Trying to play Destiny 2 without the API this weekend was a trip to the Dark Ages

This weekend players were chasing the new cowboy-themed gear from Spire of the Watcher, which is Destiny 2's latest dungeon. (Image credit: Bungie)

Last Friday, shortly after the launch of Destiny 2's new dungeon, players began being booted. It didn't matter what activity you were in, even social spaces weren't safe: You could barely break into a sprint before succumbing to one of the network errors that Bungie has given evocative names like 'CALABRESE' and 'WEASEL'. 

Within a couple of hours, the game's API was brought offline, meaning its own web and mobile apps no longer functioned, and nor did the slew of 3rd party gear managers which players use to swap loadouts and move items around. That in itself isn't unusual for Destiny 2. These apps are often unavailable for a couple of hours during major server snafus or following expansion releases. 

What was unusual was the announcement later that evening.

A whole weekend without using Destiny Item Manager? I panicked immediately. Aside from the great DDOS attack of Christmas 2014, when the original game was unavailable for days, I couldn't recall a bleaker prospect. To explain why, you need to understand why Destiny 2's API is both a huge blessing and a potentially big problem. By throwing the gates open to third-party developers, Bungie has created an ecosystem that enables lore libraries like Ishtar Collective, weapon databases like and D2 Gunsmith, stat optimisation via D2 Armor Picker, and collection checkers like Destiny Sets

Those are all very cool and helpful things to have, but what's truly essential—at least, for everyone I play with—are the gear managers, most notably DIM and Ishtar Commander

An old screenshot of my DIM screen. Moving your gear is as easy as drag and drop—the item will pop up in your inventory while you're in game. (Image credit: Bungie)

Destiny 2 is unusual in that it allows these third-party apps (mobile and web) to move items between characters, change perks, swap shaders, remove gear mods and more. Provided you aren't in the middle of an actual mission, almost everything that it's possible to change on your toon can be done from a browser window with a simple drag and drop UI, or by tapping your phone, whilst you're in the game. 

Bungie's own app can do most of this stuff, but is less streamlined as it has to handle all sorts of other stuff. DIM also allows you to buildcraft with a depth that's currently impossible using the client. Specifically: you can create and save an unlimited number of loadouts on each character, curated right down to the transmog ornaments and shaders, and then swap cleanly between builds in a few seconds. And there lies the major issue with what happened this weekend.

A return to the bad old days

Over the years, Destiny 2 has gone from a game where you could essentially slap on a single loadout and barring a couple of tweaks have it carry you through every activity, to one where builds are very complex and min-maxing actually matters. Based on the enemies you're likely to encounter and specific modifiers in place, the loadout you might take into this week's Master difficulty Nightfall mission might well be completely different from the one you want for the new Spire of the Watcher dungeon. The same goes for raids, seasonal activities containing Champions, and especially PVP which always benefits from a specific suite of mods and weapons. But with the API down, the only way to swap gear was by flying your character with the item in question to a social space, placing the item in your vault, switching to the other character who needs the item and flying in to collect it.

It remains absolutely wild that Bungie has outsourced such an essential part of what makes its game playable to enthusiastic community devs.

At a stroke, making wholesale loadout changes had become an enormous ballache. Not to be dramatic about the situation, but it was hard to argue with this heavily upvoted reddit thread titled 'Destiny 2 is figuratively unplayable without DIM'. Another wag posted this picture from Little House on the Prairie, titled 'How it feels playing without DIM'

Inevitably, a lot of the discussion got drowned out by players complaining ungraciously that Bungie's devs should be working all weekend to fix the problem. (One dev did respond, graciously, to note that they were working over the weekend to fix the problem.) To me, the real talking point is how Bungie has allowed a situation to arise where a game of this size is so reliant on community apps to function effectively. Yes, it's incredible that we're able to rapidly move all our stuff around instantly, but it's even more incredible that the actual game client can't handle this function.

Here's a WIP look at the loadout manager coming with Lightfall. Expect this to change quite a bit. (Image credit: Bungie)

Or at least it can't yet. When Bungie unveiled the Lightfall expansion three months ago, it promised that an in-game loadout manager would be coming next year too. As yet, we don't know how deep the functionality will be. For me to use it, it will need to offer everything that DIM does currently, which means also swapping shaders, emblems, ornaments, subclass fragments and aspects, and more. Without that level of customization, I'll be sticking to the third-party apps, and at the mercy of exactly this sort of outage. Lest we forget, these apps are largely run as a labour of love. Honestly, DIM is so good, I'd love to see it bought and incorporated rather than replaced. Lest we also forget, Bungie is a company Sony deemed worthy of splashing $3.6BN on buying.

As I write this, the API is still down, but with emergency maintenance scheduled for later today I expect normal service will return soon enough. Being an inveterate addict, I still got in several raids and three dungeon clears this weekend, but I limited myself to staying on the same build and only changing what was absolutely necessary between activities. You might think I'm about to tell you that the experience was pleasingly nostalgic, in a first-person shooter meets cottagecore kind of way. You would be wrong. The joy of Destiny 2 is the variety of bonkers builds you can create using the 3.0 subclasses, so being stuck on one felt joy sapping. 

It remains absolutely wild to me that Bungie has effectively outsourced such an essential part of what makes its game playable to enthusiastic community devs. To prove the point, here's a final anecdote: A couple of years ago some clanmates of mine bought a Bungie studio tour as part of a charity auction. As they wandered around the Seattle office, they were immediately struck by something: The developers were using DIM on second screens to move their gear around.

Tim Clark

With over two decades covering videogames, Tim has been there from the beginning. In his case, that meant playing Elite in 'co-op' on a BBC Micro (one player uses the movement keys, the other shoots) until his parents finally caved and bought an Amstrad CPC 6128. These days, when not steering the good ship PC Gamer, Tim spends his time complaining that all Priest mains in Hearthstone are degenerates and raiding in Destiny 2. He's almost certainly doing one of these right now.