Back when Destiny 2 launched I planned to write a full review for this site. I set myself the target of playing all of the content in the game before delivering a verdict; however this took longer than expected due to life getting in the way of various members of my raid team. By the time I had exhausted the content of the vanilla game (the campaign, strikes, public events, PvP, and the 6-man raid) the first expansion was just around the corner, so I thought I would wait and appraise the full package once I had experienced all of the expansion. That turned out to take less than 2 evenings of playing. Despite the fact that there were still activities to be completed and the regular weekly challenges to grind out, the end game had begun to feel sparse and devoid of meaningful rewards, and one by one my raid crew dropped off. And here we come to the problem with Destiny…
Destiny is dying.
Sure the game still has a reasonable player base, especially compared to some other shared world shooters like The Division, but huge swathes of players have abandoned the Bungie shooter and moved on, myself included. So what went wrong? The short and easy answer is greed and perceived meddling by publisher Activision. But I would argue it is a little more complicated than that.
Destiny 1 had a long and painful journey from vanilla release to complete package over the course of 3 years. What had apparently been a turbulent development cycle led to a game that, at launch, was rather empty. The campaign was short and the story made little sense, characters with expensive voice actor talent were painfully under-used, and the end game grind for loot was monotonous and unrewarding, leading to players standing in one place and shooting endlessly into a cave for hours. Despite this, me and thousands of other players came back night after night after night to join up with friends and grind away in the hope of getting that one elusive exotic. Problems with the game persisted and weren’t fixed with early patches and expansions, so the community made their voice heard and Bungie repeated the now infamous line of “we’re listening”.
It turned out they had been listening, year two of Destiny was marked with the launch of The Taken King, a huge expansion that added lots of new content and, more importantly, huge quality of life changes that made the end game both more enjoyable and more rewarding. All seemed good in the world of Destiny, the player base was happy, micro-transactions and loot boxes started to appear but were offset by the addition of free content and events, me and my faithful raid team ran the Kings Fall raid almost every Tuesday evening for the better part of a year and we all rejoiced that Destiny had finally become the game it had promised to be before release. A further expansion a year later with more quality of life changes and even more content kept us going and although the frequency of our Destiny sessions started to dwindle a little, all the information coming out about Destiny 2 had us salivating.
When the full sequel launched the reception was initially overwhelmingly positive. Seemingly all the lessons of the 3 year evolution of Destiny 1 had been taken on board; the campaign had a definitive story that made use of the ridiculous level of voice talent Bungie had available, story quests took on more varied tasks than the simple “go to point A, interact with thing, shoot things while you wait, repeat ad nauseam” model that the original had lent on, and the quality of life changes continued to make the end game grind easier for players.
Unfortunately the honeymoon period didn’t last long. End game weapons and armour didn’t come with a random roll of perks, so there was never the carrot on the end of that stick tempting you with the possibility of a better roll on that scout rifle you like; the weekly challenge list that rewarded “powerful engrams” (loot of a higher rating than those you already had) became a repetitive list of chores; the exciting and challenging public arenas that had appeared in The Taken King and Rise of Iron were gone and replaced with specific objectives to be completed during the regular public events, that would reward you slightly more than regular public events, but not enough to make it worth the hassle sometimes.
The dearth of content in the first expansion, Curse of Osiris, only made the situation worse (as well as, for some, ruining the mythos of one of the Destiny universe’s more interesting legends), and the continued controversies were the breaking point for many. Firstly there was the issue with throttling XP gains towards players next free Bright Engram (Destiny 2’s name for loot boxes), which Bungie apologised for, then subsequently made worse and had to apologise again. Next up there was the fact that the first expansion locked vanilla Destiny 2 players out of some of the content they had paid for; followed by players discovering problems with a particular in game consumable item which Bungie again had to apologise for, before having to apologise a week or so later for another obfuscation discovered by the community.
Running alongside all these problems is Destiny 2’s over reliance on the random dice roll of loot boxes to dish out items that were quest rewards in Destiny 1, armour shaders were reduced to single use consumables, and some of the coolest looking items (armour sets, weapon skins, ships etc) that were advertised in pre-release footage and advertisements were discovered to be only available through the loot box system. This predatory way to push people with a predisposition to gambling (not to mention children) towards throwing more and more cash at the game in the hope of getting that Ghost skin they wanted rightfully disgusted many Destiny players.
Bungie have made many proclamations of contrition since the litany of issues that have surrounded the first 6 month of Destiny 2, and updates from the developers have stated that many changes are on the way, including wholesale changes to how the sandbox feels as a whole. Some of these changes have already been enacted and been received well by the remaining community. But for a lot of people it is too late.
A Reddit user scraped the Bungie.net API and discovered that player numbers were down around 75% across all three platforms, a huge drop off and one that any game would have trouble recovering from. Some of those players will return when the next expansion drops, many won’t. For many people, including myself, Bungie have broken one too many promises, failed to learn from one too many mistakes, and taken too many steps backwards for every tentative step in the right direction. When Destiny 1 had its troubled launch and was plagued by issues for the first year, it had the benefit of being reasonably early in this console generation, and existing in a market that hadn’t yet been over saturated by shared world shooters and “games as a service” platforms. Destiny 2 doesn’t that luxury.
The gaming scene has changed substantially, even huge Destiny youtubers such as Datto have had to diversify and move on, there is simply too much competition for people’s time and there are too many other games that are more rewarding than Destiny 2. Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds and Fortnite: Battle Royale have come along with their twists on the last-man-standing 100 player shootouts and have proved insanely popular, Bioware have been teasing their impressive looking Anthem, Sea of Thieves is almost upon us, and free-to-play games like Warframe are pulling in players that have jumped off the Bungie ship.
What might have been the final nail in the coffin for Destiny 2, and the game that is stealing huge numbers of players from it, is the most recent iteration on a game series that many of these shared world shooters owe a lot too – Monster Hunter. With the latest instalment of the series that was already huge in Japan, the west is finally warming up to Capcom’s loot grind-a-thon in a way none could have foreseen, with reports of 5 million units shipping in the first 3 days of release. While Capcom is far from being a benevolent publisher, (on-disc DLC anyone?), they have refrained from joining in with the loot box craze that seemingly every other large publisher is more than happy to indulge in, and while they do sell a plethora of DLC for Monster Hunter World, at least you know what you’re paying for in advance. More than that though is the core gameplay loop of Monster Hunter itself – if you want a particular weapon or armour set you know exactly how to get it. While weapon and armour drops in Destiny 2 are almost completely down to RNG, Monster Hunter has always operated on a system of crafting weapons and armour sets from parts dropped by specific monsters, so if you want that Ratholos long sword, go and hunt some Ratholos until you have the parts.
According my stats I happily sunk over 1100 hours in Destiny 1, whereas I tapped out at 141 hours of Destiny 2. Now 141 hours is an incredible amount of time to spend in any game, but I couldn’t tell you how many of those hours were spent going through the motions, repeating the same old strikes over and over because it’s what my friends were playing. In comparison, Monster Hunter World has been out just over 2 weeks at the time of writing and I’m already 120 hours deep, and every single one of those hours has felt productive. Every nightly session has ended with me making some sort of meaningful progression, every new monster encountered has felt as epic as any Destiny raid, every new weapon tried has made the game feel completely fresh.
Bungie will, they assure us, make drastic changes to the game’s economy, they will make activities more rewarding, and they will make sweeping changes to the sandbox itself. But this is exactly what happened with the original, Bungie haven’t learned the lessons of the first 3 years of Destiny, and the gaming community will be less forgiving and less likely to give them a second chance again. I’m not going to say I am completely done with Destiny, but it would take a lot for me to come back, and the drastic changes needed will take time to implement. In the mean time, I’ll be here, hunting monsters.