UPDATE: Literally hours after completing this piece, Bungie released a blog post detailing numerous changes in the works that will address many of the things I call out here. I’d love to take credit, but it’s really the passionate community that keeps Bungie attentive to their game. I’m leaving this op-ed live as additional feedback while Bungie continues to work on these updates to make Destiny 2 feel more rewarding to play.
Also want to give a shout out to this post on the Destiny subreddit that highlights the psychology behind “everyone wins.”
In the 1889 opera, The Gondoliers, W.S. Gilbert wrote “When everyone is somebody, then no one’s anybody.” It’s the earliest variation of the quote that I can find after some quick research, though I’m sure internet sleuths could quickly prove me wrong. More recently, 2004’s The Incredibles changed the quote to “When everyone’s super, no one is.” It’s a psychological principle that governs effort, reward, and how to find the right balance to keep people sticking around. When everyone is special, when everyone gets rewarded, then nobody feels special, and nobody feels rewarded.
The first Destiny failed to capture some people because of a lackluster story and other barriers to entry regarding the initial forays into the game. Once people were hooked, however, Destiny never let go, and it fostered a very hardcore community that was happy to grind for loot and keep coming back to the game. It did this through a robust and complex endgame, a system of randomized drops that basically ensured the game could never be “finished” even after hundreds of hours of play. Exotic drops were just that: exotic. Perfect weapon and armor rolls were rare, and allowed specialized customization to your own play style across both gear and character abilities. Endgame gear was exclusive to certain activities. If you wanted the rewards, you had to play for them.
Destiny 2 flipped the script. Barriers to entry were broken down, the story was shored up, and Destiny 2 welcomed players into its world with open arms. Players poured in, old and new alike, but those open arms stay open, even into the endgame. There’s no hug for long term players. There’s no hook to keep coming back and grinding. Destiny 2’s endgame is repetition without meaning.
Everyone is Special
Bungie’s goal was to make Destiny 2 more accessible to all players, to not let anyone feel left out or locked out of anything. Join a clan and as long as the Raid gets completed once by a few members of the group, you get yourself a piece of gear from it without ever stepping foot on the Leviathan. Same goes for Trials of the Nine. I haven’t won a single Trials match in Destiny 2 (not that I’ve really tried), but I’ve already got myself three great Trials guns at max level. Instead of rewarding effort, Destiny 2 hands gear out like candy in the most boring ways possible (don’t get me started on that Token system). You get endgame gear. You get endgame gear! Everyone gets endgame gear! Everybody is special.
Exotic gear is relatively easy to come by, and even if you’re missing a piece or two, it’s not likely that it’s anything game changing. Most randomly obtained exotic gear isn’t much better than legendary items of the same class, and the best exotics–like MIDA Multi-Tool–can be earned through missions and other guaranteed means. Xur even swings by every weekend with exotic guns and armor that can be bought cheaply with easily obtained Legendary Shards, further diluting the sense of excitement gained through actually getting one to drop. You get a MIDA. You get a Wardiff Coil! Everybody gets an exotic! Everyone is special.
Prestige Raid is supposed to be an opportunity further drive up players’ power levels, to give them exclusive and powerful gear for completing one of the hardest challenges the game has to offer. In Destiny 2, it’s possible to hit max level without even touching the normal version of the Leviathan Raid, and yet the Prestige Raid did nothing to incentivize attacking a more difficult challenge. The rewards are entirely cosmetic. Different colors of armor. A new shader. Some new emblems. None of it is really all that exciting. You get max level. You get max level! Everyone gets max level! Everybody is special.
No One is Special
And yet, somehow, I don’t feel special. In Destiny 1, did it suck when everyone else had a Gjallarhorn rocket launcher and I couldn’t get one to drop? You bet your ass it did, but I wanted it bad, and I kept coming back for one. I did Nightfalls and Raids and played everything I could to look for it to drop. When I finally got one, I wanted to keep playing just to use this rare and fun weapon that I got. Gjallarhorn was special.
Was I excited to get a Vex Mythoclast to drop within one of my first few hard mode Vault of Glass Raid completions? Yup, and my friends were jealous of it. It was a unique and interesting gun that very few people had early on, and we’d get groups together to run the raid week after week just in hopes that it would drop for some of us. It was fun to use it in Crucible, showing off something I had that others didn’t. Vex Mythoclast was special.
In Destiny 1, I never went to the Lighthouse. I never got a flawless card in Trials of Osiris and saw that coveted social space on Mercury. It was something I really wanted to do, and I sought to learn how to better play Trials because of it. I worked hard at making myself a better PVP player, and though I never got there, it kept me coming back to the game in the hopes that one day I would. The Lighthouse was special.
For the first 50, 60–maybe even 100 hours–Destiny 2 feels rewarding. A great story and robust campaign are backed by constantly leveling up your gear and getting cool new exotic stuff. Then you have to repeat it and realize there is nothing left to earn. There’s no reason left to play. The psychology of universal rewards is essentially a giant participation trophy. Log in to Destiny 2 and make even minimal effort, you’ll reach the level cap and have a large majority of the exotics. When rewards are handed out too freely and with little variety, they become expectations.
Destiny 2 Endgame: Everyone's Special, So No One is Special
While that feels good in the short term, it makes long term play essentially worthless. There’s nothing else to grind for. There are no exclusive or exciting rewards for the dedicated players willing to continue to come back again and again. If a player who has put over 300 hours into the game realizes the increased effort isn’t getting them any more than the player who has 80 hours, you’ll start to see the effort of the more hardcore players dwindle as they realize the reward structure of the game wasn’t built for players like them. Everyone has the same gear. Rewards feel dull and lack excitement or exclusivity. Loot in Destiny 2 isn’t exciting. It’s an expected paycheck just for playing the game. It isn’t special.
With three characters all at the max power level of 305 and sporting most every exotic item in the game, I don’t feel that I have much reason to come back right now. I’ve significantly decreased the amount of time spent playing and even after about 16 normal mode Leviathan Raid completions, I haven’t felt the urge to gather a group and play Prestige. As a player, whether I complete the Prestige Leviathan Raid or not, I’m being treated the same by Bungie, which doesn’t drive the desire to see Calus fall on the harder difficulty. I’m not special.
What Can Bungie Do?
In many ways, Bungie is already planning to implement some solutions to this problem. Seasons will bring specific exclusive rewards, rotating out every three months or so. They’re also planning a ton of live events that should give reason to come back and play for special gear, whether it’s Iron Banner, Faction Rallies, The Dawning, or other events that haven’t even been announced yet. Seasons are in addition to the expansions that will be coming out, adding new content, readjusting, and balancing the game, so there’s a lot of potential for Destiny 2’s endgame to feel very different very soon.
Reward effort. Reward dedication. Reward the players that continue to come back time and time again. Reward the players that want to come back time and time again. Reward certain skills and passion for certain modes. Bring back the excitement of special drops by truly making them special, unique, and exciting to show friends and the rest of the community. Repeatedly getting handed the same gear as everyone else over and over makes the game feel barren.
Bungie needs to realize that they shouldn’t hand every player everything. Stop giving out participation trophies. It’s okay if some Destiny 2 is reserved for those who play more than others. Play to the psychology that effort is rewarded, and some loot is truly unique and exclusive to certain modes and accomplishments (even if there’s a hint of RNG involved in whether or not we obtain them). Make me want to grind out the hardest endgame content for the best and most exclusive gear. Keep the excitement and passion alive in the community by keeping us talking about how we’re all different, rather than cornering every Guardian into being this gray box equipped with identical weapons, skills, and armor.
It’s okay if I can’t get a MIDA to drop. It’s alright if none of my friends have Wardiff Coil. It’s perfectly fine if Trials gear is given only to players who actually play Trials. It makes me want to play more, to keep coming back to this world seeking rare loot and actually getting excited when my dedication and efforts are rewarded with something amazing through a special loot drop. There’s some great content and rewards in the first 40 hours, but that doesn’t mean the next 200 of the Destiny 2 endgame need to be devoid of excitement. Bring back the carrot. Give me something to chase. And stop giving me something for nothing. It diminishes the value of getting something for something.
I get it Bungie. Every player should feel special playing Destiny 2, but if we’re all special, then none of us are special, and then we’re right back to where we started.
With over 200 hours into Destiny 2, this isn’t a critique on how I feel about the game overall. I stand by my review and the score I gave it, and have thoroughly enjoyed my time with this game. Bungie did an amazing job crafting a world and story that are exciting and fun. Destiny 2 is a game I desperately want to come back to, but they need to make the activities and rewards feel more meaningful for repeated play in order to incentivize the hardcore players to return.