Earlier this month, Bungie changed the Forges introduced in the Black Armory expansion of Destiny 2 Year 2 so that players automatically go to orbit after completing one. We used to stay in the playlist and automatically queue up another Forge, but when players found another way to use this system to farm resources - in this case, Umbral Engrams and Power levels - by doing nothing, Bungie fixed it up. It was a totally reasonable response on Bungie's part since all of the AFK players were polluting the playlist for people who actually want to do Forges, but the whole situation is also indicative of a larger problem with Power levels in Destiny.
On paper, my Power level determines how much damage I deal to enemies. If an enemy is 20 levels above me, I'll deal less damage to it. If it's 50 levels above me, I'll deal dramatically reduced damage. At 101 levels, I won't be able to deal any damage at all. But the reverse isn't totally true. In most MMOs, if something was dozens - or in this case hundreds - of levels below me, I'd be able to one-shot it by waving in its general direction. But in Destiny 2, Power advantage is capped, meaning even the weakest enemies in the game can put up a fight against max-level players. I'm now over 1030 Power, but running the 750 Power Leviathan raid is still tough because my Power doesn't matter at a certain point.
This Power advantage cap is partly a good thing because it preserves the challenge of old activities. I can still play the Leviathan raid and relive the days of clutching up in a tense situation. At the same time, it helps illustrate what Power actually means in Destiny 2. Because it's not really a representation of how strong I am. That's what my weapons, armor, and mods are for. Instead, it reflects what activities I have access to. Power is a "You must be this tall to ride" sign posted in front of everything in the game, and that's really all it is. When I grind Power levels, I'm not aiming for a bigger number; I'm focusing on the activities which that number will let me access.
Starting a new season with old stuff
After a six-month break, I've started playing Destiny 2 regularly again, mainly because this season added a new dungeon called Prophecy. This dungeon is the first post-Shadowkeep activity that actually made me want to play the game, and the new Contact Public Event didn't seem half bad either, so I was eager to dive into this season. But because I haven't played in six months, I was super under-leveled when I came back. And that's on me. Obviously, I'm not going to be ready for brand-new pinnacle activities immediately after coming out of retirement, but that's not a problem, since I actually enjoy having to work toward pinnacles like dungeons and raids because it makes them feel special.
The problem is that all of the new stuff in season 11 has a high Power level. Prophecy is 1040, and the Contact event also scales up to 1040. As a result, nobody - including active, avid players - could play any new stuff effectively when the season started. Instead, we all had to grind up our Power level by doing the same old rotation - Strikes, Crucible, Gambit, Bounties, and so on - for anywhere from a few days to a few weeks depending on how much we play and on how many characters. We had all this cool stuff in the new season, but we weren't tall enough to ride.
This is what pushed players to AFK Forges for hours on end. Forges were the easiest way to gain Power levels, and they didn't force you to play old content, or indeed anything. This made them a preferable alternative to the intended seasonal Power grind. Granted, hardcore players will always take the most efficient path with the least resistance. We've seen that time and time again between boss cheeses and loot caves. But the reaction to the Forge change is telling.
Nobody complained when Bungie stopped Witherhoard from melting raid bosses because fighting those bosses normally is fun. We have other effective ways of damaging them; we don't feel like we need Witherhoard. Removing cheese doesn't bother players as long as the intended path is fun. But when the Forges were changed and this Power shortcut was removed, many players were vocally reluctant to go back to the same old Powerful loot rotation. And it's not that the core activities are bad, it's that nobody wants to be forced to play them exclusively just because they're not tall enough to ride the new stuff yet.
Something to work toward
I said earlier that I don't mind pinnacle activities requiring a bit of Power grind, and I don't. But that only holds up while I have something new to do while gaining Power. I enjoy Strikes, Gambit, and Crucible, but I certainly didn't start playing Destiny 2 again just to do them. I bought the season 11 pass to do the new stuff, but both of the new things were out of reach when I started back. It sucked! Sure, I could collect the new Umbral Engrams, but they're largely filled with old loot, and Contact is the keystone of the Umbral system anyway.
Why does Contact scale up to 1040 Power? Did we not learn this lesson in the Black Armory days when Bungie had to nerf the Power levels of Forges so that people could actually do them? I can't speak for the whole player base, but if I'd been able to focus on Contact while grinding my Power up for Prophecy, I wouldn't have nearly as big a problem with this season's grind. But I couldn't. Between the lack of matchmaking and the high Power scaling, Contact is a crapshoot at lower levels. The most I could hope for was a participation medal.
I'm playing a new season. Of course I want something new to work toward. This season, that's Prophecy. But I also need something new to do while I'm working toward that goal. That should have been Contact, but it wasn't. I was left with nothing new to do (paltry weekly missions notwithstanding), which soured my early seasonal experience. And this was all because of my Power level.
The only time Power seems to matter is when it's preventing me from doing new stuff. This makes me question how the Power system is actually servicing Destiny 2. It adds some sort of aspirational goal, but is that worth the frustration it brings? Could Destiny 2 work without a Power system at all by putting more emphasis on the things that actually make you stronger, namely your gear? Which is to say nothing of how bloated and messy Power has become. We've got weapons with Power caps all over the place, 750 Power is now the new Power floor, and pinnacle and powerful loot has become largely indistinguishable.
As director Luke Smith wrote in August 2019: "Power in Destiny 2 is still imperfect … We feel like the Power system may benefit from a rework further down the road. There’s real potential in creating more agency for players, figuring out if Power should be prestigious or not, and taking on the challenge of how to keep players relatively close together season after season, while still allowing them to make progress."
The conflict with Contact and Prophecy is what prompted me to write this, but I absolutely agree that the Power system is in need of larger changes. I'd be happier if I had new content to liven up my Power grind, but I think there's room for a better system. I don't think we'll see that system in Beyond Light, but I hope it comes in Year 4, because while I am generally enjoying Destiny 2 again, I don't want to keep doing this every season.