Column

D2 Column: Five Things Working For Destiny 2, Five Problems with Destiny 2

Welcome fellow Guardians and non-Guardians alike, to my brand new monthly Destiny 2 column! I hope that this will serve as a month-to-month discussion on the goings-on of Destiny 2, and I hope to be able to produce a sort of “companion video” to each of these pieces to incorporate some other thoughts and submitted thoughts and feedback. I’m also going to work to make this pretty friendly to my fellow in-the-weeds Destiny 2 players and those that check in annually for the campaigns and expansions. Both are definitely valid player experiences, and both tend to run into different issues with the game that all still frequently come up in the D2 community conversations on a month to month basis. And hey, maybe if you’re one of those folks that is just curious about what’s going on in Destiny, this will draw you into some of the seasonal updates to the game, which are some of my favorite moments actually playing Destiny.

As a primer for my history with the game, I jumped in at Destiny: The Taken King, after playing the original beta and being turned off by what I felt was going to be a lack of content at launch. I’ve played every expansion since, but when D2: Beyond Light hit, which added the first new subclass in the game since Taken King, and also hit right near the front of this here Global Pandemic situation, it also was my gateway to playing through each seasonal story. It was a cocktail of the pandemic, Beyond Light, and also the release of the PS5 version of the game, which had much faster menus, loadtimes, and finally runs at 60hz on consoles, that got me addicted to Destiny but also invested in it for the RPG and MMO mechanics throughout. 

Since playing much more frequently from December 2020 onward, I’ve collected seals, masterworked full sets of armor and weapons, grinded out materials, played master and grandmaster content, and I think truly gained respect for Destiny not just for the breadth of its content, but also for the depth of it. A lot of newer and more casual players don’t get to see a lot of that depth, so forgive me if I indulge a little too much talking about and incorporating it here. 

I thought a good starting point, here just a month and a half away from the new Lightfall expansion, would be to talk about five great and exciting things happening in the game, and also the five biggest problems myself and the D2 community generally has with Destiny at the moment. We’ll start with the good, and then get to the bad!

The Good

Witch Queen Expansion As a Whole – 

I’m sure many folks that might be reading this have heard that the most recent D2 expansion was excellent. If you haven’t, well I’m happy to report it’s one of the best Destiny campaigns to date! There is a whole separate conversation to have about Sunsetting and the removal of D2’s first two campaigns, The Red War & Forsaken, but The Witch Queen felt like a return to that form in a lot of ways. Not only did it provide a ton of new weapons, armor, one of the best raids in the game, Vow of the Disciple, and a great campaign, it also began the reworks of D2’s original subclasses, and set the stage for Lightfall.

Tied up in all this was a new approach to difficulty, an aspect of the game that gets brought up a lot in frustration in the D2 community. The “Legendary Campaign” difficulty, reworked in the Witch Queen, left out a divisive part of D2’s endgame content, “Champions”, and instead set the player at 10 levels below all missions no matter what, giving a consistent and scaling challenge with the number of fireteam members. It was a great change, and both myself, Mike Burgess, and fellow D2 Guardian Ren actually streamed our full three-person playthrough of The Witch Queen Legendary when it launched last year!

With the addition of Hive Guardians, a new enemy type of Hive that actually use the same supers and abilities as you, the tension gets pushed to max, all without having to worry about limitations on your loadout because of Champions, which are something I’ll actually be talking about a little bit later. 

It’s a great experience, maybe still not a great “entry-point” per sé, but now knowing that Shadowkeep will not be sunset, and will always serve as the starting point for entering players, there is at least a good escalation of quality were you to jump in now.

Weapon Crafting – 

Having the option to fully customize and max out a weapon is genuinely a great addition to Destiny. It feels sometimes odd in-game, but being able to work through a raid and craft your favorite weapon from it first after some weekly run with friends is a great loop to perfecting some of your favorite weapons in the game. With the huge step up to seasonal weapons just across the board, especially in the last year of D2, and having all of them be craftable, it’s easy to pick out favorites. I don’t know if I’ve loved an auto-rifle in D2 as much as I do Sweet Sorrow from Season of the Risen, but having that level 92 crafted roll of my design is an sign of a favorite for me now in D2.

It’s definitely a grind to get many of these, and casual players I can see just never grinding to craft something, just because it’s such a time investment. The system as it is has seen many refinements since its launch in Witch Queen, and still feels a lot like a “1.2” version of itself. The community wants easier ways to get materials and to level up crafted weapons, but in the same breath, having a “masterworked” crafted weapon with the new “enhanced perks”, typically just extending the effectiveness of some of your tools in combat, feels great. For long-term players it is really nice knowing there is a guaranteed path to your own personal “god-roll” or perfect perk set of a weapon. 

Difficulty Changes from Season of the Seraph –

So difficulty, as it always seems to be in games, is a controversial topic in the Destiny community. Many players feel a lot of the game’s activities are too easy, and much of the endgame, essentially hard mode activities, aren’t worth the reward. I definitely agree in some cases, and as what feels like a test, Bungie implemented some new difficulty modifiers in the general activity added in this most recent season. These “Heist Battlegrounds” have a modifier that always sets the player five levels below the enemy combatants, and while from the outside in that may seem pretty brutal, it turns into a pretty great balance in execution.

A lot of the general content in the game, whether they be strikes or some of the previous seasonal activities, are pretty easy to absolutely dominate with the ability-heavy gameplay D2 features right now. This five-level disadvantage goes a long way to keep you on your toes and make the moment to moment combat much more fun without going overboard. I’m excited to see more experimentation in this area, and this is a very recent change, to give some perspective. 

Typically these modes feature special enemies called Champions, and the ramping difficulties just kind of have more Champions, but the approach was totally different here, and I think it bodes well for future updates to our current playlists. For reference, this is very similar to the modifier the Witch Queen campaign used, and it works here too.

Sheer Quantity of Loot –

I think this is absolutely the thing any and all members of the community agree on right now, and that is the loot is good. Obviously in a loot-heavy game that kind of thing is important, and usually when it’s working its best, you don’t even notice it except for here or there, but with the changes made this year in Destiny, some of the rewards here are the huge draw to certain activities.

One of those big changes this year to weapons was crafting, certainly, but also the fact that we are getting either one raid or one dungeon each season of the year, we are getting both seasonal pools of great weapons to collect, but also endgame level gear to chase. Dungeons are a highlight, since you can run them as many times as you want and always get new drops. There have been some great additions to the weapons pool too, like new linear fusion rifles that fire in a burst, the addition of glaives (which I love), and of course the crafting aspect to raid weapons. 

There are some wild weapons, from exotics to just common seasonal drops, and they’ve been much more memorable to me as a long time player of the game, tying new perks and traits to the seasons they come from. I just think above all else, this is a place D2 is in just a really great place.

New Subclass Reworks/Buildcrafting – 

Saving the best for last, the reworked subclasses have been an absolute lifesurge to Destiny 2 over the last year. It may be a lot harder to take in for newer players, but seeing the original three subclasses get the “subclass 3.0” treatment, where powers and abilities become much more customizable, has been a treat. The system launched with Stasis, so making and tooling certain builds around Stasis was already proven, and it’s telling how well all those systems work in general with how well they adapted to the new and improved Light subclasses. 

This has led to Buildcrafting becoming a massive part of Destiny, and honestly it may be my favorite part of it. With new weapon types and new pieces of exotic armor, you can really elevate an “Arc Warlock” into the lord of thunder fantasy that you hear described from Destiny players. The right tuning and weapon choices can really lead to total domination of a battlefield, and when the three classes work in conjunction it really feels like magic. I’ve played a lot of Destiny 2, so big shake ups to the abilities, how quickly you can use them, and more over the potential of what they can do has deepened the game in a way that really connects with you.

This all on top of knowing that Lightfall is adding another new Subclass with Strand, I think there is a direct line of excitement for that from everyone playing and watching Destiny 2 right now. 

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The Bad

Destiny is Still Impenetrable – 

I could write this whole article about this and there would certainly still be more to say, but I think it’s a good place to start with issues, and know that from this point forward, I will try and cover more specific and in-depth issues. 

This is the obvious. Destiny has a really terrible onboarding system. Previous expansions, including the campaign that the original 2017 version of Destiny 2 launched with, “The Red War” have been removed from the game. That means you can’t actually jump into the D2 and start from the beginning, you’re kind of skipping the first two acts of a many-part story, and so the opening mission to the game is a re-imagined version of the Destiny 1 opening mission. It then drops you out into the world with really no good foundational explanation on what to do, what order to do things, how any of the global systems really work, or how to get yourself ready for any shape of endgame.

In a game I love, it’s something I can say with confidence is abysmal. Destiny 2 is complicated, just like any other MMO, and the onboarding is I’d say a lot worse than the competition. There is a new system coming in the year of Lightfall called “Guardian Ranks”, that seems to be some kind of quest-log equivalent that can maybe guide you along the path through parts of the game, but it may not be enough. 

It’s a hard problem to solve, and right now the best answer anyone has come up with is, “find a friend who is really into Destiny and have them teach you,” and honestly, that is probably what I’d recommend too. Hopefully these posts may serve as my input.

The PvP Elephant in the Room –

For a lot of the long-term D2 players PvP is the filler activity that’s supposed to be fun, and while I don’t necessarily count myself amongst the many, many PvP players and content creators in D2, I’d like to at least report on their feelings, because I’d be remiss not to. PvP is an integral pillar of Destiny, I honestly believe it, but it always feels like a commitment that is only half there. Any player wishing to do all the seasonal challenges, or weekly rewards, will have to play some amount of PvP a season. So if we have to engage with it anyway, we should talk about it.

One big aspect of frustration is the meta of winning PvP right now, which is more ability spam and passive play. There are the changes to Airborn gunplay, which used to be a fun almost Halo-like aspect of the gameplay, that has all but been removed because of a system rework to get ahead of the new Strand subclass. There could have been better communication about why the changes were happening, and it feels like a community-tested system, but hopefully positive changes are on the way.

The big thing to me are the lack of any maps. Both Gambit and Crucible need many, many more maps. Gambit only has four maps and you need to reset your Gambit rank twice a season to complete all challenges, and I’ll tell you, you’re gonna see a lot of those maps. The majority of the PvP maps are from Destiny 1 or D2 vanilla, with only one new option added since Witch Queen (along with one reprised map). The new map is called Disjunction, set in the swamps of Savathun’s throne world, and its large size exacerbates some of the mechanical problems of PvP. I really like the map, but it has turned most of the community against it. I think introducing new places for firefights should be absolute priority #1 for both modes. 

I’ll also just mention briefly, there are still a lot of matchmaking issues, Skill Based Matching Making, poor connections, and server stability/crashes on top of everything mentioned, but I do feel this will be addressed, one by one.

The Playlist Grinds – 

On top of the PvP grind having all the player-based problems listed above, there is also just the overall fatigue of the playlist grinds in general. While I feel like I covered the four-map issue with Gambit, there are also no real rewards for me worth chasing in that mode. It sees one new weapon a season, and while the Strike and PvP playlists have gotten some hit weapons, along with “endgame” modes for each, Gambit has seen neither of these things. 

Even still, there are maybe two or so rewards across the three playlists worth chasing, and it is not enough. Strikes face the problem of being beyond easy to veteran players and just incomprehensible to new players, since some Strikes are so old they feature the now dead Hunter Vanguard Cayde-6. They need some sort of refresh to feel modern, beyond just adding the battlegrounds from last year’s seasonal content, which further makes Strikes incomprehensible by the way.

All these playlists need more love, and the only “high-difficulty” option between the three are Grandmaster Nightfalls for Strikes, which leads us to the next big issue…

Champions/Champion Mods – 

PREFACE: So on Wednesday the 18th of last week Bungie put out a huge article outlining how it’s changing a lot of these issues in the game come Lightfall, so take this all as a reflection of the game in its current state.

I’m going to try a quick, comprehensive history on what these enemies are, for reference. Starting with the Shadowkeep expansion, we get these seasonal items called “artifacts” that all feature a five-by-five grid of season-limited mods for your armor slots that are mandatory for all endgame activities. At least, some of them, typically the first row and easiest to unlock. Why? To be effective in combat against special enemies called champions. There are three types, with a random two per-enemy race in the game. Unstoppable champions, which require Unstoppable Mods, Overload champions that require Overload Mods, and Barrier champions that, well, you get the point.

These mods will shift season to season, like Unstoppable mods requiring you to use a hand cannon one season, and then pulse rifles the next season. While activities like Raids and Master Dungeons aren’t going to suddenly rotate the enemy race, different Strikes will serve as the end-game difficulty Nightfalls each season. 

It may seem like a good idea at first to shift the meta to different weapon families each season, but instead creates a frustrating limitation for what you can take with you into endgame activities. The freedom and modular nature of the endgame build crafting goes out the window in many cases when your weapons and armor are beholden to champion mods. It often also limits which subclasses you can take with you.

It bleeds into a different problem which is that Grandmaster Nightfalls and Master Raids, the two major activities that feature Champions, just aren’t really that enjoyable. In addition to being arbitrarily harder by pumping up enemy health or, in the case of Grandmaster Nightfalls, setting you 25 levels below the enemies, most of the ‘added challenge’ is just ‘more champions’. Oh this room had two Overload champions before, now it has eight, and they’re harder to stun, have more health, and if you don’t have an SMG you can kiss this completion goodbye.

The adept weapons you can receive from these activities can sometimes feel like great rewards and sometimes it just doesn’t feel worth it at all. The strike weapons in particular do not receive the love that seasonal and raid loot pools do, and it makes the chase just hard to be worth it. That, and a comparatively too-tall difficulty to something like Legendary Campaign make GM Nightfalls lose their appeal after a few seasons. 

The Seasonal Model/Mechanics – 

All of what I talked about with GMs and Master Raids is always exacerbated by this very topic. I don’t think this specific aspect of the game gets to me as much more long-term players, but for anyone playing the game for a few years this will eventually become a sticking point. 

Every season you can pretty much always expect a seasonal artifact with the new “meta-defining” mods in the fifth column, things like “Weakened Clear” from the current season, which allow grenade launchers to apply a stackable weaken on just about any boss or enemy. While fun for this season, it isn’t always as much of a hit as Weakened Clear, and it’s accompanied by some seasonal vendor, that you’ll get a three-by-eight grid of upgrades with, and they’ll all be time-gated by the first six to eight weeks of seasonal story updates. On the story front, it’s slow paced, with it turning out to be more of a diceroll each season on what the missions that will equate to story missions will look like. Regardless, you’ll be running at least one three to six man seasonal activity every time, and it’ll usually amount to the equivalent of a strike with champions.

Every season features the same artifact layout

It might feel very complex from the outside in, or even petty, since it can amount to a lot of overall content season to season, especially compared to other games with a similar model. I think the core of the problem is how similar it all feels from season to season. You can almost predict what some of the mods and activities will look like. The outlier and shining star of the last year of Destiny has been the commitment to one new dungeon or one new raid each season, which have been generally excellent and fun-to-grind activities, just with the caveat of questionable or unexciting rewards in some cases.

The seasons, while generally a vehicle for a story that I am personally very invested in, need a mixup in some way, just to get away from the two straight years of a formula. The formula works, but has become too much of a slog for anyone playing the game longer than a couple of seasons. 

This has definitely been the #1 feeling in the community, and one I ultimately agree with, though I haven’t found myself in such a negative place about it. It’s something that has been commented on and we’ll see some changes to at some point in the coming year, and I am excited to see a mixup to the formula as we close in on the the end of this “Saga” of Destiny.

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So that’s it, those are the big burning topics, from my perspective and from what I have been able to gather from the D2 Community! I tried to range them from easiest to understand to maybe the hardest to understand, and keep it general pretty critical, as opposed to overly negative. There is another whole conversation to have about the negativity in the community and how that tends to bring great parts of the game down, but I want to stay away from that until we see how the reaction to Lightfall goes, and there are plenty of far more interesting things to talk about that lean into the parts of Destiny that I absolutely love.

I promise future pieces won’t be near as long as this one, but thank you for reading, and I’ll see you next month Guardians!

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