Last updated on December 12, 2020
If you don’t play Destiny 2, you can stop reading right now. But if you do play, Like Smith release Part 1 of his State of the Game post today. It’s linked below and I’ve highlights portions of it to discuss. Everything in italics are my own thoughts and everything
behind a pullquote like this is from his post.
10 THOUGHTS ON THE LAST SIX MONTHS (LOOKING BACK)
I’m going to largely focus on Season of the Drifter to near-present day.
We set up a calendar of content, showed you the plan early, and delivered it.
They told us what to expect. We expected it. They delivered it. Consistent content. No content droughts.
But, the Annual Pass was harder on the team than we anticipated.
This is not a sustainable pace. They need content droughts as developers as we need them as players to have time to catch up on old activities.
There is so much to do in this game right now. There is no time to catch your breath as a player. We need the game to slow down because there’s no way to keep up if you’re not playing every single day and every week.
If I only had 5-10 hours per week to play Destiny, I would have moved on by now. There’s just no way to keep up, feel powerful and to enjoy all the game has to offer without feel like missing out on exotics and activities.
WE HAVE A POWERFUL SOURCES PROBLEM
As the game’s weekly sources of Power grew and Destiny grew with it, this – at times – could really feel like a chore. Each season brought with it new Powerful sources and optimizing your character meant that you were maybe still running three story missions every week or returning to the Dreaming City months after those first few magical trips from last fall.
Bungie wish they could have made more small changes to the world and events.
But this is yet another task to put on an overworked team of developers. They spent all of their time pushing new content every week to the players, there was no time left to catch (and fix) bugs. To make smaller changes to the world, new strike maps, PVP languishing, Trials of the Nine removed entirely.
There is a balance between new activities every single week and smaller changes to the world and quality of life changes to make the day-to-day experience better. They haven’t found it yet.
SEASON OF THE DRIFTER THOUGHTS, PART I
I like Gambit Prime. It felt like a great refinement of Gambit to me. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.
In the future, we’re going to have to make a choice: Which Gambit is the Highlander of Gambits. Prime or Classic. This isn’t just about removing stuff from Destiny 2 — but the game cannot grow infinitely forever –it’s about focusing refinements and evolutions to the Gambit ecosystem. We think Gambit is sweet and deserves more ongoing support and we want to ultimately focus that support on whichever mode ends up being the Highlander. There can be only one.
Gambit or Gambit Prime is going to be retired in the future. Which one?
Keep Gambit Prime. But if you do that, you also need to keep Reckoning and it needs a rework to the reward system because simply put, it is not rewarding.
I went through the entire Season of the Drifter without completing a full Notorious armor set because the matchmaking left me with less than full teams. The number of failures on the bridge were piled higher than thrall bodies.
It’s only now in the Season of Opulence I have been able to consistently make it through Reckoning and earn Notorious sets to then take into Gambit and be able to properly enjoy the activity as it was intended (and to chase the Triumphs for wearing full sets).
Gambit Prime is a better version of Gambit. It’s a single round, so the games don’t go on as long. There’s armor sets that can change gameplay. I was recently hit with a couple of those Extra Large 20-Mote Blockers. They’re beefy! As time goes on, especially when Reckoning becomes more rewarding, more people will successfully get through it, gain the armor sets and it will really change how Gambit Prime plays.
I remember about how the game would play when you had Day One Full Armor Set Players and most of the community still playing without those perks. It turns out those fears were largely unfounded singe we are now five months later and it’s still rare (for me at least) to see a fully armored Guardian in Gambit Prime.
SEASON OF THE DRIFTER THOUGHTS, PART II AKA LET’S TALK ABOUT RECKONING (and Encounter Design)
The first time I used Phoenix Protocol at home, I knew it was over. It’s an exotic coat that refills my Well of Radiance and then refills itself as I “slay,” so that I can continue to place my Well of Stand Here to be Borderline Invulnerable and Deal Tons of Damage.
I wondered, How are we ever going to make content that fairly challenges players again?
With Reckoning in Season of the Drifter, we got a taste of what kind of content we’d need to build to challenge Protocol-wearing Warlocks.
And here is what they came up with.
Matchmade encounters that accost you from all directions
Plant snipers off in the distance
Put players in between a pincher attack
Giant bosses (also eff you Knight Taken guy).
Let’s talk about encounter design. Generally, in activities we expect players to complete alone (dungeons, raids, zero hour-type activities can play by a different set of properties!) or in matchmade groups, there are a number of guidelines we use when we build them.
We don’t want to spawn enemies behind the player.
We want players to play a game of taking space from enemies.
We want players to have cover where their shields and health can recharge, or where they get to be smart using geometry, movement, ability and gunplay to dig enemies out of cover, and make interesting decisions about target prioritization.
We want players to be able to understand where in the space enemies will come from, and if we’re going to reverse the combat front on players (AKA spawn enemies behind them, we want to telegraph that.
We use dropships, spawn clouds, audio cues, all kinds of tricks to try and prepare players for reinforcements.
As character power was dramatically increasing (more on reasons for this increase later on), the encounter rules got thrown out the window.
To summarize this: Destiny had sweet gear and in order to create challenge in the Reckoning we broke a bunch of our encounter design philosophy.
Maybe that’s why Reckoning was poorly received. It was not a required activity to advance in the game (the armor is nice, but not required). And it went against the encounter design rules Bungie had setup. It was an activity that didn’t feel like Destiny, because it broke the rules of Destiny.
It’s interesting to see how the push to make Guardians more powerful ended up making us too powerful and now the game became an exercise in how to you challenge teams with a single build, sine the Well of Radiance really is ridiculously overpowered. It took the Destiny 1 Titan Bubble that could grant one of three buffs to players, but you couldn’t battle within it, you had to step out to engage the enemy.
SEASON OF THE DRIFTER THOUGHTS, PART III AKA NOW LET’S TALK ABOUT DIFFICULTY AND TOUCH ON SANDBOX NERFS
Overcoming challenges is a huge part of what makes an action game’s moment-to-moment engaging. Action games are a delicate balance of growing stronger, the game rising up to push back, introducing new challenges that force you to learn/become more powerful/master a new element and — at their best — creating the fist pumping moment of celebration when you achieve victory.
But Destiny has an RPG component, too. And the RPG component is about customization, optimization, and it’s a way for players to choose how they overcome challenge. The entire time we’ve been making Destiny, the action game and the RPG have been fighting. It’s the forever war. The RPG has the power to dramatically overcome the action game, and the action game has the power to render the RPG game irrelevant. It’s a line – by nature – Destiny will always have to straddle.
There’s always going to be a battle between these two sides of the game. With Shadowkeep, we are moving more towards an RPG with greater customization and game play choices. This should help with the One True Exotic meta we’ve had in Destiny for awhile.
With the ability to have a greater variety of loadouts and ways to play the game, we should rely less on a single weapon or armor piece to complete activities. That said, I would love to see some greater tools within the game to manage my gear and build loadouts.
There is a rich ecosystem of third party applications but what happens when those folks decide it’s not worth their time or effort to maintain those sites and apps? They have a change of job, or family change that prevents them from devoting the hours to keeping them running smoothly and constantly updated as Bungie adds new things to the game. I am thankful everyday for Ishtar Commander and Destiny Item Manager, but I also fear for the day when those tools are no longer available.
If I could turn back time, we’d probably not run Whisper as the original Black Hammer infinite ammo design. However, considering the year before had Destiny 2 feeling very restrictive and power-limited, I think we did the best that we could with the knowledge and intuition we had last summer.
Whisper was an outlier that lets you stand still at a safe distance, in a pool that makes you borderline invulnerable, never having to reload or relocate for ammo, and allow players to deal piles and piles of damage on giant bosses who aren’t threatening. This isn’t your fault! It’s ours!
We’re making some stuff too easy and allowing players to circumvent parts of the game!
Mechanics that circumvent the ammo game (relocate to pick up ammo bricks) or completely ignore the reload animations (a critical part of weapon tuning) are mechanics that create the kind of outliers that we ultimately have to tamp down before the game spirals into the boss health version of Reckoning bridges.
But hindsight is always 20/20. Whisper broke the mechanics of the game. Bungie was trying to correct a game where we weren’t feeling as powerful as we had in the past. They wanted to give us the power back
Whisper of the Worm was released July 17th, 2018 alongside Patch 1.2.3 which brought to the game though you won’t find it mentioned as it dropped into the game in secret for players to find.
SEASON OF OPULENCE, PART I: THE PURSUITS TRAY IS A CATERPILLAR IN A COCOON–QUESTLOG IS THE BEAUTIFUL BUTTERFLY
We want a Questlog with great tracking that can help players prioritize what to do next.
Oh, and this fall, bounties will be separated from quests and PC players can assign a hot key that takes them directly to the Pursuits menu.
The most jarring change to me about the Pursuits was moving it from one end of the UI to the other. Different buttons. Different directions. It broke my muscle memory to access what I was trying to do. And on a game that can already feel sluggish with menus, it was compounded by opening a menu, waiting for it to load, as it tried to load, close that and open the Director, wait to that to load, move to Pursuits and then scroll through three pages of randomly displayed icons trying to find what you were looking for. Oh, and it also made you think every person you were, say, in a Reckoning Match with was going to leave the fireteam (since ghost out is the precursor to leaving the activity.)
Now all of this being said, the change was positive. More spaces to hold bounties and quests (you may never finish and can’t delete). Once I relearned where to find them, it was as natural as it was before. Change is hard, but you adapt and forget all about it. My biggest issue with the current layout is it doesn’t allow me to group pursuits of the same time (putting all Crucible or Strike bounties together) or move the completed one to the top so I can quickly locate and complete them.
SEASON OF OPULENCE, PART II: THE EVOLVING EVERVERSE
I’m not going to say “MTX [Microtransactions] funds the studio” or “pays for projects like Shadowkeep” — it doesn’t wholly fund either of those things. But it does help fund ongoing development of Destiny 2, and allows us to fund creative efforts we otherwise couldn’t afford. For example: Whisper of the Worm’s ornaments were successful enough that it paid [dev cost-wise] for the Zero Hour mission/rewards to be constructed.
It was nice to see him give an example of what Microtransactions allow them to do. I don’t spend money on Silver. I buy things from the store with in-game currency (Bright Dust) and while I may miss out on a few exclusive items that require real money to purchase, I’m happy to see others purchasing them as I benefit from what those purchases provide me as a player.
Eververse is moving
We’re going to move it to the Director, so you don’t have go to the Tower and see Tess to interact with it. We’re giving it some Class specific content, so if you’re on your Titan looking for Titan Universal Ornaments with smaller shoulders, you’ll see Titan armor on one of the store’s subpages.
We’re also going to make it so that the pieces you’ve already acquired from a given set reduce the Silver price of the set. For instance, if you are 3/5 Optimacy set on your Titan, the cost to finish the set in Silver will be reduced by 60%.
I have mixed feelings about the Eververse move. It’s always been something Bungie made substantial changes to with every season, so I am not surprised but I am curious. Does this mean the bounties Tess offers are moving with her? Will this be a location I have to fly into to visit? Will I have to visit a third location to pickup bounties? (The Tower and Tribute Hall being the other two.) I don’t like having to go more places to pickup bounties. We have space magic, but we haven’t invented radios…
What goes into Eververse
We have made deliberate choices related to cosmetic items and not having them come from gameplay. Gameplay rewards are where you get items, power, mods, perk combinations, stats, triumphs, and titles. The aesthetics for armor blurs the line some – we want players to get cool armor from activities and the world that feel thematic to where they were acquired. Cosmetic items like universal ornaments, weapon ornaments, shaders, ships, sparrows, emotes, and finishers typically come from the store (There are exceptions, but generally speaking, that’s how we think about this).
Again, I don’t spend money on cosmetics, but I do on content. And I like their stance on not requiring me to buy weapons or armor. I can play the game and willing, get the rewards I am playing for. Not paying for.
SEASON OF OPULENCE, PART III: THE MENAGERIE IS SWEET
The Menagerie – a six-player matchmade activity where you make progress no matter what – is awesome. Its “learn-by-watching mechanics” means that it doesn’t require communication between players. The way groups can make progress – even if they don’t kill the boss – means the real efficiency gain is by learning and executing the fights quickly.
Bungie absolutely nailed Menagerie. The “learn-by-watching mechanics” are exactly how I learned what to do in every room. It was a nice use of existing techniques (stand in this circle, take this ball and dunk it in that basket) so even on my first time, I had a sense of what to do in each room.
The lack of communication is what really hampers the Reckoning but doesn’t in the Menagerie. Again, they made the activity easy to learn, there was no chance at failure, and it didn’t require communicating and coordinating with the 5 other random people I was playing with. The Menagerie is a ton of fun and I look forward to it every time I go in.
Escalation Protocol suffers from poor matchmaking (there may be people in the game world not interested in playing) and very rare loot drops. They fixed those problems in Menagerie. I’d love to see them apply what they learned in Menagerie to Escalation Protocol and Reckoning, now that they can rethink these activities without the game-breaking power of the exotics where they were when the activities were created and released.
SEASON OF OPULENCE, PART IV: THE CHALICE OF OPULENCE AND SOMEHOW EVEN MORE SEASON OF THE DRIFTER THOUGHTS
While content for Destiny is released serially, it is largely developed in parallel. For instance, while Forsaken was in its final few months, Black Armory was well underway, and Season of the Drifter was in development while Black Armory was being built, et cetera. For years people have wondered “Why doesn’t release X do the thing content drop Y did? Get it together, Bungie.”
So even though Menagerie is sweet, and Chalice is great, while Shadowkeep was being built, the Menagerie and the Chalice hadn’t yet been released. So we didn’t know how players would react.
Because we have so much to build, we frequently find ourselves having to place many bets at the same time. This has paid dividends at times – we discover new and awesome things like Escalation Protocol or Menagerie – and this has also resulted in things that feel like setbacks at other times.
And this is why you see similar activities that can’t benefit from lessons learned on the previous one, because while it’s a previous release to us, the players, it’s a concurrent release to Bungie, the creators. So the changes they made in Menagerie, were lessons learned from Reckoning and Escalation Protocol.
An example of a setback is the reward chase during Season of the Drifter. There are a bunch of super awesome weapons in Drifter (One Two Punch Last Man Standing), but the path to them isn’t clear like Black Armory or the Chalice. We didn’t do a good enough job of rewarding players for their time or giving them clearer paths to some of the sweet weapons in the release.
If we had a do-over with this season’s rewards we’d probably have dropped Armor directly from Prime and maybe used Reckoning combined with learnings from Menagerie’s fail forward mechanics to let players chase awesome rolls on weapons they could love. While I got pretty lucky with a Rapid Hit Kill Clip Spare Rations, I personally had more fun chasing my Kindled Orchid or Austringer.
I love seeing the transparency with what worked and what didn’t and why. I can tell when something isn’t working, but I can’t always explain why it doesn’t. The Reckoning weapons were few and far between. The Menagerie reward is guaranteed (depending what you put into the Chalice.)
I like to know what I need to do to accomplish a task. There are some things in the game that are a random drop from a specific place in a raid or other activity and I know I will never get it. Even if it’s something I dearly want. Because I don’t have the time to devote to playing an activity tens or hundreds of times to get the reward. It took me over 40 completions of Escalation Protocol to get the Shotgun to drop. And I’ve never even seen the other Ikelos weapons. Nor rarely see them drop for others when I am playing. I will never get the Telesto Catalyst as it’s locked in one specific chest in a raid lair that many people no longer run.
I agree with the interaction between Gambit Prime and Reckoning being confusing. It was. It took me awhile to figure out how they fit together. I have to run Reckoning to get armor that I can only wear in Gambit Prime? It was an odd choice. Why not regular Gambit? Why not the reckoning itself?
The Chalice isn’t perfect. Being held hostage by THE rune you want to drop from a Strike or Crucible to go make the weapon or armor piece you’re coveting is pretty frustrating.
Other than the first few weeks when you could farm 5 drops from the chest at the end, I have never run out of runes for Menagerie.
The Chalice is near perfect. After finding images of what combinations reward what weapon or armor piece, it’s a perfect system for loot. I can choose what I want to receive at the end. It’s still a random roll, but if I need a helmet, I get one. If I want to farm shotguns, I can do that. I can get the same reward consistently without guesswork.