Destiny 2's Struggle To Please Both Casual And Hardcore Players

Suraya Hawthorne, patron saint of getting good gear without actually doing anything. Long may she reign.

I'm playing a lot less Destiny 2 than I was a week ago. I sense I'm not alone in that. That's because despite — and occasionally because of — all the ways Destiny 2 has improved upon its predecessor, the game is struggling to balance between people who wish they could play it forever and those who worry they can't keep up.

Destiny 2 is technically an endless game, which raises the question of how much one is "supposed" to play it. Just a few hours a week?

Every evening from sundown until bed? Can this game actually support people who want to play it for dozens of hours each week?

And if you have a life, kids, or other obligations, will you forever feel like you're missing out?


After installing Destiny 2, you can play through the story in a dozen or so hours, and play through all the co-op strikes and the raid in about the same, provided you're teamed with people who know what they're doing. You can spend a few more hours seeing most of what the PvP part of the game has to offer.

After those 30 or so hours, you enter "endgame," which is where you begin to repeat activities with the goal of earning extra-rare loot and filling up your stockpile of legendary-tier guns and exotic-tier items.

Counter to what the name suggests, "endgame" does not actually end. You play strikes again and again. You explore the patrol zones looking for hidden areas.

You spend some evenings in the competitive Crucible. The hours stack up but there's always some reason, however faint, to come back.

Endgame is typically where the wheels start to come off of a loot-centric game like Destiny, as evidenced by similar "D" games like Diablo III, The Division, and the first Destiny.

All three of those games initially had problems giving dedicated players something to do after a certain point, and all three improved their endgame significantly with post-release patches and updates. Destiny 2's endgame troubles are actually an inversion of the problems that plagued the first game at launch: it's really easy to earn a ton of good loot, and your rewards are much more consistent. The game's increased generosity means that after a certain point, players are running out of rewards to chase.

It's understandable that big-budget games like the ones listed above are stronger in their frontgame and fuzzier in the back end.

The greatest percentage of players will see all the stuff in the first few hours, but a dwindling number will even see much of the endgame.

According to my PS4 trophies, 80.9% of Destiny 2 players have reached level 20, and 92.2% have completed at least one heroic public event. It should be possible to achieve both of those with almost no additional effort just by playing through the story campaign.

Compare those numbers with the hardest-core endgame activities: 11% have completed the raid, and only 4% have completed a "prestige" Nightfall strike.

Game developers like Bungie are constantly making trade-offs when deciding what to focus on as they scramble to ship a game, and it makes sense that they'd focus on polishing the stuff that 80% of players will see before focusing on keeping the hardest-core 11% happy.


Three weeks into Destiny 2, I've mostly run out of things to do. The newly functional WastedOnDestiny.com tells me I've put 84 hours into Destiny 2 since it came out on the 6th, though that number tells an incomplete story.

I binged the game for the first couple of weeks as I wrote my review, and since then my playtime has plummeted. I've beaten the raid and don't plan to do it again. I don't want to make any secondary "alt" characters, though that might change when I switch over to the PC version in a month.

I've nabbed pretty much every exotic gun I could want, and have a lot of the Trials- and raid-specific gear. My time with Destiny 2 has shrunk to a few hours a week: some yuks with my clanmates, a Nightfall, maybe some evening PvP in the Crucible.

Many of Destiny 2's most dedicated players share my sense that there isn't much left to do. All last week, the popular Destiny subreddit was lousy with posts from players venting about the lack of endgame content, the reduced grind from the first game (even while acknowledging how perverse a thing that was to complain about), the unsatisfactory rewards for many in-game activities, and the overall sense that once you've reached a certain point in Destiny 2, there's little reason to keep playing.

That vibe has mellowed in recent days thanks largely to the launch of this week's Faction Rally event, which added a few new incentives for regular activities and opened up a new pool of gear to earn. But Faction Rally is a stopgap, and endgame ennui is likely to continue.

Discontent among the hardcore fanbase reached a peak last weekend as popular Destiny YouTuber (and illustrious Kotaku Splitscreen guest) Stefan "Datto" Jonke released a video sharing his own thoughts on the state of Destiny 2's endgame.

After breaking down some things Bungie has removed from the sequel — gear stats, random gun perks, grimoire score — and noting how little there seemed to be for hardcore players like him to do, he summed up his analysis: "The endgame experience will always be a struggle to the dedicated players of Destiny, as Bungie moves more and more towards a pure FPS game instead of an FPS/RPG hybrid. As long as Bungie's philosophies on how they make content — and for who — stays the same, the more likely it is that the endgame experience that most hardcore players are looking for will never come to fruition."

When Datto is talking about who Bungie is making Destiny 2 for, he's suggesting that the game's developers are focused on the 80% of people who play up to level 20, not the hardcore 3.5% who keep playing until they finish a prestige Nightfall.

When he talks about a shift away from "RPG" and toward "FPS," he means that Destiny has diminished the role of complicated MMO-style gear and focused more on giving everyone the same stuff. No more random gear perks, no more chasing armour with slightly higher Intellect or Discipline stats.

The sequel is more Halo, less World of Warcraft. He's probably right about both things, though my guess is that the people making Destiny 2 eventually want everyone to be happy with the game, from the most casual weekender to the hardest-core no-lifer.


A lot of the current discussion of Destiny's endgame revolves around the notion of grind, which itself raises the question of what it means for a video game activity to be "worth" doing.

In his video, Datto defines grind as not the story or the sidequests, but "the thing that you do on a day-to-day basis. The thing that pushes a number up higher or moves a bar across a screen.

Where you're just looking to log on and make some progress towards ... anything." I like that definition, because it captures the essence of grind: it's fundamentally empty, but somehow still satisfying.

Destiny 1 was full of grind, particularly during its first year. It was happy to blatantly waste our time, asking us to spend hours of our lives levelling up guns, grinding materials to level up guns, re-levelling our exotics, running strikes endlessly in search of strike-specific loot, and chasing "white whale" versions of guns with the best possible perks.

My beloved year-one Hopscotch Pilgrim. I don't even want to think about how much time I spent chasing this gun, then chasing the perfect roll once I got it.

That grind was gradually reduced over the game's lifespan, and by late 2016, most of the things we wasted hours doing in 2014 were almost entirely optional.

The sequel has been further de-grindified, a shift that not only feels designed to appeal to the broadest percentage of gamers, but also one that removes a bunch of exploitative garbage that players arguably never should have gotten used to in the first place.


Even among those at whom the sequel has ostensibly been targeted, there are players who find that Destiny 2 is still too much of a hardcore time-sink. About a week ago, Kotaku UK editor Keza MacDonald wrote an article about how, as a new mum, she felt like Destiny 2 was keeping her at arm's length. "You have to give so much of your life to games like this," she wrote.

Games like Destiny "are not there to fill odd moments, but EVERY moment." The piece was echoed this week at Waypoint by my former Kotaku colleague Patrick Klepek, also a new parent, who voiced a similar opinion.

With all the other games he has to play, he said, there's no room for Destiny. Both articles echoed a 2014 Wired article by now-Kotaku features editor Chris Kohler, who had the first game pegged early on as something he just wouldn't be able to fit into his life.

"What if Destiny is successful to the point that this is what big triple-A console games become?" he asked, presciently. "Does that just cut me out entirely? You can't pause life, but this ain't life."

For a similar perspective on Destiny 2 from someone who isn't affiliated with Kotaku, I got in touch with Gareth Weaver, a "dadmin" administrator for Dads of Destiny, an online community of parents (not just dads, Weaver made sure to remind me) who play Destiny together.

With tens of thousands of members, they were the subject of a Kotaku UK feature last year and even get namechecked in-game by a character in Destiny 2.

"Generally the changes have been well received amongst our players," Weaver told me over email. "There are pockets that would like to see more grind returned to the game, sure, but as parents we do understand that, like our kids, not every player is the same."

"We don't all have the same amount of free time, and we do have to share that time with friends and family. Everyone should be able to raid if they want to, and the changes [Bungie has made] definitely support us in meeting that challenge."

For players like Weaver, something like Destiny 2's refurbished clan system would mean that even if he didn't have time to raid that week, he would still feel invested in his clanmates' successes. If they beat the raid, he'd still get loot from it just by virtue of being in the same clan. The higher rank they're able to collectively reach, the better for everyone.

Those sorts of improvements, coupled with the overall increase in the game's generosity, are a boon to players who don't always have a ton of time.

"I do think the game has lost something as a result though," he continued. "I remember watching the YouTube videos of players losing their minds when certain items dropped, or pure joy in your headset as that one thing your fireteam mate has played hours for finally drops."

But while Weaver said he hoped some grind would be put back in the game, "it's difficult to know what exactly that could look like."

He pointed to the dead ghosts you could collect in the first game as a fun diversion that could probably return in some fashion.


I get where everyone's coming from on this one. Part of me does perversely miss the endless grind of the first game, even while I mostly recognise Bungie's streamlining as an improvement.

I wish there were better rewards waiting at the end of my fifth time through a familiar strike, but even without kids, I have enough real-life obligations tugging at my attention that I'm perfectly fine with letting go of Destiny for a while.

As someone who occasionally lapsed into playing the first game with an unhealthy compulsion, it's actually a relief.

Most of the time-wasting grind Bungie cut from the first game made the second one better. I certainly wouldn't put it past them to add other, better systems to the game in the future.

Leaderboards and ranked multiplayer are time-honored ways of giving dedicated players new goals to achieve, and seem like they'd work well in Destiny.

Diablo III's paragon levels and huge variety of difficulty options are another good couple of options. Given that the first Destiny already had optional "Heroic" difficulty modifiers for a lot of events, I'd be surprised if the sequel didn't eventually get something similar.

For the most hardcore players, there's hope that there'll be more interesting stuff to do.

Game director Luke Smith already hinted at one improvement for the endgame in an interview with Mashable at E3 earlier this year. "How can my second, third, and tenth Better Devils hand cannon be interesting?" he asked, rhetorically. "That's a question we should be asking and answering as quickly as we can."

Smith explained that the solutions they'd come up with may not make it into the game at launch, but that "we have some ideas that we're pretty excited about."

For busier players who might not have time to see the endgame in the first place, well, there's many months for them to just relax and play. As Bungie adds more for dedicated endgame-grinders to pursue, they will doubtless also smooth out the experience for newcomers.

As everyone's power level rises and their familiarity with the game increases, activities that currently require hours of hard work to complete will become routine. The threshold for entry on today's toughest activities will eventually lower to allow more people in.

Any massive mainstream game like Destiny 2 will have trouble pleasing such a wide range of players, and no game can please everyone. Whatever its failings at the extreme ends of the spectrum, Destiny 2 still feels like a fresh start, designed to be built upon with the benefits of the lessons learned from the first game.

I'm optimistic about where things will go from here. If the last three years with Destiny taught us anything, it's that it's better to build on a sturdy foundation than to try to fix a busted one.


Comments

    I really love the game but there are a few misteps and sadly most of them all come down to dumbing the game down to casuals. Which is normally not a bad thing, I am all for having the masses interested but here those choices have destroyed much about what made Destiny great. Having so many of these easy systems are fine, but where are the harder things. Like long weekly queekly pvp quests. Long Quests like Thorn etc.

    Lost sectors arent lost. Heroic events arent heroic. Challenges arent Challenging. Exotics dont feel exotic, or rare. Legendary weapons dont feel legendary.

    There are so many ways to enjoy Destiny now. I seriously havent got the time to do all I want in the day. There is so much loot to be had, but... and its a huge BUT. Its all the same. When I get a purple engram now, after just too weeks, is meh. The chances of it being original is NIL.The lack of random rolls on armour and weapons is ridiculous on so many levels, except on pvp balance, in which it makes sense (but personally that seems like trying to solve a problem with a sledghammer).

    I didnt keep playing Destiny 1 to get a god roll weapon of my choice, but it was a carrot to keep going, just knowing that maybe, there was a chance.I could get a weapon that I personally thought was MY god roll. It keep me playing. If after two weeks I havent seen an origin weapon, why am I going to be playing this weekly for months?

    I'm loving that I'm burning through the content quickly. Destiny makes for some chill shooting and I'm not feeling anything like having to 'put in work' like the first game. I'm looking forward to being done with the vanilla content (getting close) and moving on the ridiculous choices of quality games on offer in 2017.

    This is exactly what I was afraid of with the game, and why I held off grabbing it while everyone was talking about it in glowing terms. I suspected it wouldn't last, the same way the first game petered out, and here we are.

      the first game didnt peter out. like all games in a crowded market place it had constant lulls but it never petered out, even in those last months it was still crazy busy.

      Articles like they are trying to push a narrative, which while I agree in part, it doesnt dismiss all those glowing things you read about. The game can be both, at the same time. Gamers need to stop trying to expect certain games to be flawless. Always online games like this always adapt and change with the mood of its players. Their world and gameplay will be constantly changing and going between winning and losing, satisfying some, while others not. Then they change again.

      I was a little concerned when all the glowing reviews came out... every one of them came with the caveat of either "I've only played partway through the campaign" or the more common "I played a fair bit of the original but never came back for the DLCs". 90% of the things reviews are praising about D2 were added to D1 with the Taken King expansion, which had a coherent story, a great selection of post-game quests that opened up after the campaign, and three hidden exotics that were slowly uncovered over the 6 weeks following launch. People who are coming from post-Age of Triumph D1 are wondering where their endgame is - we had four raids to choose from, weekly nightfalls, and weekly strike playlists with modifiers - all of which could provide end-game gear, and the last of which could be replayed ad nauseum with no penalty. Not to mention an item that let you turn any activity into a potential exotic item farm.

      In D2 at present, if you're a 265+ PvE player who can't get a raid group, you'll run out of progression paths in about 2-3 hours per character each week. Which is really frustrating, because there's a bunch of neat content that becomes completely irrelevant once you pass 265.

      I fully expect the endgame to be fleshed out in the coming weeks/months - D2's done its job thus far of getting people to reconsider playing Destiny after what happened with D1, now they've just got to keep people interested.

      I think you're missing out.
      The fun and time spent in the game getting up to where it plateaus easily exceeds that money investment in the game.
      Even though I'm pretty bored of it now I easily got my moneys worth and had fun the whole way up until that endgame. I haven't got close to that money to time/fun ratio in awhile until now.

    I never played D1, but I’m enjoying D2. I’ve mined a lot of novelty out of it (have characters of all the classes and a range of exotics) but I still get a blast from the cooperative nature of the public events. I’m yet to complete the raid so there is something to look forward to.

    Since completing the story and adventures, I’ve been playing it as a “2-3 hours every couple of days” game, rather than hours at a time every day, so that might be prolonging my interest.

      You'll dig the raid if you like the coop nature of activities like public events. Completing a raid (Oryx in D1 was my first raid) was such an awesome feeling, probably one of the best gaming experiences I've had.

        Aww man, now I just wanna leave work immediately and go home and do the raid! Something to look forward to.

          Haha, oh crap, hopefully I didn't hype it up too much... your mileage may vary! There, that's better.

    The sequel is more Halo, less World of Warcraft.
    Thats a thing Bungie has to be careful of... Activision owns them and moved them to Battle.net. There is maybe a dozen board decision away fron having Bungie restructured into an engine developement team and giving design production to Blizzard... who has over a decades experience with storytelling, player balance, boss mechanics, pvp, pve, hardcore, casualol.

    I'm only a week into D2, but really happy with the balance they've found. I burnt out of D1 really early - it felt like if I wasn't sinking 20 hours a week into grinding, I'd fall behind. Now I feel like I can stay on top of the high-level gear by popping in for a couple of hours once a week. Having time to play other games makes me much more relaxed about the time commitment to Destiny!

      This is the plus side of limiting power increases to the milestones. It has benefits. The downside is that if you do manage to find some time to play a little more, or if you do want to sink a few more hours in than usual, then you won't get much in terms of 'power levelling' items out of the other events and activities.

    I'm enjoying it. The only issue for me is that once you do your weekly milestones, there is no way to increase power. So right now I'm stuck until the reset (tonight) and then I'll burn through those milestones, increase my power, and that's it, done for the week, because vendor gear is capped and engrams are capped for any activities outside of milestones.

    It's not a bad thing, but it feels a little weird. I guess they figured most people would stagger their weekly milestones across the week, which is fair.

    Regardless, getting 50+ hours out of a game that cost $70-ish is extremely good value in my book, there aren't many other forms of entertainment out there that can match that sort of return on investment.

    Bungie gets a lot of flack for messing up here and there, but for me, the game is still worth the money if you're looking at bang for buck. I've paid the same for games that I've finished in 6 hours and traded, or games that I've tried and disliked and never returned to.

    I was super hyped with the game at launch but after beating the raid I've just lost all interest. It just feels too much like D1 that after 600 hours of play D2 just isnt fresh enough

    Coming from D1's endgame, I'm finding it surprisingly uninvolved. Do nightfalls, finish clan XP and flashpoints, then spend the rest of the week trying to get 6 people to agree on a time they can set aside to raid. Which seems to be harder than ever because people have less other reasons to log on each night, because everything's already done for the week.

    As a dad, I had a love/hate relationship with D1. I loved pretty much everything about it but resented the time it demanded.

    Activision, back at it with dumbing down games for casuals and trying to convert every property it owns into an esport.....

    the main issue lies in all this narrative of elitism in video gaming logic
    that dictates on how communities should conform that being an problem
    for years now by the ferocity of the comments made by gamers portioning
    the blame on those who doesn't have much time to play games due to work
    and still in education instead of guiding community spirit it's common psychology
    but everyone started of casual at some point of their lives things like being the top
    of everyone else didn't happen over night and it's not casuals fault of the shift and the atone
    direction of videogames I remember video games on cartridges growing up in the 80's and
    how fun gaming was and now people are not having fun it is sad that in the 21st century
    the art of enjoyment isn't there due to communities tearing each one apart instead of showing the way.

    centrevez Vectra

    smales retro 80's

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