Us Destiny 2 diehards are used to receiving a weekly missive from Bungie, which in times of major community crisis or pre-expansion hype building can run into multiple thousands of words. I can't speak for other live service games, but the amount of communication feels pretty peerless, even if we don't always like the answers. Still, I wasn't expecting an unscheduled treatise identifying pain points from the release of the recent Lightfall expansion, what the studio is doing to correct those issues, and a roadmap outlining some major changes coming in future seasons. But that's what we just got.
In our Lightfall review, Phil Savage echoed the community consensus that the campaign was a disappointing mess, but that the new Strand subclass and features like the loadout system were big positives. Bungie's post, which is titled "Reflecting on Lightfall: Launch and Beyond", begins by noting that for all the criticism, Lightfall has delivered Destiny 2's best player concurrency numbers in years, beating 2021's The Witch Queen for daily users, and exceeded the studio's own sales expectations.
However, with the mic handed to game director Joe Blackburn, he swiftly acknowledges things haven't gone entirely smoothly for the penultimate instalment in the series' almost decade-long saga: "It's clear the initial experience we delivered on day one didn’t provide the full clarity we originally planned for when we set out creating Lightfall, the team has taken the feedback to heart in both what's coming this year, and with how we're ending the Light and Darkness Saga in The Final Shape."
From there, the post details changes coming to the Guardian Ranks and Commendations systems, both of which were also introduced in Lightfall. Guardian Ranks were intended to display your mastery over the game's various activities, while Commendations were a way to acknowledge great teammates. However, both came in feeling under-cooked and have seen multiple changes post-launch, with particular frustration around the fact commendations were tied to Guardian Ranks, leading to the ridiculous situation where players were LFGing to find groups willing to kill themselves over and over again just to commend each other afterwards.
Per the blog, Commendation requirements are now being massively reduced, and ranks will no longer reset quite so dramatically between seasons. "Your rank displayed to everyone will reflect your highest rank earned last season, and if you achieve a higher rank than you did last season, it will be your new displayed number". Which sounds sensible to me, and I think reflects that neither system is fundamentally flawed, they just needed longer in the oven.
Yeah, about those Threshers...
The blog post goes on to detail additional tweaks being made to difficulty levels across PvE activities, which again felt like they had been over-corrected in response to the legitimate complaint that most content was too easy. There's an entire section dedicated to the absolutely bonkers situation whereby Threshers—a type of gunship used by the Cabal—were one-shotting players in supposedly entry level activities. It got so bad that many assumed it was down to a bug that ties incoming damage to your framerate. But nope, it was just a design goof.
"Threshers have always dealt more damage than intended against Guardians, but under pre-Lightfall combat at lower Power levels, they weren't lethal enough to need a nerf. As a part of our goal to make the invasion of Neomuna feel more threatening, we deployed Threshers more often than we ever had before and assigned them difficulty modifiers previously only seen in Nightfalls. This significantly increased their brutality."
You don't say! Anyway, those have already been nerfed. Also likely to be of interest to a lot of players is the section on Lost Sectors, which are essentially mini-dungeons designed to be completed solo for the chance to earn exotic tier gear. People have been complaining that these have become way too hard and the drop rates suck. Bungie pushes back a bit here, arguing not unreasonably that although these were hard at the start of the season, because it's possible to over-level this content, they should now feel much more approachable. And I would agree that's the case.
Bungie did recently give the drop rates of exotics a modest buff, but doesn't want to make them too easy a farm now that we're at an appropriate power level. However, it does say that it is going to make the Vex Strike Force event on Neomuna a source for new pieces of exotic gear, and that it will operate on a knockout system (ie, items you haven't unlocked will drop before any dupes).
That won't be enough to mollify players who've been asking for a way to target farm for specific pieces of exotic armor for a long time. There is a solution coming later down the line, but I'll warn you that it's going to be eye-bleedingly expensive in terms of materials. Starting in Season 21 (which is scheduled to begin on May 23), Bungie will enable players to "focus" exotic engrams, which will also begin dropping from wherever you previously would have received random exotic gear. There are two flavours of focusing:
- Advanced Decryption: Focuses a piece of exotic armor from a particular expansion and its associated seasons. Costs one exotic engram, one Ascendant Shard, and 30,000 Glimmer.
- Precision Decryption: Focuses a specific piece of exotic armor (ie, you're guaranteed the item you want). Costs one exotic engram, three Ascendant Shards, 60,000 Glimmer, and one Exotic Cipher.
Bungie says it will be raising the Exotic Cipher cap to five (from one, at present), but that still strikes me as brutally expensive. Still, if you're sitting on a mountain of Ascendant Shards and really want a slightly better Gyrfalcon's Haulberk (which I am, and I do) then I guess it makes sense. Caveat emptor, though, as the stat roll will still be random. Target focusing exotic engrams is going to be the best received part of the Season 21 stuff, but there were a couple of other very nice quality-of-life changes listed:
- Work is underway on upgrading more than 15 pieces of unloved exotic armor. Bungie also mentions balance changes are coming to others, so Warlocks hold your Starfire Protocol robes close tonight. The nerf is surely in the post.
- The new Powerful Attraction mod will see your character vacuum up nearby orbs of light whenever you use your class ability. That will help Armor Charge builds, which rely on picking up orbs that can often be stranded in tricky spots.
- The new Elemental Charges mod generate Armor Charges whenever you pick up subclass-specific objects such as Stasis Shards, Firesprites and Ionic Traces. Again, that will help build-crafting feel more flexible.
- The Shoot to Loot perk will enable you to collect orbs by, you guessed it, shooting them. That's in addition to its current ability to snag ammo bricks. This perk is already very good on weapons that deal AoE damage, such as Kinetic Tremors or Dragonfly, as the explosion will do the looting. Hang on to any guns with those perks for now.
- Three more Strand Aspects are inbound: Flechette Storm for Titan, Threaded Specter for Hunter and The Wanderer for Warlock. These will substantially alter the way the class can be played on each character, and given that Strand is good right now, I'm excited to see what gets added.
The one thing missing from the post is a candid look at what went wrong with the storytelling in Lightfall. Whilst Bungie obviously isn't going to throw the narrative team under the bus, the lurch in quality from The Witch Queen's excellently delivered campaign to Lightfall's morass of unexplained macguffins was noted by everyone who played. I'm sure a major part of the explanation is that Lightfall was originally intended to be the final part of the saga, but Bungie added a fourth expansion (next year's The Final Shape) when it became clear it couldn't wrap everything up while sticking with the original schedule. But I'm not sure that explains how Nimbus, who might just be the most annoying character I've encountered in more than two decades of writing about games, came to be. Imagine Poochie from The Simpsons but with a flying surfboard and worse dialogue. They're legitimately that grating.
Still, as is almost always the case with Destiny 2, when you pull back from the kind of complaints that to outsiders probably seem like nitpicking, I remain convinced the game is in rude health. My suspicion is that a lot of the more substantial story material got moved into The Final Shape when the aforementioned split with Lightfall was made, which inevitably left the latter feeling a little cobbled together. But between systemic improvements like the loadout system, and the promise of an in-game LFG finder coming later this year, the underlying structure has never been stronger. Or at least that's what I'll be telling myself later tonight as my raid teammates are flung to their deaths by malfunctioning jump pads. I mean, it would be unreasonable to expect those to just work, right?