Since its release, Destiny has been engaged in a bizarre game of tug of war with the people that play it. Bungie’s very ambitious shared-world shooter (basically: MMO) is unlike anything else on the market today, and with that innovation comes a whole lot of bugs, glitches, and unbalanced situations.
In the modern era of game development, a game is never truly “done.” The ability to patch games on the fly has led us into a potentially inescapable cycle of fixes, updates, and brand new bugs. The biggest problem is that Bungie’s approach towards dealing with these issues has been uneven, to put it nicely. The company has a vision for the game that seems to revolve around squeezing money out through regular expansions that keep players locked in an endless grind of the reversed missions and similar activities. So, it seems that any fixes that would get in the way of that grind are either not going to happen, or will take way, way too long to happen.
Don’t get us wrong: the game is fun to play. Bungie knows exactly how to make a console first-person shooter feel great. But by insisting on keeping players locked into a flawed system of grind and rewards, they exploit the very gamers that pay their bills. These are the most noticeable ways that flawed system has reared its ugly head since the game’s release — some have been squashed, while others still persist today.
Expansions making equipment useless
Probably the most notorious example of Bungie screwing with players came with the release of the game’s first expansion, The Dark Below. It’s generally standard for expansion packs that weapons get upgraded and numbers go up, and that happened here with max damage and levels rising. One problem, though: your previously earned legendary items couldn’t be brought up to the new level, making all the work you poured into them prior to the release useless. When most MMOs released a new expansion, it makes older gear obsolete, but in Destiny, there isn’t enough in-game content to maintain that type of cycle, so players naturally revolted against this decision, which forced Bungie to rethink the leveling system with the next expansion, House of Wolves.
Now, you can bring any weapon or piece of gear up to the current weapon cap using a certain material. We’re still not sure if they got it right, but time will tell — especially with the major expansion, The Taken King, coming out this September and potentially rehashing all of the same issues.
Destiny’s story and narrative have received a lot of well-deserved criticism, but one of the strangest decisions that Bungie made was to take the majority of the game’s admittedly deep, awesome lore and put it on a website. When you play through the campaign and revive Dead Ghosts (collectible items scattered around the environment) or reach a certain number of enemy type kills or kills with various weapons, you get rewarded with cards. Each one has a well-written story containing information about the world, its denizens, and more. To read them, though, you need to exit the game and log on to Bungie’s website or mobile app.
This is so weird and backwards that it boggles the mind. Sometimes we just want to chill out in the Tower and read some lore, and it makes no sense that the game won’t allow us to do it. It’s one thing that Destiny doesn’t really have much story in the campaign to begin with, but to take the remaining shreds and put them on a website is something else.
Heavy ammo bug
Managing death penalties in a game like Destiny is tough. You want respawning to have consequences and mean something, but you also don’t want it to be absurdly punitive. For the longest time, when you croaked in a firefight, one of the consequences was that you lost a percentage of your heavy weapon ammunition. It was a known bug. Heavy weapon synths, a consumable item, let you replenish that ammo, but here’s the rub: if you die after using one, the cool down doesn’t reset. So, players were burning synths, dying, and then losing ammo due to that bug, and having to wait for the synth to cool down before trying again.
Adding insult to injury, Xur — the game’s special weekend vendor — randomly sold heavy ammo synth at the time, but when the bug was at its most prevalent, the vendor mysteriously had the longest heavy ammo drought he ever had. Bungie was aware of the ammo loss on death bug, and aware Xur could have simply sold heavy synths until the bug was fixed, yet Bungie took months to fix the bug and Xur frequently didn’t sell synths in the interim to help ease the blow.
We get that the atmosphere and story of Destiny is an important part of Bungie’s game design philosophy, but this is something that we resolved in 2004. There should always be an option to skip a cutscene. Yes, they play during multiplayer missions, but that’s a simple fix: add a voting option to skip it. Being able to skip pre-mission briefings, especially if you’ve heard them a half a dozen times, would also be nice. We get not being able to pass over them the first time, but making them permanently unskippable is a waste of our time in a game type that’s dedicated to wasting our time.
Adding expansion missions to the full game
One of the most bizarrely exploitative aspects of Destiny is the expansion system. The whole point of paying extra for additional content is that it’s supposed to be optional. However, taking inspiration from MMOs means that Bungie has basically made it necessary to shell out extra cash to keep up with the rest of the world. If you didn’t buy the Dark Below expansion and one of its missions was picked as the weekly strike, you couldn’t play it. No soup for you. The weekly mission could’ve substituted one of the disc missions you had access to, but it didn’t. Throw in the upcoming Taken King expansion bundle that basically gives you the base game, the two existing expansions, and new stuff for less than we paid for the base game and expansions alone, and this policy starts to feel pretty screwed up.
Destiny obviously takes a great deal of inspiration from the MMO genre (despite Bungie’s insistence that it’s not an MMO even though it is), but one thing that Bungie seems to have missed is that those games let players do other things besides kill stuff. In a game that already has a fairly borked economy based on random drops, it’s incredibly frustrating to do a raid and get rewarded with a bunch of crap that you can’t use. MMOs handle this by letting players trade items with each other or toss them up on an auction house — it’s a simple system, easy to implement, and it would actually give players more to do in the Tower than hunting for Xur or kicking both balls around. And yet, three expansions in, there’s no sign of trading or player-to-player selling. Bungie is basically saying, “Didn’t get what you want from all that grinding? Grind harder.”
One of the trickiest balancing acts in a game with a long tail is managing player expectations. You have to give them enough to keep them interested without overburdening your development team. Often studios put out little bits of free content to do that — like emotes, for instance. You see where we’re going with this. Bungie announced that the $80 Collector’s Edition of the upcoming Taken King expansion would come with a trio of class-specific emotes to add to the game’s paltry four. However, that requires you to spend money to buy content you already have. Bungie’s Creative Director Luke Smith made matters worse in an interview and the company eventually backpedaled and decided to sell the new stuff for an additional $20, which is better than $80 for content you already have, but a few emotes and shaders for one-third the price of the entire vanilla game isn’t even a microtransaction — it’s a macrotransaction.
Enemy level cap the players can’t reach
The problem with a skill-based game like Destiny compared to a numbers-based MMO, is that whereas numbers keep everything capped to a limit, it’s tough to cap player skill. Destiny is a skill-based action game, which means even though the damage guns can output are capped to a limit, killed players can shoot faster than enemies, or even dodge enemy fire and literally never take damage. In fact, a very skilled player can pull the weight of six. To counteract this, since the very first DLC, Bungie has made it so enemy levels can reach a number that player levels cannot to ensure a level of difficulty for even the most skilled players.
In Destiny, when an enemy is a higher level, they do more damage and players do less damage, plain and simple. The fact that players cannot reach the enemy level has thus far infuriated the player base, calling out Bungie for lazy design; why not create interesting mechanics rather than just arbitrarily nerfing player damage due to forcing them to be one level below enemies?
Closing the loot cave
We’re not going to argue that the Loot Cave was fun or good — it wasn’t. Lining up with a ton of other players to farm Hive for engrams was the most effortless way to level up your gear and get some loot, though. When Destiny patched out the infinite respawning bug from the location, the way they did it displayed a flagrant disregard for the essential rule of game design: let the players play. Designers can’t — and shouldn’t — control everything the player does, and implying that people were “playing the game wrong” by not grinding missions over and over was simply ludicrous. If you want people to play the story missions, make them more fun, diverse, and challenging. If gamers are happier shooting at a hole than going through your content, you’ve made a mistake.
So those are our picks for the most egregious ways that Destiny exploits its players. Bungie went from one of the best-loved companies in the business to an EA-grade villain with the release of just one game. We’d like to think that the next expansion will make things all better, but isn’t that just what an addict would say?