A “Destiny 2” Player’s Rebuttal To Bungie’s Latest “State Of The Game”

This is going to sound very AA-like, but I’m Axel, and I play Destiny 2.

I played Destiny from launch to the end of “Age of Triumph.” I played Destiny 2 from launch till about the time of the “Black Armory” content, where I quit because it became a soul crushing grind which didn’t make me happy. I got back into it courtesy of a friend who got me a copy of The Witch Queen expansion, and while there was still an obvious grind, it wasn’t quite as painful as before. However, with the Lightfall expansion, and the two seasons thus far, I’m starting to contemplate dropping it again. Destiny 2, since Lightfall came out, has been a hot, sweaty, shambling mess on every level. And the recent “State Of The Game” post by game director Joe Blackburn does not exactly do anything to calm the troubled waters.

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this…”

The Good

I’m going to get this out of the way first, because there are (shockingly) some genuinely good moves slated to be happening in Destiny 2. First up involves what was probably the single biggest and most tedious element for somebody returning to Destiny 2: unlocking Stasis abilities. Introduced in the Beyond Light expansion, Stasis was the first “Darkness” power set for Guardians to use. As a player, I genuinely like Stasis both thematically and mechanically. One of the crafted weapons I’ve made since coming back is a Stasis-damage pulse rifle and it’s gotten a lot of use. However, unlocking it was an unmitigated pain in the ass. All the timegates and other impediments to keep players “engaged” for Beyond Light weren’t removed when The Witch Queen came out, leading to a long and drawn out slog for unlocking the power set for all three classes. They were still in place when Lightfall came out, which meant heavy grinding for new players. Somebody finally seems to have figured out that the grind isn’t that much fun. So now, you’ll be able to purchase the various Aspects and Fragments for Stasis directly once you finish the Beyond Light campaign. I only wish they’d figured this out a year or so back.

The next good thing is related to cosmetics of various sorts. This comes in two parts. One relates to shaders, which is a minor quality of life improvement. You’ll soon be able to pin your “top 100” shaders and ornaments (along with emotes) so that you’re not spending endless amounts of time flipping through pages of the damned things to find the look that you particularly like. Since I don’t change emotes all that much, I’m a little surprised about why you’d need a top 100, but whatever. The other element getting a change involves Transmat effects. These are visual flourishes for when you spawn into a map or respawn after getting killed in a Crucible match. They’re attached to your ship. And, up to this point, they’ve basically been “one time use” items like shaders used to be when Destiny 2 first launched. As a result, I’ve got a whole bunch of different Transmats sitting in my inventory because I don’t want to “waste” them. Yes, I can reacquire them right now for some resources, but it’s a pain in the ass. Making them unlockables like shaders and Ghost projections are now seems like a long overdue change.

Third on the good stuff list: the Power Level cap isn’t getting increased for the next Season. You may ask, “Why is this a good thing, Axel?” The simple answer: it lets players actually build up while reducing (though not eliminating) burnout. Before, Power Levels going up every Season meant you played one class to the exclusion of all others, which also meant that your other characters weren’t as developed. Did you need to take over for your Fireteam’s Warlock because they weren’t having fun playing that class? Sucks to be you and them, because your Warlock wasn’t at level cap and your buddy had to keep carrying you. With the cap not going up, players can take their time and bring all their characters up to snuff gradually. Artifact unlocks are still going to be a thing, but the max power level for gear not going up is a pain point players can avoid.

Artist’s rendition of Bungie smashing any hope of reasonable improvements to the game.

The Bad

It’s never a good sign when you indirectly admit that certain game modes receive all the consideration of a redheaded stepchild. Yet that is pretty much what Blackburn did with Gambit, stating, “This is an area of the game with lower engagement that would take resources away from more popular parts of the game to shore up.” I can’t imagine why Gambit might have lower engagement than other parts of Destiny 2. Could it possibly be the fact Gambit players only have three maps? Could it be the fact that 9 times out of 10, you’re either facerolling the competition or getting your heads handed to you? Might the fact that there’s been no new armor sets for Gambit in several seasons be potentially contributing to a lack of enthusiasm? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say, “All of the above.” I won’t say I’m a hardcore Gambit player, but I do like the mode sometimes. I like that previous armor sets like the “Ancient Apocalypse” set that Gambit launched with have been updated to be obtained with vendor engrams. But after all this time, players should have gotten at least a couple more maps by this point. We shouldn’t have had to wait for Gambit-specific weapons to return as season-locked loot drops, particularly since we’re notionally able to focus weapons now for the ritual activity vendors. Combine that with Blackburn’s announcement that Gambit is being removed as a ritual activity, and you wonder why the hell Bungie bothers to keep it around in the first place.

If Gambit is being ill-treated, the PvP “Crucible” is flat out being abused. Blackburn tries to justify the lack of new maps by claiming there’s a lack of resources. “When we do focus our resources on building new Crucible maps,” Blackburn wrote, “it comes with the tradeoff of multiple teams’ bandwidth on work that contributes to a variety of experiences that players also hold dear, such as new story or Exotic mission content, core activities that make up the foundation of each Season, or new destinations.” Frankly, given the quality of some of the writing of late, I don’t think that’s quite as solid an explanation as Blackburn would like it to be. The Crucible, whether basic, Iron Banner, or Trials of Osiris, has devolved into a sweaty hellscape of cheaters, cross-play imbalances, and participant pool sizes that guarantee somebody’s going to get brutally murdered each and every time. It makes the post-match notification of “We’re breaking up these teams to find a better match” a bitter joke because it’ll break them up and immediately reconstitute them. Removing the Freelance mode sounds good in theory, but given the persistent curbstompings PUGs get (particularly in Trials and Competitive), it feels less like we’re being done a favor and more we’re getting a misericord through the neck.

Could things be going better for Vanguard missions, the strikes and Nightfalls that constitute a good chunk of PvE activity? Nope. Not even there. Much like Gambit and Crucible, the Vanguard playlists are getting by on scraps. Battleground activities (which used to be the Seasonal activities of a given season) are going to become more prevalent, with Blackburn writing, “While this can come at the cost of other content in a given year, we feel this exchange has been worth the extra investment for the overall health of our playlists.” To which I must respond: are you high?! The PsiOps Battlegrounds from a few seasons back aren’t terrible, but they’re not entirely fun, either. The Defiant Battlegrounds aren’t too bad, but I was just as happy to be done with them once the Season ended. But Jesus wept, the Heist Battlegrounds from Season of The Seraph are objectively terrible for a single reason: the traps. All those laser tripwires that you could ultimately negate with the seasonal artifact are still around, and they’re an instant kill again. They were bad enough on Legendary, definitely a “hit and quit” sort of affair, not to be repeated once you got your associate Triumph unlock. I shudder to think of the miseries which will come about making them into Grandmaster-level Nightfalls. Combine this with “Vanguard Medals” that don’t seem to serve any actual purpose outside of the Guardian Games event, and I’m seriously questioning what’s going on inside Bungie.

“Am I a joke to you, Blackburn? AM I?!

The Ugly

What do Gambit, Crucible, and Vanguard have in common (at least until the start of next season)? They’re considered “ritual” activities. And part of the joy of those activities was notionally about getting a new armor set for each activity. When Destiny 2 launched, Vanguard and Crucible each had their own distinct armor sets. When Gambit was introduced, it had its own distinct armor set. Yet it seems that at some point, Bungie got lazy as hell and put out the same armor set with different colors on them, hoping that would be enough to denote where you got it from. Fans have obviously been upset about this. Blackburn completely ignores this discontent and writes, “Delivering ritual armor sets at the rates we have in the past has become increasingly challenging, especially considering these sets have historically had very low adoption by players as both base armor and cosmetic ornaments.” If the logic was any more circular, I’d swear Bungie was trying to muscle in on Dunkin’ Donuts or Einstein’s Bagels.

Some 6300 words, pissing and moaning about how hard it is for Bungie to add stuff for the game, and so they’re going to stop doing that. Except the unspoken part of this is the goddamned Eververse store. There’s clearly no shortage of resources to make the “upgraded” event card cosmetics. No bottlenecks for the collaboration cosmetics which go for $20 a pop. As long as Bungie can sell pretty shiny things with no gameplay impact whatsoever for extortionate amounts of money, they’ll throw every last erg of manpower and computer cycles to make those reality. Actual improvements to the game? A new map here and there, a rework of an old map for the new engine? Efforts made to consistently provide a few new armor sets each year consistent with the “core” activities? Nah, those can kick rocks. This excuse really wears thin when you consider that they still manage to put out new armor sets for new dungeons and the expansion set armor (which isn’t the greatest, this year). It’s all of a piece, and I find myself unmoved by Blackburn’s protestations that it’s too much work.

I’ll grant that Bungie at least had the grace to mention the stability problems which have plagued the game of late, but even that feels like a brush-off, a nodding pass to having heard about them and how they’re working to resolve them. But they refuse to acknowledge how their other initiatives have had a counterproductive effect on the state of the game and on the community at large. Blackburn waxes rhapsodic about the new Exotic mission to obtain the “Wicked Implement” scout rifle, yet completely fails to mention how this mission’s placement inside of the seasonal “Deep Dive” activity has effectively rendered that activity impossible to complete. Not that Deep Dive was in great shape before then. Unless you have a full fireteam of known associates, your chance of successfully completing a Deep Dive activity just by itself is pretty slim. Add in the “Pressure Trials” modifiers and hunting down obscure collectibles, your chances go on a starvation diet. I’m honestly surprised they didn’t come out with, “Making games is hard, man.” And we still have two more seasons to go before the next expansion, the supposed “finale” to the narrative arc Bungie ostensibly committed itself to almost a decade past (which they didn’t really figure out until a few years ago). Blackburn’s promising all sorts of new and amazing things, without really elaborating too much on them, and all I can think is, “What fresh hell will this be?”

“I think this…this used to be the game Bungie promised us.”

The Final Straw

I left Destiny 2 once before because it felt like the world’s crappiest job. It felt like I was putting in a lot of toil and sweat and wasn’t getting paid for it. I’m strongly considering leaving it again, and this time because it feels like I’m dealing with a sugar baby. Constant bombardment and pestering, all sorts of excited noises about the delights on offer, endless promises of “Give me money and I’ll show you a good time!” This is the most expensive “free-to-play” game currently out in the market, and taken just on the “free” content, you’re not getting a good value. Worse, even if you pony up for the Season Pass, you’re likely going to get less-than-stellar value for your purchase. It’s stopped being fun. It’s stopped being intriguing. The setting which moved me to pick up the first game now seems riddled with hasty retcons and overly vague narrative threads which aren’t going to get tied off in time. I’m finding it increasingly difficult to justify putting in a lot of effort. Sure, I’ve got friends who play, but even they’re starting to burn out on it.

I’m paid up for the rest of this year. I can’t promise I’ll be back for the next one. And that should scare the piss out of Bungie. Because if enough of us leave, their entire edifice falls apart. No more money for Destiny 2. No more money for Marathon, perhaps. I can already tell you I’m not on board for that one. That $3 billion USD Sony paid might just be the last money Bungie makes if they keep going like this. It wouldn’t even be a tragedy. Just the final act before the curtain falls. Unless radical and substantive changes are made, changes which prioritize the health of Destiny 2‘s actual gameplay systems and content above the cosmetic gravy train, there won’t be anybody to witness The Final Shape, because the shape it’s in is enough for us to end our time with it.

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