“We didn't want to hide the action from our players this time because they're very eager for new things to do.” So says Bungie's community manager, DeeJ, when I caught up with him to discuss Destiny's latest update, which adds a whole host of stuff to a game that is crying out for it. He's talking about the fact that everything in this latest content drop will be overt and upfront - no hidden missions or quests that can only be accessed by the hardest of the hardcore.
In fact, we're discussing the Taken Void Sword (which you can see in the screenshot above), a weapon new to the game with this update. DeeJ neatly dodges the question of how you get it, but my best guess is that it's a reward for beating the new Strike; for smashing Taken big-bad Malok, who has designs on the empty throne left by Oryx. However, he freely admits that Destiny needs more things, more reasons for players to stay, and more ways for people to reach that ever-growing Light Level cap.
There's little disagreement about the fact Destiny is going through a relative dry spell. While it's still well populated, some players have drifted away to other distractions (such as The Division, which also gets a major update today) in a constant search for new things. Minor events like Crimson Days simply aren't enough to satisfy the community's hunger for fresh ways to carve up the galaxy. However, the April update is going some way to remedy that. It's far from a complete solution, but it'll certainly give players plenty to chew on, and will likely entice many lapsed Guardians back to the fight.
And while new stuff will always provide a quick fix for the devoted, April's update is doing something which - for me - is far more important. It's levelling the playing field. “Destiny now does a better job of rewarding different types of players,” says DeeJ. “There are players who will be able to reach 335 Light without having to form up into Fireteams - this update is catering more for solo players. We're providing people with different types of activity they can undertake to reach their full potential.” Ah, now, there's the thing. While current end-game missions / Crucible is very, very replayable, it's inaccessible to a decent chunk of Destiny's player-base because it relies on group coordination, and if even a small percentage of Guardians have migrated to other games (even temporarily), this becomes much tougher to achieve. Yes, there are LFG groups, but that’s never the same as playing with friends.
And for some, this simply means that hitting Light Level 320 is impossible. Grind all you like, but the drops will be too low-level to push you past early 300s. That has now changed. “If you go into things like Challenge of Elders - if you complete these quests - Destiny is doing a much better job of providing you with a guaranteed virtue,” explains DeeJ. “If you go and complete these activities, you're guaranteed certain types of rewards. We're never being as upfront as saying ‘Hey, you're guaranteed 335 from this!’ but if you go into Challenge of Elders and reach the mandatory high score with your Fireteam, then you check in with Variks, he's going to give you a piece of armour or a weapon that will drop up to 335 Light. So there's still a progression, still a climb up to mountain to reach 335, but Destiny is a little more predictable about the way it rewards your participation and your bravery in these activities.”
Level 42 Challenge of Elders is still gated for pre-arranged Fireteams (there is no matchmaking), but the Level 41 PoE will match you up with other Guardians and help you climb to 320 Light. Court of Oryx will drop gear up to 335, and the standard of kit across Heroic Strikes and Nightfalls has been boosted in this update too. Bungie wants you to progress, and while it still refuses to give the most challenging end-game content to solo players, it is certainly pushing them closer to the highest levels.
Will that be a thing in the future? Yeah, I'm talking about matchmaking for Raids, Trials of Osiris, and now Challenge of Elders. DeeJ says: “I really can't even make a guess about that. I know the April Update does a better job at catering for solo players, but I don't know what that means for the future”. It seems this particular player-demand is still a no-go.
Perhaps that doesn't matter, for now. It's certainly an emergency lever that Bungie can pull, if things like the April update don't reignite player interest as they should. It'll be interesting to see if all the new bits actually satisfy players long-term, or whether we'll devour this one as greedily as we did The Taken King. It's great that Bungie is potentially enhancing the game to make all types of players feel powerful, to make everyone feel like they can hit that elusive Light Level cap. I genuinely think that, when we're all weary of Zen Meteor and the new Blighted Chalice Strike (many months from now), this democratisation of the game's juiciest content will be the true legacy of this update.