Soft, Not Hard

Destiny 2’s Shadowkeep should, by all means, be a fairly wonderful expansion. Unfortunately, it’s just not quite there. There’s a few issues, and the first and foremost, is that whether or not you will appreciate the expansion will probably vary greatly depending on whether or not you’ve experienced Destiny 1 on a console and if you’re playing Destiny 2 on one now.

If you have, then you’re probably pretty unimpressed. That said, if you’re playing Shadowkeep on PC, you’re probably pretty pleased – for basically the same reason that people should pretty rightfully be upset: Shadowkeep is an expansion that is very indicative of Bungie’s overall problems, that is, that they wear them on their writers’ sleeves.

Bungie is haunted by its past. Particularly the glory of what it was long before Destiny, but also, what it was when the original Destiny came out, because even today, as a whole, it’s hard to compare Destiny 2 to Destiny 1 in terms of game design, since it’s simply not as good.

To illustrate this, I have a short list:

  1. All of Destiny 1’s story missions could be replayed w/o making a new character
  2. All of said missions had a heroic/hard mode
  3. Any bounty, mission, or quest that made the player use a specific weapon, rewarded them with a weapon of that type
  4. Destiny 1 had real item vendors that genuinely sold good gear
  5. Players engaging in activities like strikes, crucible, or public events were awarded purple gear with a high degree of frequency
  6. Item requirements for encounters were always ‘soft,’ and never hard
  7. Quest/story lines that end with a ‘strike’ like mission are actual strikes and not simultaneously strikes and missions.
  8. Destiny 1 had a genuine skill tree of which mobility/resilience/recovery was tied to.

Contrast this with Destiny 2 as of Shadowkeep:

  1. Campaigns can be replayed on demand once w/o making a new character
  2. Heroic missions do exist, but they can only really be played in the matchmade playlist
  3. To redeem Iron Banner tokens for the first Iron Banner of the Season of Undying, players had to use Fusion Rifles in order to receive random rewards – Only Shadowkeep’s and the Black Armory’s content provides the player a certain amount of control when it comes to their drops
  4. Every ‘vendor’ deals out random rewards
  5. While certain quests recognize various activities as being more difficult, those activities generally don’t give the player a good reward (read: any legendary or better item) for completing them, even if to “Heroic” standards
  6. Shadowkeep has introduced hard item/mod requirements
  7. Shadowkeep does instruct the player to engage in a strike to progress through its quest line, but it is the only expansion to do so; Forsaken’s strikes are separate from the story.
  8. As of Shadowkeep there is still no real skill tree, and to make matters worse, mobility/resilience/recovery is now a random roll on top of the Destiny 1 stats as of Armor 2.0

The big thing that I have to talk about before moving forward is #1 & #2 on both of these lists because it’s extremely important that we recognize this as such. Destiny 1’s story and campaign was arguably quite weak and extremely confusing, especially the first time through it. Only the second time, tagging along with a friend, did I really start to grasp Destiny 1’s story.

Destiny 2’s campaign, even if full of awful one-liners, quips, and more character assassination than you can shake a stick at, was, at Destiny 2’s launch, considered one of its high points, and rightfully so. It is definitely memorable, and more parts of stand out in my memory than Destiny 1’s, even if I had a hell of a lot of more ‘fun,’ getting completely lost in Destiny 1’s story and not knowing heads or tails of it.

That you can’t replay any single part of it on demand is almost a criminal level of underusage of existing content, and quite frankly, this a critique that I never see directed at Bungie or Destiny 2 – and a big, big issue of the modern iteration of Destiny 2 is that the entire game is due for a re-balance and redesign of the majority of encounters, as they were designed for an entirely different weapon system than the one we have today. Especially since, originally, the campaign was a completely co-op campaign after the player progressed so far as to regain their light – yet virtually every encounter was clearly designed on challenging a single player, and a single player alone.

The third topic on the lists isn’t quite as big as the first ones, mostly because it falls more under one of those problems of the game’s loot system, which inherently suffers from RNGitus so bad that I’ll have to rotate back around to this later to deal with the problem. That said, the complete lack of weapon based bounties from Shaxx or Zavala that reward the player with a weapon, is extremely apparent.

The Season of the Forge, the Season of Opulence, and this new Season of the Undying – or Shadowkeep – did introduce systems to allow the player to target specific weapons and target specific rolls to obtain them, but that said, there was essentially nothing done in regards to the above. This is important because both Zavala and Shaxx have lines that when the player is obtaining an item from them (usually bounties), which clearly reference giving the player actual gear.

Related to the above, #4 illustrates a big part of the issue. The player has a significant lack of control over what items they can receive, and a huge thing about loot games is that a significant portion of said loot isn’t very worthwhile. Either finding that out for yourself, or relying on the internet to tell you: checking vendors with actual inventories is a big thing. I suppose, technically, most of the planetary reputation vendors do allow you to get specific pieces of armor or weapons now, but the latter are deprecated by modern Destiny 2 standards and the former when purchased direct don’t have good stat rolls on them.

The fifth item on these lists is itself a really nasty problem. Destiny 2 now has a lot of real loot that can provide palpable advantages, but to get anything really good going for you in that regard with Shadowkeep, you need to be near maxing out your season pass. If you’re mainlining the game like you have a problem, well, this isn’t a problem – you have a different one.

It’s unbelievable to think that for completing a heroic public event, the player is not awarded with a single legendary item unless they get extremely lucky. In fact, they’re more likely to get a legendary item out of one of the enemies they kill completing a heroic public event than they are to than the overall effort itself. Simultaneously, however, there is a long list of quests that recognize heroic public events has giving better progress for the effort involved in completing them.

The sixth thing should be Game Design: 101, yet today, we still see game designers making these mistakes, even though they really ought to know better. How many developers have been taught the lesson that players do not like being pigeon holed into having to use a specific item? Unfortunately, it appears Bungie just isn’t one of them.

Now, a number of Destiny 1 & 2’s prior encounters required various relics – special items that were relevant largely only to the encounter itself, such that they were a part of said encounter, and as well, Destiny 1 had a number of situations that were essentially designed around getting a weapon that could heal you, but similar scenarios in Destiny 2, by nature of the exotics and class abilities that have been introduced, creates a wide variety of solutions to this problem.

The new ‘Champion’ enemies require that the player use specific mods essentially bars the use of a wide variety of weapons. Exotic primary weapons? That’s a no-go. Want to use a Pulse Rifle? Sorry Timmy. Want to experiment with some wacky combinations? Well, Johnny, I’m afraid that’s not an option either. And the damning thing here is that there are weapon perks that could, arguably, be doing the job that these mods are doing.

The only thing is, is that if you designed the game around that, that these encounters would have to be more softly designed – which is objectively a much better state for them to be in, in regards to the long term health of Destiny. Not every gun is gonna have Armor Penetrating Rounds – but if Armor Penetrating rounds deal more damage to shields, why do they not break Barrier Champions? Why doesn’t Ace of Spades’s High Caliber Rounds stagger Unstoppable Champions, along with every Aggressive frame weapon in the game? There’s suppression grenades, why not introduce a similar mechanic across the board when it comes to PvE enemies that grenades cause similar effects to Disruption?

I kinda have to pause here for a second because these Champion encounters, are not really genuinely difficult or fun, and it’s mostly because of this poor, hard-requirement game design, which it needs to be emphasized: this sort of system is by and large what most developers are praised for moving away from. Consider the transition from prior 3D Zelda games into Breath of the Wild – simple things like the ability to light fires radically change when these are no longer ‘fit the shape,’ sort of puzzles but instead become a situation where lighting fire is a tool at your disposal to overcome a number of scenarios the game might throw at you. Basically, this is where I have to sigh, and wonder when Bungie became this incompetent, as while I may have trouble justifying what happened at the start of Destiny 2, I understand the direction they were headed in, and the game design of that itself wasn’t necessarily objectively bad – but, all in all, that’s an observation to save for another time.

Now that we’re finally talking about how Destiny 2 is arranged, if it weren’t for the Warmind DLC, I would comment on #7 in a different way. The Warmind DLC for Destiny 2 is hands down the best written campaign we’ve gotten to experience in the game, but that itself is a topic that’s also kind of needs to be handled on its own.

Suffice to say, with the exception of Warmind, there’s essentially no reason I can think of that, for example, the strike that acts as a duplicate of the Curse of Osiris final mission, should have been a duplicate. After completing the Curse of Osiris campaign, the player should’ve been instructed to take part in the strike, not just dragged through it as if it was a mission. At least Shadowkeep gets this, but, we really need to see what will happen in the subsequent seasons to see whether or not Bungie has truly learned this lesson.

The final ‘thing,’ in these lists are essentially two part. With Armor 2.0, Bungie didn’t strip away the mobility, resilience, and recovery stats from armor, and more importantly, as of Destiny 2’s Year 3, we still do not have actual, genuine skill trees as were present in Destiny 1. This is exceedingly damning, as it essentially illustrates the big problem that’s remained with Destiny 2 when compared with its predecessor: it’s a lot more of a generic shooter than it is a real RPG, which really hurts when you compare the actual variety a Destiny 1 Guardian has at its disposal after Destiny 2 has been around for three years.

But to make things worse, with Armor 2.0, we have to juggle Strength, Discipline, Intellect, along with Mobility, Resilience, and Recovery. Trying to juggle all six of these stats in a roll isn’t cohesive towards being able to do much targeted growth. Getting one stat up is a bit of annoyance – getting two or three stats to be decent is quite frankly not really in the cards for the average player, and more importantly, because of the mod system, there’s really huge gaps.

The whole point of Armor 2.0, in Bungie’s words, was to “Play it your way,” but between the seasonal artifact’s extremely blatant flavor of the month and the way the mod system is currently arranged, it’s clear that “Play it your way,” is not the case. We are supposed to play it Bungie’s way. Do you like handcannons? Well, better get used to sniper rifles being the only weapon you can pair them with because they’re ‘Void,’ mods. Do you like shotguns? Enjoy a pulse rifle, because otherwise, you have no solid mid-range option, and no, you may not pick a scout rifle or handcannon without suffering a disadvantage.

And god help you if you want to combine Enhanced Targeting with any Intellect mod. The worst part about this is that, this system really ought to be an improvement to Destiny 2, except for the fact that it undermines the core values of a loot game.

You’re not really collecting armor for the purpose of having a wide variety of options; instead, you’re really probably trashing most of the armor pieces you have, and judging by the sheer amount of legendary shards even new players are able to obtain relatively easily, it seems pretty clear that most loot is now going into the bin. The question remains, what issues were with the previous system, besides the fact that Bungie had only introduced Y2 armor as having perks and never updated Y1 armor to said standard?

Is it that the player couldn’t easily obtain the perks they wanted? Is it that exotics were impossible to farm for good rolls? Is it the lack of Str/Int/Disc on armor? There’s solutions to the former, and when it comes to the latter, it’s no doubt that on paper, bringing back Destiny 1 stats to armor should be a good thing, but the overall execution of Armor 2.0 is bad, and the more time players are exposed to it, the more glaring the holes in the system are going to become, which primarily comes down to:

Y2 armor had one obvious critical flaw: you couldn’t, in any way, shape or form, roll for good exotics on purpose, and in order to max out a build, that was necessary. The big thing about this is that it isn’t necessarily a flaw with the armor system of Year 2 itself, it’s a symptom the reward system in the game – one which the new Nightfalls and their higher difficulty iterations would have solved.

In closing, the current state of Destiny 2’s highest point, right now, is that it’s no longer a battle.net game, but instead available on Steam. And quite frankly, it illustrates how much of a bad decision Activision and Bungie had made keeping Destiny 1 out of the hands of PC players.

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