Destiny PvP has always been where I look to more deeply understand the mechanics underpinning the game. When I look at Destiny 2's overhauled PvP, I see a game that's more grounded and balanced than its predecessor, but also one that's arguably less exciting on a moment-to-moment basis.
About a year ago, I reached out to four well-known Destiny players to get their thoughts for an article I was writing about the state of the first game's competitive Crucible.
I hit up Stefan "Datto" Jonke, a YouTuber who focuses mostly on PvE but knows his way around a Crucible map; Ari "TripleWreck" Smith, a streamer who focuses mostly on PvP; SirDimetrious, a skilled competitive player who puts out regular videos reviewing specific guns, gear, and subclasses; and Christian "Mr. Fruit" Miller, who jovially makes videos about his favourite gear but isn't afraid to try out a terrible gun just to see if he can make it work for him.
It's been a year, and a lot has changed. Destiny 2 has been out for a month, and the Crucible has undergone a substantial overhaul. I decided to email the same four players a year later and ask their thoughts on the new game: what do they think of the biggest changes Bungie has made?
Which guns were best and which needed help? And where did they see things going from here?
Their responses largely lined up with my own feelings, that the sequel is struggling to find a balance between hardcore players (which each of these four guys undoubtedly is) and more casual folks who just want to relax and have fun. With their intimate knowledge of the ins and outs of the Crucible, they were also able to illuminate some of the specific highs and lows of competing in Destiny 2.
Destiny 2 PvP differs from its predecessor in several significant ways. All matches now take place between teams of four, smaller than the first game's default team size of six.
It takes more bullets to take down an opponent, which means that teams are more likely to stick together and "teamshot" players on the other team. Guns no longer drop with random perks, removing the notion of a dominant "god roll" gun; if someone kills you with a particular weapon, you know exactly which perks they had access to.
And Bungie has overhauled the way players equip weapons, moving one-hit-killers like sniper rifles and shotguns out of regular rotation and into the limited-ammo "power weapon" slot, which greatly reduces the number of snazzy one-hit-kill options available to a player at any given moment.
"I have mixed feelings after putting a lot of time into the full game," said TripleWreck. "There are many things I like: the emphasis on greater balance, primary weapon usage, and the Countdown mode are fantastic. Conversely, there are some design decisions which range from annoying to genuinely perplexing." (More on those perplexing decisions in a bit.)
"I'm definitely a proponent of the shift to primary [weapon] usage," said Mr. Fruit. "Having double primaries now and putting all the one-shot weapons into the power weapon slot helps the game flow better." He added that that might be because he's a longtime fan of Bungie's previous series Halo, which works similarly.
Above: SirDimetrious cleans up the control point.
Everyone agreed that the shift to 4v4 changes the game significantly, and largely for the better.
"It changes the game in a pretty large way," said Datto. "With Destiny 1, 6v6 allowed for more free roaming around the map, you could just kinda go off on your own and do almost whatever you wanted. With 4v4, people are much more inclined to stick together because it's more intimate."
"It's a lot more focused, like 3v3 was, where teamshots are more important and 1v1s aren't as frequent."
"I don't think we would have seen a huge shift had Destiny 1 Crucible remained the same and [only] moved to 4v4," said Mr. Fruit, but said that the combination of smaller team sizes with the reduced emphasis on grenades, power weapons, and super abilities has made for a more noticeably more grounded game.
"When they choose to go 4v4 along with the new loadout changes and ability cooldowns, it slows it down to a more tactical team-based game, which I find to have equal amounts of pros and cons."
"4v4 seems to work best for competitive team play, but slows down the game for anybody who is trying have a casual experience," said SirDimetrious. TripleWreck concurred, saying that while he enjoys 4v4 in general, he hopes Bungie expands to other match sizes as things progress. "I do favour doing one thing well before moving on to alternatives," he added.
Less Room For Heroes
The de-emphasis on powerful weapons and abilities means that it's harder to pull off moments of glory, those times when you're outnumbered four to one and somehow pull a victory out of thin air. TripleWreck said that in Destiny 2, "staying in a group gives the greatest potential for victory," which can lead to "one-dimensional gameplay, overemphasising a singular strategy and undermining an individual's ability to impact a match."
"There are generally two types of shooters," he said. "Low TTK (time-to-kill) and high TTK. An example of a low TTK game would be Call of Duty, with shorter gunfights that favour faster reflexes compared to a high TTK game, such as Halo, which offers more room for counterplay.
"Neither is 'better' than the other, but I would argue that there are points where both extremes are detrimental to the experience. If it takes one shot to kill an enemy, the game is simply about who sees whom first."
"If it takes 100 shots to kill an enemy, team-shotting becomes almost a necessity due to prolonged gunfights. I think most would agree that both of those exaggerated examples are not ideal. I feel Destiny 2 has strayed too close to the latter, to the point where 1v1s are rare and your ability to make plays is almost solely restricted to supers and power weapons. If Destiny 1 and Destiny 2 are the spectrum, I'd like to see something more in the middle."
"Destiny 2 has a higher skill-floor than Destiny 1," he continued. "However, its skill-ceiling is also lower. As a result, the skill-gap winds up getting compressed and the opportunities for players to demonstrate their prowess are unfortunately few and far between."
It isn't necessary for a game to do this, he said, pointing to games like Overwatch, Counter-Strike, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds as high skill-ceiling games that were still fun for a large number of players.
"I just don't see much of that in Destiny 2 currently. Say what you will about Destiny 1's balance, but over the course of its lifespan, there were many players who were able to separate themselves because the game allowed them to."
Brand New Meta, Same Old MIDA
Every competitive game has a "meta," which refers to the guns, classes, and abilities that gain popularity as players figure out what's most effective. In the first Destiny, there were several metas -- the early reign of the Suros Regime, the storied age of Thorn and The Last Word, and the late-game dominance of Hawksaw and Grasp of Malok.
"The current meta seems to be a combination of scout rifles, three-round burst sidearms, auto rifles, submachine guns and a select group of handcannons," said SirDimetrious. "It's much harder to definitively outline a meta in Destiny 2 because of how well balanced the weapons and abilities are."
TripleWreck described a similar meta, saying that in his opinion both Hand Cannons and Pulse Rifles need a buff. "I strongly feel that hand cannons should be one of the standout skill-gap weapons," he said, "where good players can separate themselves by achieving faster kill-times as a reward for perfect accuracy."
He said he loves auto rifles being as competitive as they are, but that he sees hand cannons losing out them too often. "Ever since I saw hand cannons in an early Destiny 1 trailer I fell in love," he said, "so I am very frustrated so far with their crippled state."
Above: TripleWreck finds that lag and hand cannons do not mix.
Datto concurred that at the moment, you can get away with using almost any weapon due to the new game's solid overall balance.
"That's one thing I like about Destiny 2 PvP," he said. "Your combat effectiveness is less reliant on what gun you have equipped and more about putting yourself in positions to be successful with those guns. It's about knowing maps, knowing positioning and knowing where to place yourself to be effective."
Throughout the first month of Destiny 2, one gun reigned above them all: The MIDA Multi-Tool scout rifle. The gun was used by at least one player on 98% of teams in the first weekend of Trials of the Nine, and has remained popular in the weeks since then.
I asked all four players what they thought of the MIDA's overwhelming popularity, and whether it needed to be nerfed.
"There is a very fine line between annoying and overpowered, and MIDA is riding right along it," said SirDimertirious. "I wouldn't feel confident calling the gun overpowered, but at the same time it is certainly a pain to die [to] because of high calibre rounds."
"It doesn't do any one thing really well, instead it excels at just being above average at everything," said Mr. Fruit. "Not to mention the flow of the game and some maps just lend themselves really well to Scout Rifles."
He also pointed to its radar-granting third-eye perk, movement speed buff, and high-calibre rounds as a collection of reasons why players would opt to use it.
Hello MIDA, my old friend.
In fact, all four said that the High Calibre Rounds perk, rather than the MIDA itself, is the problem. "On a damage per shot basis, I don't think [the MIDA is] overpowered at all," said Datto. "It's the high calibre rounds perk that people find really disruptive and HCR makes it difficult to fight back."
Some guns in Destiny 2 have perks like High Calibre Rounds (HCR) and Explosive Rounds that can cause "flinch" in your opponent. If you go up against someone with those guns, your aim will often buck wildly when you get hit.
It makes it much harder to emerge from a gunfight victorious. Compounding the issue is the fact that HCR doesn't trigger with every shot landed; it triggers randomly.
"I hate it," said Mr. Fruit of the randomness of HCR. "It just doesn't make the game fun for me." TripleWreck agreed: "[Flinch perks] almost always guarantee a victory against someone without them," he said, adding that "two evenly-skilled MIDA users will be at the mercy of [randomness] because the flinch is random.
It's a bit frustrating because we had this exact problem multiple times in Destiny 1. Bungie eventually addressed and fixed the issue; however, because of this lack of hindsight, we're back to square one again."
"It's hard to fight back," said Datto. "If HCR is removed or tuned way down, like what happened with Destiny 1, I think it will be fine." SirDimetrious also agreed that the effects of High Calibre Rounds needs to be toned down.
TripleWreck said that overall, he was disappointed with how Bungie has handled guns, perks, and weapon customisation in Destiny 2. Destiny 2's move away from the first game's random rolls is generally seen as a positive thing, but he pointed out that there's no meaningful layer of customisation in its place.
"It's not the set rolls that are problematic," he said, but rather the lack of sheer volume when it comes to variety of weapons." Instead of getting a bunch of variations on each weapon archetype, "we are stuck with an even smaller pool of armaments compared to D1."
"I really hope that Bungie considers adding truckloads more guns," he continued, "or better yet, overhauls the weapon mod system to be actual gun perks, which would offer players some tangible customisation and add some much-needed grind back into the loot system."
Is It Esports Yet?
Bungie's ultimate aspirations for Destiny 2 PvP remain unclear, but several of the biggest changes emphasising smaller teams and more tactical play suggest a shift toward the world of competitive esports. The new game is much more balanced and has fewer wild needle-swings in a given match.
But, as the time-honored question goes, will Destiny 2 ever truly… be esports?
"Bungie's actions regarding Destiny 2 becoming an esport are some of the most puzzling moves I have ever seen by a game developer," said SirDimetrious. "They sacrifice the extreme fun factor that came with all of the broken weapons and abilities from Destiny 1 for the sake of extreme weapon balance and class balance (as well as only making crucible 4v4).
Still, even after overhauling their game to make it more competitive, [they] have decided not to include ranked or custom games. It's like they were striving for competitive but then suddenly stopped halfway."
Above: An opponent underestimates Mr. Fruit's Titan shield.
"I have a hard time believing they're pushing it to become an esport when PvP gameplay is still so variable, servers are still an issue, [there's] no private matches, no customisation options (setting a limit to loadouts, weapons, archetypes, rolls,) etc.," said Mr. Fruit.
"It's odd because nothing else about Destiny 2 makes me think they want to move into the esports realm." In terms of game balance and accessibility, "they're targeting the casual player more than ever. The PvP plays more competitively though, and is much more team focused, so at the end of the day, I just feel like they're a little confused on where they want to go."
"I think the game is very solid and has a lot of potential," said TripleWreck. "But it is genuinely confusing that they haven't given people a reason to invest serious time into PvP or at least thrown a bone to the (sizable) crowd looking to do tournaments."
He said that it's easy to conclude that Bungie is looking to make Destiny 2 an esport given the 4v4 format, the addition of the Counter-Strike-like Countdown game mode, and how they have dialled back a lot of the craziness from the first game. But "if their intent is to make Destiny more appealing to a competitive scene, where is the ranked mode? Why are private games, a feature added in Rise of Iron, absent at launch?"
SirDimetrious took the opportunity to ask Bungie directly: "Ranked. Custom games. Map voting. Please Bungie, we are dying out here."
The Future's On PC
Many of the features players are hoping for could be added in the weeks and months to come. In the meantime, no one uncertainty looms as large in the mind of hardcore competitive Destiny players as the PC version, which launches in a couple weeks.
Destiny 2's PC beta was extremely impressive, an excellent port that ran at a high frame-rate and, thanks to the precision of mouse and keyboard controls, allowed for much more aggressive, acrobatic competitive play.
"Destiny 2 on PC is the definitive experience," said TripleWreck.
"To me, it feels almost like a different game. Playing it on an uncapped framerate and native mouse & keyboard certainly speeds up the pace of gameplay. It inspires a lot of confidence going forward. I think competitive types will gravitate toward the PC platform regardless, so assuming Destiny 2 does get some kind of competitive support, it will likely be spearheaded there."
"I firmly believe that Destiny 2 on PC will silence doubters who claim that the gameplay is far too slow and boring to become an esport," said SirDimetrious. "Weapon handling, movement speed, and shot registration feel infinitely better in the PC version."
"If you recall the console and PC betas, many of those who hated the console version fell in love with the game once experiencing it on PC. Do I think that Destiny 2 will become a main stage esport? No, of course not. However, I feel like encouraging competition between the best players would be very healthy for the Destiny PvP community."
Mr. Fruit said that the looming PC launch has actually killed a lot of his motivation to keep playing on console, which is something I can relate to. "My motivation to grind isn't there," he said, while pointing out that he had also maxed his characters and largely run out of things to do.
"I'm waiting for the PC launch because I know I'm making the switch to PC, because it feels, plays, and handles so much better than console. It almost feels like a different game. The PvP in that game felt so much tighter, and I'm interested to see how the meta forms on PC because I feel it's going to be pretty different. It's hard to say how much it will change the conversation at the end of the day though, because I'm sure majority of player base will remain on consoles."
As ever, the conversation surrounding Destiny 2 is constantly changing. The Iron Banner PvP event launched this week, giving players a dedicated playlist for the Control game-mode (hooray) and some new loot to chase. And later this month, the PC version will launch, and the entire conversation could shift yet again.
For its most dedicated competitive players, Destiny 2 has arrived full of potential, laden with expectations, and marred by obvious shortcomings. Will dedicated PvPers get ranked play and private matches? Will Bungie add a record book, or weapon perk mods, or some other enticements for high-level players to keep playing week after week?
Once the dust of the PC launch settles, Bungie will likely start providing answers to some of those questions. Until then, the only thing to do is wait, watch, and occasionally jump into the Crucible and shoot one another.