On February 28, 2023, Bungie will release the fifth major DLC update to Destiny 2: Lightfall. With the game entering its sixth year, it's no surprise that the experience as a whole has become difficult for new players to fully engage with. Even with the introduction of the base game as free-to-play, Destiny 2 is a mess of menus and game modes, with a complex story to match.
However, the onboarding process has become such a mess that even for lapsed players with hundreds of hours under their belts, knowing what content to engage with – and what the hell is happening at any given time – has become borderline impossible. If Bungie is not careful, Destiny 2 will become a market exclusively for an unsustainable and ever-diminishing hardcore fanbase.
To tackle what Bungie could do to fix this onboarding issue, we need to break down the key problems. This starts with acknowledging that, as novel as Bungie’s decision to make the core game free-to-play was, Destiny 2 is not a F2P game. Though there are plenty of things for F2P players to do, the majority of end-game activities (such as the seasonal activity for any given update) and most story missions are unavailable to you. Even content under the bracket of 'F2P' – such as the nightfall strike as part of the vanguard operations – can be locked if said mission is part of a DLC package.
Realistically, to get into Destiny, you’re going to need to pay. This process is messy, particularly on Steam.
At the time of writing, there are currently 11 different DLC options for Destiny 2 on Steam. These range from major expansions, such as The Witch Queen, to emote bundles and seasonal silver bundles. If a player were to purchase every DLC option available, it would cost them an eye-watering £347.89.
The curation here is just a mess. Sure, there is the £49.99 “legacy bundle” that includes the previous major expansions (barring The Witch Queen), but a new player isn’t going to correlate the word “legacy” with “essential story and mechanics”. A new, or returning, player would have to take time to research which pieces of content are important to them or not. If you have to do external homework before purchasing add-ons to a game, something has gone wrong.
Once a player has navigated purchasing the game, the next major stumbling block comes with the game's manic user interface. Destiny 2 will pop you into a mission of some sort immediately, whether that be the New Light mission for new players or whatever the seasonal first mission may be for returning players. Once out of that and into the main menus, finding out exactly what you need to do is messy. The destinations tab will be littered with different icons that make little sense to those not already familiar with them (and, often, even for those that are).
On top of that, some of these activities will pertain to previous seasonal activities, like Season Of Plunder’s 'Ketchcrash'. For F2P players, that activity is just not available. At all. For returning players that have only purchased the most recent season, it's legacy content that they also can’t engage with. Knowing what is relevant to the here-and-now is impossible without research. Once again, if the only way a player can ascertain what to do within a game is to research outside of it, something is not right.
Finally, there's the story. I am not going to harp on too much about Destiny’s story because it has been a notorious mess since vanilla D1. Bungie has taken great strides in making the story accessible to players in the form of weapon lore tabs, as well as a broader lore section within the menus. But unless you have a particular interest in fully picking apart the minutia of this universe, you’re simply not going to sacrifice time playing the game to read a bunch of text.
For the average player, the only way they're going to engage with the story is through gameplay. And right now, that presents the story as a truly baffling mess. For example, I took a one-year break from Destiny 2 and when I came back, a Cabal called Caitl was now our friend, the Fallen had moved into the Last City, some person called 'The Witness' was doing things, and the ominous threat of Savathun was gone? I shouldn’t have to go to YouTube to watch a four-hour Byf video to understand what is happening.
So, what can Bungie do to fix this? To start with, if Bungie wants Destiny 2 to be a proper F2P game, all content pre-Lightfall should be free. The cornerstone of the very best F2P games is that the fundamentals of the game are accessible to everyone, with bonus content – such as specific guns and customisables – being purchasable. Right now, F2P content can become inaccessible if said content is DLC based. Bungie should look to what Square Enix has done with Final Fantasy 14, making the first 60 levels free and giving players access to enough of the game that they can, at least, get a solid understanding of the situation up until the point they log in. Make all previous DLC free. Give F2P players the chance to truly get their teeth into all the things that make Destiny fantastic.
At the very least, the player onboarding process has to be made simpler. When Lightfall is released, all content should be a simple one-and-done purchase, similar to the legacy bundle already available, but better signposted. Older content, such as the Destiny 2: Forsaken pack (the Forsaken campaign content is currently vaulted and unavailable to play) and the 30th Anniversary bundle (now Bungie is 31) should be made free to all users. Have it so a new player can just get everything they need in one purchase, and returning players can cherry-pick content that is relevant. Don't confuse and baffle them with emote bundles and such.
The in-game UI is a more difficult problem to fix. As I am not a game dev or a UI specialist I am not going to tell someone how to do their job. However, clearing mission objectives for legacy content, such as a previous season’s activity, should be considered. At the very least make the most recent content front and centre for players. Or give us a toggle to hide non-pressing notifications.
Finally, the whole story of Destiny 2, including the vaulted Red War and Forsaken campaigns, should be accessible to players. That doesn’t mean all of the gameplay concepts have to come back. Instead, using an in-game character like Ikora to show “shadows of the past”, or something to that effect, as a gateway to an in-game cut-scene cinema would give life to some of Destiny’s amazing cinematics that are now lost to the ether.
Let players view the experiences of the Red War, watch Osiris emerge from the Infinite Forest, get a glimpse of Cayde’s final hours, Prine Uldren becoming a guardian – and so much more. Even this piece-meal storytelling would allow new players to fully grasp who the voices telling them to do stuff are, and for lapsed players to catch up on what they missed.
Destiny 2 is a great game with some stand-out moments, and Bungie is doing its iconic frnachise a disservice by keeping them hidden behind needlessly complicated gates. It's time for that to change.