Destiny 2 Succeeds Because The Formula Is Always Changing
As Destiny 2’s The Witch Queen expansion comes to a close, it’s funny to think about the way community sentiment towards the game tends to change in a cycle throughout the year. When a new expansion drops, the player base is jubilant. Every big change is celebrated and every new addition is treated like the best decision Bungie has ever made. By the midpoint in the first season, we start to hear some rumblings of dissent. It takes a few weeks, but once players finish the exceptional campaign and settle into their weekly duties, they eventually start to express their dissatisfaction with the new crafting system. By the end of a season, things inevitably become dire. The crafting system isn’t just disappointing, it's ruining the game.
Everyone starts focusing on Destiny’s oldest unresolved issues, or perceived fundamental flaws in the gameplay loop. As a casual observer, you would think Bungie must have done something really controversial to piss everyone off so bad, but in actuality it's just a natural ebb and flow of player attitudes.
A new season eventually comes and we start the cycle over – though the highs aren’t quite as high the next time, and complaining seems to come on a lot faster than the season before. By the end of the expansion, players are desperate for change. All of the things that once made Destiny great are now the things that make it a terrible slog to play. The systems we once loved have become tired, boring, and overly demanding. We love Destiny until we don’t, then we want everything about it to change.
What makes Destiny 2 so successful is that everything does, in fact, change. If you’ve been keeping up with all the TWAB and blog posts over the last few weeks, you’ve already seen the tsunami of big changes coming in Lightfall next month. The mod system is getting a complete overhaul, blue gear is going away, there won’t be Umbral Engrams next season, you’ll be able to focus Vanguard Engrams at the vendor, classic shaders and past-season gear will be craftable, and old campaigns are no longer going to be sunset at the start of a new expansion – and that’s not even half of it. Destiny 2 consistently makes big, sweeping changes to core systems on an annual basis that improve the game year after year.
It’s remarkable that Bungie manages to make Destiny better every year. If you play a lot of live-service games, this level of revision is practically unheard of. Games like Apex Legends, Fortnite, and Pokemon Go will add new characters, weapons, map, and activities, but everything new just gets piled on top of what was there before. With Destiny 2, Bungie is frequently throwing out stale systems and mechanics and replacing them with fresh ones. It isn’t afraid to sacrifice gameplay that was great when it was first introduced, and celebrated by the players, when it’s time to do something new.
I don’t want to overstate how flexible Destiny 2 is, because there are definitely some long standing issues. Despite all the tweaks to Gambit, the game mode has stagnated for years. Crucible players consistently feel neglected due to the lack of new maps and game modes. As a gear hoarder, I hate that I have to tab out to a third-party item manager every time I swap my weapons because the in-game vault is such a disaster, and always has been. Often the big, celebrated changes are just counteracting previous, unpopular changes, like gear sunsetting and content vaulting.
But despite its shortcomings, Destiny 2 has only gotten better, and all signs suggest Lightfall will make it even better still. Destiny 2 players might complain a lot, but it's only because Bungie has managed to set such high expectations year after year.
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