I have a few articles/videos in progress. But I’ve got to interrupt that programming to address something...Destiny 2 is a bad Destiny game. It was a bad Destiny game on the day it released. It was a bad Destiny game during the beta, it was a bad Destiny game the moment it was conceptualized.
And the reason it’s a bad game is because it wasn’t made for the people who like Destiny. It was made for people who don’t like Destiny, and that ends up being a lesson on arrogance, vision and losing site of who your audience is.
Full confession: I played a depressing, absurd, disgusting amount of Destiny. Like well over a thousand hours. Like over 1,500 hours. Entire months of my life were spent playing Destiny when you add up all that time. So while I may not be an authority on much I can confidently call myself an authority on what people who really liked Destiny 1 like. And Destiny 2 is not what people who liked Destiny 1 like. We’re going to examine what made Destiny 1 great and how Destiny 2, in search of an audience it was never intended to appeal to, changed the game so much it now has no audience at all. As always lets get a brief history out of the way.
Bungie started out as a small studio making well received games like Minotaur as well as some early innovative FPS titles but it didn’t rise to prominence until it released a little know console exclusive called Halo. Halo became a cultural phenomenon because it brought the competitive online multiplayer FPS genre into living rooms that finally had reliable internet and consoles that could finally handle those games and because it also featured a rich campaign with a good story and compelling lore. It also didn’t hurt that the main story of the games was one of religious war that released a couple of months after the 9/11 attacks.
After making several Halo games under the umbrella of Microsoft Bungie became independent again after shipping the excellent Halo Reach and began working on their next big project. An innovative new game that combined the persistent online worlds of the MMO genre with the gun play and space opera settings of Halo. The company signed a massive publishing deal with Activision/Blizzard and in 2013 announced Destiny.
Destiny was originally promised to be the first ever FPS/MMORPG (First Person Shooter/Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game). For people like me, that sounded like a dream come true. Making hundreds of friends through Destiny I found tons of men and women who, like myself, had played WoW for years before eventually finding the core gameplay to be too passive. Although WoW still holds a special place in my heart, modern gaming has left the MMO genre behind. We all expect much more interactive combat mechanics in our games these days. And the moment to moment gameplay of the FPS genre has broad appeal to gamers of all ages.
For many of us Borderlands 2 had scratched an itch we didn’t know we had while proving that deep RPG and loot based leveling could work flawlessly in an FPS game. And our hopes for Destiny was for it to be Halo crossed with Diablo (I would pay so much damn money for a game like that Bungie. I swear to god you could sell me a billion season passes and crap crates).
Lets leave aside the significantly smaller scope than promised that Destiny released in. Lets leave aside the small world and lack of story. Leave aside the baffling decision in an online game to not have any proximity chat or matchmaking for end game activities. Leave aside even the entirely predictable disaster that balancing PVE and PVP together would be (we’ll get to that a bit later BTW).
The core mechanics of Destiny were, right from the Beta, near perfect. Supers felt super, grenades were powerful, and the speed and movement of the game, while not Titanfall, were light years faster than most FPS games on the market at the time. When people talk about how good shooting aliens feels in Destiny I think they are, without realizing it, actually referring to the movement system. Very quickly combat scenarios became air borne affairs. The game was a constant blur of motion and you were more likely to shoot, run and jump your way out of trouble than you were to do the standard fps pop in and out of cover. All this is to say that the core experience of Destiny 1 was excellent because it DIDN’T feel like Halo. It didn’t feel like Call Of Duty. It felt entirely new.
By year 3 the game was a symphony of design. Grinding for gear had achieved a near perfect state. Players were consistently being rewarded with fun gear that changed the way you played the game and for top tier or depressingly committed players like myself there were God Roll weapons to chase, or hard mode raid gear that had actual gameplay benefits, or hidden quests that challenged a team and rewarded them with powerful weapons. The progression system was still too simple and build diversity was a bit shallow but it had begun to achieve it’s promise.
While it wasn’t a Massively Multiplayer Game and it wasn’t the FPS/MMORPG of our dreams it was at least an FPS/MMORPG Lite. And it was certainly a helluva start. For your average committed Destiny player they were hoping for the sequel to deepen the RPG part of the game and hopefully make the MMO part of the game massive by only being on the current generation hardware.
Instead Destiny 2, to the horror of fans is not an FPSMMORPG. It isn’t even an FPS/MORPG (First Person Shooter Multi Player Online Role Playing Game).It’s an FPS/MG (Fist Person Shooter Multiplayer Game). It’s a game with almost no RPG aspects. It’s a game that has you constantly ducking behind a rock waiting for a bar to go back up. It’s a game that stops being diverse by the time the campaign ends.
This is not what the people who loved Destiny wanted. Most of the negative reviews for Destiny focused on three things, and only one of those things actually mattered to the millions who played the game religiously. Release reviews panned Destiny for a ham-fisted incoherent lack of narrative, for an intense amount of grinding and for there not being enough to do in the game.
But the people who were excited to play Destiny, who stuck around for 3 years and who loved the game by the end are the same people who wanted an FPS/MMORPG. Many of them were current or former MMO players. Long grinding wasn’t a problem for those players. It was a FEATURE of the game that they loved.
And the narrative issues? Would Destiny have been a better game with a great story? Sure. But I’m going to let you in on a little secret here. Destiny 2's story is utter garbage. It’s a clichéd pile of tropes with only a few occasional seconds of actual character depth. Is it better than Destiny 1? Yes, because Destiny 1 quite literally barely had a story at all. But while the worst network television drek is better than nothing that doesn’t mean it’s particularly compelling. Destiny one had no story and Destiny 2 has a shit story and it doesn’t matter to the people who loved the game. At all.
Lets go back to the MMO side for a moment. World Of Warcraft has fantastic lore. But the actual narrative story of the base game and the expansions aren’t remotely interesting. And no one cares. World of Warcraft expansions set up a big bad, tell you he/she is a threat to everyone and everything and then set you lose to fish and mine and brew potions and kill 10 Kobolds for some dude and find 15 Maguffins in a cave in between each actual story moment. And nobody cares at all. The MMO genre isn’t built upon story content. Lore is more important than story because it allows a deeper examination of the world without annoyingly getting in the way of what MMO players are there to do. Which is play with many other people, grind for loot and take part in mechanically complex coop end game activities.
Destiny 1 actually would have gotten this right with even a minimally competent story (one like, for instance, Destiny 2's minimally competent story). It had deep, complex and compelling lore. The world exploration told it’s own story and none of that ever got in the way of what players were there to do. Which is shoot aliens in the face with friends until guns and armor spew out of their corpses.
Focusing a huge amount of development energy on the games narrative was a mistake from the start. It’s very hard to craft a compelling narrative that you can sell to 11 year old kids. Bungie was never going to be able to tell a story anyone actually cared about and still sell it to everyone. And their core fan base didn’t give a hoot about story. You can’t have a persistent game lean on it’s story. Lets give Bungie credit it doesn’t deserve and pretend that they had actually been able to deliver a deep, complex, compelling narrative in Destiny 2. Let’s pretend that story was 20 hours of memorable character development and gripping plot. That still wouldn’t have mattered. Because Destiny was always supposed to be an ongoing persistent game. WoW wants you to stick around after you’ve learned how the story ends (spoiler: the good guys win) and so does Destiny. And a great story is only really great the first time you hear it.
So even if they had succeeded narratively (and, again, to be clear they absolutely didn’t. The story could easily have been written by a nine year old and can be summed up as. Bad guy arrives. Does bad guy things. Good guy finds friends. Good guy beats bad guy) it still would have done nothing to address what the people who were going to buy Destiny 2 wanted from the game.
In hundreds of conversations with other Destiny players leading up to Destiny 2 it became obvious what the actual players of this game wanted. They wanted the quality of life and amount of content as year 3 Destiny, with greater build variety, deeper RPG and progression mechanics and new enemies and worlds to play with. I can’t recall one single person telling me they wanted a better story. I can’t recall one single person telling me they wanted less gear grinding and I definitely can’t recall one single person telling me they wanted to use their supers and grenades less and to not have access to both a sniper rifle and a rocket launcher at the same time.
Bungie somewhere along the line decided what was actually wrong with Destiny was Destiny. Supers, powerful abilities, interesting gear and diverse play-styles. ALL of these things were toned down or eliminated in Destiny 2. Destiny players wanted new and interesting characters to play with. Instead they got the same ones with less diversity. They wanted more diverse builds, instead they got a binary choice of ability set A or ability set B. They wanted gear perks that made the game even wilder and more interesting. Instead they got gear perks that increase the reload speed of hand cannons by 3%.
They wanted Destiny 2 to be a larger game that further delivered on the initial promise of an FPS/MMORPG and instead they got a narrative FPS game.
This points to a level of arrogance at Bungie that should be a lesson going forward (it won’t be. But it should be). To make a sequel not for the people who loved your game but for those who hated your game is a colossal misstep.
We discussed build diversity a moment ago and this is crucially important to what has gone wrong in Destiny 2. MMO’s typically support the intense amount of grinding by giving you a wide variety of gameplay mechanics to use during that grinding. WoW has a huge amount of character classes. And even in it’s current extremely streamlined state the builds within each of those classes offer fundamentally different ways to play the game depending upon how you spec your character. Added on top of this base system is gear and weapons that further differentiate one play style from another.
It’s clear that while Destiny 1 marketed itself to people who love these systems they were actually scared to fully implement them. So instead Bungie instituted a very modest level and perk system. There were 3 classes that each played differently and each class had 3 subclasses that further altered your play-style. Within each of those subclasses there were only a few actual build choices to make. And while they did have a discernible impact upon your gameplay it wasn’t tremendous.
Destiny instead put a large amount of the build diversity into the gear. A warlock using bad JuJu and the Obsidian mind was completely different to play than one wearing the nothing manacles and using a shotgun that decreased your grenade cool-down.
Looking back it’s clear that a ton of effort went into creating gear based build diversity that was pretty good, very fun to play and wasn’t at all intimidating to FPS players or players with little to no RPG experience. But second games should build upon a foundation. Destiny successfully brought FPS people into an MMO type game and they were able to handle it. It’s one thing for WoW to streamline the Vanilla progression system because that system was huge and intimidating. But Destiny’s progression system was extremely simple. Simplifying it further has nearly eliminated the varied class gameplay of the first.
In the name of balance Destiny 2 slows the player down. It drastically increases grenade and super cool-downs. It makes the vast majority of exotic weapons and armor underwhelming pieces that offer only small tweaks to how you play.I’m not even going to get into the insanity of not having gear drop from bosses but rather having the token system. Or the insulting and grotesque microtransactions that went from a small annoyance to a core economy system. Or the literally dozens of small simplifications that were made with apparently no audience in mind.
Can Destiny 2 be fixed? Yep. But it’s impossible to see them doing that because they clearly don’t understand who plays their game, they don’t understand what those people want from the game and they’re unwilling to give their players the game THEY want rather than the game Bungie imagines some untapped market wants.
They need to add new enemy types. New classes. They need to drastically deepen the RPG aspects of the game. They need to have much more build diversity than the first game not less. They need to balance PVP and PVE separately like every single other MMO type game because those two modes are TWO DIFFERENT MODES. They need to go back to the Destiny 1 weapon system. They need to EXPAND the game. Not shrink the game. The only people who wanted a smaller, mechanically shallower, more streamlined Destiny are the ones who were never going to enjoy Destiny 2 for more than 10-20 hours. The FPS market is not the audience Destiny ever appealed to or was originally intended to service.
What this all adds up to is making Destiny a pretty standard FPS game. And people don’t play FPS games for 1000 hours. They play them for 15-40 hours and then they move on.
The entire vision behind the making of Destiny 2 is so deeply flawed I’m almost at a loss for how it was possible to fuck it up this badly. I recall saying to a group of raid friends near the end of Destiny’s life that what I wanted in a sequel was “More Destiny with a couple of new classes and more build diversity and gear” and having everyone agree. Every one of us thought it was a terrible mistake to have a sequel instead of an expansion but the game had gotten so good by that point that we had faith they’d continue making the game deeper.
Instead what we got is Destiny 2: The game that literally nobody asked for. It’s clear they set out to make a game not to please the people who were initially excited for Destiny and played through all the content of Destiny 1 but rather to please the people that despised Destiny. This is almost comically misguided. It ends up being a helluva lesson about arrogance. It shows just how important it is to know your audience. I’m sure there were people at Bungie who felt the way I and all my Destiny 1 friends feel. And I’m sure people like Luke Smith felt quite validated when Destiny 2 inexplicably released to glowing reviews. But those glowing reviews were actually proof that something was wrong at the core. Because those reviews are by people who didn’t like Destiny. Most likely by people who don’t like grindy MMO type games. Those reviews were by people whose opinions really didn’t matter. And that’s a damn shame because Destiny 1 was the base for a ground breaking game. It was a base that could have produced a genre defining game. Instead Bungie decided they wanted a different audience and that the people who loved their game were too stupid to realize that what they really wanted was just another shooter after all.
Pliny The Welder would be honored and humbled if you watched his Youtube videos. If you watch those videos he’d be tickled pink if you subscribed to his channel. And if you like, comment and subscribe he’d be absolutely thrilled if you would replace some shingles on his house. He used to be a roofer but he’s tired and old and who has time for all that nonsense anyway?
Coming up next:
An analysis of Nier Automata.
A comparison of the difficulty of Furi and Cuphead and why one works for me while the other doesn’t.
An analysis of the Early Access Rogue Like Lite Dead Cells and why it’s combat is so satisfying.
And of course a piece on the Best Games I’ve played this year.
Also Some Other Shit.