And The Destiny Merry-Go-Round Spins Again

Stop me if you've heard this one: In September, Bungie releases an online first-person shooter. A few months and a disappointing expansion later, the game is in trouble. Fans are mad; a lot of people are quitting. Bungie vows to do better and sets about making improvements. Patient fans are eventually rewarded with a better game.

I could, of course, be talking about either 2014's Destiny or last spring's Destiny 2, a sequel that so far has hewn remarkably close to its predecessor's trajectory. Yesterday, Bungie detailed a heap of planned changes to Destiny 2, many of which are in direct response to player requests from the past several months. To those of us who like Destiny 2, it's good news. To many of us who were there throughout the lifespan of the first Destiny, it's also exhausting.

With Destiny 2, Bungie scraped away the accumulated cruft of the first game's three years of expansions, patches, new progression systems and currencies. At the end of its three-year run, the first Destiny was a good game that was filled with things to do, but it was also a thick knot of overlapping progression numbers and currencies, and hardly welcoming to new players. With Destiny 2, it initially seemed as though Bungie would be taking what it had learned from the first game and improving on it in a straightforward way. Perhaps, we dared hope, Destiny 2 had been engineered to grow and expand less awkwardly than the first game.

From October through December, the sequel's issues and shortcomings came into sharper relief. There didn't appear to be any grand plan; a bunch of things were simply missing. Players left the game, and clans (such as mine, womp) that used to complete every weekly challenge lost momentum as people stopped finding reasons to play. Soon came the inevitable chorus of player complaints, then a regular stream of criticism and bitter disappointment expressed on the game's lively subreddit and official forums, and then, of course, the pledges from Bungie to do better.

In the midst of all that came December's Curse of Osiris paid expansion, which went just about as expected. It added a brief, narratively cool but mechanically dull story campaign, a couple of neat new exotic weapons, and an impressive "Raid Lair" mini-raid that was the standout of the expansion. Osiris did little to address broader criticisms about the shallow endgame, unexciting loot, or staid PvP. The subsequent limited-time "Dawning" holiday event, with its focus on cosmetic items that could only be earned through the Eververse microtransaction store, exacerbated tensions between developers and players. (Of course it did.) By the start of 2018, the hardcore Destiny fandom was angrier than I've seen it since… well, since around three years ago, in 2015. Or maybe it was two years ago, in 2016. Or was it last year?

That's the thing about all of this. We've been here before. We've done this before. I've seen Bungie struggle to respond to overwhelming player anger. I've read the promises about how they're listening. I've sympathised with the studio, which has struggled to match its toolset to the job at hand, and has never seemed agile when it comes to fixing problems or adding new things to the game. I've sympathised with players, who've looked longingly at the size and scope of other online games, with their deep crafting economies and countless dungeons and raids, and wondered why Destiny can't work that way. After a couple of weeks with Destiny 2, I wasn't expecting history to repeat itself with this level of precision. Yet here we are, and the similarities are uncanny.

Speaking of similarities, consider the specific changes Bungie announced yesterday. Over the course of 2018, Destiny 2 will get strike scoring, private PvP matches, 6v6 PvP matches and even a rumble PvP playlist. If all of those new features sound familiar, that's because they were all included in the first Destiny and removed for the sequel. Destiny 2 will also get a number of new things such as a PvP ranking system, enhancements to the recently introduced masterwork gear system, and an overhauled weapon mod system. But most of the noteworthy future changes come from the past.

There is of course nothing wrong with reintroducing good ideas that had previously been cast aside. Strike scoring was cool; private PvP matches were fun. 6v6 crucible matches were chaotic but plenty enjoyable, and there can be little doubt that Destiny 2 needs more Crucible playlists in general. But the more of Destiny's past that Bungie injects into Destiny 2, the clearer its future comes into focus, not just for the rest of 2018 but beyond. Given what we know about the 10-year franchise deal Bungie made with publisher Activision, it seems safe to assume that all this will happen at least one more time down the road, presumably with a game that will be called Destiny 3. (Kotaku news editor Jason Schreier tells me he hears that Destiny 3 is indeed already in development, as expected.)

Imagine, if you will, angry Destiny 3 players complaining about how much better Destiny 2 was, and demanding that Bungie bring back cut features. "I miss the Masterwork system," writes a fan, laying out their case for its return. "And why did they have to get rid of 4v4 Crucible matches?"

As I've been chewing on the current state of Destiny 2, I went back and re-read some of my coverage of Destiny's first year. I was struck by some remarkable similarities between what I had to say then and what I'm seeing now. Now as then, the game has been improved, but not enough. Now as then, it has been expanded, but not always in the right ways. Destiny 2 feels like a subscription-based game disguised as a $90 game with optional DLC - which is precisely how I described the first Destiny in January of 2015.

There is one crucial, built-in difference between then and now, which is that was then, and this is now. Three years ago, Destiny players were collectively sharing a fresh experience with a fascinating, flawed new game. Repeating the same experience three years later is more frustrating, particularly given that we know we'll have to do some variation of it again in a few years.

In Curse of Osiris, it's revealed that the Warlock Osiris has split his consciousness into several different timelines. A version of himself lives in the verdant past, while another keeps vigil over a shadowy future. What a metaphor for the experience of a Destiny player! Those of us who have been with this game from the start exist within a fractured fandom, one eye on the past and the other cast to the future, waiting for the cycle to repeat yet again.

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Comments

    Not paying another $100 to gain access to a Skinner box designed to exploit behavioral psychology with wonderful mechanics that ultimately coerce me to drop more money on the *chance* to own what I actually want. Insidious industry practice. Good job ruining everything the name Bungie stood for.

    Last edited 13/01/18 10:34 am

      When a game makes me ask myself "is this worth my time?" I stop playing the game.

    As much as I hate so many decisions they made with D2, nothing beyond the Tess rubbish warrants the sheer level of hysteria surrounding the game. The latest in a long line of popular culture punching bags, in which reasonable feedback and constructive concerns have given way to a snowball styled hate-fest. Which is not unique in gaming but to tv or movies as well.

    For me Bungie got too greedy and tried to be too inclusive, trying to cater too many different type of players. In doing so they alienated their original player base and in terms of Eververse they seriously misread how the future of microtransactions would be. Though I have to wonder if the Tess stuff wouldnt have gotten such a bad wrap if not for Star Wars seriously changing the landscape of what gamers would accept. Naturally gamers call them out and put them in their place.

    Still the only time I am unhappy with D2 is when reading social media. When I am actually playing the game, while there are things I truly hate (hell even after three years of D1, there were still things I hated there, but it became my most played game ever), there are so many positives trapped beneath.

    Just like Diablo 3, it is possible to course correct, but I fear the peanut gallery dont want to a good game, they dont want positive changes, they want to relish in the 'these things should have been in the game' (yes they should have but NOTHING will change the fact they werent), they want to relish in the fact that hysteria peer-style outrage is the new norm, they want everyone to share in the disappointment they feel, even those who actually still finds ways to enjoy it, through the flaws. Some people dont want satisfaction.

    On one hand I understand and agree with a lot of the feedback but at the same time mass-outrage is all kinds of depressing and stupid as a hammer horror lynch mob. If you want change advocate for it or leave but dont smack down EVERY attempt to right wrongs. It just makes you look like children.

      I agree with you on a few of your points, but I feel that the backlash is actually warranted. Ultimately, without large scale backlash and potentially brand death, stock holders and executives won't learn to avoid anti consumer practices.

      If consumers let the Eververse fly in its current state, we can only look forward to a Destiny 3 with a stronger "buy a chance at this item" push. If we don't complain that things are a step back from Destiny 1, we can look forward to more half baked launches with rapid development cycles (development reboot in D2 case).

      There used to exist a time when a sequel to a game meant that the sequel would be everything the original was and more, we as consumers expected the world and often got it. Developers produced a finished product and charged once for access, or twice for an expansion that could be considered an entire game on it's own.

      I believe games should be free of chance based microtransactions, I don't want to pay full price to access to a universe designed to exploit me, I only expect that kind of exploitation from free games.

      In regards to the lynch mob mentality you mentioned, I feel that it's really a case of the serial offender having lost the trust of the offendee.

      Last edited 13/01/18 12:41 pm

      Exactly this mate!! The hate the Destiny games are way more overblown than what is deserved, they mainly come from people that want a completely different game the Destiny is or those that hate on popular things but just like call of duty, itll sell like crazy and remain popular

      I'm actually kind of baffled by the hate for the Eververse thing to be honest. It's nearly 100% cosmetic. I have 2 characters at/near max power and have done all the content at least once and have never been remotely tempted to spend money on the microtransactions, nor have I felt like NOT doing so has diminished my enjoyment in any meaningful way.

      It's not like I have a shortage of shaders, ships and speeders to choose from... Having dust for medallions is nice but it's not like they're required.

      And it seems like a bizare thing to even mention when the game has much more important problems. This is not at all a case like it was in Star Wars where meaningful gameplay is gated behind microtransactions.

      TBH I've been pretty happy with what's been done so far and it seems like the game is moving in the right direction, which makes the amount of sheer vitriol from the many in the community all the more confusing. Definitely agree that at this point it seems like they don't want a good game, they just want to whinge.

        Right? I've done everything in the game, barring Trials Of Nine, and have more shaders, emotes, ships and sparrows than I actually want. What the fuck am I supposed to be so angry at her for?

        @drumrbaxj The problem with Eververse is that it feels like a blackhole in the game. It disrupts everything around it and sucks more and more into its abyss over time. Everything is cosmetic, sure, but the problem is, armour now has almost no meaningful stats so Bungie can sneak armour sets into the Eververse store and hold up their hands and say "hey, it's just cosmetic!". They've gutted many elements of the game in a way that seems almost purely for the benefit of Eververse.

        Raids aren't even worth completing because the gear itself is, like Eververse stock, essentially just cosmetic. Destiny 1's raid gear was powerful and unique armour and weapons that changed the way you repeated that content.

        So many of the game's "more important problems" are due to Eververse's iron grip on the game. We no longer have meaningful and activity specific rewards such as strike exclusive drops or secret mission rewards (that's all been moved into the bright engram loot pool). The way we earn engrams and gear has fundamentally changed from a "buy what you want from a rotating inventory of stock" to a "loot box-esque casino experience" from vendors to train you into accepting that method of loot acquisition.

        I, like you, have more sparrows and ships than I know what to do with without spending a dime. But I didn't have fun collecting them, they don't mean anything to me, and I don't have the kind of memories associated with them that I did with any meaningful gear from the first game.

        Eververse is insidious because it plays it very sneakily. It's hard to have direct complaints about it because on the surface of it, Eververse works fine. But like the black hole, you only really see the extent of the problem when you look at the space around the void. Eververse works at the expense of almost everything else in the game.

          I really don't think that 'the end game gear is boring' is because of Eververse. That seems like a 100% unrelated problem to me. Remove the cash shop, and it'll still be the case that Raid gear isn't really interesting or unique. Make the Raid gear interesting and unique, the cash shop will still be there...

          Surely people would be more inclined to buy more cosmetics if they could actually get really unique (mechanically) armor pieces. They'd want to deck them out with customisation options.

          Saying that Eververse existing is somehow responsible for the lack of interesting endgame rewards... I just don't see it. At all.

            Raid gear isn't all that unique (like all of the gear) to leave the door open to future Eververse developments. If armour as a whole has less impact on gameplay, the slow implementation of it into the Eververse loot pool will be less likely to incite a riot.

            I said this at the start of Destiny's Eververse to my friends, that it was the beginning of something very bad. And they dismissed me, saying "it's just emotes, you're being dramatic." It was just emotes back then, but now look at it. There's emotes, shaders, sparrows, ships, ghosts, shaders, in-game boosts, armour, ornaments, etc. It's a slippery slope and we're only half way down, there's still plenty to go.

            Everything is skewed in this game to welcome a larger slice of the market in the hope they can ensnare more micro-transaction whales. The raid gear isn't meaningful because the raid isn't a casual experience (https://www.forbes.com/sites/insertcoin/2015/03/25/destiny-stats-remind-us-just-how-casual-the-playerbase-really-is).

            They don't want the sort of casual fans who often drop money on micro-transactions feeling like they are missing out on big important chunks of the game (because they'll be less inclined to spend money), so they just make those activities less meaningful. Now some of the most (depending on your opinion) exciting things are in Eververse, because everyone can get that – so long as they start spending money.

            I know on the face of things, it might seem like i'm Charlie uncovering company conspiracies (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_nTpsv9PNqo), but if you look at things even slightly longer than Bungie want you to, the connections are so clear. Every decision the hardcore player base doesn't like or can't understand can be explained with one word: "Eververse".

      Almost every post on the Destiny Reddit front page is one that's taking "ok, this is how we could fix this" approach to its criticism of Destiny 2. In my experience the only people who relish news of Destiny's stumbles are the same sort of "people still play this game??" mouth-breathers that abandoned the franchise from the first 6/10 review of Destiny 1.

      The loudest complaints honestly seem to be coming from people who desperately want the game to be good. I have stopped playing Destiny 2, but the idea of leaving the franchise itself for good is a pretty miserable one. There are few IPs that scratch so many of my particular itches the way Destiny does. I, like others, just want Bungie to take the blinders off and recognise the actual qualities of its own franchise before it buries it completely. It honestly feels like a George Lucas situation where we're all forced to watch a creator completely disconnected from the fanbase that he himself built. It boggles the mind.

      For me personally, I get really angry when I see these endless promises from Bungie that are so far off being realised that they don't even feel worth the wait. When Epic talks about updates to Fortnite, they are talking about things that are coming in the next week or two. They announce it, and then before you know it, it's out! More than that, every update comes with a note about what's coming next, often in the next – no pun intended – fortnight. With Bungie, we have a passable list of changes to the game but an 8 month wait time??? That's absurd. That's unacceptable.

      These problems shouldn't even be there in the first place, and they won't get fixed for that long? And yet they are able to patch out any sort of exploit that leads to the playerbase being too powerful (Prometheus Lens, Raid glitches, Infinite Nova Bombs, etc) within a week. People are angry because Bungie isn't being straight with them.

      I'm really trying not to come off as entitled, Bungie certainly don't owe their customers anything. But there's nothing more infuriating than people who make the same mistake repeatedly without learning anything.

        you not sound entitled but you have no grasp on what realistically can be done. In what space in time. Would you prefer they make huge sweeping changes rapidly and then break more than they fix, because they rushed something out? Somethings are easy to patch, others less so. Somethings are of higher importance than others. (IE just because X is important to you, it might have zero impact on me). Somethings are game breaking like the Lens issue, or Nova Bomb glitch. Naturally they go right to the top and get fixed rapidly. thought the Lens wasnt actually fixed it was just straight up nerfed until a fix goes in.

        There is realistically only so much a team can do in a week. So many people get caught up with rubbish like 'if Fortnite can do it, why cant Destiny', well ignore the fact they are two completely different games, with two completely different requires, Fornite is still in an early access. Of course it gets things rapidly.

        The reason why Bungie had to talk about things for such future time, is that they were forced into a corner, whether they deserve it or not is irrelevant, they had to touch on all the points annoying the community. If they just talk about the next fortnight only there would be hysteria. Now they get hysteria for putting their cards on the table. The last thing they could do was promise the world in a fortnight or month or two and then fail to deliver, because you guessed, along would come another hate train.

          I know they are different games, but the mentality that Epic have towards communication and constant improvement is one that can be replicated by Bungie. As a creative professional, I'm not ignorant and in fact extremely sympathetic to the fact that things that seem easy can be very hard it's rarely as easy as a "quick fix".

          But imagine if Bungie, instead of trying to fit their changes into big updates that rarely seem to arrive unbroken anyway (so what's the point of taking their time?), did lots of incremental small updates. You know, sort of what they promised the Live Team would handle when they introduced Eververse.

          • "Hey guys, this week we're introducing a new mod, check it out!"
          • "Hey guys, this week we've got a new modifier on the Nightfall, check it out!"
          • "Exciting news, there's a new strike this week!"
          • "New temporary Crucible mode is now active until xx/xx/2018!"

          This is a mix of low risk stuff and slightly more involved content that keeps people playing your game and keeps the thing feeling fresh. Players would be far more lenient on a buggy gun or an exploit when it's part of an ongoing conversation with the Developer that involves lots of little updates and temporary activities.

          If Bungie had the trust with its player base, they could continue like business as usual, but things, for better or worse, have changed. Not just with their reputation but with the industry as a whole and with consumer expectations. Something's gotta change, it can't just be business as usual with them.

            Constant communication IS the answer here. Players want to know that their feedback is being valued, and being looked into.
            Bungie likes to do nothing for giant points of time. I'm not sure where the passion went... But it's gone.
            D1 felt like this grand old adventure you were embarking on... But D2? It feels insignificant... If I could describe this game in two words, they'd be:
            "Inconsistent" and "Insignificant".

    I have given up back in Sept. The game launched with things that should have been there and the steps forward in the original Destiny were undone in Destiny 2.

    I was a PvP guy, in the crucible all day honing my skills. As I played D1 and they made ridiculous changes to the ammo economy and shipped expansions with tonnes of just useless weaponry I suspected that they didn't quite know what they were doing. They were talented but ultimately led or steered by the wrong people.

    D2 confirmed that for me. I have, literally zero faith that Bungie can make the complete game I want to play. So I just stopped.

    It's sad checking in and seeing where it's going or more inevitably what people are angry about. That outside looking in perspective taints all of Bungies promises to do better and listen more.

    A good game hamstring ultimately by the developer, be it their tools or talents. The buck stops with them.

    "There is one crucial, built-in difference between then and now, which is that was then, and this is now. Three years ago, Destiny players were collectively sharing a fresh experience with a fascinating, flawed new game. Repeating the same experience three years later is more frustrating, particularly given that we know we'll have to do some variation of it again in a few years."

    Spot on there. The issues with Destiny 1 were forgiven due to the fact that it was a new franchise, and relatively new game model. What a lot of people are getting fed up with (myself included), is that Bungie don't look to have learnt from their mistakes with Destiny 2. The hype was there because we all knew (or hoped) that Destiny 2 would be everything amazing from the lifespan of Destiny 1... and then some. But instead we got a mish mash of old, some new ideas to simplify the game but not add any major improvements... and an insulting wave of 'fixes' which are basically what we had with Destiny 1.

    There's just way too many amazing games out there for Destiny fans to just sit on their hands and wait for these improvements to come. See ya later Destiny... I've got all these other amazing experiences to spend my time on instead;

    Super Mario Odyssey
    Zelda: BoTW DLC
    Nioh
    Nier Automata
    Total Warhammer 2
    Division 1.8
    Cuphead
    Shadow of Mordor
    Divinity 2
    And a metric crapload of amazing boardgames... with Gloomhaven sitting solidly at the top.

    Yep, I've put D2 back on the virtual shelf for now... which is disappointing, because I do think at it's core, it is a great fun game. Maybe in 6-12 months time they will have figured it all out and we'll pick it up again. But more likely there will be better / newer games to play.

    Destiny 2 to me is just a chill out game now. I get on for a bit, shoot some stuff, about 20 minutes later I am off.

    It reminds me of that one favourite chair everyone had, the one that was really comfy for a while, then it started to feel a bit worn, now the padding has holes or is worn down and even though it is your favourite chair, you cant sit in it for more than a few minutes at a time.

    i still play Destiny 2. i just log in on wednesday to do the milestones adn then on saturday to check Xur. though this week it was painful having to run crucible again after having so much fun playing mayhem.

    I absolutely suck at pvp no matter the game, but at least in mayhem i actually got to use my super, let alone i always had my grenades available for each engagement. it didnt matter if was on the winning team (10% of the time) or getting stomped 40-127 (90% of the time) I was having fun doing the weekly pvp milestone.

    This week however was just so slow and painful never getting to use my super, only able to use 3 grenades at max and that was when i was on the winning team

    An eloquently written and well detailed piece, as with the previous comments, too.

    I never made it far in Destiny 2, putting it down after about 15 hours of solo play. I know it's not necessarily designed to be a stunning single player campaign, but I nonetheless I found it extremely underwhelming, especially after such a ridiculous amount of hype surrounding its release.
    I can't speak for the crucible, but to me the rest of the game felt too much like an empty shell to retain my attention for long. Fighting waves of the same enemies over and over felt like Halo. Only that formula worked well 10-15 years ago, especially when backed by a stronger story line.
    I'd love to give D2 another shot if I can convince a few mates to jump on board, because I don't mind loot-based games and I'm sure it is considerably more fun playing with friends. But at the current price-point, there's zero chance this will happen. Particularly while there's such strong competition for multiplayer games right now.

    How about Kotaku stops pussyfooting around all scared of Activision, and actually writes the truth.

    Destiny, to this day, is following the leaked 10-year plan, to the letter.

    Every single aspect of D1 was according to plan. D2 pre-launch, y’all were writing articles about how you’re excited, how Bungie has surely learnt lessons. Are you dumb or just liars? Jfc you’re industry people.

    Destiny 2 launched EXACTLY according to plan. The first expansion in EXACTLY to plan. We’re gonna get a few more expansions, then repeat the story with Destiny 3.

    How about when pre-launch arrives you warn people instead of cowering behind a possible black listing by Activision. We all know 90% they release is trash anyway.

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