I liked Bungie’s recent blog update on the current state and future of Destiny 2. It was good. And it had to be. While I still believe – as I said in my original review – that Destiny 2’s top-line design philosophy of increased accessibility is a great one, hardcore fan concerns regarding more granular but long-term important issues have only become louder and more justified as the game has gone on.
Destiny 2 will always deserve praise for becoming a warmer, more human game, in both its narrative world-building and its willingness to accommodate the day-to-day, real-life needs of its players. I maintain that the Token-based loot system is a great way to make play-time more economical, giving all players, regardless of life circumstance, a fair shot at progress and empowerment. But at the same time, a game like Destiny ultimately thrives on more involved, sustained, demanding engagement.
The key concerns within the hardcore community? There’s the sense that, in a bid for PvP balance, the glorious extravagances of empowered, high-level PvE combat have been diluted by more modest gear design. There’s dissatisfaction with Exotic weapons and armour, resulting from many duplicate drops, and the reduced number of truly stand-out, unique perks. And there’s a feeling that, while Destiny 2’s more open, accessible ecosystem of progress is initially fair to all, it lacks distinct avenues for dedicated players looking for more arcane paths to more specialised rewards. Now, three months in, that longer-term, more dedicated path needs real meat to sustain it. And Bungie's State of Destiny 2 update was a definite step in the right direction, with a tone that very much seemed to pledge that.
Now, it’s easy to cynically pick holes in the post. Of course it is. While we got specific detail on a great deal of incoming stuff, there was nothing conceptually new that hadn’t been at least vaguely touched upon in previous statements. The cynical - but not unjustifiable - perspective might well question whether we’d have got this post at all, had fanbase disquiet not been rallied to fever-pitch by the recent revelation of Destiny 2’s now deactivated XP throttle on players grinding certain activities for cosmetic rewards, amid the raging shitstorm around Star Wars: Battlefront 2’s real-money lootbox economy.
New paths, richer journeys
But whether the new hardcore-focused bids to “support players who want Destiny to be their hobby” were fresh additions to the development plan, or existing ideas fast-tracked into the spotlight, is irrelevant. The fact is that these plans do exist, and have come about as a direct response to player input. Bungie has been listening and is making steps to move things in the right direction.
Firstly, there’s a swift increase in terms of ‘Things To Get’ and ‘Ways To Get Them’, starting in December. New special editions of existing Legendary weapons, known as Masterworks, are being introduced as a means to satiate those who feel that the loss of the first game’s randomised perk rolls has killed the long-term aspirational value of gear collection. While the Masterworks won’t launch with the same capacity as the first Destiny’s system - instead they’ll come with a random stat adding a specific, ambient buff to the weapon’s performance - they are sure to throw up new ways of interpreting and appreciating existing gear, as well as the possibility of newly angled character builds. Scoring multi-kills with them will also drop orbs of Light, making for faster Super regeneration in co-op situations, hopefully giving tight team strategy a solid shot in the arm.
The long-overlooked Strike playlist is being reinvigorated with better rewards and a Heroic challenge tier, with a similar treatment coming for the equally redundant Adventures and Lost Sectors. There are also plans to tune-up ‘underperforming’ Exotics, reduce duplicate drops, and make changes to the economy in order to give purpose to currently abundant, under-used currencies (ie. Legendary Shards) and deliver more player control over gear acquired. If you’re after a specific gear piece or Mod, there will finally be a way to buy it directly.
A first step, but the right direction
There are a lot of bullet-points on Bungie’s post, but what it all boils down to is a sense that after making sure that new and more casual players have been safely welcomed and warmly tucked in, Destiny 2 is starting to turn its attentions to the serious, ‘career’ players. Has this happened quickly enough? Of course not. Otherwise the complaints would not have reached the volume they have. And is this early bout of changes and evolutions enough to make everyone happy? No, absolutely not. While they give us new ways to explore the current Destiny 2 sandbox, they don’t provide the revolution many feel necessary to revitalise the essence of that sandbox.
The new cosmetic armour ornaments, for instance, provide new prizes to chase, but they do nothing to address the concern that Destiny 2’s armour selection is currently uninspiring in its functionality. The reduction in Exotic duplication won’t do a lot to make the weaker gear feel more special, especially when other measures are being put into play to increase Exotic drop chances. And Xur's weekend appearances will only become a real event again once his inventory is broader and more exciting.
But there’s a real foundation here, at least philosophically. It has been confirmed that the idea of Masterworks will eventually be rolled out to gear-types beyond weaponry, for instance. Perhaps once the Masterworks concept is normalised across the board, the system might lead to increasingly specialised, even more unique editions of gear, as the rewards sandbox strives to remain fresh.
And if not from Masterworks, then the more open Mod economy might eventually lead to greater personalisation and extravagance in gear functionality. Exotic Mods are surely going to be necessary at some point, once we have greater control over the collection of the existing Rare and Legendary versions. If Bungie creates them, and adds enough specialness to both their perk functionality and their methods of accrual, a lot of Destiny 2’s current problems might go away overnight.
And hell, if Masterworks are going to encourage Super-focused co-op play, is that not at least an early sign that the game is starting to pivot in the direction of advanced-level PvE? An indication that perhaps new systems are being baked into Destiny 2 to encourage more casual players to investigate more aggressive, thoughtful team-play, as the game shifts focus to catch up with its older self? Heck, let’s get that going and then bring back the old, arcade-style, Destiny 1 Strike scoring system, letting combined team-scores earned through bespoke Masterwork builds and involved co-op strategies lead to higher Strike rewards, teaching advanced methods through pure play. I’m not saying the announced changes are enough on their own, but I am saying that they’re a good start with great potential.
Progress is inevitable
But the interesting thing is that I’ve always had an inkling that something like this was the plan. I find it hard to believe that Bungie launched Destiny 2 without a detailed road-map for gameplay expansion and deepening meta-systems. I just don’t buy that all of the initiatives announced this week were simply cooked up over the last couple of months, based on internet feedback. I’ve long had a feeling that Bungie released Destiny 2 deliberately simple, specifically in order to avoid confusing or over-facing its new player-base in the way that the first game did, with a plan of progressively complicating things once everyone was up to speed.
It doesn’t help that the studio has, up until now, kept the detail of its long-term plans for Destiny 2 out of player reach. Thankfully, after I chatted to Destiny 2 project lead Mark Noseworthy, while visiting the studio to test out the game’s excellent PC version, I started to find my thoughts about the game’s future and evolution being validated:
“We wanted Destiny 2 to at least begin as a game that you didn’t need the internet to figure out how to play optimised, or to have a good time.”
“At least begin as”. Now I don’t want to go full tinfoil-hat on what might very well be an innocuous turn of phrase, but I couldn’t help feeling there might be a clue there. Yes, it shouldn’t have to be a clue. Yes, Bungie should have been clearer and more open about the long-term development of Destiny 2 if a ‘deliberately paced’ evolution was the plan, especially after the early confusion that plagued the original Destiny. But still, in the context of the studio’s latest update, I can’t help looking back on that conversation with renewed focus.
Future fixes for a better tomorrow
Of course there’s a long way to go from here. And there are more things to address. There’s the Iron Banner to sort out. And PvP’s dominance over the sandbox to clear up - Bungie has never seemed keen, but at this point a greater separation of PvP and PvE perks seems necessary, if only to kill off High Calibre Rounds’ control of the Crucible. And, depending on what happens with gear perk variety, we could maybe do with some way to free up (or at least augment) the scope of sub-class skill trees. There are definitely things to address.
But you know what? We’re moving. And we’re only three months in. Destiny 2 might not currently be comparable to the complete, year three, Rise of Iron version of its predecessor but I prefer to compare it to the first Destiny at the opposite end of its life. By a like-for-like, month-for-month comparison to where Destiny 1 was at this point, I don’t think we’re doing badly at all.
And things are getting better. Bungie needs to deliver on its promises. It needs to do so consistently. And above all, it needs to keep talking about and explaining what it’s doing and why. Clarity and understanding are as important as anything. And of course, it will really help if next week’s Curse of Osiris expansion is brilliant. But regardless of complaints, Destiny’s community remains dedicated, hopeful, and committed. When it gets salty, it’s still out of love, not venom. Maintaining that goodwill will be a huge boon over the time it will take to get the next phase of Destiny 2 up and running, but the means of doing so really are as simple as just having a conversation.