Destiny 2 has finally been announced and life is good! It is a fantastic time for Destiny fans to be able to speculate and guess what will be happening next, and perhaps convince their friends who weren’t fans of the original Destiny to give Destiny 2 a try. The two trailers we have gotten for Destiny 2 have been nothing shy of amazing and seem to give us a glimpse of a more casual tone. However, as a player of many MMORPGS and an absolute lover of Destiny, I have many concerns about the direction Bungie may be going and am worried that history may repeat itself with this MMO the same as it has for many others before it.
The original Destiny, in my opinion, was a quality experience even at launch. In fact, I will go so far as to say it was best at launch. Destiny was originally a hardcore-ish MMO experience. You would grind mission after mission and work at gruelingly hard strikes and finally you would get an upgrade. When you eventually made it to the later stages of the game the grind became even more real, you would run the Vault of Glass raid and hope and pray what you needed would drop. You would run it again and again until you could finally reach hard mode difficulty which was even more punishing and unforgiving. Every few weeks though, the Iron Banner event would happen. The focus for a time would switch from the player versus environment aspect of raiding to player versus player. Again, a hardcore MMO experience. The only way to get the best gear was to compete with the best of the best in PvE or to beat the best of the best in PvP.
However, many people did not share the enthusiasm for the original Destiny. The game opened up to mediocre to flat out bad reviews. The main complaint was the lack of story and that the planets felt empty. Both concerns had some merit to them, but because of this many hardcore gamers did not even give the game a proper chance. Bungie took a lot of hate for this and of course was open to trying to use the feedback to make the game better. So they utilized a lot of the feedback given in the expansion, which was called The Taken King.
Caving to the Vocal Minority
The Taken King is largely considered to be the best thing to ever happen to the game. The perception of this expansion was that it fixed all issues of the game and brought about a lot of new players. It added a lot of story missions and had a lot more cinematic experiences. My take on it was this: it was the same exact thing, just dumbed down for a more casual audience. When you get right down to the Taken King, all it did was add cut scenes. However, that did not matter. It was the perception that mattered, and the perception online was that this is how Destiny should have been at launch.
However, I was very disappointed. The original Destiny was so much like World of Warcraft was at its launch, hardcore and challenging and each reward felt great and truly earned. The Taken King made it so that engrams, weapons and armor literally were vomited out of enemies left and right and you sifted through dozens of engrams just to find an upgrade. The Taken King added a fantastic new raid: King’s Fall. However, this time around the end-game experience of raiding was no longer needed to achieve max level. You could play some multiplayer matches and grind strikes for a few days and the raid became completely unnecessary. Further proof that players no longer felt the need to raid is the trophy completion percentage on PlayStation for the Raid-based trophies. The Raider trophy you get for completing a raid is at 22.3%, while The King is Dead trophy for completing the King’s Fall raid is at 9.7%.
Now to some people this might not seem like too big a deal. Just because the game isn’t as hardcore doesn’t mean it won’t maintain its player base, right? Wrong, and history proves it time and time again. I will start my examples off with a JRPGMMO known as Maplestory. Maplestory, back when it launched in the United States, had what could be perceived as its own cult following. It was a very hardcore MMO that was based off of mob grinding. Quests helped, but finding the right place to fight enemies or to “train” was the meat of the leveling experience, very similar to how Black Desert Online works today. Maplestory, however, was a very different beast, at levels of 100+ (which would literally take some players at least a year to reach) killing enemies would literally reward you with a whopping 0.01% experience. So after an hour of training if you were lucky and weren’t too distracted you would have gained about 8% experience. The slow grind and the sheer satisfaction you would receive when you would gain a level were a key balance in keeping this game alive. Of course the biggest complaint some players had was how long it took to level. Most players were fine with the game, as they knew exactly what they had and loved the game every second of the day.
However, the only thing that gets shouted online and in the forums are the complaints. This group of people who are complaining online can usually be referred to as the vocal minority. So, by extension, Nexon only heard the complaints. You wouldn’t call your cell phone company just to thank them for another day of a working phone, but you would certainly call them if your phone didn’t work. So, eventually, Nexon gave into the negative feedback. They considered the feelings of everyone and they released an expansion called “The Big Bang.” This expansion changed everything and suddenly it was no longer the hardcore JRPG of old, and it was no longer playing with the dream of maybe one day reaching max level. It suddenly became a game of “how many max level characters can I have?” The complainers were happy for a while, but then eventually left and so did a lot of other players, because it simply wasn’t the same game anymore. There was no longer a reason to grind away anymore because you didn’t have anything left to play for. The game died, more and more each year.
The same happened with World of Warcraft. When the game launched it was a hardcore and grueling game. You would get to the max level after a very long time only to face ever more challenging dungeons and raids as a group. There was always something to do, as you could log on and play hours and hours a day and it felt like you were still only scratching the surface of the game’s world. The game continued on being successful and immersive, and eventually it reached the incredible number of 11 million active paying subscribers. The game was a behemoth. However, even the behemoth wasn’t immune to making the same mistake so many MMOs make. It listened to the vocal minority. The complaints were that people who couldn’t play the game all day were falling behind, and that casual players were being left out. So, in the ever so common move, they made the game more casual. The timing regarding when it all started going downhill is debatable. However, I will declare that it happened near the end of Cataclysm and into Mists of Pandaria. There was no longer an endless amount of things to do. You would play the game to get your daily rewards and then a lot of people would just log out. During the expansion, Warlords of Draenor, this became even worse, getting to the point where people would log on once or twice a week to raid and then log off again. Eventually, when you play a game with so little to do, you just end up quitting. The subscription numbers continued to fall until Blizzard announced they were no longer going to be announcing their subscriber numbers, which were at around 5 million the last time they were announced.
History Repeats Itself
This finally brings me to my point about Destiny 2. Bungie – being the golden child of the Halo franchise – seems to not have been prepared for the negative reception of the original Destiny, leading to them only listening to the vocal minority. That combined with the fact that Bungie and Activision desperately want to win back the players they lost or couldn’t interest based on Destiny’s reviews has me very worried. It is the same story that happens time and time again with MMOs. Developers continue to compromise and give in to the demands of players who are not thinking about the future of the game, but sometimes just through a narrow lens. I fully believe it is proven that player feedback is important, but MMOs are a genre that require a developer with vision more than they require player feedback. MMOs are the one genre where it is imperative that the developer needs to know best. It is their vision, their focus for the game, and they need to be able to trust in the vision they had and see it through. Destiny 2 will likely be a great game, but if it makes the compromises that other MMOs of the past have made, then it is doomed to lose its life early on.
Destiny 2 will almost certainly be a hit, but if Bungie wants this game to have a tail similar or better than the original Destiny, then them knowing what is best is the key. I want a Bungie game. Not a game made from the demands of the internet. It seems evident from the way Destiny launched and how the rewards were updated that it wasn’t supposed to be easy to reach the max level. It was supposed to be a challenge and some people would have trouble with that challenge. The other MMOs that I spoke of, Maplestory and World of Warcraft, eventually found their way back to where they started. Maplestory launched Maplestory Reboot, which took it back to its hardcore roots, and World of Warcraft eventually launched Legion, the expansion that gets back to the origins of wishing there were more hours in a day. These games were able to comeback because there were players who loved the game and wanted to believe in them again, but these are success stories of 2 in hundreds and did not share the same fate as many others. Lots of MMOs have shut down altogether because of the mistakes they have made. In order for an MMO to be successful, it has to be full of things to do and give players a reason to log in every single day. Destiny 2 doesn’t have to try to be the most hardcore MMO out there, but it needs to keep players wanting the carrot on the end of the stick. I will be very interested in seeing where Bungie takes Destiny 2, and seeing if they can balance their vision with the player feedback.