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Can removing half of Destiny 2 really be good for the game?

(Image credit: Bungie)

I'll say this for the Destiny Content Vault idea: it's bold. For Year 4, launching on 10 November with the Beyond Light expansion, Bungie will be removing 'legacy' content from Destiny 2—cutting a little of everything, from planets, to raids, to entire story campaigns. And while I'm largely against such an unprecedented amount of content disappearing from a live service game that people have paid for, I have to admit: it could be good for the game.

To be clear, this isn't me giving Bungie a pat on the back—in fact, I'd argue that Destiny 2 in its current state feels untenable in the long term. But with Bungie announcing that, instead of moving straight to Destiny 3, it will instead continue making expansions to Destiny 2 for at least three more years, something needs to be done. The question, then, is whether the 'Content Vault' is that thing.

In announcing the Content Vault, Bungie claimed that "Destiny 2 is too large to efficiently update and maintain," citing that its size and complexity contribute to more bugs and "less innovation". This is a tricky statement to parse, because it invites comparisons to other games in its genre. Destiny 2 is actually pretty small—in terms of amount of content, rather than raw file size—compared to other MMOs, although I'd note it's large for a first-person shooter. And while, yes, sometimes content gets removed from MMOs, it tends to be with an eye to streamlining or rebalancing—and never to this scale or scope.

(Image credit: Bungie)

A video from Destiny streamer Aztecross may help shed more light on the situation. In it, he claims that during an eight hour meeting with content creators, Bungie "stated multiple times that the way the game was coded from the ground up is having to be redone". "What was laid out to me," Aztecross goes on to say, "was essentially, 'hey, we have to take some of these planets off the map, redo them, recode them, reissue them'."

We've reached out to Bungie to verify the claims, but I will say this: it sounds true. I think every longterm player instinctively assumes that Destiny 2 is built on a shaky foundation. Back in 2015, a Kotaku report laid out the many problems with Destiny's tech—citing the amount of effort designers would have to go to just to move a resource node on a map. The hope of players at the time was that Destiny 2 would fix these issues, but many problems persisted, including the same long waits for sandbox updates or bug fixes.

I've always found the scale of Destiny 2's planets disappointing—not in terms of size, but rather how much happens within them. Where MMOs often have hundreds of players teeming through its maps, each Destiny 2 patrol zone is capped to nine players—and you can only load into them with a fireteam of three people. It's underwhelming, especially as Bungie continues to push open world events like Seraph Towers and the current (and much better) Contact.

(Image credit: Bungie)

Aztecross suggests that, if planets are being recoded, it could mean Beyond Light's new destination of Europa will be different to—better than—the current locations in the game. And we'll see. If a new code base can help Bungie create and iterate faster, it will be good for the game's overall prospects. At the same time, though, this explanation doesn't explain everything. For instance: why does a planet need to be removed to be reworked? Couldn't it also stay while Bungie worked on its new, improved version.

It's unsurprising that players are nervous, or even angry, about planets, raids and story missions being removed.

Despite Aztecross's claims, it's unsurprising that players are nervous, or even angry, about planets, raids and story missions being removed. Bungie hasn't done a good job of explaining what the benefits are, beyond some vague promises that the game will be less buggy and content more inventive as a result. These are hard things to get excited about, because the expectation is that it should be less buggy anyway—without losing the things that many have paid to play.

Ultimately, fewer planets means less variety. Right now, I can choose to grind bounties and Catalyst progress in Escalation Protocol, Alter of Sorrow or even the infinite Shadow Thrall room in The Whisper mission. Come November, I guess I'll just be spending a lot of time on the Moon.

(Image credit: Bungie)

Weapon and armour sunsetting further exacerbates the issue. Loot now comes with a power cap that will ensure it's only relevant for a year after it's added to the game. It means that all Year 2 drops will be underpowered for Beyond Light's missions and activities. This isn't the first time the players' vaults have been deprecated, but what we've seen of the system so far has been concerning. Throughout Year 3 the limited loot pool of new guns and armour has been bolstered by returning weapons—fine in theory, but it's frustrating being expected to regrind the god roll version of a gun you already own.

There's also the question of whether the planets that do remain will have their loot pools updated. While the Dreaming City is staying, we've had no news to suggest that The Shattered Throne dungeon or Blind Well activity will be updated to drop new weapons or armour. As it stands, they'll reward items that players won't be able to infuse up to Year 4 levels. What, then, is the point of them? With so much leaving, surely what's left should stay relevant.

All that said, some of the content set to be removed did need to be addressed. Destiny 2 as it currently exists is hostile to new players. Decisions that made sense for a playerbase that was following along with each season can now lead to confusion, or, worse, annoyance and frustration. A lengthy questline to unlock The Menagerie was fine back in the summer of 2019, when it was the activity players were all working towards. A year later, that same questline is hidden among the many others that demand your attention—helpfully given the name "The Invitation". It's not clear what you're being invited to, or even why you might want to accept.

(Image credit: Bungie)

And so the quest languishes until it becomes a problem: when friends suggest running through it, only to find out that you can't—and won't be able to for some time.

The quest screen invites further examination. It is bad, and not just because many of its quests are obtuse. It's bad because it has no consistent definition of what a quest is. This is, according to Destiny 2's quest page, what a quest can be:

  • Actual quests that you can do and complete.
  • Items like the catnip that you can give to the cats of The Dreaming City, that will continue to drop even after you've given the catnip to all of the cats of The Dreaming City, despite the cats of The Dreaming City wandering off when you give them the catnip. 
  • Tools like the Powerful Synthesizer, which takes Gambit Synths from your inventory and turns them into Motes, which is a confusing concept when you're not in the Season of the Drifter and thus not expected to play Reckoning for fun. 

Why is it like this? Because the quest page was a new addition for Year 3. In Year 2, quests were an inventory item that lived in a tab called 'Pursuits', which, in Season of Opulence, got moved to the Director screen, before finally being turned into an actual quest log. And while under the old taxonomy it made a sort of sense for catnip and the Powerful Synthesizer to be physical inventory items, it's now an awkward fit for the more formless, ephemeral concept of a 'quest'.

The Content Vault will technically solve this problem, but not in a particularly nuanced or elegant way. The need to do a questline to unlock The Menagerie will be gone, because The Menagerie itself will be gone. And sure, that does the job I guess, but it's perhaps ignoring the underlying issue. Also, as mentioned, The Dreaming City is staying, so presumably the catnip will continue to drop. Bungie: please do something about this catnip.

(Image credit: Bungie)

All of which is to say: the Content Vault will only work if it's part of a larger plan that actually addresses the problems of not only the content being removed, but the systems and activities that remain too.

This is the paradox that Destiny 2 finds itself in. It needs to change, but many of its longstanding problems have been exacerbated by constant change. This has been a theme throughout Destiny's history. For Destiny 2 alone, a maligned first year meant massive changes for Year 2, completely overhauling weapon slots, ammo and perks. The split from Activision and the push towards free-to-play led to a brand new plan for Year 3, with an overhauled armour and mod system, and a new seasonal cadence that focused on limited-time activities over permanent new game modes. 

Now, for Year 4, Destiny 2 is changing again, with old loot being sunset and the Content Vault deleting big chunks of the game. It's exhausting, and these constant new starts compound much of the confusion and frustration that often surrounds the game. But—God help me—it's exciting too. Destiny 2 always feels like it's on the verge of being brilliant, and I remain hopeful that it succeeds, almost despite myself.

If Bungie is committing to Destiny 2 for another three years, it desperately needs to give the game some consistency: a sense that a plan is in place, and being built towards. It needs to explain that plan, and the decisions that caused it, and be upfront about both what it'll mean for players in the immediate future, but also what's been worked towards long term.

Phil leads PC Gamer's UK team. He was previously the editor of the magazine, and thinks you should definitely subscribe to it. He enjoys RPGs and immersive sims, and can often be found reviewing Hitman games. He's largely responsible for the Tub Geralt thing, but still isn't sorry.