Destiny 2 is at a crossroads. The general state of the game, combined with several shady practices and the poorly handled communication thereof, have conspired such that it feels like the loyalty of a large chunk of its player base is hanging by a thread.
Last week, after PCGamesN and others covered reports from the community that Destiny 2 was throttling XP rewards, artificially slowing players’ progress toward loot boxes, Bungie admitted that such a system existed. This was never explained to players, or linked to gameplay - it was not like an RPG limiting your XP gains because you are in Zombie status, or something. This is a game taking the rewards it promised players, and slashing them behind their backs.
I wrote last year about games’ systemic fairness being part of their appeal. For the most part, you know what rewards to expect for the effort you put in. That’s justice. People are so angry about Destiny 2’s latest controversy because it feels like theft.
Bungie did not help matters with their response. They deactivated the system, yes, but they then doubled the XP required to gain a loot box. That little nugget was left out of the news update accompanying the supposed fix, so the community had to do more testing to figure it out, and any goodwill Bungie had earned was soon soured by yet another nasty surprise. I understand that it was Thanksgiving in the US at the end of last week, but would another paragraph in the update, explaining why Bungie felt it necessary to double the XP cap, really have been so hard to add?
There’s a recurring sentiment on Reddit that the lack of transparency is the real problem. Yes, some people will always want everything for free, but I’ve seen plenty of upvoted comments saying they don’t mind a bit of a grind for a loot box. The issue is that we were led to expect rewards at a certain rate, only to discover through testing and frustration that the rate is much harsher, and that’s not fair.
It reminds me of Destiny 2’s first scandal, when an otherwise smooth launch was rocked by the discovery that shaders would be single-use. Bungie could have softened the blow by announcing it ahead of time, ideally with an explanation. Instead, they left the community to discover it by watching early streams. Then as now, it came as an unpleasant shock.
And now is the worst possible time to risk the community’s ire; Reddit’s list of complaints about Destiny 2 has been steadily growing since launch, and they do not need another. Both Exotic and Legendary loot feels less exciting than the original, with the joyous reaction videos of finally getting a Gjallarhorn sacrificed at the altar of balance. The Crucible is a more competitive but less exuberant place - there are fewer sniping montages and triumphant solo plays, and instead a focus on team-shooting the occasional idiot who has run off by themselves before cruising to a win through man advantage. With all endgame activities contributing equally to the power grind and no memorable perks on raid gear, even in Prestige mode, incentives to repeat the raid have been hugely weakened, leaving hardcore players with little to do.
These frustrations have been simmering long enough for Bungie to hear them and promise action. They say that the Curse of Osiris DLC will add several new activities, including Heroic strikes and a ‘raid lair’ to extend the endgame. At TwitchCon 2017, they discussed some promising changes to the game economy and live events. XP throttling is a crisis that Bungie did not need on top of all this, but it is one of their own making.
The developers are taking it seriously enough that they have canceled (or perhaps postponed) the last Curse of Osiris livestream so game director Luke Smith and project lead Mark Noseworthy can give “their assessment of Destiny all up,” and “how we’re reacting to your feedback with some game updates that will arrive in the next few weeks.”
But we’ve been here before. A single update is a plaster on the leaking wound that is Bungie’s chronic inability to explain things. I hope we will also get some assurance that they will be more vocal in the future as a matter of course. In particular, they need to just tell us if they are fiddling around under the hood, rather than leaving us to learn by pressing the pedals that our car is now half as fast.
In the last 24 hours, community manager David ‘DeeJ’ Dague has been very chatty on Twitter; hopefully that is a sign of things to come rather than a temporary crisis management mode. Destiny 2 is still very popular, with hundreds of thousands still playing daily, but a large chunk of the game’s hardcore players are at stake here. Bungie had better do a hell of a job with that update today and with Curse of Osiris when it lands next week. It feels like a make-or-break moment for many Destiny 2 players.
That includes myself. I have actually felt this way about the DLC for a while, but for different reasons. The awfulness of the original Destiny’s story is the stuff of memes, but its deeper lore is original and challenging, and I had hoped that Destiny 2’s campaign would bring that to the fore. What we got was at least coherent - it had that over its predecessor - but it was hokey, simplistic, and cliched. It felt like a way to ease new players into the universe, most notably us on PC, and I accept this was an important overture to make. But now that it has been made, I see no excuse not to dive into the more interesting stuff, especially because Osiris is at the heart of so much of it. If Bungie simplify his character and the questions he asks of the Speaker’s orthodoxy, it makes it even harder to believe that they will ever make the most of their own universe’s potential.
That would be a tragic shame, as Destiny still holds a rare promise. How many other sci-fi shooters of its budget and ambition can you name? It could be great. I want it to be great. But its struggle to get there is becoming exhausting.