Notes on Leaving ‘Destiny 2’: How Did We Fall So Far From the Traveler’s Light?

The last two Guardians still standing by for resurrection protocol are watching yet another Destiny 2 controversy happen before their eyes. Now, as the community is fleeing in record numbers, a Hunter and a Titan compare notes overlooking a very empty EDZ.

William: In a plush nerd palace, a Black Nerd Quiver if you will, the walls are decorated with a timeline of nerd past and present. In one corner, a bookshelf full of comic book trades. In another, collectible figures from video games, anime and sci-fi movies fill the top of a display case. Physically, they tower above a robust pop collection of only POC characters, where the bottom shelf belongs to the special edition Pandora’s Box from God of War III. You don’t want anything else to share that space. And on the wall, framed, 18 by 24 inches, is a portrait of a Hunter. A Destiny 2 Hunter. Arcstrider, to be exact. The snake winds around the ascending triangle symbol in the background of our hero. And below that picture… a writer sits, wondering how the hell it came to this, where he’s ready to give up on Destiny 2. Mikkel, how did we get here.

Mikkel: Well, Will. We got here due to a series of decisions to break the skeleton of the original Destiny in an attempt to make a better one. We got here because the original Destiny had the most tepid release in recent memory where players would sit somewhere in the Cosmodrome shooting at things in a cave rather than… you know. Actually playing the game. Whether or not we needed to break the skeleton is at the core of this debate. And I’m aware I love a broken thing. I’ve bought D2 three times now, and have pop, figures, and t-shirts and have every intention of wanting more. But I’m aware my take isn’t the popular one. But I will stand by calling it the Best Game of 2017. Where do you want to start?

William: Mikkel, we have played the hell out of Destiny 2. You and I together, my friend. We’ve seen some things. But I’m not sure Destiny 2 is the best game called Destiny 2 at this point. Before we get into the details, here’s the macro for me: Destiny 2 has the kind of theological issues you would expect from the ambitious offerings of a first game, not a sequel that had three years of playtesting under its belt. Second, Destiny 1 had growing pains on top of growing pains. No one is going to rewrite history about how long it took to become one of the better games of a generation (I’m talking with the Taken King expansion). But while there were a lot of things that Bungie had to fix with Destiny 1, they weren’t usually course correcting for scandal. Which seems to be running almost rampant with the sequel. We went from, “come on Bungie, you see this could be better, what are you waiting on to fix it?”, to “Bungie, did you really think we wouldn’t notice that shady shit?” Its heartbreaking, to be honest.

Mikkel: I won’t rewrite history here either. The increased presence of Eververse and single use shaders was not a great way to start the game. The experience throttling we saw in the winter right before Curse of Osiris. The choice of only two crucible playlists. The lack of heroic strikes on launch. Miscommunication after miscommunication, and a community that, as you pointed out, wanted a game that built off Destiny 1: Age of Triumphs, not a game that was built off Destiny 1: The Best 6/10 Triple A Game you’ll ever play. The overarching theme for me is that Destiny 2 is still the best feeling shooter out on the market, the space fantasy aesthetic is entirely on brand, and I’m very much okay with some, and I stress some, of the decisions they made to make this game less life consuming than the original.

William: Right, to be fair, the first month the game was out, it felt obvious that D2 was a superior game. They streamlined progression. The made the worlds (even if fewer) bigger. The narrative actually made sense (though, I have some pushback on some of that). But once we realized that Bungie adjusted a lot of D1 staples, the straight up omission of so many didn’t make any sense. You mentioned the strikes and crucible limitations. Why the hell can’t there be constant faction rewards like everywhere else AND faction rallies where its a competition? Why are exotic quests mostly about breaking down weapons? Why can’t I just go back and play a story mission or strike of my choosing. Strike specific loot was dope. Yeah, no. You’ll have to wait a year on that. And also, I know this debate leads to something we disagree strenuously on, but loot, the cornerstone of Destiny, feels outright irrelevant now.

Mikkel: I think the things I miss the most are more along the lines of picking Control or Supremacy instead of Quickplay and “Competitive,” a term I think should be used loosely. The strike specific loot is definitely missed, as it added to the mystique of the game. I remember the first time I ran The Sunless Cell and got the Helm of Alak-Hull. Or the 45 calcified fragment hunt for the Touch of Malice. Or having to do binary conversion for Outbreak Prime. But perhaps a part of me is okay with this low impact model. The increased importance of public events. The easy to look at checkboxes of the weekly milestones. And yes, the streamlining of loot. Wanna start us out on the weapon debate?

William: My favorite exotic mission was the heroic Lost to Light mission to get the Black Spindle. You know what the amazing part of that mission was, besides everything? The progression and ancestry. What was already one of the best story missions of the Taken King became this other thing when it was the daily mission (footnote 1). You take a path untaken to another room and another story opens up. And at first, it was hard af. Maybe it was your power. Maybe it was your strategy. Maybe it was your skill. But it was so difficult to get that gotdamn sniper rifle. But something happens. You get higher light. You plan ahead for rooms. You figure out your individual loadout and then you figure out your teams’ loadout. And somehow, finally, you beat it. I’m a decent PVE player and it must have taken me close to ten times to finally get my sniper (got my ship on the first try too from RNG, footnote 2).

But then, I got it. And now, after taking all my characters through it, I was carrying other folks through. And it would be like, hey, you see what the daily mission is? Who hasn’t got their sniper yet? You might have to wait a week if we don’t do it tonight. No problem, I got you. THAT is some shit I miss from Destiny 2. The closest we have to that is a nightfall where you get a bunch of tokens to pretty average or pointless gear as your reward with nowhere near the catharsis or pay off…but you said something about weapons?

Mikkel: Haha, well it’s appropriate you bring up this idea of catharsis/pay off because while I do remember sherpa-ing folks through various quests in pursuit of the latest armament, what I associate most with Destiny 1 was the lottery system and the “random roll.” I grinded for hours and hours and hours, sometimes in the Strike Playlist, sometimes in the Crucible playlist, constantly searching for the coveted “god roll.” It was exciting, I’ll concede, but it was also the most goddamn frustrating thing between years 1 and 3.5. And it wouldn’t be so bad, but some perks instantly made a gun trash. Play 100 games of crucible, maybe you’ll get one Eyasluna. Oh, wait. It has Underdog and a worthless stat boosting perk that nukes the range and gives you an extra bullet. Maybe you’re trying to get Grasp of Malok with headseeker/counterbalance. You get a rhythm and 40 copies of the gun and if RNG favors you, maybe you get one usable roll. When they announced fixed rolls, i was ecstatic. No more guesswork. No more hope. You get the gun, you get it out of the box. The guns I loved the most? Vision of Confluence, Quillim’s Terminus, Ex Machina. Things that I could work towards and get and use. When they announced fixed rolls, I cried in joy. Because after I spent thousands of weapon parts trying to get my Antiope-D, I got my Antiope-D with its scope, range boost, and Kill Clip and it’s been my gun since then. I like that over the psychology experiment of engrams, conditioning me to think, “maybe this next one will be it.” That was destructive.

William: And yes, here is where we will differ. I agree, you could get 40 copies of a gun and all of them be trash. But now, you get 40 copies of a trash gun. Like…that’s it. Antiope-D. Nameless Midnight. Better Devils. Uriel’s Gift. The Prospector. Sins of the Past. A few others…but that’s mostly it. I’d love to see the usage rate of legendary weapons in Destiny 2 and see how lopsided the preferences are. But the difference is, take a gun like Lincoln Green. Decent gun, definitely more of a PVP weapon, than PVE. That’s a gun in Destiny 1 that would’ve been…ok as is. But the perks are nothing special at all. What if you got a full-auto version. Or one with headseeker. All of a sudden, its a different gun, but the same gun. And that’s what you saw in Destiny 1. Oh, that guy has a what? I didn’t think that gun was that good. Oh, that gun comes with THAT perk. Now I get it. I think the sandbox was bigger because the options were almost endless. Now I have a thousand Last Perdition pulse rifles that are dismantle on reception because I know what I’m getting, its garbage and I’ll never use it.

Mikkel: Thankfully, has us on the weapon stats, and outside of auto rifles which have a ridiculously high usage rate, we see a healthy selection of guns between weapon classes. And funny you mention Lincoln Green. It’s a 540RPM pulse rifle, and it has a cousin called the Darkest Before with full auto and quickdraw that I managed to acquire after weeks grinding the Trials of the Nine playlist. It’s not exactly the same parity of Destiny 1 between guns, but again: fixed paths and I have a good rapport. And I remember the sandbox of Destiny 1 a bit differently. I remember a Crucible dominated by a certain curation of guns depending on what meta it was. I remember that when reforging was a thing for a hot minute, everywhere essentially rolled the gun the same perk wise, because Shotguns needed range and shot package and snipers needed quickdraw. I remember still looking for the same perks across guns in the archetype. And in PvE? You’d get six guardians with virtually the same exact loadout with minor variance. The joke about the Fatebringer/Black Hammer/G-horn. I’ll give you that the D1 sandbox was a lot more bombastic. Perks were louder and more noticeable. But that went in both directions. I dunno. D2 is a happy medium for me. And that’s not something I can sway you on.

William: Nah, haha, you can’t. What that weapon stat break down shows me is the death of the precision weapon. Yeah, there’s the joke about the Fatebringer/Black Hammer/G-horn combo and yes, something did need to be done to balance that eventually. But what gets lost in that is that you had to get lucky with drops, beat two different raids and the Hard mode of one at that. It wasn’t a gifted loadout by any means. Name me one situation in D2 you absolutely need a sniper for and the answer is mostly like “Nameless Midnight.” Shotguns aren’t preferential to anything, they are just fun sometimes. There are parts of the new weapon system I like, but they have essentially taken out 2-3 impactful weapons from the game. The dominated crucible you speak of led to PVP changes dictating the entirety of the game. And PVP isn’t even that great for it now, either. But armor has been neutered as well. Health Regen on armor pick up. Raid specific perks (which are somewhat coming back now, I guess). We just took several steps backwards disguised as refinement.

Mikkel: I don’t know about shotguns as a whole, but I keep Legend of Acrius attached to my titan at all times. The damn gun definitely carried me through the Curse of Osiris campaign and has led to some cackling moments in the crucible. And I’ll recognize my bias to this current sandbox because my SMG, a weapon class that couldn’t exist in D1 due to the existence of shotguns always having ammo, has been my stalwart companion. I wouldn’t mind seeing handcannons buffed on console (I hear they’re doing quite well on PC) and snipers have a bit more incentive to use everywhere. Rockets do get boring. And as far as armor… I don’t have a defense for that. I just curated my gear to match what I envision I’d want to wear and have worked accordingly. It was a decision made in the name of “balance” and perhaps a balanced game is boring. Perhaps, D2 discarded too much of its RPG roots. And I’m personally in a place where I’m surprisingly fine with the shift, and that’s not a sentence I would have thought during peak Destiny 1. I don’t feel the need to play D2 every day. It’s like my poker night with the Clan. Reset every week, raid attempts every month. And I even buy and play other games now. Surprisingly, I like other games.

William: Yeah, except its the poker night that used to exist before all your friends got in serious relationships, a second job and a mortgage. Now your poker night happens once a quarter, if you’re lucky enough to get enough people together because whoever was hosting had a bad breakup and now the house is a total effing mess. Like, they don’t even clean up after the dog. And they charge you to play with new cards. And instead of a 52 card deck, its just face cards and 3 of clubs. So now you just play solitaire because at its base and with no other expectations it can’t disappoint you.

Mikkel: I mean, I’m lucky. The Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s took all of my usual fireteams, and I was fortunate enough that the Jacks of All Nades had an open night last week, and we ran through the Eater of Worlds and it was joyful. I have an Exotic Weapon Buddy that I’ve had the fortune of playing with since House of Wolves, and now we chat on our Discord not just about Destiny, but life, politics, the boring day to day stuff. Most of my clan is equally okay with the state of the house, I know when I log in on Tuesday, I’ll find a 4 stack and that when I throw up an Event on PSN, I’ll figure out if it’s viable. My experience is atypical. I had multiple groups I slotted into, and if they’re not up for Destiny 2, I’ll switch over to something. There was a post on the DTG subreddit that opened with “I really want my wife to be mad at me for playing too much Destiny again” and as a single grad student working a full time job, that sentence baffles me on a couple different level. It’s an extreme point of view. But my D2 purchase gave me… 287 active hours of game time ( and will give continue to give me a couple hours of enjoyment every week. But I recognize that’s me. I get the frustration, but I also really like roaming around punching things with Synthoceps. It’s a visceral connection for me. I can’t explain it.

William: So what now? I’ve kind of rolled my eyes at all the “I’m leaving Destiny 2” posts and videos that have existed for months, but the latest debacle of this faction rally, the bait and switch of the weapons (again, useless and indistinguishable anyway), and the token lock out just leaves me thinking this may be a done deal. A big part of me, considering how many popular things that seemed like no brainers didn’t make it from the first game to this one, thinks that D2 was just pushed way too early. We were spoiled and (and activision was probably greedy). And instead of seeing the community slowly wean off the game for a year, maybe with some small updates here and there, they were determined for folks to mostly go from playing the first game to the new game. Destiny 2 probably shouldn’t have released until Spring 2018 at the earliest. They would’ve had to swallow some slow months, but they would’ve retained a much bigger chunk of the community with a more fully fleshed out and thought out game. Pains me to say that, but I know now, I could’ve waited.

Mikkel: The latest development update gave a vague roadmap for things to come, and I think with that roadmap, there are also clearly marked exits and that pains me to say. In hindsight, yes, this game was an under-cooked pie. You had a nice crisp exterior with the aforementioned overhaul in graphics and accessibility. And then as you got deep, there’s a lot of good flavors that really could have used more time to simmer and get right. I would have waited an extra couple months, too. I would have suffered through an incredibly uneventful summer/fall/winter. And it’s easy to see that major gaming is at a precipice. Publishers and developers have finally used up all of their goodwill, and it’s beyond frustrating to see a franchise transmuted. We haven’t even touched on the subclass simplification, or the boring trinity of Mobility/Resilience/Recovery, or this kinetic/energy/power imbalance. So I don’t know exactly what happens next in the grand scheme. Just that I have plans for a Destiny tattoo consultation later in the year. That I’ll be commuting between the EDZ and DC. I hear there’s a firm that has some interesting prospects run by a certain Commodore. But hey, if the Division can apparently come back from the dead, maybe Destiny 2 can fireborn itself. Even if they removed that perk.

William: It can. But I think the difference is that people abandoned the Division. People abandoned Rainbow Six Siege. Is Bungie willing to burn it all down and rebuild in the ashes? While those franchises weren’t cheap by any means, they didn’t have even an ounce of the expectations that Destiny continues to have on it, or such a rabid fanbase. I’m not sure that Bungie can afford to take two years for their game to be good again. Final thoughts?

Mikkel:There’s not really a great summation, is there? Hahaha. The original Destiny was my first First Person Shooter, and it got me hooked and I made a lot of friends because of it, you included. And you’re right, Destiny 2 had high expectations and it did not meet them, and now the fanbase rightfully wants more. But, as Stockholm Syndrome as this sounds, I still can’t wait for Iron Banner and January 30th to get a scarf for my Titan. And it is kinda sad that *that* is what I’m looking forward to. But it is what it is, and I’m riding this potentially sinking ship. Many years from now, we’ll see how Bungie’s grand experiment panned out. But today, I’m fine running one or two public events before switching over to Payday 2. Not the best defense I’ve ever written, Will, but it’s the one I have.

William: Well, for me, the money is spent. I may not be around for every update, but I’ve already bought the spring DLC, so I’ll want to see where all my Eververse money went. But yes, I’m already seeing other co-op shooters and getting out into the dating pool was less difficult than I thought it would be. I’ll check in again, but out of obligation more than anything.

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