The third part of Destiny 2 game director Luke Smith's week-long update-o-rama takes a long, hard look at the state of PvP, and includes some very frank admissions about where Bungie went wrong—including that the Trials of the Nine PvP mode was a botch.
"Trials of the Nine wasn’t the hero we wanted it to be. We made too many changes to a formula that—while it had begun to decline in Destiny 1—wasn’t as flawed as we thought. When we were making Destiny 2, we talked a lot about making sure it felt like a sequel, bringing in new players, and simplifying the game—and Trials of the Nine created another casualty there," Smith wrote. "It happened on my watch, and if I could turn back time, I’d challenge us to do many things differently."
It wasn't a complete bust: Smith said there were "some really cool parts to the Emissary," and that some of the Trials gear packed a pleasing punch. He also hinted, through the strategic use of italics, that Trials—of some sort—will return. "Trials of the Nine didn’t work the way we’d hoped," he wrote, "and Trials of the Nine is on hiatus indefinitely."
Destiny 2 streamer Frosty also took note of the obvious tease:
This is a HUGE hint that we will be getting some form of trials back. It was kind of hard for me to believe it wouldn't return at some point, but I know others were doubting if it'll ever come back. pic.twitter.com/rb8vTXx7KnAugust 16, 2019
One of the big challenges facing Bungie right now is that Destiny 2, as it was originally envisioned, was very different from what it's become, and some aspects of it weren't meant to last so long and evolve so far. That includes things like displayed damage values, which has skyrocketed to ridiculous numbers, and damage stacking, which Smith admitted is "busted." The bottom line, he wrote, is that "we cannot continue this way."
He emphasized that addressing these issues will not mean nerfs in most cases. Bungie is "refactoring" displayed damage values to make the system more sustainable, for instance, but actual outgoing damage will not be changed. But stacking is being adjusted to dial back the potency of some abilities, and yes, that means Well of Radiance.
"We’ve taken all the weapon damage buffs (these enhance the player’s outgoing damage) that can appear on the character and stack-ranked their damage effects (these are effects like Empowering Rift, Well of Radiance, Lumina’s buff, and top-tree Void Titan’s Weapons of Light). We’ve also overhauled the system under the hood, so the damage calculations use only the most powerful buff on a player at a given time," Smith explained.
"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)."
PvP playlists are also being changed up to make the game more welcoming to newcomers. Quickplay and Competitive nodes are being replaced in the Director with Classic Mix, which includes Control, Clash, and Supremacy, and 3v3 Survival. There will also be a Survival Solo queue, a standalone 6v6 Control playlist, and rotating 6v6 and 4v5 playlists, and some underperforming maps will be pulled.
The skill-matching system is also being overhauled to "ensure a wider variety of matches, regardless of player skill"—not in match type, but in match outcome. "Some matches should be tense and thrilling, while other matches should be stomps," he wrote. "This philosophy should also apply to the top players, so they don’t feel like every match is a sweatshow, either."
Bungie also hopes to make Destiny 2 feel more like an "evolving" world where things are changing meaningfully from season to season. Starting in season eight, things will begin happening on the Moon—wizards, perhaps—that will be resolved in a season-ending event. But the results of that Moon business will set up the events for season nine, which will make further changes that set up season ten, and on it will go. Some activities and rewards will only be available for a season, although seasonal rewards will eventually be brought back to other activities to ensure that everyone has a shot at them. But while Bungie obviously has big plans for the future, Smith also cautioned that Destiny 2 will eventually give way to Destiny 3.
"The game continuing to grow forever isn’t something we can support. Destiny’s simulation, fidelity, and architecture fundamentally make it a big game. I’ve seen a lot of 'game X does it, why can’t Destiny?' but the referenced games and ours have very different technical profiles," he wrote. "Technical limitations aside, we also don’t think making a game that grows forever is Destiny’s path forward."
He concluded the update with an acknowledgment that Destiny 2 hasn't always lived up to expectations, but expressed optimism for the future. "There have been dark, dark days. For you. For us here, and certainly for me. But this year has been special," he wrote. "The Bungie team has worked incredibly hard, and we’re excited to get Shadowkeep onto your hard drives in October."
If you haven't already seen them, part one of Smith's Destiny 2 dissertation reflects on the state of the game and where Bungie aims to go next, while part two digs more into the details of transitioning to the upcoming armor 2.0 system. Destiny 2: Shadowkeep comes out on October 1. Tim will have some thoughts on Monday outlining questions which remain unresolved despite Smith's Herculean write-up. Because of course Tim will.