Coming back to Destiny 2, moving from PS4 to PC and Shadowkeep thoughts.

I have talked with friends and wrote plenty of Tweets during the last month and a half since I returned back to Destiny 2 and moved from PS4 to PC in anticipation of Shadowkeep, but I realised I hadn’t really put my thoughts down anywhere properly, so here we are. This is probably more for my benefit than it is for anyone else’s and this will be long, but if this can bring anyone any joy, that is a bonus for me.

In terms of me as a Destiny player, I came to the original game maybe around a year or two after its initial release? My friend found it cheap in CeX, we gave it a go and found ourselves immediately hooked. Mechanically the game was really great, the world was really interesting, the loot was really cool and it was really the first game we had as adults that could be described as a “hobby game”. Our weeks developed to be mostly centred around working and then planning our evenings around Destiny’s reset and what to tackle in what order. This wasn’t an indefinitely sustainable thing however, the grind eventually grew dull, we played a lot of PvP back in the day which held our interest when the weekly grind didn’t, but we bowed out somewhere between 2015–2016, a little time before the release of Rise of Iron.

Jump to 2017 and we were right there for the preorder of Destiny 2, brimming with excitement and ready for Destiny to consume our lives again. And… At release, Destiny 2 was an overhyped disappointment. An overhyped disappointment that it seems they have been struggling to recover from ever since.

Unlike most, I actually didn’t mind that the game moved to a more casual focus, I think the game was much better then, than it is right now. I’d sooner take a handout than getting nothing at all. I really hate the current Destiny 2 pure MMO grindfest where certain content gets locked behind impassable exclusion zones. Will I ever get Outbreak Perfected, Last Word or Lumina? Given the quests to get them, no, probably not. The game has locked me out of content I have paid for and made me feel inferior in the process, awesome.

However, I do appreciate that the more casual focus did allow you to burn through the game at a pace not fit for a hobby game. There really was no real end game for a long time and PvP has been completely unbearable throughout my time with Destiny 2, so it couldn’t hold me in the same way it did in the original Destiny. I’d say somewhere between five to six months after the release we dropped the game and took up Monster Hunter World instead.

We came back with the release of Forsaken and all the hype that came with it, trying out the other expansions before that as well at the same time but again the hype seemed hollow to me. It was like people were so desperate for Destiny 2 be good, they’d bend anything they could into a positive. After about four months we’d had enough and moved onto other games.

I didn’t touch Destiny 2 again until the start of September, marking a rough eight to nine month break from the game. I decided to come back as I now had a gaming PC and was eager to see how well it played now I could move my PS4 characters over . It helped that the entire Destiny 2 collection was on a sixty percentish sale and Shadowkeep was looming.

The first thing I noticed upon coming to PC was how much better it was visually, how well optimised the game was and how great it played on keyboard and mouse. Going back to PS4, it is like the whole game is in slow motion. Everything on PC is faster and smoother, you just feel like a total badass in a way I never felt when I played on consoles. Optimisation I feel is the PC version’s greatest strength, though. I like to think I have a good PC, I spent a lot of money on it (although maybe not in the context of the ludicrous up front cost of PC gaming) but I’ve actually found more games that have ran poorly on my PC than those that have ran well.

I bring this up, because while the game is not particularly taxing on my PC on paper, I for the life of me could not find settings on Destiny 2 that would allow me to run the game at a stable 60 fps. However, I am not sure what the game is doing in the background but I could have a sharp 20 fps drop during a hectic battle and there would be no noticeable performance issues from this whatsoever. I have a friend who is extremely sensitive to things like this, who will argue that a 30 fps game is an unplayable, choppy, mess and even he didn’t notice when Destiny 2’s frames were tanking on my PC. Likewise, from the medium to the highest settings, I didn’t really notice a huge difference visually here either, so unlike in other games, a focus on frames doesn’t have to be a meaningful sacrifice elsewhere, which is awesome.

Anyway. So, the grind began again. After a few days, I settled into unlocking the Forsaken classes I hadn’t finished unlocking before. I made this decision mostly because the only real new content I hadn’t experienced yet was in the Pass and it seemed like once one seasonal activity ended literally no one engaged with it anymore. This made stuff like the Forges, Reckoning and The Menagerie much harder than it needed to be, as I was forced to either solo it or spend ages trying to sort out an LFG from the app. To this day, I have still not ran a Menagerie. Destiny’s matchmaking is pure garbage. I guess some things never change.

Anyway, it was around this point I discovered what an MMO heavy grindfest Destiny 2 had become. They had found ways to drain every second of the players time with the most incremental of progression to pad the game out as artificially as possible. Each new layer of grind added felt cynical and anti-player, like they wanted us to suffer to artificially inflate the game hours. Why create content when you can get your playerbase to just mindlessly grind in circles with almost no clear end goal?

This was especially true of the way resources now worked in the game, it was more expensive to do everything in game without a meaningful increase in these in game currencies, which just meant that now a quick transaction was a slog and grind for resources you never used to need. They had made it that no task was too simple to not have to be grinded for, for hours on end. Grind with a clear, rewarding, goal is fine, but this empty grind is so meaningless and so anti-player.

This is also the case with drop rates in general too, you’ll be drowning in absolute crap, longing for meaningful drops that don’t just come from your weekly Powerfuls. You’ll finish your weekly Powerful rewards and then really have no reason to grind anything else, it is so unrewarding. Not to mention that you’ll be playing weeks on end and finally get an Exotic drop only for it to be a duplicate. I think it took three weeks of pretty serious gaming before I saw my first wild Exotic drop since I came back and it was a pair of fucking Lucky Pants. It is a complete 180 from where Destiny 2 began, but just as, if not more, harmful.

There was also Destiny 2’s choice of forcing PvP into everything, often forcing me to play dozens of PvP hours I didn’t want to play, to unlock things that had no bearing on PvP at all. More than that, usually after you slog through all the PvP bollocks, you are then usually slammed with some ludicrously difficult, non-match made, probably timed, mission. A mission you’ll run dozens upon dozens of times in a race to see whether you can clear the mission before the game’s sadism causes you to have a full blown nervous breakdown. When the adrenaline and the elation runs out, you wonder why the hell you let this game abuse you in this way.

I mean, the fact that people have been able to make YouTube careers out of just making videos on how to follow quests in Destiny 2 and the fact that this is pretty much required to play the game, is just ludicrous to me. You shouldn’t have to spend half of your play sessions on YouTube or Google to work out what the fuck you are meant to do.

Anyway, that was my life for about a month and then Shadowkeep day arrived. What a fucking disaster. First they fucked the preload on Steam, then their servers shat the bed and after eight hours of Beaver errors, I finally got a chance to play.

Or so I thought.

New Light effectively soft reset everything to 0, so I was actually under levelled for Shadowkeep content straight away, meaning I had to grind old content to get my power level up first. Fucks sake. To make matters worse, Armour 2.0 was now replacing old gear, 750 was effectively now 0 and so the stats that were dropping reflected that. All the armour I had cultivated over the last month or so to make my characters just how I wanted them, was now worthless. Fucks sake.

About seven hours later I had finished the Shadowkeep “campaign” on my first character and was fitted with two new sets of armour and my Light Level had increased by roughly 100. Although the start was rough, the massive amount of nerfs presented on paper didn’t really meaningfully impact on the way the game played, for better or for worse. I guess you can take it as a good thing, as all the nerfs being listed on the build up to Shadowkeep far outweighed the buffs and left me very worried indeed.

So that new “campaign”, huh? Another notch on the bedpost of all of Destiny 2’s hollow overhype. I’ve seen a lot of praise being thrown around for this thing, but the thing is all atmosphere, no substance. There is some lore, but no real story here and it ends before it even really begins. It certainly starts strong, the Hive are my favourite Destiny race, so I was pretty hyped when they reintroduced the Black Pyramid and set the stage that the Hive had risen up on the Moon and had begun constructing this mysterious Scarlet Keep above the Pyramid. You have your Ghost challenging why the Vanguard hadn’t done something about this sooner, which is an important detail I feel as when we enter the Pyramid at the end, we meet what we assume is the Darkness for the first time and their voice is initially projected through our Ghost.

The problem is that what I have described above, is maybe about fifteen minutes of the entire “campaign”. It is like they took the opening mission of a proper campaign, broken it into chunks (with long grindy sessions in between that aren’t even new story missions) and sold it as a full campaign. Given the price, I just think this is pretty scummy. You exclude the grindy stretches in between missions thanks to more artificial power level gating, you have maybe at a push three hours of campaign here but that is at a real push. You exclude any content that is carried over from Destiny and you have less than an hour here, easily.

Like with everything Destiny 2 related, I finished the campaign and wondered where all my money had gone and why I continue to let myself be fleeced by this game. I will say that being back at the Moon was cool and new additions like the Scarlet Keep and the return of the Pyramid are really impressive. In fact, it is stuff like this that reminds me of why I fell in love with Destiny in the first place, all those years ago. However, that hardly justifies Shadowkeep’s price tag.

In fact, if you exclude all mentioned above, and also exclude what is included with the free to play version of Destiny 2, then I actually struggle to think of any meaningful new additions to Destiny 2 that you had to buy Shadowkeep to access. I know that more content is promised and it is sorta become standard practice now, but I still think it is really shitty when you have to pay up in full in advance and then wait and hope promises are delivered on. This is Destiny 2’s first venture without Activision and I feel like there were a lot of chances here to regenerate goodwill and grow the playerbase and instead Bungie have show themselves to be extremely greedy and anti-player instead. This release for me really throws doubt onto the idea that Activision was Destiny 2’s biggest problem.

In fairness to them, they at least tried to sorta make the campaign worthwhile on all three characters, as you could complete your sets of Dreambane armour (even if it is absolutely hideous, I believe my friend said it looked like “Noel Fielding’s pyjamas” and I haven’t heard anything more accurate in a really long time) with a new, unique, exotic waiting at the end, for each class. I’ve only really gotten serious use so far out of the new Titan exotic, giving me an excuse to throw hammers around again but the new Warlock Exotic is pretty good (albeit it is no Geomag) and the new Hunter one is clearly created under the mindset that the Hunter is ‘the’ PvP class and so I think other, more PvP centric, players will get more out of this Exotic than I did.

In terms of the two new seasonal activities added with Season of the Undying, one is certainly better than the other. One is called Nightmare Hunts and I think this sucks pretty hard, you’re basically fighting harder versions of reused assets and clearly the engagement from the community is low as the matchmaking often fails to find other players. These are not fun at all solo and very unrewarding for how much you need to struggle against these. You run three a week to get a Powerful, but the next activity I’m gonna talk about not only gets you two (or is it three Powerfuls?) on the weekly but also rewards you more for just playing it.

That is the, Vex Offensive, which is like I guess a sorta mini-raid or Strike or something. It is hidden behind a badly designed quest, because what isn’t in Destiny 2 at this point? But it is well worth the hassle to unlock. The activity is more mechanically deep than these sorts of activities usually are, it is much more rewarding than Destiny 2 usually ever is and I guess the community agrees, as I never have any issues finding five other players to run this activity with (despite only needing two others for Nightmare Hunts and finding no one). Yeah, it’s basically mindless waves still but you have it broken down with certain objectives you need to do as you move from several different locations. I’m sure it’ll get super repetitive by the end, but it feels like a bit more has gone into it than these activities usually do.

Shadowkeep and Season of the Undying also introduce two new Strikes. Both are pretty impressive on the first run, but you are forced to run The Scarlet Keep enough times to ruin the awe of it, as it is thrown in as part of the “Campaign”. The second is the Festering Core, this one felt awesome and expansive the first time I ran it, but the lustre of this one wore off immediately on a second run. Although I’d sooner take this than the Inverted Spire, Pyramidion and the Prison of Elders Strikes which loop for me endlessly with very limited variation.

Season of the Undying is a new addition in itself, as Bungie takes on the current buzz monetisation of a Battle Pass. People seemed pretty down on this but I warmed to the idea as we built to the release of Shadowkeep. Sadly, it doesn’t really work quite as well as I hoped. The unlock track doesn’t seem to have been very well thought out with droughts of pretty limp rewards between chunks of cool stuff. I guess at least something in Destiny 2 has tangible rewards and clear path to them, that can be achieved just by playing however you want. More of that please! Just err… better.

During the droughts, what you are really grinding is your Seasonal Artefact which unlocks additional mods and adds on an extra point to your overall light level with each level up. There is an incentive to grind and earn that XP to push the Artefact as far you can go, boosting your Light Level that much further so you can tackle some of the hardest end game content for that season before it is gone, potentially forever, with your Artefact resetting with each new season. One change Shadowkeep has made that can be felt is the way in which they have slowed down the Power Crawl that was possible before, now Power is harder to obtain, the boost of levels from the Artefact softens the blow.

Bottom Line? There is enough content in Destiny 2 now for it to be a proper hobby game really for maybe the first time. Better yet, some 80% of that is accessible for free. This means, I guess ironically, right now Destiny 2 is better value for new players, than it is for existing ones. In its current state, Shadowkeep does not justify its price tag. If you’ve bought up to Forsaken and are not already caught in the Destiny 2 loop, I’d honestly suggest you wait and see what the “road map” actually delivers first, before you consider whether to put money down on this thing. There is a lot of promise in Shadowkeep of a bright future, but until that future becomes a reality, this is really more of a pyramid scheme than it is a proper expansion. A Black Pyramid scheme, if you will.

— Locke.

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