Three months in, Destiny 2 has a “quality-of-life” problem

Three months in, Destiny 2 has a “quality-of-life” problem

Enlarge / Just a few more revolutions until that next Powerful Gear.Bungie / Getty / Aurich Destiny 2 isn’t the game its fans want it

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Enlarge / Just a few more revolutions until that next Powerful Gear.

Bungie / Getty / Aurich

Destiny 2 isn’t the game its fans want it to be. That isn’t apparent from the game’s design, which seems to check every box a fan of the original would want. But a quick trip around the Internet shows just how much the sequel is failing to live up to many players’ expectations.

Take this 390-comment thread about the state of Destiny 2, for instance. It reads like the pre-apocalyptic screed you’d find scrawled on a wall in any number of other video games. It got to be so bad that Bungie had to interrupt its Curse of Osiris PR plans to address the complaints. And now that Curse of Osiris is out, the fan reaction isn’t exactly getting better.

That’s a shame, because Destiny 2 is a totally solid first-person shooter, taken in the vein of Bungie’s own previous games. In 40 or 50 hours you could get through every story mission, strike, raid, and a decent bit of the competitive multiplayer. That’s a good amount of content, especially compared to many other first-person shooters, and Destiny 2’s best-in-class action is enough to carry those hours forward enjoyably.

The problem is when you reach the endgame. That is to say, there really isn’t much of one. Destiny 2’s design encourages those 40 to 50 hours to turn into hundreds as you grind to reach the level cap by completing Nightfall strikes and the all-important raid. But once you beat said raid—or bang your forehead bloody trying to organize six dedicated players at the right level and give up—there’s only the same old competitive multiplayer content to fall back on.

Time doesn’t heal all wounds

This was also the case in the first Destiny, which was developed in what already feels like a very different era. The first game’s reveal trailer referenced a product players would spend 50 to 100 hours with, not something they’d make into their years-long hobby. In the years since that launch, though, Bungie has been able to see exactly how players now obsess over shooters like Destiny—and Overwatch, Rainbow Six: Siege, Battlegrounds, etc.—often to the exclusion of other games entirely.

If anything, Destiny 2 is now extremely welcoming to new, more casual players, throwing out multiple pieces of exotic gear—one of Destiny’s biggest endgame draws—just for playing part of the main story. Other loot from mid-game activities, like Public Events, flows freely, up to a point. But reaching raid readiness is gated behind “Powerful Gear,” which can only be earned in limited quantities once a week.

Imagine this tunnel going on forever and you have some idea of what players expect from the <em>Destiny 2</em> endgame.
Enlarge / Imagine this tunnel going on forever and you have some idea of what players expect from the Destiny 2 endgame.

It’s a smooth ride for anyone who picks up Destiny 2, saves the solar system, and walks away satisfied with their $60 purchase. Anyone who plays the game further is met with the same miserly grind that plagued Destiny in its earliest days and inspired meme-able shortcuts like the Loot Cave. The ramp structure of Destiny—from story, to strikes, to Nightfalls, to the raid—is still there in the sequel. It’s just bisected into two camps with what’s now a very sudden wall in between.

It’d be one thing if you saw that steep climb coming. You could prepare for it or bow out and tell yourself you’ll leave the endgame to the truly dedicated. But by emulating so much of the previous game, Destiny 2 doesn’t really communicate where that line is drawn—to new or returning players.

It’s one of a few quality-of-life issues that are unique to the game as a sequel. Players who stuck with the first game accrued years of habits, baggage, and expectations that don’t map one-to-one on this sequel. A further lack of communication on Bungie’s part has left those expectations created to fester and finally, at the end of 2017, to clash with the reality of Destiny 2.

Communication blackout

Take the Powerful Gear, for example. Grinding it out is vital to reaching the raid. Yet you can actually artificially limit the juiced-up equipment by unlocking it too early—before reaching the soft level cap that makes Powerful Gear drop with worthwhile stats. More than that, the game never actually hints that there is a soft, hidden level cap or that Powerful Gear is the only way to breach it. So early adopters (and anyone that doesn’t know to look up guides online) usually start the late-game grind from a deficit, with less-powerful Powerful Gear.

That’s an old complaint at this point, but it illustrates how Destiny 2 communicates one thing—that you should just keep on playing—and facilitates another, that there’s a hard and fast beginning, middle, and end to things.

This firefight would be much more fun if my weapons had higher numbers associated with them.
Enlarge / This firefight would be much more fun if my weapons had higher numbers associated with them.

Then there’s the new raid itself, the Leviathan raid, which caps off Destiny 2. Pummeling the mission’s boss, Emperor Calus, reveals that it’s (spoiler warning) not the battleship’s 20-foot hedonist ruler at all. It’s just a gold-plated life model decoy. The real emperor is somewhere else, watching you fight his stand-in for sheer amusement. When you finally beat the boss, it’s revealed that the Leviathan is filled with an endless supply of such duplicates. So Destiny 2 gives a canonical explanation for why you can go back and kill the same alien multiple times—as many determined players no doubt will.

It’s a fun little reveal, but its impact hinges on the idea that raids are meant to be repeated. But raids are such a chore to organize, even with the “guided games” feature that lets veterans shepherd newbies around, that the odds of convincing anyone but true-blue Destiny zealots to repeat the process is laughable. And so the vicious cycle of the game saying one thing and accommodating another continues.

Moving forward or falling back

The original Destiny eventually made great strides toward balancing rewards for repetition and accessibility, leaning toward more excuses to land addictive headshots and pull off slow, powerful locomotion across the solar system. The loot became generous enough to make something like shooting into a cave for hours on end seem unnecessary. Over-the-top cosmetics in the form of “ornaments” and standout, strike-specific loot gave tangible rewards for the intangible thrill of just playing.

Destiny 2 is getting there, too. A free update and the game’s first expansion have brought back armor ornaments and wacky Ghost shells (one of the only cosmetics you get to regularly see in first person). And there are more excuses to addict ourselves, like weapons with achievement-based upgrades, which should be up around the same time as this article.

But that in and of itself communicates one final problem with Destiny 2. The game is starting from square one; with many of the old problems wearing a different skin. It took Bungie’s last loot shooter multiple years and expansions to feel like more than a hollow package with superb shooting and little else. If Destiny 2 is already working from a deficit of content and quality-of-life problems, even after a clean break from the first game, endgame players might need to find what the game doesn’t organically offer: a place to stop.

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