Bungie is making a big change to its weapon and armor system that would bring back some of the worst elements of its MMO shooter's beginnings.
When Destiny first launched, I kind of hated it. Bungie's weirdo space shooter was a delight to play when you were actually shooting things, but lost momentum as it picked up all the worst habits of MMOs. In the early days of Destiny, even in the endgame, you were constantly grabbing up new guns and tossing your old ones because of the slightly higher number on the new ones. The loot chase in the game was tedious and time-consuming, forcing you to play and replay content to make minor gains that never seemed like they amounted to much.
Destiny has come a long way since those days, first through the latter expansions of the original game, then through a bunch of smart and interesting changes in Destiny 2. Today, I play Destiny 2 almost every day and the franchise has gone from one of my most reviled to one of my most beloved. I love whipping through the Crucible and raids, I'm fascinated by the story, and I have a heap of cool weapons to use in a variety of situations. I even have come around on chasing the best gun stat rolls, something I'm usually loathe to do in games such as this--it's the thing that keeps me from picking up other MMOs or loot shooters. For some reason, Destiny 2 continues to cut through the noise and make me happy.
But in his last Director's Cut blog post from Destiny 2 director Luke Smith had me a bit worried, and the recent This Week at Bungie confirms those fears. It sounds like, in trying to continue to tweak the game to make it engaging for players long-term, Bungie is considering returning to those early D1 days. To me, there couldn't be a worse move for keeping a live game continually relevant and fun to play than reverting to the earliest ideas of Destiny.
Smith describes the situation into which Bungie thinks Destiny 2 has stumbled in its third year: It's lost some of the aspirational drive that pushes players to work through the game to get the best gear. For a loot shooter, that slot machine aspect of the game is a big part of the draw: You're constantly playing in hopes of getting cool new stuff that you can then use to perform better in PvP, or to more efficiently take down the toughest content, or to get even better cool new stuff.
And in some aspects, Smith is right. Destiny 2 is currently full of weapons that sit in inventories or get immediately discarded and go mostly unused. Each new season introduces a bunch of new, unique weapons, but there's not a lot of drive in the game to ditch your favorite old gear in favor of trying out new gear. Part of that is because some guns are just too good to let go, like some of Destiny 2's "Pinnacle" and "Ritual" weapons, which are unique items you earn through the completion of lengthy quests and grinds. Some are just guns that can have really strong stat and perk rolls, and continue to be dominant parts of the metagame in PvP and PvE settings season after season.
Bungie wants to push players to try new things, and most importantly, to chase new guns. That's the engine that keeps Destiny 2 going, after all. But the solution Smith is proposing sounds like it'll wreck another fun aspect of Destiny 2: the accomplishment of actually using the things you go chasing after.
The solution Smith is suggesting sounds like Destiny 1 before the "infusion" system was introduced. In Destiny 2, all weapons have a "Power" number that dictates their overall strength, and the average Power of all your gear determines your total strength as a player--so you often want to have the highest Power numbers you can. In Destiny 1 before infusion, that meant you were always tossing weak guns in favor of strong ones, and even if you particularly liked those weak guns, like the weapons you might pull from the Vault of Glass raid, they would become obsolete when a new expansion was released and raised the Power (then called "light level") cap. That incentivized you to play through the new expansion and try its new guns, but it also meant the stuff you previously earned and maybe really liked was now collecting dust or tossed in the trash because it couldn't hang in the tougher content. Destiny eventually added upgrade paths for guns, but they often required you to put in a lot of work to get the necessary materials.
Infusion changed that by allowing you to cannibalize a gun with higher Power that you didn't want in order to beef up a lower Power gun you did, and it's been the standard of Destiny ever since The Taken King's release in 2015. It also means that, in Bungie's eyes, once you get a set of guns you like, you don't really have a good reason to switch, even if the new guns they release every few months are cool or powerful in their own right. Bungie seems particularly perturbed by this fact, but at the same time, it fits with another of the developer's maxims: that there are a number of ways to play the game and that you can pick the way you want to play.
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Smith says Bungie is considering a push back toward a system that would render old guns obsolete over time to push you to chase new ones. You'll still be able to infuse your guns, but after a set period of seasons, an old gun will hit an infusion cap, and you won't be able to drive its Power up anymore. It's a lot like the old Destiny 1 system, in which a Power cap escalation every three months with the start of a new expansion could render lower-Power guns useless, at least in high-level content. It'll just take longer to happen.
It sounds like a bad solution to Bungie's problem. There's a reason a lot of the same guns get used a lot in Destiny 2: They're fun to play with. They're successful examples of Bungie's ability to create weapons that feel good and are effective. This isn't to say Bungie shouldn't be constantly tweaking and rebalancing guns, but players don't just get attached to certain weapons because they're the most powerful ones available. Sometimes people simply fall in love with certain guns because they worked extra hard to earn them, because they carry unique perks that vibe with specific playstyles, or because they look cool. Sunsetting those weapons arbitrarily over time doesn't increase choice and variety, it just shunts players into a new meta box until the next patch rolls around.
Bungie's solution of rendering old guns mathematically obsolete in endgame content feels like it'll do nothing but push Destiny 2 toward even more grinding, which, for my money, has always been the worst element of the game. Losing the best guns you worked hard to earn just to force you to work hard to earn new, likely similar ones sounds a lot more like busywork than it does a meaningful interaction with the game, and what's more, it continues to strip out player choice. Smith's blog says Bungie might reintroduce old guns in later seasons to bring them back into circulation, but that just sounds like another grind to get something you already earned.
Yes, there are too many guns in Destiny 2 that players don't use, and yes, that seems like something that unduly burdens the development team as it spends its time creating these weapons, only to find everyone continues to use old standbys. But it sounds like Destiny 2 needs to find new ways to make more of its guns viable choices for players. I'd prefer to see Bungie introduce fewer new guns each season, in favor of, say, more gun perks--things that can change how old guns operate and create new potentially great rolls.
Maybe that's not a viable solution to Bungie's issue, but it also seems that for a game to run on player aspiration, it can't only be focused on goals in the future; it also has to provide the accomplishment of achieving those goals. Your digital trophy room (in this case, having cool guns and armor) is as important as the next hunt you're planning. These proposed changes sound like they'll push more grind back into Destiny 2 just for the sake of that grind, and to me, grindy for the sake of it is the least interesting thing Destiny can be.