Before Bungie can fix Destiny 2’s endgame it needs to sort out who it’s actually for

By Brenna Hillier, Friday, 13 October 2017 12:52 GMT

Destiny 2 has an endgame problem, but you probably don’t know how to solve it.

Bungie is going to improve Destiny 2’s endgame, the developer said in this week’s update.

“We have noticed a lot of discussions about the endgame and how it can be improved. Right now, these discussions are also happening in our studio. We are listening, but need time to digest everything and draw up the best plans for the future. We will have more to say on this soon. Please stay tuned, and keep the conversation rolling,” Bungie wrote.

Conversation is a polite description for what’s happening. Now that the honeymoon is over, the noise from Destiny 2’s most fervent players is being echoed by critics (which is unsurprising as there’s a real overlap in those two demographics). The consensus is that there’s something wrong with Destiny 2’s endgame: it is not as fun as D1 was.

The most frequent criticism of Destiny 2’s endgame is that it is shallow, which seems a fair criticism to me. That said, the common definitions of what constitutes “deep” gameplay vary considerably from mine, as examples include tons of collectibles and grinding for random drops of rare loot.

That players are calling for the return of timesinks, grind and random drops must be hugely frustrating to Bungie, since the first year of Destiny was marked by strong criticism of these exact systems. There’s also a pretty fair argument to be made that the grind and randomness have not gone anywhere; if you’re chasing a particular set of armour or a weapon, that you hand in tokens rather than gather loot from the environment doesn’t change the fact that you’re at the mercy of RNGesus. Iron Banner, which introduces a much-coveted armour set some players have been unable to obtain after collecting 100 reward packages, is a case in point.

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“Bungie’s stuck with the thankless task of managing a very vocal, financially unsustaining minority for whom their entertainment product has become a lifestyle, while making their actual living from an uncomplaining majority”

Some of this critique is definitely justified, though. The nebulous scannables are no substitute for Grimoire-tracked Dead Ghosts. More damningly, given this is a loot game and we’re done worrying about story and writing in Destiny, there’s no real motivation to grind for random drops: there are no differentiating factors between Raid gear, Iron Banner gear and Faction gear. It’s all just cosmetics.

This, perhaps, makes things more fair to players; you don’t have to be a regular raider with a dozen runs under your belt to have access to advantages in that same raid granted by the loot it drops. But this removes a sense of progression from the act of collecting that loot, and also makes it feel less valuable than game-changing equipment like Raid armour sets and Gjallarhorn were.

There are only two reasons to chase any loot in Destiny 2 once you hit the Power cap. One is that you like how something looks, and the other is because you’re a completionist. Completionists seem like a good safe bet to become Destiny 2’s 2,000 hour crowd, but Bungie has made some puzzling decisions that make it seem unlikely that they will be. It’s once again very difficult to retain everything you collect due to Vault limits and the incomplete Collections system. More pressingly, changes to how Destiny 2 motivates and tracks player achievement make the act of filling out your collection feel hollow when compared to D1.

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There’s a great breakdown on Reddit of how Destiny 2 scales back some of the psychological tricks D1 used to keep susceptible players engaged. You’ll see these kinds of techniques used widely in free-to-play games – and increasingly in the triple-A space now that loot boxes are creeping in everywhere (to our growing discomfort).

Perhaps it’s admirable of Bungie to back away from these illusions, thereby making Destiny 2 more reasonable and not preying on the psychologically vulnerable to lure them into a life-eating play habit. At the same time, though, it makes the sequel feel less sticky and compulsive to those people who were most captivated by D1.

Many Destiny 2 players have pointed out that the sequel feels like a continuation of The Taken King, ignoring most of the events and more pertinently the endgame advances made in Rise of Iron – things like more frequent record books and Strike-specific loot. The armchair theory, which certainly lines up with public discussion of Bungie’s internal structure, is that the team behind The Taken King went off to make Destiny 2 while the Live Team put together Rise of Iron. That, they say, is why Rise of Iron felt kind of inessential story-wise made no dramatic changes, but focused a great deal on making things more fun for the 2,000 hour crowd by dialling up those compulsive hooks.

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Let’s imagine for a minute that Bungie takes all this feedback on board and caves into every demand. It reintroduces Rise of Iron’s systems to Destiny 2, injects that sweet compulsive juice back into play, adds a stack of collectibles and rare drops to fill up hundreds of hours of time, and creates a social system where the casual and hardcore players are clearly differentiated by meaningful equipment differences.

Will that stop the 2,000 hour crowd from complaining? Absolutely not. Complaining is what we get on the Internet to do, mostly. But perhaps it will work well enough to make Destiny 2 feel “deep” again, gently stave off the constant threat of existential horror really sticky video games are so good at protecting us from, and make the 14 hours a week you spend pretending you’re a space wizard feel like less of a waste of time.

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There’s a fascinating disconnect between the experience of “casual” players and those who consider themselves hardcore Destiny 2 players – veterans with 2,000 hours or so of D1 playtime.

Casual players, who may have up to 100 hours under their belt but are disconnected enough from the community that they haven’t hit Destiny 2’s cap yet, think Destiny 2 is baffling, grindy, bloated and expanding too quickly to keep up with – there’s a new thing to do every week, and none of it seems to bring them closer to 305 Power.

On the other hand, hardcore players have run out of content and are increasingly dissatisfied with having “nothing to do” in endgame. Considering themselves the true and therefore only Destiny fanbase, personally responsible for the financial success of D1 and martyrs to the suffering they endured in the franchise’s first three years, they’re enraged over what they see as a dumbing down of the game for the casual crowd. One thread I read recently argued, passionately, that the new casual crowd Bungie is catering to will evaporate as soon as Call of Duty WW2 releases, and then the developer will regret offending and disappointing the hardcore. Hmm.

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“Bungie has to make a game that offers enough to satisfy the content locusts, without requiring a massive life commitment to enjoy”

I’ve said this before: in its current form, Destiny 2 makes an admirable if poorly communicated attempt to be a game you can play rather than live. As Bungie itself said, much to the hardcore’s horror, Destiny 2’s endgame is checking in with friends regularly because you enjoy shooting space faces together, not about devoting weeks of your life to mastering it.

This is nicely illustrated on a micro scale by Destiny 2’s PvP, the Crucible. Bungie made significant changes to game-wide systems as well as Crucible modes in Destiny 2, all of which directly action complaints about D1’s competitive multiplayer. This has given rise to speculative talk of a bid to make Destiny 2 an esport, something for which it is wildly unsuited in its current state.

Really devoted PvP fans have a lot to say about Crucible balance, and more power to them for having the skill and technical know-how to really appreciate the nitty-gritties. If Bungie’s intent with Destiny 2 were to make a professional esport, we’d certainly be justified in complaining.

Both D1 and Destiny 2, however, are games designed to be played for fun. The reason the Destiny universe is ESRB-teen rated is because Bungie is full of parents who want to play with their kids; it has to be playable by (too!) young kiddies, as well as by those who are ageing out of the twitch reflexes required by really cut throat online shooters, and still be fun. That’s why the time-to-kill in PvP is much longer than competing titles, and the general design fails to cater to that ruthless crowd exclusively, the way they want to be.

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Like all video game developers, Bungie’s stuck with the thankless task of managing a very vocal, financially unsustaining minority for whom their entertainment product has become a lifestyle, while making their actual living from an uncomplaining majority.

It’s also attempting to deliver on a number of fronts by providing a satisfying but homogenous experience across both PvE and PvP. On top of that, it has to make a game that offers enough to satisfy the content locusts, without requiring a massive life commitment to enjoy. I personally do not envy it the task of tuning Destiny 2’s endgame. Before Bungie can fix Destiny 2’s endgame, it needs to sort out who it’s actually for.

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