Opinion: The Future of Destiny 2

If you played the original Destiny, you’ll know it was a rollercoaster ride. You may also recall that the ride began to stabilise following the release of “The House of Wolves” (the second DLC), around 9 months after the initial release. Things weren’t considered “acceptable” though until “The Taken King”, a major expansion that kicked off Destiny’s second year of live services. While Destiny continued to have its haters, the game saw increased success into its second year, decreasing into the third year due to a perceived lack of content. Overall, though, Destiny should be considered a success, regardless of which side of the fence you sit. Destiny 2 is experiencing much the same teething issues, but to a greater degree – mainly because players are disappointed that the developers perhaps did not learn their lesson from Destiny 1. As we head into the second year of Destiny 2, I thought I’d take a look into what has happened over the course of the last year, and get a feel for what the future might hold.

Destiny 2 released in September 2017 to critical success – in fact, the Metacritic score still reflects mostly positive critical reviews and an overall score of 85/100. However, while the initial story and gameplay mechanics of Destiny 2 were clearly well beyond the scope of the first game, this beauty was unfortunately only skin deep. Once players completed the initial tasks available to them, they found that the endgame was lacking, and there was no incentive to continue to grind through content. By contrast, user reviews for Metacritic reflect generally unfavourable reviews, with an average score of 4.9 (for some reason, Metacritic weighs critic and user scores differently. You could consider the user scores to average at 49/100 if you’d like to compare with the critic scores).

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In addition, certain aspects of the game were considered “pay to win” – the Eververse, an in-game store from which players can purchase mostly cosmetic items (such as emotes and shaders), also provided players with the choice to purchase what were essentially loot boxes. The issue here was that within these loot boxes, players could also obtain weapon mods, which could conceivably provide an edge over other players. In addition, there was no way to specifically purchase any desired cosmetic item – these had to be obtained either through pure luck, or by breaking down unwanted items into “Silver Dust”, which could then be used to purchase items from the store (that is, a real money purchase could only buy loot boxes). None of this went down well within the community.

The backlash was swift. Many players (including myself) simply stopped playing and moved on to other things – some as a result of Eververse, many others simply due to boredom. Destiny 2 felt like a single-player story-based experience – it felt finished once you completed the main storyline – and this was not the Destiny people were hoping for. The original Destiny (and the intent for Destiny 2) was essentially an ongoing platform, where players could play for hours on end – repeating challenging content, or competing in PvP arenas – all for the love of loot. This was missing from Destiny 2. Even the first DLC, “Curse of Osiris”, did not satisfy this desire, and players left in their droves. Even I felt that the “Curse of Osiris” DLC was lacklustre – while I finished the core storyline, I didn’t feel the need to continue playing and felt that overall the DLC felt uninspired.

That’s not to say that “Curse of Osiris” didn’t itself bring change, because it did. There were various economy changes to make the overall grind feel more rewarding, but unfortunately, this focused on the already underwhelming token system – simply earning more tokens was not something players were hoping for (and spawned the “two tokens and a blue” meme). There was a new Raid Lair, a new environment on Mercury, more weapons and armour, an increased power cap, new crucible maps, as well as a few new quests and adventures to round out the content. Of course, these are all things players expect with new DLC, and in essence were satisfactory components, but made no real changes to what was considered to be the real problem. In other words, more content is great and all, but none of this provided any more incentive to continue the grind (the new weapons and armour mostly felt like more of the same), and again, once players completed the new story missions, they moved on to something else.

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At this time, Bungie did, however, add the foundations for something that would seem to be on the right path, but was initially lacking the scope that players were requiring – Seasons. Here, players would grind content during a defined season, after which certain seasonal content could no longer be acquired. Seasons have evolved slightly over the weeks and months that have followed, but this addition has already proven fortuitous.

Perhaps the one positively received addition, which was released shortly after the release of “Curse of Osiris”, was the addition of Masterworks Weapons. These were ordinary weapons within the drop table that could randomly drop with a Masterworks Mod, which increases a specific stat such as range or impact. In addition, headshots would spawn an orb for recharging a player’s super ability, which also appeals to hardcore players. Masterworks Weapons can be randomly rerolled so that an unwanted stat could be changed, or alternatively, unwanted Masterworks Weapons can be destroyed, resulting in a new material that could potentially be used to upgrade a different weapon (of course, you need to destroy a bunch of unwanted weapons in order to be able to upgrade a weapon of your choice). This finally gave players the freedom to create a loadout of their choice and work towards building a weapon that specifically suited their playstyle. Many players overlooked this at first, but over time, the usefulness of this system has become apparent.

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Similarly, Armor Masterworks were also released, but these were lacklustre, and admittedly still are – I’m still not clear what these do if anything. I do understand they reduce incoming damage while using a super ability, but this is not really enough to be considered worthwhile, in my opinion (although I do understand this is very useful in PvP).

Into Christmas, and over the New Year period, Bungie was silent (the team needed some downtime, after all) – but the fans were not. At this point, the mob reached boiling point, and the outcry seemed to be at its worst. The end of January saw Bungie take a new approach to communication – and one with a particular focus on roadmaps. The community had been asking for transparency from Bungie, and this was the first time they appeared to be listening.

Criticism aside for the moment, it’s clear that Bungie was always listening. I mean – how could they not see or hear what the community was saying? It virtually couldn’t be avoided. I think it took a while to get to breaking point because the team probably thought they could get things back on track much like Destiny 1, but it’s likely that the issues experienced with Destiny 1 meant that players weren’t about to sit idly by and wait, so Bungie needed to make some drastic changes quickly – or at least be seen to be doing so.

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January’s roadmap showed some new excitement from Bungie – gone was the desire to try to get players to simply enjoy the game they’d made, now they were prepared to make the game that the players wanted. The roadmap showed that. It wasn’t quick (around one major update per month), but over time, the game has evolved to better match what players want from Destiny – perhaps not so strangely, this has been a gradual movement back to what was on offer in the original Destiny…

All the complaints boiled down to a simple truth – players were not happy with the changes that had been made between Destiny and Destiny 2, so Bungie has worked to fix this. Where exotics had been removed as rewards that drop from strikes, they would now be added again. Where strike scoring was removed, it would again be included. Where Nightfall auras were removed, Bungie found a way to add them back in. Where Time To Kill (TTK) was increased, it would soon be decreased. Conversely, where speed (player movement) was decreased, it would soon be increased. Where Iron Banner had been changed from 6v6 to 4v4, it would soon return to its former glory – and so on and so forth. Each update brought new changes and old changes alike, and each update made the game better by increments.

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As we crawled through April, news hit as to the next major DLC – “Warmind”. The content of the story (Rasputin, the titular Warmind) had the lore community excited again, and certain aspects of the DLC itself represent long-requested changes – selectable emotes, PvP rankings, private matches, and exotic masterworks, to name a few. However, given all of the updates between “Curse of Osiris” and “Warmind”, players that returned for DLC 2 suddenly found they were playing a different game – Destiny 2 was BETTER than it was previously.

But it still wasn’t as good as Destiny 1. In fact, there were still many players that felt it was too little, too late (in my opinion, “Warmind” feels really good to play, and Masterworks Weapons are a fun addition to chase. However, the end game is still very repetitive, and not yet as rewarding as it could be).

Since the release of “Warmind”, which itself brought a new planet to explore (we’ve gone back to Mars), as well as a new endgame public event, Bungie has dropped one minor update and has a larger one scheduled for July. The minor update included some changes to the way in which the Faction Rallies worked, which seems to have been received positively overall, but for my money, wasn’t really enough to bring players back. That said, the changes to Faction Rallies were more to satisfy the existing player base than to potential new players (although, of course, by improving these aspects, it will be a better experience when players DO inevitably return). In addition, Bungie added Crucible Labs, which allows the crucible team to periodically add new PvP modes for live testing, which is a great idea.

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Coming in July, though, is a fairly major update, and the final update to close out Year 1 before the release of “Forsaken” and the Year 2 updates. This will include a number of fixes that the community has been clamouring for –  clan chat for PC, 6v6 Quickplay, a permanent Rumble playlist (Rumble is essentially a free-for-all Deathmatch playlist, which was popular in Destiny 1, but removed from Destiny 2 – players have been asking for this since Destiny 2 was released), more armour changes, and prestige versions of the Raid Lairs added in DLC 1 & 2. On top of all of this, there will be a seasonal event (“Solstice of Heroes”), which will likely bring its own cosmetic content, and bounties will return, giving players more things to do while playing within the Destiny 2 sandbox (Bounties were another core item from Destiny 1 strangely missing from Destiny 2). And on top of all of this? Destiny 2 will have its Year 1 Triumphs – a list of challenges that players will be able to strive for in order to be able to say they’ve completed the toughest challenges that Year 1 had to offer. In Destiny 1, players that achieved this could also purchase a t-shirt online, which proved successful.

All of these changes – while major for the existing community – are simply in preparation for the much larger changes coming in Year 2. I expect the Triumphs will get some players (including myself) back on the grind – if only for a t-shirt – but it will be the bigger changes in Year 2 that will make or break the future of Destiny 2. (Note that the Triumphs have been announced – see the Triumphs page on your profile at Bungie’s website for more info.)

So what is it that Bungie has planned that will bring the players back in droves? Well, that depends on how you look at Year 2 – on the one hand, you may be willing to drop another handful of your hard-earned cash on the “Forsaken” expansion, and this will come with a whole bunch of content, which we’ll get to. But what about those players that are unwilling to pay for the DLC without proof that it will be worthwhile?

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Coming for everyone in September, regardless of whether you purchase the DLC or not, there will be a multitude of changes. Some of these will add functionality from Destiny 1, such as random weapon rolls, making power level matter in Iron Banner/Trials of the Nine, and changes to the weapon slots (realistically, while this will ALLOW players to play in the same way as they did in Destiny 1, it will be a very different, potentially more flexible system). However, the changes coming in Year 2 represent the first major departure from Destiny 1, and perhaps the first big steps towards realising Destiny 2 as its own entity, and depending on how well these changes work in practice (and how well they are received), they could really result in a much-improved game.

Some of these are undefined, like the forthcoming improvements to the mod system. These could be massive changes that result in the mod system having a real tangible impact on player choice – which is what players want – or it could just be a tweak to the existing system, which probably wouldn’t go down well. Other changes, like Collections and In-game Triumphs, will give players a clear sense as to how they are travelling in regards to collecting everything that can possibly drop within the game. There was even a suggestion that players could “purchase” items from within these Collections, although whether or not this applies only to specific items, such as exotics, remains to be seen (this does seem to be the case, although is not 100% confirmed). Lore fans will be glad to know that there will be a way to acquire lore within the game (by the sounds of things it seems like an in-game grimoire). Plus, of course, new crucible maps and a new crucible game mode to round out the updates. Pretty solid overall.

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Most of this looks like it will be available to all, according to the roadmap, but this still isn’t perfectly clear. However, I am clear on what will be coming to players that buy “Forsaken” – there’ll be a new game mode, Gambit, which will essentially be a cross between PvE and PvP; more campaign missions; a new environment (The Tangled Shore in the Reef); a new antagonist; new enemies; a new end-game space called ‘The Dreaming City’; a new Raid; 9 new supers; and access to the Annual Pass, which is essentially a new way for Bungie to provide access to DLC. Some of this is to be expected, but the newer ideas – particularly Gambit and an actual end-game space – is what has me most intrigued.

As you can likely see, the last year or so has been difficult for Bungie, and for players of Destiny 2. At its core, the game isn’t bad (which is why it tends to sit in the top 10 for sales on a monthly basis), but it lacked longevity and a reason for players to keep coming back. While Bungie has worked to provide more of this, the game still isn’t even in the state that Destiny 1 was at the same point in its timeline. However, the future is quite bright, as Bungie has laid the foundations for what could prove to be some very drastic changes to the game as a whole. For many, it may still not be enough. Others may not be able to justify spending more money on a game that was perhaps released underbaked. For me, though? I enjoyed Destiny 2 – at least what I played initially. It wasn’t what I WANTED it to be, but I feel I got my money’s worth. Do I hope “Forsaken” will transform Destiny 2 into what I was hoping for initially? Definitely. That said, I enter this next phase cautiously – once bitten, twice shy, or so they say. But how many times have players felt bitten during Destiny’s troubled lifetime?

Fortsaken will release for Destiny 2 on all platforms (PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4) on September 4, 2018.

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