Image Credit: Patrick Walker
In January 2018, Bungie’s biggest ongoing franchise, Destiny 2, was in serious trouble. Following a split with their larger, wealthier partners Activision, Bungie had an uphill battle to fight in order to regain the trust (and wallets) of their players. The developer was facing a multitude of complaints from their community. Many of the gameplay systems in the looter shooter were too geared towards hardcore players, there was a huge emphasis on Destiny's microtransactions store, and the main story was almost universally panned. Destiny was boring, it was frustrating to play, and worst of all, it was failing to retain players that enjoyed the original.
In a blog post at the end of January, Game Director Chris Barrett would announce the developer's huge ‘gameplay path’ to a sceptical audience: tweaks to raids, microtransactions, and powerful gear began to sow the seeds for a real success story. Change wasn’t immediate, however. The first big idea came from battle royale titles, who had been releasing content slowly over the course of ‘seasons’ to keep players engaged. Bungie decided that the new ‘Shadowkeep’ expansion would be released gradually, allowing players to complete sections of the game as a community before more content was revealed. In one case, the developer even planned to restrict access to a key service, the Forge, until a particular dungeon had been completed by a team of streamers. The new expansion was popular, re-introducing a fan favourite character in Eris Morn, and allowing players to travel to the earth’s moon.
With the new story breathing life into Destiny 2’s world, Bungie also changed the way powerful armour worked, focusing on rewarding players who completed challenging content, rather than the previous system, which had been to grind for random gear drops in order to progress their character. Rewarding returning players also meant revamping microtransactions too. Destiny’s best and brightest would be rewarded with ship, and character cosmetics without having to purchase them through the hated real-world money ‘Eververse’ shop. Eververse wasn’t removed entirely, (a somewhat questionable move considering the game had already asked players to spend around £70 on expansion content) but its grip on Destiny 2’s player development had been lessened.
A large chunk of Destiny 2’s changes over the past two years have focused around more effectively balancing its hardcore playerbase with more casual players. Part of this included streamlining obnoxious systems like armour infusion, but it also included introducing game modes and challenges that meant players with less time didn’t feel the constant grind. The new ‘Gambit’ PvP mode fused casual PvE elements with traditional player on player action, rewarding players who weren’t as interested in Destiny's competitive scene. New modes, and the new minimum light level, mean that the path to the fabled endgame for new players is only around 10 hours long. Destiny 2 has also made efforts to ensure that new players are guided better throughout its many activities and objectives.
The accessibility changes have helped Bungie to address the giant problem that their rival, Warframe, still faces. Grindy looter-shooters are hard to attract new players, and many will bounce off the complex MMO within hours of downloading it. Destiny’s community is now solid, at 50-60,000 concurrent players on PC. It’s proof, perhaps, that online games, especially MMOs, are worth fixing, because they rely on long-term engagement from their players to survive. For Bungie, it remains to be seen whether their vision can survive without their titan publishers in Activision. Incoming expansions, or perhaps an entirely new sequel, might be around the corner for the title, but for now, the game's developers should be able to rest easy. Destiny 2 has been made spectacular again