I would like nothing more than to settle down each night, shoot some aliens, and score some cool candy-coloured guns, but Destiny 2 is making that harder than usual these days. While Bungie’s live-service success story has as much promise as ever, the problems are also building up. It’s Destiny burnout season, folks. We’ve been here before and we’ll be back again. For the time being, though, it sucks.
The Witch Queen, one of Destiny 2’s best and most ambitious expansions ever, launched nearly six months ago. It did some things really well, like the campaign, and others, like weapon crafting, very badly. Following that peak we’re now in the annual valley where players like me complain about the build up of bugs, lacklustre content, and shortcomings in the seasonal progression. The community has spent the last few weeks making a giant bonfire amid floating ruins and I, for one, feel cooked. It’s a bad time to actually be playing Destiny 2, but a good one to take stock of the overall health of the game. And this year the ledger feels more stacked against it than usual.
Some of the issues are temporary. Season of the Haunted, which ends in two weeks, has not been one of the game’s stronger updates. Destiny 2’s writing has never been more consistently excellent and that was showcased in this season’s Sever missions, which had players help Crow, Zavala, and Caiatl confront their pasts. Backstory that fans have long yearned for is finally being penciled in, and in very intimate and tender ways. The missions themselves were less steller. They felt clumsy to navigate, devoid of memorable encounters, and repetitive.
The main seasonal activity, Containment, wasn’t much better. I appreciated the corrupted Leviathan’s return as a mini-patrol zone, and enjoyed occasionally cutting through rank-and-file enemies like a hot knife through butter. But it also started feeling repetitive very quickly. That’s the nature of a seasonal activity, but it lacked the variety of some of Destiny’s past diversions, as well as the social spontaneity of a traditional public event. It’s more a pit stop than a playground, and one you constantly have to refill at in order to stay on top of Season of the Haunted’s demanding Engram-focused economy.
Other issues feel more fundamental. The game is more concentrated than it’s ever been. With every new destination and story beat Bungie vaults each year, the universe contracts. Technical constraints and design trade-offs aside, the result is a once grand and varied space opera now feels laser-focused on a very small cast of characters, locations, and conflicts. Newer additions like the Cosmodrome and Europa feel underutilized as well. The Communion took players inside the ice moon’s Black Pyramid for one of the best missions in all of The Witch Queen, a detour that proved to be the exception rather than the rule.
The tunnel vision carries over to the playlists as well. Crucible has only received four new maps in the last seven seasons, less than half the number that were vaulted. Only four of Gambit’s six maps remain, all of which are from 2019 or earlier. Vanguard strikes are also overdue for a refresh. Exodus Crash is still occasionally a Nightfall, while the Pyramidion and eight other strikes sit in the vault. The playlist did receive two excellent new strikes in The Witch Queen but those are diluted by Proving Grounds ops and other weaker strikes.
None of this would feel so dire if loot, the other pillar of Destiny 2, were in a better place. Years after the temporary threat of sunsetting, the loot pool feels vibrant and healthy. The treadmill for earning it does not. When Bungie introduced crafting in The Witch Queen I hoped it would be a hedge against leaning so much into space crystal RNG. Instead, thanks to the Deepsight Resonance mechanic, it’s just another form of lottery.
To be able to craft a weapon in the first place, a special red border version of it needs to drop a handful of times. Sometimes this takes weeks. In the new Duality Dungeon it can take even longer. Only then can players start their dozen-hour journey to crafting and levelling up their custom build for the weapon in question. It’s the worst of both worlds: There’s little reason to engage with a weapon until it’s crafted, and once it is, you spend a bunch of time sharding all the worse copies of it you’re still getting flooded with.
When the original Destiny first launched it was notoriously stingy with Legendary Engrams. Some would even trick you and turn out to be lowly Rare ones in disguise. Bungie addressed this with two major shifts over the years. First, it started giving players a ton more Legendary Engrams. Second, it made most of them useless. This worked for a while because accessing new content required increasing your Power, and the only way to do that was to meticulously hunt new Legendary gear that would raise it one or two points.
That no longer works because Power is all but meaningless now. Some activities cap your Power at a lower number to even the playfield. Others, like Grandmaster Nightfalls, require you to grind a ridiculous amount each season. I play a lot of Destiny compared to most people and I basically ignore it now. Once I’m raid-ready, which Bungie has been good about making easier and easier, I dispense with the rest. I’ve spent too many nights whittling away at pinnacle drops to barely raise a number that will just be overhauled every 100 days or so. The chorus of players calling for Bungie to remove Power altogether seems to be growing in recent seasons. Until then it feels like another dead end.
Perhaps nothing sums up this general ennui more than Solstice, Destiny 2’s annual glowy armour grindfest. On the surface it seemed fine. This year’s event was overhauled to take advantage of a ticket with a list of challenges. Complete the book and you’ll max out your armour, complete with special glow effects you can then pay to customise further. In practice the event required juggling multiple currencies, earning one from generic activities and converting it into another by completing a limited-time Solstice mission where you fight Taken and build a bonfire.
The ticket was also full of mind-numbing challenges like completing 25 PvP matches or running over a dozen public events on the Throne World. Every year since Solstice began I’ve tried and failed to complete it. This one was no different. I finished a few pieces of gear and got within striking distance of the whole thing, and then looked at the 50 players I still needed to kill in Crucible and remembered I could be playing Xenoblade Chronicles 3 and catching up on The Boys instead. My apologies to the players in the half a dozen or so Vanguard strikes where I was AFK.
Destiny 2 has never been friendly to new players. Despite repeated attempts by Bungie to rectify that, it’s more true than ever. Anything resembling a coherent narrative was cut from it long ago. I think The Witch Queen and seasonal story missions can be enjoyed on their own, but recommending that aspect of the game alone feels like dragging someone to a theme park just so they can ride one rollercoaster and then go home. At the moment though there’s not much else to recommend. Better to grab some $US10 ($14) hot dogs and call it a day than get dizzy and sunburned flying through the same loops over and over again.
The great thing about burnout season is that it never lasts too long. A new season starts later this month, and Bungie is set to potentially reveal its next expansion, Lightfall, and more at a showcase on August 23. No matter how exhausting Destiny gets, it always comes back around again. I just hope it doesn’t take until the next expansion arrives in 2023.