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Daily Reaction: Analyzing Luke Smith’s Destiny 2 ‘Director’s Cut’ Part 3

Here we are, the end of the beginning of the road. Don’t worry, after this, Daily Reaction can get back to reacting to other parts of the industry. Maybe gamescom has some cool things incoming that I’ll want to talk about, but for today, yes, you’re getting another Destiny 2 analysis. Part of why this is so important to look at is the sheer transparency we’re receiving from Bungie. Luke Smith once wanted to step away from the spotlight. He was a distraction for the game, with seemingly every quote he made being torn about. I’ve always liked Luke and his frank attitude. He gives a great interview and he’s lots of fun to chat with. He’s got a certain charm, style, and experience, which makes him a great to fit to handle this kind of extensive and in-depth communication from himself and the team in a way that feels less PR controlled and more… human.

So yes, once more unto the breach as we delve into another multi-thousand word part of Luke Smith’s looking at Destiny past, present, and future. It’s exciting to get new information about the game, but it’s more exciting to get the details of the journey that Bungie’s been on, and a good idea of the travel plans for where they’re headed. Now let’s head into Luke’s Return of the Jedi, his Return of the King, his Beyond Thunderdome.

The Why

See? This is what I’m talking about. Luke immediately starts off by explaining why his post has been so long and split into three parts, and that’s because he wanted to explain the “why” of it all. He didn’t just want to say “we liked this thing, didn’t like this thing, we’re changing this thing.” Context is important for players to understand. Just look at the Exotic nerfs that were wildly unpopular when they were announced. Those changes can still be unpopular, but understanding why helps us get over them more than just thinking “oh no, Bungie took away my fun thing.” We’re myopic. All we see is a fun and powerful tool being taken away. Bungie sees the bigger picture and how that can negatively impact the long term experience. How it can undermine their own goals for the game.

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He mentions this as a love letter to long-form communication, something I think that Daily Reaction can relate with. Luke started out in a similar place, writing up essays on Halo 2. In a way, Daily Reaction analyzing his Destiny 2 “Director’s Cut” articles is almost an homage to Luke’s own past and the lengthy articles he’s giving us now. So thank you, Luke.

Mod Clarification

First up in game news is clarification on mods. After the huge Armor 2.0 reveal and Luke’s own Part Two post, the community was filled with questions of the limitations placed by specific elements being tied to specific mods. He very plainly cleared some of this information up by further diving into some examples for how mods will work, highlighting a kind of give-and-take element that selection of mods has to have in order to keep the choices you make balanced. Essentially, general mods impact multiple weapon types, but are more expensive to slot in. Specializing for specific weapons requires elemental affinity, but is cheaper to place. General mods will be unlocked for everyone right away, so we can all start playing around with Armor 2.0 when Shadowkeep and New Light launch.

Refactoring Damage Numbers

This one’s all about the gameplay. What do the numbers mean, Mason? Right off, just like in Part Two, Luke admits that Destiny 2 was originally built with very different goals in mind than the game they are currently crafting (calling the current state of the game “much improved”). As Bungie has expanded on the game, damage numbers have climbed ever higher.

One major problem is that Power creep over time has created an unsustainable damage number economy. So the actual numbers players are seeing are going to be crunched down to prevent people from capping at 999,999. Relative damage output isn’t changing, just being refactored overall to provide a better numbers display long term.

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Enemy immunity walls are also being increased from 50 Power levels to 100. That means that if you’re 99 Power levels lower than a particular enemy, you can still plink away and do at least a little bit of damage. It’s no longer impossible to take part in challenging activities being a lower Power level. This isn’t an at’Power nerf though! Damage output will remain consistent with how it is now (factoring in various weapon/super buffs and nerfs coming this fall, and the newly reduced stacking capabilities).

Stacking Damage Buffs and Debuffs

Something that Luke talked about in earlier parts was the fact that challenges were being trivialized by being able to game the numbers. While it’s super impressive to see videos of builds that make soloing Raid bosses and one-shotting strike bosses possible, it also means that those challenging encounters just aren’t challenging anymore with the “right” builds, and using “wrong” builds feels inefficient. So how buffs and debuffs stack is changing in a pretty big way, that is to say that things aren’t really going to stack anymore, at least not as we’ve become used to.

Basically, only the strongest of buffs will currently be active on a given player who has procced two or more buffs at a time. You can’t combine Well of Radiance with the re-added Weapons of Light. “It’s got nuance to it, though: If you’re under the damage effect of something stronger than Well of Radiance, you will still receive the healing effect from the Well, but the damage bonus would come from the other buff (e.g., Lumina or Weapons of Light).”

Debuffs are getting treatment here as well, saying they’ve “touched the effects and durations of a number of them.” Whether this means buffs or nerfs to them remains unclear, but what is clear is the goal of making effects about the best choice for the moment, and not a massive stack of ultimate power that can take out a god with ease. At least some of them will be buffs, with Shadowshot now helping damage numbers along with Heavy weapons, which it previously didn’t. While they want to make the game more challenging overall, there’s also something to be said for effective balance all around.

When Supers are too Super

Supers are something of a problem in Destiny 2. They are too frequent, too powerful, and relied on in order to complete encounters far too much. This was a massive shift from how the game launched where Supers were this special rarity and their Power didn’t match the effort and time it took to earn them. Bungie’s moving back towards the middle. They want Supers to feel relevant to the strategy of the moment, and not like just another ability you have to toss out.

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Good. I love the shift towards a more interesting and strategic game overall. Using Supers at the perfect times in PVP or even PVE encounters. biding your time to build them up. Not having them always on call as an expectation, but rather feeling like an earned reward when you embrace the Light’s powers. “Players will just need to be slightly more specific with their timing and positioning than in the past.” That’s what makes encounters fun.

A lot of this talk is where things start to lead into PVP and how Supers will be less of a crutch to lean on. Orbs will recover less Super. Kills and assists will increment that bar even smaller now. And damage reduction on roaming Supers is being reduced so that players can realistically challenge that mad electric Titan running at them. But Supers aren’t the only major PVP problem…

Heavy is Death

The battle for Heavy ammo in PVP has become as much a battle between your own teammates as it has the enemy. It doesn’t feel good to have someone shoulder charge you out of the way while you’re waiting to get Grenade Launcher ammo for that Mountaintop grind. Even worse is when they whiff and waste all of that Heavy ammo, or die shortly after because they were too focused on fighting you over it. Many a PVP match has been lost over quarrels on Heavy. That’s not to mention Heavy spam that makes the whole mode feel like Supers and rockets around every corner.

In Destiny’s 6v6 playlists, Heavy ammo is going to be communal, so your team can still pick up heavy within a certain time after you grab it (or vice versa). But there’s going to be a reduction in the amount of ammo each person gains from the Heavy, so the field should feel a lot less spammy. Knowing that opponent only has one rocket to work with will help with strategy a lot.

PVP needs a lot more care than just some Super and Heavy reworks though.

Better Ways to Kill a Guardian

Destiny 2’s PVP hasn’t ever really been in a “good” place. It’s been passable at times, acceptable at others, and downright terrible in some cases. Trials of the Nine was a shadow of its former Osirian self. The competitive playlist hasn’t been fun to play, and the adjustment to 6v6 in a game full of maps designed for 4v4 made everything a cluster. Throughout Forsaken and the entire year that followed, Bungie barely touched PVP at all. Shadowkeep won’t see the kind of overhaul for the mode that I expected after a full year without any real advancement, but there are some things in play that I think will be a great start at getting PVP back to a really good place in the Destiny franchise.

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I have to note that hints of a Trials mode coming back are exciting, though they are still just teases for now. I can see them working with the Osiris character to bring his glory back into the game in a big way after the broadly disappointing Curse of Osiris. (Never meet your heroes.)

Bungie’s big first steps are changes to the Director and how players engage with PVP from a high level. There are a few things to digest here, so let me just post what Luke said about the upcoming changes:

  • We’ve removed the Quickplay and Competitive nodes from the Director.
  • If you’re looking for an experience like Quickplay, we’ve added Classic Mix (a connection-based playlist [like Quickplay today]). Classic Mix includes Control, Clash, and Supremacy.
  • Competitive is replaced by 3v3 Survival (which now awards Glory).
  • We’ve also added a Survival Solo Queue playlist that also awards Glory.
  • We’ve added 6v6 Control as its own playlist.
      • With the potential influx of new players this Fall, we want to have a playlist that signals to new players that this is where to start.
      • We feel like 6v6 Control is the right starting place when introducing new friends to Destiny.
  • We’ve added a weekly 6v6 rotator and a weekly 4v4 rotator.
      • These rotator playlists are where modes like Clash, Supremacy, Mayhem, Lockdown, and Countdown will appear.
  • We’ve removed some underperforming maps from matchmaking, too.

Whew! Comp is now 3v3 Survival (with a solo queue to boot!), 6v6 Control is the default quickplay, and underperforming maps are getting removed. 3v3 does just feel better for Comp overall, and I think that’s a significant start to getting that into a better place. Destiny was always built largely on factors of three (playing solo, in threes, or in sixes), so the addition of 4v4 at Destiny 2’s launch was an awkward change.

What I really want to know is what maps are being removed and what does “underperforming” mean? Destiny 2 doesn’t have the option to choose or vote for maps, so what was the determining factor in the removal of these maps. Also, while we are getting the return of two classic maps (see next section), are we going to be stuck with the same maps that we’ve been playing since Forsaken, or will Shadowkeep bring a couple of new maps into the fold? I like the playlist changes, but I do want to engage with other Guardians on some new turf.

Elimination is Back in the Lab

Elimination is coming back, kind of, with four variants being tested in Crucible Labs for now. Elimination was always the better version of Survival, with a single life per person, as opposed to a pool of team lives that could be sucked away by one poor player. It’s outright moment to moment skill of gunplay. “We fully expect it to graduate out of Labs and find a warmer home.” Oh Luke, there’s that Trials tease again. Mercury is certainly plenty hot. Or maybe Osiris takes up residence on the Almighty, and that’s where Trials is now hosted out of?

Widow’s Court and Twilight Gap are coming back from Destiny 1, though it seems like they’ll be exclusive to the Elimination testing ground at the outset. Hopefully they find their way into regular rotation quickly, because as I mentioned earlier, the current pool of maps is getting a bit stale.

Matchmaker, Matchmaker…

Bungie is also adjusting some things under the hood for matchmaking, meaning players should find themselves facing down a much more broad variety of matches. Skill match, if executed correctly, should make sure that Crucible stays consistently fun, and Glory gains and losses in the 3v3 Survival list will more accurately reflect that skill. That will also result in a broader change for overall rank gains and streak losses for Valor and Infamy as well. Losses currently feel far too punishing.

All of these PVP changes are just the beginning, and I have a sense that Bungie will be watching this space very closely for feedback to better integrate PVP as part of the gameplay loop. Luke may also not be revealing everything happening with PVP coming up in Shadowkeep, so we’ll have to keep our ears to the ground as we get closer to the launch.

An Evolving World, or, Solving One of Destiny’s Biggest Issues

“It’s not home yet, but it will be.” I dunno Tess, this Tower is feeling pretty homely. One of the biggest issues with Destiny’s narrative structure has been the way that major events can’t move the story forward because of the necessity of having a persistent base game world. It took an entire sequel to have an attack on the Tower because there was no way Bungie could just nuke the Tower in the original game.

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But what if you made the base game free-to-play, and then you made it understood that Destiny would be a forward progressing and evolving world? With the Annual Pass this year, each season will have limited-time content that will spill over into the following season’s narrative, at which point that limited-time content will go away. In this way, Destiny’s world can be evolve along with its story. Locations can change and update with events. The narrative can feel like it actually has forward progression the entire Director over, not just in one new location.

During Season 8, a new situation will unfold on the Moon (I’m being cagey here only because I am reluctant to spoil anything). Over the course of the season, parts of the game will change before the situation culminates in an event that will ultimate resolve it, and its content will be exhausted. But this resolution sets up the events of Season 9, which again adds something new to the game and resolves it, something that too will go away, but not before setting up Season 10, et cetera.

Honestly, Season to Season, there’s not a whole lot of reason to go back to past activities. Running yet another Blind Well for the 1,000th time feels like a chore, and if I don’t have to head back there, I don’t. I got my Dreaming City stuff largely done during Forsaken, but the Curse cycle simply continues on and on perpetually, because it’s base content that has to be available. So that storyline feels like it’s staganated over the last year.

Okay, so there’s the fear of missing out. What if you can’t play? Seasons are essentially turning into three-month long limited-time events. I think that’s a sacrifice that has to be made in the interest of a more interesting game world, not to mention solving the problem of the ever-expanding file size that is crushing people’s hard drives right now. As someone who plays Destiny primarily, nearly every day, I’m eager to see how this year’s experiment goes with this. I think it’s an excellent evolution of the Annual Pass idea that allows the Destiny narrative and world to move forward at a meaningful pace. Does it have some downsides? Sure, but any model will, just like the current static model limits their ability to evolve the world and tell a decent ongoing story. Let’s give them the year, see how this one performs, and maybe this time next year, we’ll be reading another Luke Smith Director’s Cut looking back at this upcoming year of Destiny 2.

They’ll be talking more about this plan in late August, and I am here for it. This is one of my personal most anticipated features for the upcoming year.

The End of the Beginning

So ends a refreshingly frank and honest look at Destiny 2’s development past, present, and future. The hows and the whys were all communicated, and players can have a better context around elements they may not have agreed with. Bungie expressed a certain humility and let players in, now we as players can give them that same respect back with a level of understanding. I don’t think this is the last we’ll hear from a more transparent Bungie though.

This might be the last part of Luke Smith’s Director’s Cut, but Bungie is just getting started. There are still six weeks to go until Shadowkeep and New Light launch, and plenty of reveals left for that period of time. Luke was purposefully vague about some things, wanting his Director’s Cut to be a more broad overview, so the more detailed reveals, the patch notes, and most importantly, getting into the game will be the best ways to continue the discovery. See you on the Moon, Guardian.

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