Destiny is Finally Addressing Longevity

Destiny 2 needed to finally address its longevity problem. The latest director’s cut by Luke smith has revealed that going forward, weapons will not be able to be brought up to all future power levels. After some number of seasons or expansions, weapons will reach their upgrade ceiling and will need to be replaced by newer ones. Listen, it sucks, but there are like seven-hundred guns now and it’s getting out of hand.

Since the game’s inception, every weapon could be brought up to the current max power level. On the one hand, this was a massive selling point: find a weapon you enjoy using, grind out a random roll you like, and you can use it in almost all content indefinitely (high difficulty content will often necessitate more specific loadouts, but for general play, every weapon can be more or less effective). On the other hand, when there are seventy different auto rifles (plus however thousand many random permutations), how much can any of them stand out? As the weapon pool grows, designers are going to have to find smaller and smaller niches to fit them in. Stats may vary slightly, but for most players, those are negligible differences. Perks (attributes which have more active impacts on gameplay such as giving a damage boost after defeating an opponent) are the main differentiators, but any players who have engaged with the game for a decent length of time will have an arsenal stocked with well-rolled weapons. Maybe I’m an outlier, but my vault is over-flowing and at this point, I’ll take any excuse to free up some space.

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Let’s see, I need my PvP rolls, my solo PvE rolls, group PvE, experimental rolls, rolls that might be good in the next sandbox update….

Inventory space notwithstanding, the fact that no weapon is ever wholly outdated has, for me, become somewhat demotivational. The game is, ostensibly, a loot extravaganza, but if I already have five well-rolled auto rifles I don’t feel the need to pursue one from a new content release. It’s not as if every weapon gets equal playtime either, most players will find a weapon they are comfortable with and stick with it. While many players enjoy pursuing new weapons for the sake of expanding their collections, I (and I suspect many others) have become apathetic towards the entire pursuit. Bungie, in general, seems to be a very data-driven company, and the fact that they are finally making certain weapons obsolete may point to them seeing a lack of player engagement with new activities.

Understandably, people (on Reddit) are pissed, but this is pretty standard stuff for an MMO. Most MMOs and RPGs have some form of planned obsolescence. Generally, items will have some power cap that will make them functionally useless when the next expansion begins. In a game like World of Warcraft, the reason is obvious: people respond to and engage with the power grind. Players want a feeling of progression, and when weapons are just stat sticks with identical behaviour the only possible motivations for pursuing new ones are appearance or power.

In WoW, any two-handed sword will behave identically to any other. The animations are the same, the attack patterns are the same. Changing weapons does not affect playstyle (much earlier in WoW’s history weapons had different attack speeds which did make weapons behave differently but that is no longer the case). In Destiny 2, weapons do in fact “feel” different. Even within the same archetype, weapons will have varying recoil patterns, handling, aim down sights speed, reload speed. In some ways, changing weapons can be more meaningful than changing classes. Through thick and thin, the weapon design of Destiny 2 has been a master class — if there’s one thing Bungie knows, it’s popping aliens with chunky sci-fi blasters. The weapons have personality, so many players will find a weapon that feels good to them and become attached to it. Unlike WoW, and many other MMOs, changing weapons in Destiny 2 results in much more than stat differences. The backlash to Luke Smith’s plan is understandable — if weapons become obsolete it’s not just their stats that will be affected, but players may be unable to find another that feels as good to them.

WoW is also able to sidestep retiring weapons outright by letting them live on as cosmetics. Changing one piece of armour or one weapon to look like another of its same type has effectively zero gameplay impact. Want to make your two-handed sword look like a polearm? Go ahead, and Blizzard can be comfortable knowing it won’t introduce balance concerns. For Destiny 2, this isn’t the case. One submachine gun will have entirely different characteristics from another. What would happen if you allowed model-swaps? Would you retain the same stats but change the appearance? What about the fact that weapons’ sights are part of their balancing?

What this comes down to is a conflict between players and developers. Players are always going to react negatively to having their loot taken away or noticeably weakened, but developers can’t just keep tossing slightly differently tuned weapons into the growing loot pool. Evergreen weapons introduce numerous design concerns:

  1. Players can be incredibly picky. With a limited number of weapons, each could excel in its niche without ever being the absolute pinnacle for all activities. With literally hundreds of weapons, at least one of those will be the absolute best and be used infinitely more than any of the others.
  2. Introducing (meaningfully) new weapons becomes borderline impossible. Midnight Coup, a hand cannon from three years ago, is still a decent choice because its stat and perk combination (reload speed and increased damage) is pretty much the most desirable in the game (we could talk at length about the problems of perks, but suffice it to say Bungie kinda painted themselves into a corner by making damage and reload speed perks so common). Players love to lambast weapons that are too weak, so designers will naturally want to make any new weapons powerful.
  3. Following from #2: Weapons that stand out must be hammered down. There must be some baseline weapon strength that every single weapon adheres to. If not, any outliers above that line will become the de-facto choices and become the new standard by which weapons are measured, leading back to power creep or eventual nerfing.
  4. #2 and #3 culminate in this: all new weapons will be increasingly mundane. Bungie has consistently had to walk-back buffs and normalise weapons to be more in-line with everything else. This always leads to backlash from players, and so to avoid it Bungie only has the option of making new weapons that are boring, although that just results in a different kind of backlash.
  5. Ultimately, it just becomes harder to motivate players to take part in new activities. The primary driver for engagement with new activities is loot, and when that loot is functionally identical to existing options, it becomes harder to convince players to dive in.

This is a change that will be necessary to preserve the longevity of the game, but it will also be a polarising change that will likely alienate many players. There also need to be some concessions to veterans who already feel like Bungie is catering almost exclusively to new players — logging in one day to find that every single weapon you earned over the past couple years is useless is a dismaying scenario. Optimistically, these changes could allow for greater weapon diversity by allowing the designers to craft weapons that can shine without having to be around forever, leading to an interesting and ever-evolving meta. Worst case scenario, they screw up the balancing and effectively nullify everything players already own. Knowing Bungie, the transition is going to be rough.

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