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Saturday, February 24, 2024

7 big things we learned from the Destiny 2 ‘state of the game’ address

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As someone who’s overwritten more than his fair share of Destiny 2 articles, I have to doff a grudging cap to game director Joe Blackburn, who just dropped 5,439 words on Lightfall and the year ahead. Clearly he does not have to deal with the PC Gamer peer editing system. As with previous ‘State of the Game’ addresses, the treatise is a wide-ranging tour of the biggest areas of improvement the team is working on, framed by Bungie’s major philosophical goals for the game. It also reveals the names of the next two seasons, which are ‘Defiance’ and ‘Deep’, and says that Bungie plans to be (slightly) less secretive about seasons ahead of time. 

There’s a ton to take in, and whilst I can’t exactly promise a tl;dr, we have distilled the manifesto down to its seven most important points. Starting with…

1. Crafting is being toned down but enhanced perks are coming to almost all weapons

The introduction of weapon crafting has created a tension between players who miss the excitement of having a ‘god roll’ drop in the wild and those who prefer having a deterministic path to a precise set of weapon perks. Blackburn lists several major changes coming to the crafting, with the most notable being: “Fewer of our total weapons will be craftable and more of our weapons with long term sources will get value from random perk rolls.” Honestly, that’s not surprising. Towards the end of this season Bungie altered the vendors so that patterns were on a daily rather than weekly lockout, likely indicating much of the player base was nowhere near a full collection and needed to catch up. 

He also addresses the issue that Adept raid weapons were less desirable than their craftable equivalents, stating that starting from Season of the Deep it will be possible (with time and materials) to enhance the perks on Adept weapons from the Lightfall raid. “Enhancing allows your dropped weapon to start levelling up, use mementos, and gain access to both enhanced perks and enhanced intrinsic properties, but only the enhanced versions of the perks and Masterwork that are already on the version of the weapon you are enhancing.” 

This change will eventually roll out to almost all non-craftable weapons, though Blackburn notes there’s some technical stuff to solve first. In another nice quality-of-life change, we’re also told non-craftable weapons will stop dropping as Deepsight (ie ‘red border’), which should help reduce confusion.

2. The base game is about to get harder 

Right now, outside of Master and Grandmaster activities, Destiny 2 is very easy. Arguably this has always been the case, but things came to a head last year with the release of the Light 3.0 subclasses. Buildcrafters have been able to spec into almost permanent uptime for a chosen subclass’s most powerful abilities, and that’s made it easy to steamroll pretty much whatever the game throws at players.

For Lightfall, Bungie is committed to dialling back some of the power creep. A sandbox update is going to increase the recharge time of abilities, the damage resistance applied by Tier 10 resilience is being nerfed, and the cost of resilience mods is being increased. This will be somewhat mitigated by how much easier buildcrafting will be in Lightfall, but for those of us already well versed in mod setups, it should make everything feel a little less free.

Perhaps the more meaningful update to how Bungie is approaching difficulty is on the power level side of things. This season Bungie applied a modifier to its seasonal activity, Heist Battlegrounds, locking players to five levels below its power rating. “We were pretty aggressive with this adjustment in Season of the Seraph and it produced great results, so the base Battlegrounds playlist in Season of Defiance will use the same settings,” says Blackburn.

Vanguard Ops are also getting a power cap—although not as big as for the seasonal activity. Even Neomuna’s patrol zone is getting a cap. “While we don’t want the entire game to feel like it’s turned up to 11, we think these changes will help the enemy forces patrolling Neomuna feel dangerous and worth your attention.”

Blackburn teases a more major change to how power level works for The Final Shape expansion next year. In the meantime, though, more power level experiments will be taking place for Lightfall’s seasons. “Some of these tweaks might be found in our back end with little transparency to the average Guardian, while others will be front and center. For example, when Lightfall launches, we will have a Power climb that is very similar to that in The Witch Queen, but later in Season of the Deep, we don’t plan to raise the Power or pinnacle cap at all.”

3. Seasons should feel less stale 

One of the chief complaints in what was, mostly, a good year for Destiny 2 was that the seasonal model had gotten stale. The formula of playing a fairly simple activity in order to unlock a grid of perks at a vendor has become wearing, and Blackburn acknowledges more surprises are needed. Changes on this front likely won’t be felt in Season of Defiance, which was wrapping up as this feedback increased in volume, but Season of the Deep won’t feature a vendor upgrade system at all. “The same will be true for the following Season,” says Blackburn. “This doesn’t mean players will never see a vendor upgrade system again, but instead means we want to create more varied experimental frameworks and slowly create a wide array of different systems for players to show their investment into seasonal content.” 

Blackburn also promises more variety from the seasonal activities themselves, referencing the Shattered Realm from Season of the Lost and Battlegrounds from Season of the Chosen as good examples to aim for. He does note that the team isn’t going to shy away from the big, flavourful themes that Bungie has been experimenting with seasonally, pointing to Plunder’s Pirates and Seraph’s Cowboys in particular. Bad news if you don’t like wacky dress up I guess, but I say bring on the Season of the Medieval Knights.

4. Battlegrounds are being added to the Nightfall rota 

Battlegrounds are a seasonal activity, first introduced in Year 4’s Season of the Chosen. Functionally, they’re a bit like strikes—three-player PvE missions where Guardians face down some minor threat on behalf of the Vanguard and our allies. No surprise then that, when The Witch Queen launched, Chosen’s Battlegrounds were bundled together with the game’s current crop of strikes into a newly named Vanguard Ops playlist.

For Lightfall, Year 5’s two Battleground variants—Season of the Risen’s PsiOps Battlegrounds and Season of the Seraph’s Heist Battlegrounds—are being added to the Vanguard Ops playlists.

Those Battlegrounds will also appear in the Nightfall rotation. “This process will begin with the Mars Heist Battleground being part of the Nightfall rotation in Season of Defiance,” says Blackburn, “and we expect more Battlegrounds to be following suit each season.”

This is a neat move. There are, frankly, only so many strikes in the game—which made vaulting a bunch of them somewhat baffling—and so the seasonal Nightfall rotation was getting a bit stale. Grandmaster Nightfalls are one of the most challenging activities in the game, but they’re at their hardest when they’re new—before everyone’s learned the most consistent strategies for completion.

Beyond just the addition of Battlegrounds, next season’s Nightfall rotation is getting a big shakeup, as Bungie is also reworking the Lake of Shadows and Arms Dealer strikes—two of the easiest in the game, and thus also by far the easiest Grandmaster Nightfalls. “Both activities have had their objectives and encounters re-imagined and upgraded to match the combat engagement levels of some of our more recent strike entries, such as Lightblade and Proving Grounds,” says Blackburn, referencing two of the hardest current GM runs.

“We’re excited to see how players tackle Season of Defiance’s first Nightfall rotation where four out of the six Nightfalls will be new or refreshed content coming to the Grandmaster rotation for the first time.”

5. Old exotic missions are making a comeback 

Last year, Bungie introduced a new rotator system for raids and dungeons—breathing some life into Destiny 2’s older endgame activities. When featured, that raid or dungeon will give out a pinnacle drop on completion. More importantly, it becomes farmable—letting you earn rewards on each completion, instead of just the first run per character, per week.

Clearly Bungie likes the system, because they’re planning a similar rotator for exotic missions. The twist here is that it means bringing them back in the first place. Exotic missions are tied to seasonal releases, which means they get swept away at the start of a new annual cycle. Bungie’s website has already been updated to warn that Year 5’s exotic missions—Vox Obscura and Operation: Seraph’s Shield—are getting axed when Lightfall launches.

In Season 22, though, they’re coming back, and they won’t be alone. “Like our legacy raid and dungeon rotators, the Exotic mission rotator will feature Exotic missions from the past that rotate on a weekly cadence and offer great rewards for players willing to dive into some classic content,” writes Blackburn. “In Season 22, this rotator will contain the Exotic missions from Seasons 13, 16, and 19: Presage, Vox Obscura, and Operation: Seraph’s Shield.”

Bungie goes on to say it hopes to use this new rotator to reintroduce “some of Destiny 2’s most classic missions” back into the game. Zero Hour and The Whisper are at the top of my wishlist.

I do wonder what rewards are being planned, though. Vox Obscura’s exotic, Dead Messenger, could be earned from a single run. Operation: Seraph’s Shield has a slightly longer tail—requiring multiple runs to fully upgrade its exotic, Revision Zero—but I doubt it’ll be enough to make a long term rotator viable, particularly with the pinnacle grind no longer being necessary in later seasons.

6. Gambit getting no love, but other ritual modes are receiving work 

Crucible gets a few paragraphs of attention, with Blackburn revealing the return of Countdown—the bomb defusal mode from Year 1’s short-lived Trials of the Nine—along with a variant called Countdown Rush. Crucible Labs will also be returning for a series of experimental modes, including “Checkmate Control”, which is said to feature a dramatically changed sandbox. PvP will be getting a new map, and the return of two older maps, as well as yet more fiddling to the skill-based matchmaking system. It probably won’t be enough to placate the eternally angry PvP mains, but it’s something.

For Gambit enjoyers, though, it’s a desert out there. The third Destiny 2 ritual activity doesn’t warrant a single mention in Blackburn’s 5,400 word post.

Gambit launched with a lot of potential, but I think has always had a bit of an identity crisis. It’s a PvPvE mode, but one that overly favours the PvP side—a good invader is almost always the difference maker, no matter how well the other players are performing. It’s also a casual, matchmade ritual activity, but one that heavily favours coordination. If you’re visiting just to complete some challenges, or earn the weekly pinnacle, you’re probably going to have a bad time.

So no word on Gambit specifically, but, if you want to huff some copium, the broader concept of ritual activities—Vanguard Ops, Crucible and Gambit—is addressed. “As we get further away from Lightfall in our seasonal schedule, we are going to make some targeted changes to ritual content based on what we’ve observed about why players engage in this content,” says Blackburn. He notes that more rewards are planned, along with “more options” to engage in ritual activities. “This will include changes such as moving the initial source of obtaining Exotic armor away from Lost Sectors and back into the core rituals, no longer asking players to earn all three of the ritual pursuit ornaments in seasonal challenges, and allowing players to earn more new rewards and complete more of their weekly challenges by playing content of their choice, not just in the newest seasonal activity playlist.”

Blackburn also reveals that Bungie will spend more of Season 23’s development time on ritual activities—making it sound like it will be a smaller season in terms of new stuff so more focus can be put on the old—something that I’ve seen requested for some time. “While this Season will have plenty of new activity and story content, we want to take this time right before The Final Shape to crisp up our core rituals and pursuits as we head into our final expansion of the Light and Darkness Saga.”

7. In-game LFG is delayed until the final season of 2023 

In addition to being able to dish out new Commendations to players you’ve enjoyed matching with, Bungie is dialing up the social side of Destiny 2 in multiple ways. “To start, we want to change our game-wide text chat channels from opt-in to opt-out,” says Blackburn, presumably aware of the carnage that could ensure, because he also states that: “We also plan to allow anyone the option to quickly leave channels on a case-by-case basis if the chat is trending in a way that makes their game experience worse.” Mercifully, it will still be possible to opt out of chat entirely in the system settings. 

In perhaps the one really disappointing part of the post, Blackburn acknowledges that the Fireteam Finder feature, which Bungie had hoped to have live in time for this summer’s reprised raid, now won’t ship until the final season of 2023, when it will launch alongside a new dungeon. Blackburn does however detail some of the functionality he expects it to have: 

“This means a Fireteam Finder that you can queue up for from anywhere in the game. The ability to tag your posts with keywords to describe the kind of group you’re running and the kind of people you’re looking to recruit. The option to create groups where folks can join automatically, allowing you to get right into the action. And the power to create groups where you as a leader can approve or deny each person trying to join up, giving you tight control over the kind of group you’re putting together.”

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