Destiny 2 turns its back on casual players

After twenty plus hours with Bungie’s Destiny 2, the level of Bungie’s craftsmanship remains standout. There’s pitch perfect audio, and the intuitive controls and gameplay are arguably best in class for console shooters. There’s a wide variety of fun, distinctive weaponry yet as a more casual player jumping into Destiny the first time, I’ve hit a wall. The campaign is thin, competitive multiplayer intimidating, and the leveling process frustrating.

At least the campaign is cohesive, which is a step up from the first Destiny. But even with recognizable voice talent (Gina Torres, Lance Reddick, Nathan Fillion) no character leaves a lasting impression. The attempts at humor can feel forced, at times cringeworthy. We’ve seen the story many times before, sci-fi that blends the “putting the band back together” trope with Star Wars Episode IV.

The player versus player Crucible provides a break from the campaign, but I bounced off it after a few playthroughs. There’s a complex gameplay meta given the high variety of weapons. With only four players per side, I found solo players like me have a hard time against organized teams.

None of this criticism is to imply PvP and campaign gameplay is flat out bad. The production and gameplay go a long way to counteract that. However, given the high bar set by recent first person shooters (Overwatch, Splatoon 2), D2 feels slight on both fronts.

In fairness, almost every Destiny fan would point to the longer term MMO-like elements – raids, strikes, and other large multiplayer PvE activities – as the game highlights. However, many of these options are only available to players with high levels of power, D2‘s primary way of measuring player experience. I’ve found the grind to reach these required levels long and confusing.

D2 lulls you into a false sense of security by leveling your power frequently in the early game. After you reach 200 that speed slows to a crawl; loot drops that advance your character get stingier. I bounced from 30 to 150 in a few hours as I was polishing off the campaign. It has taken five plus hours to grind from 200 to 230. “Late game” levels of 260 and higher can be much more agonizing.

The notion of longer gaps for higher levels is commonplace among RPGs and MMOs, but the way D2 handles it feels oblique, at times even deceptive. With other games there’s usually a measurable target to guide how long the road ahead will take. For instance, reaching an early level may need 4000 XP while a much higher level demands 50000 XP. Obviously the latter jump is larger than the former.

D2 abandons a point-based XP system depending on your shooting exploits pretty early, capping your ranked level at twenty. From there power is what matters and it grows entirely based on your average equipment rating. You’re scoring loot drops and hoping the armor and weapons you get pushes your power average higher. As you get to higher levels, those gear bumps get increasingly rare and require riskier, more obtuse requirements.

D2 doesn’t guide you through how loot drops work, leveling strategies, or much of anything. Players get little more than a popup that explains how power works early on with little follow up. In fact, for much of the grind it makes sense to purposely ignore activities promoted in game.

D2‘s development team would argue that the number one priority is just to relax and have fun during the grind. That’s a fair point – the shooting is fun. But at some point the obtuse randomness of the grind to unlock the end game is frustrating.

A few changes would improve the experience: allow more open-ended ways to grind. Don’t penalize players by “burning out” certain ways to level up. Equalize loot depending on the investment/difficulty of the event. Have the UI provide more insight on how to grow your character.

Even in light of these complaints I’m still investing time into D2 every few days. At some point I may cross a threshold to unlock raids and other endgame activities. Or I’ll just delete the game from my PS4 entirely.

Therein lies the paradox: D2 may have one of the best shooter gameplay hooks on consoles today, yet I might drop it out of frustration at any random point. Part of me feels it shouldn’t be this way. Yet maybe, as written over at Waypoint, I have to accept D2 was never made for me and my play style. And that’s ok.