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Destiny 2’s Reward Impermanence Makes Accomplishments Feel Meaningless

I know some of you will laugh at the title and tell me to get over it. It’s just a game, right? Aren’t all rewards in games technically impermanent? Isn’t any accomplishment within a game meaningless, for all intents and purposes? Well, I would tell you that this article isn’t for you. This article is for the longtime fans of Destiny. It’s for the people that I’ve met and played Destiny with for years, the very same people that are now putting the game down because they don’t feel like it celebrates their accomplishments, their stories, and their memories in the game.

Putting aside the host of issues that Destiny 2 players have with the game right now, I want to talk about something that’s been bothering me since launch. It’s something I haven’t really been able to put into words, because I didn’t fully understand what the problem was. I’ve written before about how making everybody win in Destiny 2 means that nobody really wins, and some of that bleeds over to the customization side of things too.

Cue September 2014. I fell in love with an imperfect, but vastly engrossing game. Destiny was a bizarre experiment that shouldn’t have worked but somehow did. The pieces all came together, and Bungie cultivated a passionate fanbase around the stellar gameplay, the lore, and the mystery. Destiny wasn’t without its fair share of controversy and haters, but it was a beloved game that fans were happy to sink hundreds of hours into.

What made those hours a joy was chasing relics of activity completion. Chatterwhite. Glowhoo. Vex Mythoclast. Nanopheonix. Anyone who has played Destiny is likely brought back by the mere mention of those items. Each is an exclusive item, reserved to an event. Chatterwhite was for completing the Vault of Glass Raid. Glowhoo could be obtained for finishing off Crota in the Crota’s End Raid. Nanopheonix was a rare ship that could drop when completing the Wrath of the Machine Raid on hard difficulty. The most iconic and desired items in the game were symbols of accomplishments. Those that didn’t have them would be spurred towards specific activities, and those that did could wear them as a badge of honor.

It was easy to tell a Guardian’s accomplishments at a glance in Destiny. The most notable armor, shaders, and weapons were all obtained through specific means, and told the story of each player. I remember specifically unlocking certain shaders that I had long coveted. I remember finally getting a piece of cool looking Raid gear to drop. I remember ogling at players that had managed to get the Nanopheonix ship. We were decorated in our accomplishments, and everything we played was a parade of things we had already done.

The Destiny 2 Shader Problem

It can be argued that Bungie “fixed” a whole lot of nonexistent problems when they made the move from Destiny 1 to Destiny 2. Shaders now offer customization on individual items, but in the process became consumable. Game Director Luke Smith had a response to that problem when it was first noted, but consumable shaders on individual pieces of gear come with a set of problems that take away a lot of the customization fun that was found in Destiny 1.

In Destiny, I could hack together my look, bringing in pieces of armor from various sources, and then tie the whole outfit together by applying a shader to my entire character. That was a big part of the excitement in finally reaching level 20, when the ability to equip a shader was first unlocked. Suddenly these pieced together looks that we’d been carrying throughout the length of the game could become beautiful, and I could change it at will. Shaders were permanently unlocked so if I wanted to run some Crucible with my friends while decked out in pink, we could easily do that and then switch back to the Chatterwhite shader that represented the first time we all finished Vault of Glass together.

This is Chatterwhite, an exclusive permanent shader obtained for completing the Vault of Glass Raid in Destiny 1.

Destiny 2 takes that away from players. The impermanence of Destiny 2 shaders subsequently has the effect of making our accomplishments seem impermanent. I can’t swap back to the Leviathan Raid shader at will. I have to replay and re-grind that Raid if I want to equip it or not, and that’s at the peril of the limited life of the shaders I do have equipped. At the end of Destiny 1’s life, I could still equip that old Chatterwhite shader anytime I wanted, even if I hadn’t played the Vault of Glass Raid in years. If I did that in Destiny 2—poof!—my previous representation of my accomplishment would be gone just like that.

It has also proceeded to move the best looking Destiny 2 shaders behind Tess Everis’ Eververse paywall, meaning that shaders are no longer a representation of our accomplishments. A Guardian looking good is now more a representation of time or money sunk, in order to get Bright Engrams and hope for the shaders you want. I no longer run around the tower and see Guardians with customization that tells a story. I see someone who was so obsessed with Watermelon (yes, that’s the name of a shader in Destiny 2) that they bought loads of that shader when it was on sale at Eververse. That shouldn’t be the main desire of our customization in a full priced retail console game.

Add on top of this that there are now eleven separate item slots that can take shaders, five if you are only looking at getting a matching set of armor. And then let’s say you want to switch out your helmet, your gloves, or your boots. Do you reapply shaders to everything to get it to match? Do you always stick to a single color scheme? Personally, with all of the customization options available in Destiny 2, I am now customizing my items less and less. I’m switching out my armor less, and I’m applying shaders less, and I hate it (this references another problem of different armor not having unique perks, so once I find a look I like, I have no actual reason to change out my armor).

The Disposable Mentality

Destiny 2’s most stark change from Destiny 1 is in its disposable mentality. When you look at things like Destiny 1’s various item kiosks, permanently unlockable shaders, and even the Grimoire score, everything had a level of permanence that celebrated your Guardian and your accomplishments in the game. I haven’t felt that with Destiny 2. After having to effectively start over and leave all of my Guardian’s victories behind in Destiny 1, Destiny 2 is just failing to make new memories in the same way that the old game did.

Sometimes as I go through old stuff in my house, I wonder why I’ve kept silly trinkets or small things that I won’t ever need in the future. What I’ve come to realize is that it’s not the things themselves that are important, but rather these items being a catalyst for certain memories. I’ve saved each and every one of my E3 badges and various other press passes into events, for example, as memories of those events and this time in my life as a games writer. It’s those tokens, those pieces of a moment, that Destiny 2 is missing. Destiny 1 was far from a perfect game, but it was a game that I absolutely loved, and the memories I have of it with my friends will last a lifetime. I can’t say that I’ve experienced near the same caliber of moments in my extended play with Destiny 2.

This is Calus’s Selected, a consumable shader that can be obtained through completing the Leviathan Raid in Destiny 2.

Now I complete the Leviathan Raid to earn three or four of the Calus’s Selected shader, which is enough for about 30% of my gear slots, and that’s only considering one item in each gear slot, and that’s considering I don’t want to equip a different shader on that specific item at some point in the future. Let’s say I’m not one that completes Raids regularly. After I use those three or four shaders, they are gone forever, and my meager accomplishment of completing the Raid once is disposed of. On the other hand, I could hoard those shaders, in hopes that one day a better item will come along to use them on. Yet now I’m not going to use it at all. That shader is never proudly displayed. Instead it sits in my inventory or my vault.

This is a symptom of Destination Addiction, a psychological process of always thinking that something better is around the corner. When things are disposable, we have a tendency to hold off, so instead of actually using the many shaders that we get in Destiny 2, and having fun with customization, we never bother to swap out anything for fear of it being lost forever. The problem is compounded by adding limited time event shaders to the loot pool, most recently for The Dawning. Why would I ever use a Dawning shader, knowing that, at best, the next time I can “earn” more will be this time next year?

Luke Smith talked about grinding out activities to get shaders. “Customization will inspire gameplay,” he said, but I think the exact opposite has happened. The disposable nature of customization options has led to customization being far less inspired than it was in Destiny 1, yet that first game had fewer options for customization. Players were simply more comfortable with silly experimentation when it didn’t feel like every cosmetic experiment had an inherent cost. Now I find my one look and I mostly stick to it.

The One About the Thriller Dance

When many of the game’s most desired items are locked behind me paying more money (or even aimlessly grinding out levels) just to get a chance at earning them, I have very little desire to pay into the post-purchase microtransaction economy. Those of you who have followed me on this site for years know that’s a big shift from my previous mentality, where I was happy to announce that I had spent $7 on a single emote: The Thriller Dance. The difference there was that I was already having fun with the game. My accomplishments were celebrated, I had gotten some really cool things by just playing the game, and I was willing to pay $7 as almost a tip to Bungie for a job well done and for treating me to a a really fun experience. In exchange, I knew exactly what I was getting for my money.

This is the Michael Jackson Thriller Dance, an Emote that was available for purchase in Destiny 1.

In Destiny 2, that $7 doesn’t go towards a specific item. It goes towards an overbloated loot pool that has way too many ship, Ghost, and sparrow reskins. Opening Bright Engrams shouldn’t be the entire focus of the game. It should be a nice little bonus to accent and complement an already fun experience. I was more than willing to pay for Silver and buy extra things in Destiny 1, but Destiny 2 hasn’t given me that same incentive, because if my accomplishments are disposable, what does that say about my money? What does that say about me as a player?

I feel like Destiny 1 hit a sweet spot on the balance of gameplay and fun purchaseable cosmetic extras. Like many issues with loot boxes in 2017, Destiny 2 feels like it is overreaching, in some ways focusing more on monetization than on a fulfilling game that makes me feel accomplished as a player. When microtransactions are pushed on me, I’ll push back. When the gameplay is funneling me towards a place where I am being encouraged to spend more money, it makes the entire game less fun. If you reward me and recognize my accomplishments within the game, I’m going to be more apt to spend a bit of money when the occasional extra comes up.

Bringing Back Accomplishment Permanence

Obviously I care about Destiny 2. I see potential, and there’s a franchise that I really love and have had tons of fun with there, so I write 2000+ word pieces mostly about shaders. If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t bother. What I want to see is some improvement on making me feel like a space-magic wielding badass again. I want to remember my epic accomplishments. I want to have a reason to grind for the next thing, and not just wish I could spend lots of money to get Destiny 2′s coolest stuff.

The Grimoire score from Destiny 1 was such a small thing, but I remember persistent competitions with my friends as we raced to have the highest score. It was immensely fun to see what else we needed to play or grind out to bring up that number, which was a permanent record of what we had done (and it unlocked a bunch of interesting lore to read!). Bring back that Grimoire score.

Permanently unlocked shaders made changing armor easy and fun, giving me the ability to find a unifying theme that both had a unique look and highlighted my accomplishments. I don’t want to hoard shaders for fear of loss. I don’t want to stick to the single look that I established within the first couple weeks of Destiny 2’s life. Bring back permanent shaders. For that matter, bring back unique perks on armor so that I have a reason to switch out to different sets. Bring back the ability to experiment with our look without feeling like there is a cost and a loss involved.

Ah, the Grimoire, a system that provided a score and record of permanence for my accomplishments in Destiny.

Let me show off the things I have done in Destiny 2 and make lasting memories with my friends, regardless of if I’m able to play a Raid, Trials, Iron Banner, etc. once or 100 times. Recognize my achievements as a player and let me proudly wear the flag of the things I have accomplished. Give me the Chatterwhites, the Glowhoos, and the Nanopheonixes of Destiny gone by. Stop locking Destiny 2’s coolest rewards behind a paywall (because paying for something can hardly be called a “reward”). Stop making the rewards for what I do impermanent. Make me feel like I what I have done is important enough to keep around. Bring back kiosks for Ghosts, Ships, and Sparrows, permanent shaders, and Grimoire score.

My Guardian’s story is important; Every players’ is. Destiny 2 treated veteran Destiny players to an opening cinematic that celebrated those stories and those memories, and then it cruelly ripped them away from us. Not only did it take away everything we had previously done, but it significantly hampered our ability to celebrate our new accomplishments. Those achievements are fleeting and easily consumed. And then I think back to my Destiny 1 days, and I simply want to don the Chatterwhite shader again, remembering the moment when my friends and I triumphed over Atheon. Those were the days.