Destiny is back on track - which is to say, there's some suggestion of a solid content plan ahead. Hooray!
Destiny's immediate future was revealed last week when Activision Blizzard informed investors that a "large expansion" is coming this year with a full sequel due in 2017.
Simultaneously, Bungie spoke directly to fans via its blog, confirming the expansion is not the big update we're expecting in spring, which had previously been described as the largest content drop since The Taken King. The developer promised to start talking about the spring update within weeks, and to follow up with information on longer-term projects in the months to follow - giving us a timeframe to work with. This is a pretty big deal; the Bungie of the past was widely criticised for keeping its content plans locked up while asking players to invest in such a new and different experience.
The release-and-DLC-and-expansion model has its flaws, but I’ll take it over fluff piece live events any day. It’s such a relief to know there’s more coming.
Officially, this is the first time we've had confirmation that Destiny will get a sequel. Individual Bungie staffers have made casual references to hypothetical sequels while describing Destiny as a ten year series, and the original publishing agreement with Activision called for sequels every other year - in hindsight, an unrealistically ambitious schedule for an untested platform launching across two hardware generations - but technically no such thing was promised until last week.
Unofficially, everybody knew it was inevitable, and nobody is the slightest bit surprised. Destiny players don't ask each other whether there'll be a Destiny 2; we ask each other whether Bungie will ditch last-gen hardware for Destiny 2 and start living up to the project's own potential, whether the gear we're hoarding now will be relevant in the future, whether we're ever going to get a chance to undo unfortunate customisation choices.
We no longer need to ask ourselves when we might see some new content, thankfully. Now we only need to wonder if the big 2016 expansion pack will be the rumoured Vex module (probably), and whether it'll be as substantial as The Taken King (hopefully) given the game plan has blown out by at least six months to a year.
The conversations have changed, and it's about time.
Late last year Bungie announced it was introducing microtransactions to help fund its Live Team, which was expanding its duties from frantic triage of issues to providing a constant stream of content to keep us interested in between expansions.
"We'll stop making you wait for yonks between content drops you slam though in a few days," Bungie seemed to be saying. "Instead, we'll deliver smaller event-style updates as well as more frequent patches."
It sounded good, in theory. So far we've seen three brand new events from this agile Live Team - Festival of Lights, Sparrow Racing League and Crimson Days. Reception has been mixed - especially on this last one, which lacks the novelty factor of the first two. Kitting the Tower out with roses and providing a heart-patterned shader doesn't sit well with those who are on their dignity about the sanctity of Destiny's setting and lore (the video game about space magic is very serious business), and if we're going to playtest a new multiplayer mode we want some bloody loot to show for it, apparently.
The biggest problem with the events model is that the experience is so forgettable. Nobody is telling stories about the amazing time they had; at most, they're complaining about the drops.
The biggest problem with the events model is that the experience is so forgettable. I missed both Festival of Lights and the Sparrow Racing League due to travel, and as a huge Destiny fan I was heartbroken by my bad luck - for a while. After wandering back into the game I found that the majority of my pals had departed, unimpressed, and those that remained were all still kitted out in their raid, Iron Banner or Trials of Osiris gear. Even most of the vanity items were available if I cared enough to just pay for them (I don't).
I hadn't really missed anything, and taking part in Crimson Doubles has only convinced me of that. Nobody is telling stories about the amazing time they had in any of these events; at most, they're complaining about the drops. It's true that for those who don't raid regularly these events have been a valuable source of high-level gear, but hardcore players have had very little reason to get involved unless they're chasing vanity items or feel a burning need to own one of everything (good luck with that; vaults are still far too small).
Except, as it turns out, RNG is rigged to favour events; if you want to hit 320, you pretty much have to sign up. Even then you won't necessarily get a payout - although this last, extremely stingy affair has at least forced Bungie to pony up a 320 Ghost Shell, one of the most rare drops.
It feels manipulative. On the one hand, here's this thing that doesn't add anything of substance to your gameplay experience. On the other, you damn well have to take part, kid, if you want the goods. Which won't be very good, for the most part, but there's always a chance RNGesus may answer your prayers - since he's been told not to listen to any you produce while, you know, participating in the core experiences.
I get it, I do; Bungie doesn't want to lock end-game down to raiders only. It doesn't want getting to 320 to be easy, even for the hardcore. It wants to keep players checking in regularly to try out new and different experiences, and provide motivation for the cynical to check said experiences out.
But these events are extraneous in the extreme as a result of being temporary. They're not balanced as carefully as a permanent addition would be. They can't offer anything essential or advantageous, because everything in them is missable - and there's no point frantically grinding for rewards during a temporary event if you can get them elsewhere afterwards.
They are, in short, pleasant, pretty distractions from the fact that Destiny players had pretty much done everything that could be done in The Taken King within weeks of launch (like Prison of Elders before it, King's Fall's Challenge Mode has failed to live up to its promise of new challenges every week, forever - and the secret quests seem to have dried up). They are supposed to keep us from noticing that DLC and expansions have been quietly delayed, probably while Bungie wrestles its truculent technology into line and gives current-gen hardware a little longer to dominate its ancestors.
But it's time now for something new to do. We might get some of that in the spring update (although Bungie's wording makes it sound like we're more likely to see remixes and loot motivations to revisit older content, such as "harder mode" Year One raids), but we're guaranteed it with the 2016 expansion - and further out, the 2017 sequel.
The release-and-DLC-and-expansion model has its flaws, and goodness knows we do tend to drift away from online games between content drops - but I'll take it over fluff piece live events any day. It's such a relief to know there's more coming - more story, more boss encounters, more missions, more thrilling soundtrack, more weird and wonderful NPCs, more quests, more rewards, more lore, more secrets.
More Destiny! That's all I ever asked for. I'm glad to know it's coming.