profile departures like writer Joseph Staten and composer Martin O’Donnell indicated that all was not well in development though. Once Destiny launched, it was a jumbled mess of plot points, shallow gameplay, fundamental design flaws and networking issues. Such issues were exacerbated with The Dark Below, Destiny’s first major DLC. It featured mission maps similar to the base game but backwards and a buggy as hell raid. Don’t even try to remind players about the process of re-leveling Exotics.

"Destiny had some bumps here and there but was at its peak going into the reveal of Destiny 2 in May 2017."

House of Wolves would improve things, especially for PvP since Trials of Osiris was introduced for hardcore competitive players to indulge in, but not by a huge margin. We eventually learned that the final product of Destiny was meant to encompass the base game, the first two DLC and The Taken King expansion. When Destiny was apparently rebooted in 2014, a spanner was thrown into plans and the additional content was sold off as separate DLC.

However, after The Taken King, Bungie seemed to be back on track. Festival of the Lost was neat. Sparrow Racing League was pretty cool. Crimson Days was lame but hey, new content, and the April 2017 update provided plenty of new, interesting things for PvE fans to engage with. For the most part, it seemed that Destiny was firing on all cylinders even if Bungie made many of us skeptical with its introduction of the Eververse.

Then we learned about Rise of Iron, Destiny’s next expansion, releasing in September 2016. Why was Rise of Iron releasing in September 2016?

According to Schreier, Destiny 2 was pushed back to 2017 because Bungie had rebooted development. Luke Smith was appointed director and the previous director left the company (but that fact would only be revealed later). As for Rise of Iron, it released to a middling reception. The Wrath of the Machine raid was praised but the story missions and overall content were criticized for regressing from The Taken King’s brilliance. The Festival of the Lost returned as a microtransaction-laden debacle but Bungie made good on things with The Dawning and Age of Triumph. Destiny had some bumps here and there but was at its peak going into the reveal of Destiny 2 in May 2017.

"Eventually, Schreier would report how Bungie renegotiated terms with Activision for Destiny 2. Its previous content cycle was thought to be too rigorous and producing so much content was deemed too difficult."

Bungie unveiled some controversial changes for the sequel but it’s a testament to the will of the community that things still looked pretty good. We heard about Lost Sectors, Adventures, World Quests, and tons more content to sink our eager teeth into. Destiny 2 would go on to become an incredible financial success at launch. Critics even lauded it for being an improvement over the first game.

However, as time passed, it was hounded by numerous issues concerning the end-game. Exotics were useless. The raid meant nothing and thus, hitting max Power level meant nothing. The Lost Sectors were rendered useless in the end-game simply because they gave lower level loot. PvP was a snooze-fest and encompassed team-shooting above all. A number of awesome looking cosmetics, previously earned through in-game activities like Strikes and the raid, were locked behind Eververse. Bungie’s decisions when it came to things like one-time use shaders, XP throttling, charging for Heroic Strikes, locking the base game’s raid behind the purchase of DLC and stingy seasonal events didn’t help matters.

Eventually, Schreier would report on how the developer renegotiated terms with Activision for Destiny 2. Its previous content cycle was thought to be too rigorous; producing so much content was deemed too difficult. So instead, Bungie would focus more on cosmetic content through the Eververse and Seasons. As more cosmetic items landed up on Tess Everis’s shelves over the months, it seemed like Schreier’s report had plenty of truth to it.

Destiny 2 Eververse

"Bungie’s track record when it comes to development has been less than stellar. It rebooted Destiny 1 and 2 before their subsequent launches."

Of course, there was still DLC like Curse of Osiris and Warmind. Activision-owned studios like High Moon Studios and Vicarious Visions were assisting Bungie with content as the latter spent 2018 trying to get back on the good side of its longtime fans. It talked more and more about catering to the hobbyist, changing up its weapon slot system and bringing back random rolls for weapons and armour. Masterworks, Exotic revamps, Nightfall Challenges, Bounties and much more were introduced before Forsaken to appease the hardcore player. Bungie even announced the Annual Pass, something that would provide a consistent stream of “end-game” content after Forsaken, as it seemingly moved towards away from more cinematic adventures towards a much deeper grind.

In September 2018, Forsaken launched and was met with praise from critics and hardcore fans. Sure, there was dissent about the heavy RNG-based nature of Bungie’s content (like earning Exotics) and it also didn’t help that some activities were time-gated. But Forsaken delivered a good story (by Destiny standards), a great raid and tons of new loot to collect. The majority of Forsaken was also accessible to all players. Gating content behind high Power requirements, boring quest grinds and baffling puzzles really didn’t stick out as major issues until Black Armory came around.

If you’ve been keeping track of the story thus far, you might have noticed a common theme: Bungie’s track record when it comes to development has been less than stellar. It rebooted Destiny 1 and 2 before their subsequent launches. Throughout the history of both games, Bungie would also prove to be completely out of touch with its community’s needs, taking months to fix long-standing issues.

Destiny 2 Curse of Osiris_03

"For all intents and purposes, Bungie going independent and being free to pursue its own development cycle for Destiny is good."

Only a major exodus of players following the launch of Destiny 2 and Curse of Osiris (not to mention the failure of events like Faction Rally, Iron Banner and The Dawning 2017) would motivate the developer to sit down and actually address concerns. Even now, Destiny 2 is still lacking on issues like competitive PvP matchmaking, endgame economy items like Enhancement Cores and not locking DLC content that players paid for behind ridiculous requirements. And yes, one-time user shaders, awesome cosmetics locked behind Eververse, time-gated content and heavy RNG are still problematic. Did we mention Trials of the Nine was removed before Forsaken and has yet to return?

For all intents and purposes, Bungie going independent and being free to pursue its own development cycle for Destiny is good. However, the enthusiasm for the developer’s approach doesn’t look all that different from when it split from Microsoft.

“Finally, we’d get to see the developer separated from the evil corporation and free to pursue its own vision!” “Finally, we’d get the very best that Bungie could deliver!” That wasn’t quite the case though, as evidenced by the barreling rollercoaster that is the Destiny franchise. I’m no fan of Activision (especially following their treatment of Call of Duty creators Vince Zampella and Jason West) but reading about the additional time and resources, not to mention the new deals it negotiated with Bungie, makes it look like a publisher tried to help rather than impede Destiny’s progress.

Destiny 2 Forsaken_06

"But hey, if you’re a Destiny player, all of this should be very familiar. Destiny has offered experiences to a player base that simply can’t get enough of it."

What this split means for the future of Destiny 2 is still unknown. Cowen and Company believes that Destiny 3 is still coming in 2020. Rumours regarding its content and features along with a greater emphasis on RPG mechanics have been doing the rounds for a few months. Will the studio repeat the same mistakes as before? What’s the plan for content after the Annual Pass? Will we receive another expansion and another Annual Pass until Destiny 3 comes out? Will Bungie scrap the idea of sequels altogether? Will Destiny go free to play? What’s the plan for Eververse? How likely is it that Bungie announces Destiny 3’s exclusivity on the Epic Games Store for PC in the coming years? Will the core issues with leadership that caused Staten and O’Donnell to leave in the first place be fixed?

Blame Activision all you want but Bungie was and still is the company developing the series. How it addressed the issues that plagued both games at their respective launches is available for all to see. It’s currently fine with the stingy RNG for Exotics and Power level system that makes much of the loot irrelevant. It’s the company that said Black Armory’s Niobe Labs was for anyone that was “smart and brave enough to attempt it” in a now-deleted tweet after frustrated attempts by players. At least it went ahead and unlocked the last Forge when no one could figure out the solution.

If you’re a Destiny player, all of this should be very familiar. Destiny has offered experiences to a player base that simply can’t get enough. I should know, having been part of that player base for a few years. Even when the content didn’t quite measure up, I plunked down my own money and waited till launch to join the hype train. Destiny has been a franchise that’s provided some truly amazing moments while simultaneously making me question the numerous blunders that could have been avoided. Looking back, at the end of the day, maybe everyone just wants that same kind of experience without the fear of Activision mucking everything up.

Destiny 2 Black Armory_02

"Can Bungie adhere to long-time fans and become successful in its own right? Can it attract even more players to its franchise in the coming years?"

For Bungie, the real test begins now. Without the big bad villainous publisher for people to deflect blame to when things go wrong, it will take the brunt of not delivering worthwhile content and financial failure. Will it sink or swim in the process? This is an industry that’s being defined more by games-as-a-service titles like Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 and Fortnite: Battle Royale. That’s not including beloved free to play games like Path of Exile or Warframe. Additional competition from blockbusters like Anthem and The Division 2 is also coming. Can Bungie adhere to long-time fans and achieve the potential that Destiny seemingly promised all those years ago? Can it attract even more players in the coming years?

It’s hard to say but unlike October 2007, this isn’t a Bungie that inspires confidence. It’s a Bungie that makes me cautious of investing time or money in their products. Here’s hoping for the future to change. As a member of the forums so aptly put it though: We’re finally going to see who was responsible for Destiny’s failings – Bungie or Activision.

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