Bungie gave us another roadmap update yesterday, making a worthy attempt to fulfill the Destiny 2 developers continued calls for transparency and once again promising to fix some of the endgame problems that have become endemic to the shooter ever since launch. As Paul Tassi notes, nearly all of the noteworthy changes are ripped straight from the original Destiny, and that by and large these first months of the numbered sequel seem to be an attempt to reintegrate some of the quality of life improvements that made Destiny so much better over time. These changes, while frustrating on a conceptual level, are still good: we might have hoped to see many of these improvements back at launch, but at least we’ll see them soon. But I’m also interested in what the company didn’t say in this update, because it feels just as important. And it all comes back to Eververse.
Yes, the company is “shifting the balance” on Eververse. Too many of the game’s items run through Tess, Bungie admits, and it wants to move things away from that paradigm. Specifics are less hard to come by, but they’re in there. Crimson Days will offer an opportunity to test out some new concepts: most importantly, players will be able to earn an emote, a weapon skin and a sparrow through normal play. That’s good news, even if it does hammer home the fact that none of those items are currently available outside of Eververse. On top of that, players will now be earning event Engrams alongside their normal engrams, cutting out the problem where event items were only available for from Eververse. It’s all good news, but it feels more palliative than anything else, an attempt to patch a system that just isn’t working.
What we need to hear from Bungie is that Bright Engrams are not working, and that it’s cutting them out of the game. Yes, it’s a big move. That’s okay — big moves are possible.
Loot boxes just don’t feel like they work very well in Destiny, despite the fact that publishers the world over have decided that loot boxes work in every game and that this edict shall not be questioned. They represent a kind of flattening that’s made the concept of high-level loot in the game feel less special whether that loot is cosmetic or practical. This extends to the token system as well, which turns everything from Trials to the Raid to Iron Banner into an identical, samey slot machine. But it’s even worse with Bright Engrams, which remove even the concept of earning tokens. The whole system feels so abstracted from gameplay that it really just feels like rolling the dice a few times and then walking away with some more or less random loot. It makes it feel like the loot system runs in parallel with the game itself rather than being integrated into it.
Destiny 2, like the original Destiny, is a collection game. Loot is not a secondary system but the very core of the endgame, and the game needs to make sure that it doesn’t feel capricious and disconnected. And so much of what’s changed in Destiny 2 has compromised that idea: shaders can no longer be collected, but now must be stockpiled. Ships aren’t symbols of high-level accomplishments, but just random drops that look cooler or don’t. Vault space compromises our ability to hang onto anything anyways. And, crucially, doling out the bulk of the game’s loot in Bright Engrams bears only a passing relationship to gameplay, which calls the endgame grind into existential question. It doesn’t help, of course, that none of the strikes in the game right now feel all that fun and 4 vs. 4 Crucible is a total bore. Fixing loot can’t fix those problems, but bad loot amplifies them. Bright Engrams are the epitome of bad loot.
It is possible that we’ll see that sort of change based on the language in this update. But I’m more than wary about a lack of specificity because it leaves too many doors open to small changes over big ones. It would have been possible, to take a specific example, to just say that the company understands the complaints around consumable shaders and will be making shaders unlimited use going forward. That would be possible, but we haven’t heard that in the months since launch: the lack of such concrete promises or changes feels like the developer is trying to have its cake and eat it too. Hence vague promises for things like “more opportunities for direct purchase” rather than something like “Eververse will sell all items for direct purchase.”
When Eververse first launched, a lot of people didn’t like it, but I defended it. It was a simple little kiosk that sold emotes, and emotes only. It gave Bungie a chance to introduce a whole new class of fun collectibles into the game and make some money without touching the core experience at all. I liked the emotes, and I bought one. It later introduced more items, but in the original Destiny it was always limited to item classes that hadn’t already been spoken for, like the ornaments introduced with Rise of Iron. And you didn’t get rewards out of randomized engrams, you bought them for a clear price. 2016: the good old days.
We all know why loot boxes have exploded this year: they feed our addictive tendencies and they get us to spend $10 to get something we might have only spent $5 to buy outright. In a game with strong, functioning core they’re a clear way to increase microtransaction revenue. But they’re also fantastically finicky, and implementation problems make them a lot less reliable than they would appear. It’s impossible to argue that loot boxes haven’t increased revenue in Overwatch, for an oft-cited example, but how did they work out in Star Wars Battlefront 2? Destiny 2 feels more like the latter. Here, loot boxes are a system that would appear to be making money, but they poison the rest of the game to the point where they might be losing money by reducing overall engagement. So we might see more microtransaction revenue for a little while, but we see a whole lot less expansion revenue when a ton of people fall out of daily play and don’t come back. Eventually, that will mean less microtransaction revenue too.
The original Destiny struggled with different problems, and Bungie largely righted the ship with The Taken King one year in. And that’s the chance I’ll give it this time, as well. If it can’t find a way to make Eververse feel fair and to make loot feel actually rewarding, it’s going to be much harder to keep grinding that light level up. And I’m not sure I see a way to that end that doesn’t involve axeing Bright Engrams or reducing them to something more like what they were at the dawn of Eververse. I’ll continue to be suspicious until I hear very concrete promises about how that will happen.
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