Since Star Wars fever is currently sweeping the world, I find myself thinking back to 1999 when, after a 16-year wait, fans were finally being treated to a new episode in the saga, one written and directed by George Lucas himself, no less!
Back then we weren’t treated to worldwide release dates as we are today, and rather than wait a few months to see this landmark moving picture event, I booked tickets at the Ziegfeld movie theatre in New York and flew across the Atlantic with some friends to see Episode I as soon as possible.
So overwhelming was our excitement, that it wasn’t until we saw the film for a second time on that trip that we started to question whether it was actually any good. By the time I attended the UK premiere in Leicester Square, I’d already seen it three times and was, to be brutally honest, pretty disenchanted with the franchise and where Lucas had taken it. I mention my Star Wars experience because my recent Destiny 2 experience feels very similar.
If you read my initial Destiny 2 review you’ll already know that I spent a ridiculous number of hours, nay, days playing Destiny, and was fully expecting Destiny 2 to take over my life in a similar fashion. But while my initial Destiny 2 experience was very positive, that veneer started to wear thin after a while.
One of the biggest criticisms of Destiny was a complete lack of a cohesive story, and consequently an engaging campaign mode. Bungie set out to address that criticism with Destiny 2, and to be fair, it pretty much knocked it out of the park! The campaign is both compelling and ultimately enjoyable, while the deeper insight into the Vanguard and their relationships with each other was exactly the kind of storytelling fans had been hoping for.
However, a game like Destiny 2 doesn’t end when you complete the campaign, it essentially begins. This is supposed to be a game that keeps players coming back, enticing them with ever greater rewards for completing ever more difficult challenges. This is meant to be a game where players can rise to those challenges in the hope that maybe, just maybe, they’ll get that mythical gun they’ve been after, or that piece of armour with the ability to turn the tide of the next big battle. Unfortunately, Destiny 2 is not that game.
You see, in an attempt to make Destiny 2 more accessible to a wider player base, Bungie has essentially alienated its core fans. To go back to the Star Wars comparison, it’s a bit like filling a movie with teddy bears to attract a new audience, while actually just succeeding in disappointing your existing one.
That desire to make Destiny 2 more accessible has basically undermined its foundation, leaving only a solid first-person shooter that those new players will probably move on from once they’ve completed the campaign and played around with a few strikes. The fundamental changes that Bungie has made to progression and loot have unquestionably destroyed what made players like myself put in the kind of time we did in the first game.
While Destiny could be played in isolation, it was a game designed for collaboration. The complexity of the strikes and ultimately the raids, meant that players had to learn to work as a team in order to beat the toughest challenges. And as such, the very best rewards were only available from the toughest challenges.
Back in Destiny’s heyday, the only way to reach the highest character level was to complete the raid on hard mode, and hope that the right gear would drop. This forced players to attempt the toughest challenges, to put the time in and increase their skill levels until running the raid was something fun that you did with your friends.
This gameplay essentially created the social aspect of Destiny, whereby players, myself included, would continue to run the hardest challenges even after hitting the top level, just to help other players get the loot they needed. That’s what Destiny was about – community.
With Destiny 2, however, there was never really any incentive to play the toughest challenges, and absolutely no incentive to play the hard version of the raid, since the exact same gear would drop as in the standard version. But why play the raid at all, when you can get weapons just as powerful from playing standard weekly challenges by yourself?
Worse still, even if you did have your heart set on a raid specific weapon, you still didn’t need to set foot in the raid itself to get it. Thanks to the clan reward system that Bungie implemented in Destiny 2, as long as someone in your clan completed the raid each week, you’d get a loot drop of raid specific gear, too!
But the ease by which you can acquire powerful gear isn’t my biggest problem with Destiny 2, it’s that the overall power of that gear is really the only thing that matters. One of the things that kept me coming back to Destiny was the need to get my paws on certain weapons, but not just the weapons themselves; specific weapons with the right perks.
In Destiny the right perks could be the difference between an average gun, or one of the best weapons in the game. The perks meant something, they could define a weapon, with players constantly on the lookout for ‘God roll’ guns – weapons with what was largely accepted as the best possible perk combination.
In Destiny 2, though, a gun is a gun, and there are no versions or rolls, God or otherwise. Basically, once you have a gun, every single other player that also has it, has exactly the same version that you do. There are no random perks anymore, and therefore no reason to keep playing the same challenges in a hope to get the perfect version of a great gun.
And then there are the perks themselves. In Destiny landing a weapon or armour was just the beginning, you then had to farm materials in order to upgrade it and unlock those perks; in Destiny 2 everything’s unlocked as soon as the item drops. Not that it really matters, since most of the perks are now so weak, that they simply don’t matter like they did before.
Yes, Destiny also had amazing weapons with fixed perks, most notably in the very first raid, the Vault of Glass. I couldn’t even begin to count the number of times I ran Vault of Glass in my quest to land Fatebringer, Vision of Confluence and Vex Mythoclast; and even when I had them all, I continued to run it in an effort to help others nab theirs.
Then there’s the actual weapon balancing, which saw both primary and secondary weapon slots made the same, just with the secondary options boasting elemental damage. And while that in itself wasn’t a massive issue, lumping shotguns and sniper rifles in with rocket launchers and swords meant that the former two are hardly ever used in PvE.
Yes, that decision to change the way the weapons are segmented has resulted in a more balanced PvP experience, but why does one have to affect the other? Why not have different load out options for PvP and PvE? Would it really be that hard?
And while PvP is undoubtedly better balanced in Destiny 2, the fact that every single match type is 4v4, and that you can’t choose which type of game you’d like to play, conspire to make the experience far less enjoyable than it should be. You could argue that it forces players to try new modes rather than sticking with the ones they like, but that didn’t stop me trying every PvP mode in Call Of Duty WWII, even though I could choose the mode I wanted to play.
But the biggest let down in PvP is Iron Banner, once seen as the pinnacle of Destiny’s Crucible combat. It’s partly disappointing because of the limited 4v4 dynamic, but the biggest issue is that there’s no real incentive to play it. You’re not going to get any gear that’s really worth having, so what’s the point of putting in all that time to reach the upper echelons when Banner rolls around?
It’s slightly encouraging that Bungie does seem to be taking steps to address some of these issues, but that’s hardly surprising given the unprecedented community backlash that the developer has suffered over the past couple of months.
The introduction of Masterwork weapons gives players something new, and ultimately different to shoot for, with the chances of Masterwork drops rising when you complete the more difficult challenges in the game, like raids and Nightfall strikes. But this still feels like a band aid, rather than a cure; as if Bungie is aware that pinning its hopes on Ewoks instead of Wookies was a mistake, but it’s not quite sure how to turn things around.
I can’t help but wonder if the problem with Destiny as an entity is one of identity. Bungie set out to create a hybrid FPS/MMO but wasn’t completely committed to either. Destiny was often criticised for a lack of new endgame content, as well as not having a good enough single player campaign. With Destiny 2 Bungie has addressed the latter, while making the former a bigger issue than it has ever been.
Unlike the most successful MMOs, Destiny and subsequently, Destiny 2, do not require subscriptions in order to play. Instead they rely on initial purchase price, and the cost of regular DLC updates. It’s therefore in Bungie and Activision’s best interest to attract as many initial buyers as possible, by making the game accessible to as many players as possible. Unfortunately, a lot of those players aren’t the ones who will continue pushing once the campaign is done and the story is finished, and they’re certainly not going to play through three times to level up each of the character classes, or go on to develop online relationships and build teams to tackle the toughest parts of the game.
I’m not for a minute suggesting that Destiny should follow the likes of World Of Warcraft down the monthly subscription road, but a decision clearly needs to be made by both Bungie and Activision – is Destiny 2 aimed at the committed community that made the original game what it was, or is it a dumbed down, story driven FPS designed to attract casual gamers that will move on to the next big game when it launches? It’s Ewoks or Wookies, Bungie, you can’t have both…