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Destiny 2 and the Issue of the Grind

The release of Destiny 2 brought about the end of a content drought for fans of the Bungie developed shooter. A recent BBC article talked of how the team had ‘learned from their mistakes’ in Destiny 1. How much truth there is in that statement is up for debate.

In an interview with EDGE Magazine around a month before launch, Destiny 2’s game Director Luke Smith boasted how there would be ’80 missions and other PvE activities’ for players to dive into once they got their hands on the game. Yet a month in to the game’s life and already players are bemoaning the lack of things there are to do. This will be a familiar feeling for those who played the original Destiny with any regularity. So are players just eating up content too fast, or are Bungie, D2’s developers, the ones to blame here?

There are a few things to consider. Bungie’s philosophy for Destiny 2 seems to be one which pushes community and inclusivity over all else. There is a heavy focus on clans, and strong incentives for players to join a clan, in order to better their in-game experience. All clan members will receive an end-game loot drop the first time a clan team completes an end-game activity, allowing players who don’t have time to complete D2’s time consuming end-game PvE activity of the Raid, or who maybe aren’t skilled enough to win 7 games in the competitive PvP playlist Trials of the Nine, to still obtain some of the cool weapons and armour that these activities drop. The weekly milestones which drop end-game level gear can be completed in a couple of hours.

In some senses, this philosophy is commendable. For those who can maybe only spare one night a week to play, they can log on, play some PvP, complete a couple of Public Events, which are small scale challenges which occur in public spaces, and feel a sense of progression. The game gives high level gear out simply for playing, allowing players who can’t commit long periods to still reach those higher levels.

For the more hardcore player such as myself, problems quickly arise. Whilst there are admittedly 80 activities for me to do, many of them serve no purpose to someone who has reached the power level cap of 305. There is certainly not a lack of content in the game, far from it. However, there is a lack of meaningful content in the game, and this is what Bungie has failed to address time and again.

Examining Destiny 2’s trophy list, it shows only 18% people have completed the raid, which is a large dungeon with challenging mechanics, multiple bosses, and requires a 6 player team. Only 6% of players have completed a ‘Prestige’ version of D2’s endgame content, a modifier that makes the activity significantly harder, with the game recommending that you are at a power level of 300, basically the maximum.

I am fully aware that I represent that 6% in this argument; I am in no way expecting Bungie to cater to my desired difficulty level. Nor do I expect them to release 10 new missions and a new raid every month, as there significant time and financial constraints which would come into play. But in attempting to cater toward the player who can only play 1 night a week, Bungie have rendered D2’s grind almost completely meaningless.

The main grind in any sort of loot grind game, such as Destiny 2, is the level of your character, which in this case caps at 305. Usually the point of getting to this max level is so you are powerful enough to take on the most challenging content the game has to offer. Yet in Destiny 2, this max level serves almost no purpose. The raid, the most challenging PvE content, can be relatively safely completed at around 280. Trials of the Nine, the end-game PvP content, has no level requirement at all. The ‘Prestige’ version of the raid, an activity designed distinctly for hardcore players, drops gear at the same level as the normal one, leaving many players to ask the question of ‘why would I waste 2-3 hours more in a distinctly harder activity, when I can have a far easier time for the same rewards in the normal version?’ Bungie have created a world where high power is simultaneously very easy to reach, but also has no meaning to it. Subsequently, this has rendered the grind for the highest power levels gone.

Naturally, the hardcore player begins to search elsewhere for a grind, and this is the crux of D2’s problems. In Destiny 1, there were other things players could grind for. Admittedly, these were almost all made up by the player, but there grinds none the less. Players would look for ‘god roll’ weapons, weapons which dropped with specific perks on them out of a random pool which would make them significantly more powerful. This is gone in Destiny 2, as the same weapon will always drop with the same set of perks on them. This is something Bungie is aware of. Luke Smith asked the question of himself when interviewed “How can my second, third, and tenth Better Devils hand cannon be interesting? That’s a question we should be asking and answering as quickly as we can”. As of now, that question remains unanswered.

Similarly, armour in Destiny 1 had specific stats which pertained to how quickly you could use the different abilities that your character possesses. These stats created a grind where players would look for gear with high stat values, in order to give them the shortest cooldowns possible. These stats have been removed in Destiny 2.

Destiny 1 had grimoire score, which was a score that corresponded to how many grimoire cards you had unlocked on Bungie’s website through activities in game. Some of these cards were unlocked through simply playing the game, but others required 5000 kills with a certain weapon type, 10000 kills on a certain class, 1000 kills of a certain enemy, winning 100 games of a certain PvP gamemode, and finding collectibles in the world. These have also been removed from Destiny 2.

Destiny 1 had a ‘prestige’ strike playlist, with strikes being 3 man missions with a boss at the end, like a very simplified raid. Completing these strikes had a chance to award specific loot from that strike; a gun or a piece of armour in the theme of the boss you had just taken down. This is gone in Destiny 2.

Destiny 1 had different factions who you could turn in materials too, or complete activities whilst aligned with, and you would rank up with them and receive rewards. Whilst Destiny 2 does have this, it doesn’t show your rank with each specific faction. As previously stated, many of these grinds, like grimoire and armour stats, were simply something players chased because they had nothing else to do. These weren’t really acceptable grinds in the first place, so the fact that these are now gone raises some serious issues.

And these are just grinds gone from Destiny 1. Destiny has no leaderboard systems, no ranks for PvP, no speed run leaderboards for raids. Whilst this again ties in with the philosophy of community and inclusivity, as ranks and leaderboards can often promote toxicity or a feeling of disillusion when a player is ranked in a low tier, something like a clan leaderboard so that players could compete among their friends would be a solution. Returning to those 80 activities mentioned previously, as great a number as that is, very few have any sort of meaningful replayability. You can go back into them again, but they won’t actively give you any rewards.

The level of change I believe is needed to quiet at least some of the complaints of D2’s hardcore player base is not a difficult one either. Just put a long term grind with some meaning into the game. Let me see how many times I’ve ranked up a specific faction and give me a reward at rank 50 or 100, give me a ton of collectibles to go and find, give me a cool gun to go and grind for. Something as simple as an emblem to put on my character for getting X amount of kills with a particular class, or a rare cosmetic item which requires 500 strike completions. These are things that won’t increase my power, but are something I can grind for and something that has a tangible reward at the end. Hardcore players mainly just want to see progression, a number going up, knowing I’m closing in on a goal and a reward, however slowly that may be. Bungie seem to be afraid of making anything that won’t be universally accessible, but if I’m a player only logging on once a week, then I probably don’t care about an emblem, because I have all this other content available to me, and I’m still in a place where I have a sense of progression.

Is this whole argument a bit whiny? Maybe. Is this maybe a bit early in Destiny 2’s lifespan to be so critical? Potentially yes. But with Destiny 2’s playerbase dropping by over 2 million people in the last week alone, we are getting back to the stage where the hardcore audience will be the ones left in the game. I think there is a middle ground that can be found in pleasing both casual and hardcore, Bungie just need to do a bit more work to find it.

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Matt Hodges

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