For the past few months, hardcore Destiny players have felt a lingering sense of dissatisfaction with the game they love. Partly triggered by a drought of new content and partly by poor communication from developer Bungie, this feeling followed the game through the holidays and into the new year. Call it the Destiny malaise.
Since September's terrific expansionThe Taken King, Bungie has released no new strikes, raids, or explorable areas for their popular shooter. The game hasn't remained completely static, but new content like October's Festival of the Lost and December's Sparrow Racing League was both ephemeral and insubstantial compared with the best stuff Destiny has to offer.
Furthermore, Bungie hasn't offered players any sort of roadmap for what's coming next. During Destiny's first year, Bungie made their plans clear, detailing a strict DLC plan that laid out what they'd deliver and when they'd deliver it.
This time around, players don't know what the future looks like. Anyone who's dedicated hundreds of hours to the game has done so operating on the assumption that Destiny would be a thriving, regularly expanding universe, so it's easy to see why Destiny's hardcore community has grown frustrated.
It's not so much a lack of new content — The Taken King didn't launch that long ago — as it is a lack of certainty about what to expect next, and when.
It may help clear things up for players to know this: One of the reasons Bungie has no roadmap is that they may not know exactly what's coming down the road. Plans for Destiny's future are constantly in flux. As an example, just last week higher-ups at Bungie delayed "Destiny 2" out of this September, according to people familiar with goings-on at the studio.
Although Bungie has not yet announced Destiny 2 — which could be called something else to avoid confusion — it was essentially public information that they'd planned to release a new iteration of the game this fall, thanks to a contract leaked in 2012 that revealed the scope of their "ten-year plan" for Destiny.
For a long time, Bungie had a schedule of annualized releases that would swap between "full" games ("Destiny Game 1, Destiny Game 2") and hefty expansions ("Comet 1, Comet 2"). As of last week, that appears to have changed. (Bungie declined to comment.)
But with Destiny, nothing is ever simple. Based on conversations I've had over the past few months with people familiar with Bungie, it seems that plans for the game's future are constantly shifting. At one point, word was that the microtransactions added in October would be cosmetic-only, but soon enough the studio quietly started selling level boosters as well.
Bungie's leadership has also vacillated on what content will launch this year and what they will save for Destiny 2, as well as whether near-future content will be free or paid. Even within the studio, people may not be aware of every decision that leadership makes; from what I hear, as of yesterday not everyone at Bungie even knew about the Destiny 2 delay.
Drastic directional shifts are not unusual in game development, and they have become something of a tradition at Bungie. As we've reported, Destiny saw a massive reboot in the winter of 2013, when studio leadership rebooted the story and overhauled everything they'd built.
Once the original game launched and Bungie started absorbing feedback from fans and critics, they quickly rebooted The Dark Below, saying bye-bye to previously recorded lines from Peter Dinklage, among other things. The House of Wolves story was also changed quite a bit before that DLC launched, and The Taken King was rescoped several times as Bungie removed sections like Pyramidion, an area on Mars that will contain a new strike and raid. (We may see that in Destiny 2.)
These regularly shifting plans have led to what is arguably the biggest issue Destiny has today: Fans often feel stymied by Bungie's lack of communication, but Bungie doesn't want to talk about the future because they don't know exactly what it will look like.
Fans are hungry for even the vaguest hint about new content, but Bungie's leadership doesn't want to hint at anything unless they're sure they will actually be able to deliver it. It's a tough situation for everyone, exacerbated by Bungie's inefficient designer tools, Activision's revenue demands, a high-pressure schedule, and a community constantly ravenous for the next big thing.
So what will we actually see in Destiny through 2016? Last night Bungie announced a Valentine's Day event, and they have been teasing a bigger content drop that will hit in a few months. After that, things get hazy.
One source told me that Bungie has asked the live team — a small group of developers at the studio who regularly come up with these events and other updates for Destiny — to build several new DLC packs over the next year to make up for Destiny 2's delay. Yet it seems likely those plans will change, too; the live team is small, and that sort of schedule seems as unsustainable as what Bungie tried during Destiny's first year, which was emotionally and physically exhausting for many on the development team.
With Destiny 2 pushed further out on the horizon, there are other things Bungie could do to try to thwart the ongoing Destiny malaise. They could release revamped versions of the year-one raids, Vault of Glass and Crota's End, which today sit gathering digital dust as their rewards and encounters have been made obsolete by the increased year-two level cap.
Bungie could also revisit some of the new ideas they cut from The Taken King, like "Dares of the Nine," an activity they experimented with last year that one source compared to Halo's custom games. In these Dares, players would have a time limit to complete specific tasks — defending territories on Mars; killing aliens with relics on Venus — for rewards from the eponymous Nine, the group behind Destiny's enigmatic Xur.
That's all speculation, though; I don't know what else they will wind up doing in 2016, and from the sound of it, Bungie isn't sure either. Bungie may have set unreasonable player expectations with their year-one schedule, which delivered a major new DLC pack every few months; this year, that ain't happening.
More communication with fans would help, but Bungie has never been known for transparency, even among their own employees. (A minor controversy erupted yesterday after Bungie admitted to changing their behind-the-scenes PVP matchmaking algorithms, which designer Derek Carroll had denied in December; last night, Caroll apologised and said the changes were made without his knowledge.)
What's become clear is that we Destiny players should temper our expectations. While it's easy — and justifiable! — to complain about Bungie's often woeful communication, much of their silence is doubtless due to the legal complications of working with a publicly traded publisher like Activision as well as their own uncertainty surrounding the game in 2016. The Destiny malaise may linger a while longer.