Destiny 2 is Failing its Most Important Audience

Destiny has always had ups and downs, and they’ve always been pretty predictable. You can set your watch to the times when its community will be praising Bungie or cursing them to the ends of the Destiny subreddit. A new content drop typically keeps the audience happy for a month or two, but then as the events taper off, the secrets are discovered, the content becomes stale, and the playerbase starts to discover the holes. Few games are as voraciously and thoroughly consumed by a large audience. The ones that are devoured like this tend to throw so much content at the players that even the most dedicated will struggle to see it all.

At its very best, Destiny has always felt content-starved compared to other games people play every day for months at a time. Take any MMO, even one just getting started, and it likely has more hours of actual unique content than all of Destiny and Destiny 2 combined.

Destiny started life as a highly replayable loot shooter. The fantastic gameplay was always there. Destiny is Bungie’s previous game, Halo, but powered up with new abilities and modern design. Both Halo and Destiny were almost infinitely replayable before monthly events and quarterly expansion packs were the expectation. I could boot up Halo: Combat Evolved on Legendary difficulty right now and have as much fun with it as ever, and Bungie has been riding that hook for over 15 years.

In fact, the idea behind Destiny — and to some extent Halo Reach before it — was to spice up something people already replayed over and over with loot, progression, and daily reasons to log in.

Destiny did not launch as gracefully as Halo Reach though. Destiny launched with superb gameplay, stunning environments, and wild lore hidden in the background. It also launched with a dry tone, embarrassing dialogue, and a story that limped to the finish line, promising players that at least there would be more to come. “All ends are beginnings,” one notorious character declared before disappearing from Destiny seemingly forever.

Despite the six-out-of-ten reviews and the endless jokes about Peter Dinklage’s sleepy line-reads, there was still something there. Destiny asked players to level up in order to take on increasingly difficult challenges, and it made that process long, arduous, and confusing. A community was borne out from that hardship. The gameplay was fun, it was nice to have so many friends online at once, and there was something enticing to work towards. For some it was fun to figure out the most efficient ways to navigate Destiny’s multiple currencies and paths to power. For others, it was fun to have a community to help them out.

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It all culminated in Destiny’s first raid, The Vault of Glass. This 6-player challenge was unlike anything we’d seen in a shooter before, requiring precise teamwork, puzzle-solving, and platforming skills to succeed. The gear that dropped from the vault was packed with perks, the guns were some of the best in the game, and you wouldn’t see them all unless you successfully raided for weeks, potentially on multiple characters.

I write all of this as a reminder of what Destiny was. By the end of its first three years it relaxed many of these brutal requirements while simultaneously becoming a much better game. It also became more balanced. The raid gear and exotic weapons helped make the raids easier, but they didn’t make you the envy of everyone around you the way they did in the past.

Destiny 2 relaxes those requirements even further. It drowns you in loot, showing off fancy exotic weapons early on. From the start of the campaign to the first completion of the raid, Destiny 2 is a phenomenal ride, but unlike the first Destiny, the majority of the audience got all the cool gear they could ever want and moved on.

The community fall-off in Destiny 2 has been brutal for those of us that are sticking through it. For myself, Destiny is something I play regularly with my girlfriend, a connection to many friends across the states, and a weekly ritual for myself and a friend I’ve had since the third grade. My own personal community around Destiny 2, at least until before the first expansion was released, had dwindled to just the one friend.

The original Destiny launched with tough challenges and stingy rewards. It took a lot of dedication to get the best stuff. The reason for this, it seemed, was because Destiny did not have the amount of content expected from a game of this nature. The grind was padding to keep players occupied while Bungie worked on expansions. The side effect was that it kept players invested long term, even if they were screaming at Bungie the entire time. Destiny 2 is a better game than Destiny 1, but it isn’t a longer one, and it doles out rewards so generously that there’s no incentive to keep playing.

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The only reason to come back right now is when some new content drops. The new expansion, Curse of Osiris, is Bungie’s first meaningful attempt to address Destiny 2 as an ongoing experience. As a statement, Curse of Osiris is a schizophrenic one:

  • The two-hour story campaign is told through a series of cleverly recycled content and some of the most casual gameplay difficulty the series has seen. It seems designed for solo players or fireteams that didn’t participate in Destiny 2’s endgame.
  • The Infinite Forest, a series of randomly-generated floating islands, isn’t accessible outside of a few specific missions and strikes, offering no meaningful replay value.
  • Several sections that hint at more fleshed-out ideas (wave-based defense sequences, sparrow racing, timed chases, and that aforementioned “Infinite Forest”) but are over before you know it.
  • Despite the minimal content, Curse of Osiris also features a brutal light grind to the new level cap of 335 for little-to-no-reason. Bungie offered no advice on what the new “Raid Lair” would require and failed to provide a release date for the challenge until two days beforehand. Many of my friends assumed they would not level up in time, so we did not plan a raid. It was only after the raid launched that we found out the light requirement was only 300, and even if you didn’t touch Curse of Osiris, you could still play it.

Bungie seems to be offering a game for the most casual Destiny players to poke at in their free time for the next few months, while simultaneously rolling out a red carpet for Twitch streamers to perform and try to obtain world’s first in the raid, with no regard for the majority of players in between.

The problem here, is that that core playerbase in the middle is a big part of what makes Destiny fun to play for everyone. If the only players being catered to are newcomers and Twitch streamers, who does the typical player take with them into a raid? Who do they get matched up against in strikes or the Crucible? What is Trials of the Nine when casual players won’t go near it and the middle-of-the-road audience isn’t playing?

Casual players need a large population of dedicated friends who are willing to do the raid more than once if they ever want to see it. Meanwhile, the Twitch and YouTube crowd need less skilled opponents if they ever hope to score some big, entertaining plays. When the majority of Destiny players are compelled to keep playing every week, it benefits everyone.

What is the solution to keep that type of player around? I don’t think it will be Masterworks, the new class of legendary guns that Bungie is introducing tomorrow. Destiny’s endgame has always been about chasing after cool gear and facing difficult challenges, but over time the chase has become less enticing. The toughest challenges reward meaningless novelties, while the coolest gear is given away in normal gameplay and the coolest cosmetics are earning through Bright Engrams.

The fix for Destiny 2 is a big one, and one we likely won’t see for months to come, if at all. To truly make Destiny 2 a game that caters to its most important players, Bungie will need to focus on challenge, replayability, and rewards. They will need to start putting the best gear behind difficult challenges. They will have to start creating endgame content with true depth and longevity. They will need to reintroduce secrets and lore into the dark corners of their worlds. Ironically, they need to put a bit of vanilla Destiny back into the game.

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