After a disappointing launch, 2018 is an important year for Destiny 2

Destiny was the best-selling debut of a new intellectual property in video game history when it launched in 2014, and Bungie’s 2017 sequel was highly anticipated. Despite sentiment to the contrary in some small echo chambers, Destiny performed well, developed into a content-robust experience over three years of considered refinement, and maintained a large player base through content droughts between updates. The sequel had even more beta participants and pre-orders than its predecessor. The pieces were all in place to guarantee a smash hit.

Instead, Bungie delivered a confusing jumble of reversions and omissions.

Three Guardians jumping through a portal on Nessus

New Problems

Shaders allow players to customize the colours and patterns on their characters’ equipment. Storage space was a concern in Destiny until Bungie added a kiosk where any previously-unlocked shader could be reacquired. Even then, players questioned why they should take up space in the inventory at all rather than simply exist as options in a gear customization menu after being unlocked. In Destiny 2, shader functionality has been expanded to include weapons and individual pieces of gear, but Bungie doubled-down on their ephemerality. Shaders are now single-use consumables, so players have to keep replenishing their stock if they want to experiment with different looks. To make matters worse, there are nowhere near enough inventory slots to hold them all, meaning players have to store them in their vaults or simply delete some. The official reasoning behind this change is to give players more incentive to seek out these transitory rewards, but suspiciously, many of the most attractive legendary shaders are available through Eververse (Bungie’s in-game storefront for microtransactions).

A Vault menu cluttered with equipment

JC’s cluttered vault

Speaking of inventory concerns, Destiny 2’s vault storage for excess equipment is actually smaller and less organized than its predecessor. Destiny’s vault space was allegedly limited by technical concerns related to maintaining compatibility with older platforms (PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360) that were supported at the time, but the sequel has no such excuse. Director Christopher Barrett has mentioned on Twitter that Bungie is beginning work on short- and long-term solutions to the vault problem, after literally years of player complaints.

During November’s Clarion Call event, players discovered that repeatedly playing the same activities led to diminishing experience point rewards. To make matters worse, the game’s interface was designed to display misleading feedback, essentially lying about how much experience players earned. Some players spent real money to acquire Fireteam Tokens from Eververse or XP Boost items from a Pop-Tarts promotion, only to discover that they were not as effective as expected. The fact that this issue was discovered during an event that was ostensibly intended to reward extra experience when playing with clan-mates makes it all the more reprehensible. Bungie backhandedly addressed this problem by removing the hidden throttling mechanic but increasing the amount of experience needed to gain a level.

The landscape of Mercury with the sun on the horizonWhen the Curse of Osiris expansion dropped in December, players who hadn’t purchased the DLC found previously-available content locked away. Trials of the Nine, the weekly player-versus-player endgame activity, would sometimes feature a new expansion-exclusive map. Similarly, the weekly flashpoint event would occasionally take place on Mercury, only available to players who had purchased the DLC. The prestige (hard mode) versions of the nightfall and raid endgame activities were now only available in the expansion. Players took particular exception to this change because one of the game’s achievements and trophies was now effectively behind a paywall. It was impossible to earn a platinum trophy or attain 100% achievements without buying the expansion; this led to mass refunds before Bungie addressed the issue.

Bungie mentions investigating a third difficulty level for these activities, which has baffled players who remember the developer already having solved the issue in Destiny’s third year.

Those who did purchase the expansion found the content limited. Bungie had already warned that the new raid lair would be shorter than a traditional raid. The final encounter of the lair is excellent, but the fact remains that this activity is basically a quarter of a raid. The new planet (exploration of these large, dynamic areas was a linchpin of Destiny 2’s pre-launch promotion) is a tiny circle. And why weren’t there any new achievements and trophies?

The Infinite Forest was touted as a pseudo-procedurally-generated zone—an area made up of discrete, curated building blocks that would provide a unique experience for players on each visit. Unfortunately, there’s nothing to do there. The only time players traverse this area is when they’re en route to a destination, which leads most simply to sprint through as fast as they can to get to the real content. Functionally, the Infinite Forest is merely a way to pad the length of missions. Bungie may find a way to redeem this clever concept, but right now it’s going to waste.

The Tower social space in rainy weather

Old Solutions

Perhaps the biggest source of frustration for longtime players and fans is Bungie’s baffling decision to leave many of the original game’s refinements on the cutting room floor. Customizable private Crucible matches are nowhere to be seen. Kiosks where players could reacquire limited-access equipment have also been scaled down (e.g. there’s currently no way to reacquire vehicles). Heroic strikes were recently reintroduced, but without modifiers, meaning they’re just slightly more difficult versions of normal strikes. Heroic strikes would have been a good opportunity to add strike-specific gear and skeleton keys, fan-favourite features from Destiny that could help mitigate complaints about unrewarding loot.

Speaking of motivation, Destiny 2 replaced its predecessor’s numerous bounties that could be completed across multiple destinations with a smaller set of challenges that can only be completed in specific activities. The ability to juggle a variety of tasks across multiple game modes felt more motivating than just playing strikes until three items are checked off a list. Factions that could be continually ranked-up have also been replaced by an uninspired monthly event. Even though the change to gameplay is minor, being able to see a level increase as a direct result of player choices was rewarding and nurtured a sense of investment in the supported faction.

Bungie has done away with a consolidated quest page in the menu. There is a tab that tracks weekly milestones, but it’s not accessible from the main menu, and special quests don’t appear there. The quest for an exotic weapon from the Leviathan raid appears in the power weapon slot, and the Dawning daily gift quests appear in the ghost shell slot. Bungie seemed to have solved this awkward quests-as-equipment problem already, so there’s no reason for the mistake to be replicated here.

The Eververse in-game storefront

Ever Worse

It was clear from the start that Eververse would have a larger role in Destiny 2, but no one predicted just how greedy and sinister the shift would be. While players complained about endgame activities feeling less rewarding, Eververse was replete with ghost shells, vehicles, ships, and ornaments: numerous rewards that should have been attainable through investing in the game’s myriad activities. These aren’t all meaningless cosmetic items—some even have an impact on gameplay.

Eververse gear can be received by gaining levels, but the loot pool is so large that the only reliable way to get specific gear is by buying it from Tess Everis using a currency acquired from dismantling other Eververse rewards. A complete set of Eververse gear costs several thousand “bright dust” per character. And seasons, which could have been a natural way to facilitate competitive PvP with rankings and ladders that reset at periodic intervals, are instead leveraged as a time limit to raise the stakes of random Eververse rewards.

Because the gear rotates out of the store permanently after a period of time, there’s pressure to break out your credit card before the item you want disappears.

Eververse’s true colours were revealed in even starker clarity during The Dawning, an event meant to celebrate the holiday season by focusing on one of its defining modern characteristics: rampant consumerism. The event kicked off with a free gift. In a petty twist, shaders from that gift were indexed separately from normal versions of the same shaders, to prevent players from obtaining free bright dust by dismantling the gift. Gaining levels during The Dawning awards items from the normal pool of Eververse loot instead of the unique event items. The only way to get the seasonal items is by completing a limited number of quests or spending real money. There’s even a unique vehicle that can only be obtained by spending real money, bucking a previous trend of allowing a chance, however small, to acquire seasonal items through gameplay.

The holiday spirit must have given players the perspective needed to band together in revolt. The Eververse shopkeep has been not-so-affectionately nicknamed “Tess Avarice” and the communities across Twitter, Reddit, and the official Bungie forums have rallied behind the #RemoveEververse hashtag.

Cayde-6 shrugging

Course Corrections

Despite repeated pledges to become more nimble in responding to player concerns, Bungie has been remarkably slow to fix what could have been minor issues when their most valuable asset (active players) is on the line.

When Bungie discovered that an Eververse emote allowed players to clip through walls, they cancelled Trials of the Nine for two weeks, meaning hardcore PvP players had nothing to do. This was at a critical time in Destiny 2’s life, and it caused a significant loss of momentum.

Curse of Osiris launched with a number of new exotic weapons. Players quickly discovered that one of them, Prometheus Lens, did way more damage than could reasonably have been intended. Those lucky enough to acquire one quickly took the gun into the Crucible, where they dominated less fortunate players with ease. Bungie allowed the gun to be sold by the game’s weekly exotic vendor as an emergency measure to level the playing field, and then announced that it would be “adjusted to be way too weak” until it could be play-tested in the new year. This puzzling response led players to question why it hadn’t been play-tested before being introduced to the live game.

In response to the uproar about locking previously-available content behind the expansion, Bungie cancelled the Faction Rally for an entire month. Thanks to the artificial and arbitrary time limit of the season system, this postponement significantly impacts players’ ability to collect all the unique faction gear (because the season is now likely to end before players have a chance to collect the ornaments they want).

A sweeper bot cleaning up a mess

Some elements changed or introduced in Destiny 2 aren’t necessarily bad, but are certainly divisive. The renewed focus on narrative has gone hand-in-hand with a shift to a goofy, cartoonish style of writing, complete with corny punchlines. Mechanically, the reorganization of weapon slots, the removal of randomized perk sets on guns, the uninspired scope of the mod system (which has been salvaged somewhat by the introduction of Masterworks), and the reduction of Crucible team size from six to four players are all changes that have garnered mixed or lukewarm reception. Even the Leviathan raid, which is a creatively-designed and aesthetically beautiful network of puzzles, has been criticized for its slow, awkward, maze-like implementation.

Destiny 2 has the core of a good game. The key component of that is the combination of classic Bungie gunplay and social facilitation. And the sequel does improve on the original in several important ways. The updated engine and tools ostensibly give the developers more freedom and flexibility. The graphics, soundtrack, and art design are spectacular. Character movement, with the removal of the sprint lock and the addition of climbing over obstacles, is much more fluid, even if it is a bit slower on the whole.

And yet the primary thrust of the press coverage is seldom the game’s solid core simply because it’s so adulterated. They are not breaking new ground like they were with the original, so there’s not as much tolerance for mistakes. Bungie risks squandering their hard work by alienating fans, relinquishing good word of mouth to bad PR, and letting the narrative surrounding their game become dominated by their missteps. If Destiny 2 were simply a bad game, it would be easy to forget about it and move on. Instead, it just seems sloppy and poorly-handled.

Bungie has every opportunity to turn things around in 2018. The worry is that there simply won’t be enough active players still enjoying Destiny 2 by the time the game finally becomes good.

The game is a disappointment precisely because players love Destiny, expectations were high, and it had great potential. Bungie improved Destiny a great deal over the course of three years, and there’s no reason they shouldn’t be able to do the same for the sequel. The fact that they thought they had to reinvent the wheel is what frustrates many fans.

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