‘Destiny 2’ isn’t kind to new players

Bungie’s live service game has a newcomer problem

In many respects, Destiny 2 has become one of the defining first-person shooters (FPS) of the last few years. Despite its rocky launch (which veterans of the franchise will no doubt recognize as a pattern), the game has steadily iterated upon itself to deliver a sprawling and satisfying experience that keeps us coming back day after day, week after week.

The game received a major boost to its player base upon becoming free-to-play (F2P) in October 2019, making the base game and select content accessible to anyone with the space on their hard drive for it. Players who were hooked could then buy into new expansions and seasons, unlocking further content for their enjoyment.

But as it’s grown, Destiny 2 has developed a content problem, and it’s affecting both veterans and—perhaps more importantly—new players. You see, a great deal of the content that was included to onboard players when the game went F2P no longer exists in the game; that campaign, the game’s base “Red War” questline, has been relegated along with a considerable amount of other missions, maps, and entire locations to the “Destiny Content Vault” (DCV).

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When Destiny 2’s Beyond Light expansion launched in late 2020, the game wiped the Mars, Mercury, Io, and Titan locations and all associated content from the game—a substantial amount of content from both the base game and its first two mini-expansions. And now, with the launch of The Witch Queen, Bungie is adding some more content to the DCV, namely the Forsaken campaign and the associated Tangled Shore location. It’s worth noting that it will also be bringing a “classic raid” and three PvP maps out of the vault along with the launch of a new location – and everything that comes with it – via the expansion.

Destiny 2
Destiny 2. Credit: Bungie Inc

There’s been much written and discussed about this shuffling of content, with Bungie presenting seemingly valid reasons for the strategy (room for more content, quicker patching, faster load times, and more responsive UI in-game) and fans voicing fair criticism of the practice (mainly, the removal of content that players paid real money for). While these are important factors to consider, the removal’s creation of unclear onboarding for new players could be its most damaging side effect.

Like many games with both single-player and multiplayer modes, a good campaign or story mode will introduce players to the game’s world, characters, and mechanics before setting them free in the online space. Since Destiny 2 is something of a hybrid model—you can technically play everything in the game by yourself, but it’s also always online so other players populate the game world—this introductory content is crucial to player success, satisfaction and, ultimately, retention. By creating the DCV and seemingly making the cycling out of old content their strategy, Bungie continues to make it harder for new players to latch onto its game.

While Destiny 2’s base campaign was far from perfect, it was an effective way to get players up to speed on the game’s universe, story, and gameplay mechanics. However, the story aspect has arguably been the most consequential loss, especially with the game’s recent focus on seasonal storytelling. With each new season, players follow a questline that involves various characters from across the game’s world, including returning characters from the original Destiny. Many of these figures are encountered in the base campaign, but with that story no longer included in the game, players jumping in at any given time will likely be lost. Now, for many players, the story won’t be the reason they’re playing Destiny 2; after all, it is still one of the best-feeling FPS on the market right now. But for players looking to get involved in the sprawling and fascinating world of Destiny, this lack of proper integration could prove fatal for new players.

Destiny 2
Destiny 2. Credit: Bungie

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With Bungie seemingly committed to the DCV and the shuffling of content, it’s difficult to determine a balance that makes both developers and players happy. The developer has made it clear that it isn’t removing older content from a quality perspective—though the new locations and activities they’re adding are generally more dynamic than older counterparts—but plenty of beloved strikes, missions, and areas have still been lost. The game also does run better than it ever has on console, though with the PS5/Xbox Series version of the game launching around the same time as Beyond Light, it’s difficult to determine if this is because of the stronger hardware, decreased game content, or both. These technical aspects are undoubtedly important to a game’s success; after all, nobody wants to sink hundreds of hours into a game that doesn’t feel good to play. But when players can’t connect with the game on an emotional level and invest in the story, those technical accomplishments may not be enough to retain new Guardians and keep the player base healthy.

Destiny 2 has established itself as the premiere FPS/MMO hybrid, but its new content strategy raises more questions about its future than a game of its stature should. As a long-time fan—I remember playing the Alpha test for the original Destiny while I was in college—I want to see this game continue to grow and succeed to reach its true potential. However, it’s also become a game that I struggle to recommend to my friends; not only is it a huge time investment, but it asks too much of players upfront without offering a satisfying way to get up to speed. Watching lore videos on YouTube can help, but many want to experience a story this sweeping for themselves—and right now Bungie just isn’t allowing that to happen.

Adding in the original campaign might solve this onboarding problem, but it doesn’t really make the whole situation right. There are deeper aspects to consider, ones that could fundamentally change the way that Destiny 2 exists. Bungie is fully aware of this, and I’ve always trusted them to eventually make the right decision. They found a way to undo the damage caused by “sunsetting” past weapons and revitalize their storytelling—I have confidence that they can navigate this situation and reach a place where they and all players are happy, whether they’re meeting their Ghost for the first time or running their hundredth raid. But there’s an issue of time to consider when it comes to the DCV: will new players stick around to see a balance be found? Many of the world’s most popular MMOs, like World of Warcraft and The Elder Scrolls Online, manage to churn out massive expansions without wiping entire areas from their game—can Destiny 2 one day do the same?

Destiny 2 is available on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S. 

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