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We debate the pros and cons of Destiny 2's current season pass

(Image credit: Bungie)

Last week, a ragtag bunch of streamers, redditors, and amateur data entrists spent hundreds of hours solving Destiny 2's Corridors of time puzzle. Their reward? Unlocking a fairly rudimentary exotic quest for a fusion rifle, which was already on the seasonal roadmap, slightly early. Given that the community had hyped itself into expecting something major at the end of the Google Sheets rainbow, there has been some amount of recrimination about whether Bungie understands what players actually want and whether it values our time accordingly. 

To be honest, what's new? Since launch, the studio has wrestled with meeting the demands of players hungry for Destiny 2 to be their forever game, while at the same time not burning out the development team. Since the Activision split, it can also no longer blame big bad Bobby Kotick for the aggressive practices in the Eververse microtransaction store. With all that in mind, now felt like a good time to gather our resident guardians to discuss how we feel about the current season pass model, the cadence and quality of the roadmap content, and what we'd like to see done differently in Destiny 3. If that's even a thing.

Tim Clark: Let's start with the Corridors of Time puzzle, as that's the controversy du jour. I actually had a blast watching Gladd, Chevy, and the r/raidsecrets brains trust poring over spreadsheets on no sleep. Not everyone felt that way though, and if you're not engaged with Reddit or content creators, then I can see how the whole experience could pass you by. I actually had a mild argument with Professor Broman, a streamer who was bemoaning that the event catered too much to, uh, streamers. I just love that a AAA megabudget shooter can create such a batshit puzzle and have a chunk of its fanbase go nuts for it. Where I can't defend Bungie is on the reward. They had to know that, after all the excitement, people were going to be disappointed by receiving a weapon they already knew was coming. It's classic Bungie: brilliant ideas undone by one decision that beggars belief.

Phil Savage: Yeah, the puzzle was fun. I elected not to join the tens of thousands of people watching Gladd tend to a spreadsheet, but found time to submit a couple of codes and follow along with the community's progress. Destiny is a good playground for challenges of all different shapes and sizes. Not everyone is going to help solve a big map, in the same way not everyone is going to hit legend rank in the Crucible each season. Part of being an MMO is that sometimes you make stuff that isn't designed for every single player. 

That said, yeah: The reward was a letdown. I'm not too down on it, purely because the final story beat of the Corridors of Time is very cool, and one of my favourite things about Destiny is when it delves into absurd sci-fi nonsense. But I don't begrudge people who expect an intriguing puzzle to reward something new and surprising. Bastion was already a bullet point on the road map, which doesn't fit the bill. And it feels like the solution would be as simple as not revealing Bastion upfront. If people hadn't been expecting it already, it would feel like a real reward—an unexpected extra, much the same as Outbreak Perfected dropping at the end of last year's surprise Zero Hour mission. Bungie had to know this, as well, which I think leads to a much broader overall question: Is something akin to Forsaken-era Destiny even possible now that Bungie has gone solo and no longer has the support of other studios within Activision?

(Image credit: Bungie)

Activities can be directed at particular groups of players, but it smarts when it's a significant event as part of a season pass that most players can't really get involved with.

Tom Senior: Zero Hour is the peak example of a community-driven puzzle like this working. The reward was great; the mission was awesome. We even got to enjoy memes dedicated to the terrifying trashbot TR3-VR. I marvel at the persistence of streamers decoding this season's puzzle, but to most players it was an abstract pursuit. You could muddle through Zero Hour with friends eventually, but this season's puzzle was an activity largely directed at elites. In Zero Hour everyone with enough power could get the gun, and top players instead enjoyed an extra layer of puzzle to access the weapon's catalyst—a nice bonus reward on top for the game's most dedicated gear hunters.

Activities can be directed at particular groups of players, but it smarts when it's a significant event as part of a season pass that most players can't really get involved with. And yeah, the reward was underwhelming. 

Tim: Something I'm also curious about, three years in, is how Bungie plans to keep the loot chase interesting. My vault is absolutely groaning with god roll guns, and though activities like Sundial and Menagerie have done a good job of making grinding enjoyable, ultimately there are only so many combinations of weapon archetypes and perks, and it feels like there's very little design space left to explore there. One answer might be going even deeper into mods, but then look at this season's 'Charged with Light' system. It's really good (seriously, check out the Protective Light mod—total life saver), but hardly anyone is bothering with it. The obvious reason is that many players don't want to re-grind entirely new sets of armour every three months. I suspect Bungie is well aware of this, because Charged with Light is at least designed to remain useful after this season ends, but the problem remains: How do you keep people interested in chasing slightly different versions of the same stuff?

Phil: I've never been that enamoured with the Destiny gear grind, largely because it can be exhausting. Would I like a Full Choke, Quickdraw Mindbender's Ambition? Yes, but I'm not going to kill myself grinding The Hollowed Lair Nightfall to get it. Would I like multiple complementary gear sets, each with elements matching the guns I favour for different activities? Sure, but I don't have the energy to make that happen. 

Even around that, though, I'm spending less time grinding than before because I've got at least decent versions of most weapon archetypes. That said, Bungie is countering my apathy with some fun new perks, which is probably the correct approach. I don't think Osmosis is ever going to be 'meta', but it's a neat gimmick that can be fun to play with. Lead from Gold is a legitimately decent bonus. Clown Cartridge is an insta-shard for me, but they can't all be winners. As for armour, I'd like to see new seasons refine and improve the Charged with Light system rather than replace it entirely. Yes, it hasn't transformed the game yet, but with more options and flexibility I think we'll start to see that shift. It's important to note, though, that Destiny is far from the biggest offender when it comes to stale gear in MMOs. I haven't felt the need to change my Guild Wars 2 gear for over three years now.

(Image credit: Bungie)

A big issue I see people discussing more and more is whether the season pass is too reliant on FOMO—fear of missing out—to keep players logging in.

Tom: I still have stale bits of Season of the Drifter armour cluttering up my vault. I enjoyed the activity at the time but looking back to 2019, it does feel like I wasted time getting invested in the season. Character progression has always been a central pitch for Destiny. When it launched we were promised characters that would evolve and grow more powerful over the course of a decade or so. If you're levelling activity-specific armour, and the activity drifts out of vogue, that doesn't match the fantasy that you're on a grand galactic journey to godhood. From my position now in 2020, I get more value out of the Black Armory gear. I still pull out the pulse rifle and the sniper rifle for the right task. They feel like cool toys that have held some of their value.

Phil: You're sleeping on Spare Rations, Tom, but yes, I've got a vault full of stuff and rarely touch any of it. Most year two pinnacles are still strong enough to be in regular rotation, and the rest is made up of a handful of favourites—most from Black Armory or Menagerie.

Tim: I mean that's the issue with the gear: You could be using a decently rolled Go Figure from vanilla D2 and doing just fine. A big issue I see people discussing more and more is whether the season pass is too reliant on FOMO—fear of missing out—to keep players logging in. In order to unlock all the rewards, you have sink a lot of time into completing bounties, the game's most workaday challenge. To be honest, I haven't found this to be a huge issue, but that's because I play an enormous, unhealthy amount of Destiny 2 anyway, so if anything have found myself wanting more digital tat to earn. I also don't mind tossing a bit of money into Eververse, but again that's probably because I'm a) a man in his 40s with no children and b) a hopeless addict, as I believe we've already established. As such, I think my main worry is that the current model isn't going to sustain interest all the way through to the next big release, presumably due in September. When you boil each season down to the component parts, it's basically one horde-style activity plus a couple of exotic quests and a smattering of new loot. Probably not enough to maintain the amount of hours I'd like to spend in the game. 

I guess the fundamental question is whether we prefer this way of doing things to the old style, circa Warmind, where almost everything dropped on release and the community sprinted through it in days. The unsatisfying answer is that we need a hybrid system. There needs to be a way of adding new strikes and vendor refreshes between the major releases for sure.

(Image credit: Bungie)

I hate to feel like my leisure time is on a timer. I've been chasing each season's Seal purely because they disappear forever, but honestly it's not a lot of fun to do.

Phil: This is probably my biggest issue with Destiny 2 right now, because I hate to feel like my leisure time is on a timer. I've been chasing each season's Seal purely because they disappear forever, but honestly it's not a lot of fun to do. I've always enjoyed Destiny best when it's more self-directed—when I can take an extended break and dip in to sample both the old and the new. I spent more time in Season of the Drifter catching up on the Black Armory stuff that I'd skipped than I did playing Gambit Prime. I think Bungie's release schedule actually works best when you can take a few months off, come back, and know there's plenty out there waiting for you. It lets you balance the grind with other, one-off activities, work on multiple weapon quests and just genuinely make you feel like you're efficiently checking off a satisfying list of desirable things. That's just not how the game is played now. If you missed Vex Offensive, it's just gone. Perhaps worse, though, is that so far none of the year three seasonal activities will be missed. All of year two's seasonal activities—even Reckoning—were conceptually stronger and more interesting than Vex Offensive. Which means not only am I compelled to play Destiny more frequently than before to keep up with everything (arguably a problem of my own making that I should just get over), but the stuff I feel compelled to keep up with just doesn't feel as entertaining or rewarding.

Tom: I agree that the seasons put a timer on casual play. It can feel too easy to fall behind. If it takes me a few weeks to get into a season it feels as though I'm not on a track to get the best stuff, unless I spend more time than I'd like grinding it out. Even this is better than the old expansion model though. We got neat events like Escalation Protocol, but even for a light player like me I felt as though I'd exhausted most of the expansion after a few weeks. At least now every time I log in there's something happening, or a weekly event is about to happen. The game feels busier and more lively.

Tim: Let's talk a little about what is working. The big releases like Shadowkeep and Forsaken are able to keep the community pretty much sated for at least a couple of months. For junkies like me a big part of that is the raids, which continue to be staggering pieces of design, and I think if you like shooters on PC at all, you really should try to find a way to sample one. I also think the narrative team is really hitting its stride, and has leveraged the weekly resets to drip feed some cool stuff. Eris Morn's back story. Saving Saint-14. The slow burn threat from the pyramid ships. Yes, there are a lot of loose ends, but at least I feel like we're building towards something, and the lore is increasingly in the game rather than locked away on a website.

Phil: I agree that the story is a strong point right now—Destiny has a lot of lore threads, and I enjoy the slow tease and occasional revelation of spooky sci-fi mystery. I'm also enjoying the Crucible a lot more, although it's still far from perfect. I've seen plenty of matchmaking complaints, but as a solo player, the removal of Countdown from the competitive playlist and the introduction of a solo queue are both welcome changes. I'm also a fan of the new Champions system, and how it pairs with the seasonal artifact to favour different weapons each season. While it would be nice if older exotics were updated to be effective against specific Champion types, I still enjoy any reason to step out of my comfort zone. I've spent the season with The Ringing Nail and Outbreak, which has been a nice change from my usual loadout.

(Image credit: Bungie)

If Trials comes back, the community is going to go ballistic over my Handheld Supernova Warlock with Contraverse Hold.

Tim: With the Trials of Osiris (or maybe Saint-14?) heavily tipped to return soon, do you think that will be enough to 'save' PvP, which seems to be the most complained about part of Destiny 2? I consider myself almost entirely PvE focused, so would be concerned that any PvP-centric season could whiff in the same way that people really didn't dig a season built around Gambit. Equally, I get that PvP mains really need some love. Part of my concern about Trials returning, though, is that the fundamentals of PvP feel like they need a major re-work (hello dedicated servers). Without that re-work happening, I'm not sure you're setting Trials up to be successful.

Tom: Wider balance concerns and netcode issues have been part of the Destiny and Destiny 2 PvP scene forever. I'd love it to be better, but I take comfort from the fact that classic modes like Control have their own playlists now. I'll happily dip into a new Trials mode, but it's concerning that last year Bungie implied that it wasn't ready for public consumption—I wonder what the team has changed since then to make it viable? Destiny 2 lacks elite PvP activities, though. Maybe an imperfect elite PvP activity is a good start. The seasons give Bungie opportunities to tune the mode with each DLC drop.

Phil: I understand the concern, Tim, but feel compelled to point out that Gambit is an extremely good mode and building an entire season around it was a very good idea. I didn't play much Trials in Destiny 1—at least beyond the times I tried to play it with Tom after a night out. We did badly, but it was fun, which is often all I need from Destiny. My main worry with Trials' return is that it's going to exacerbate the balance complaints around certain builds. What I'm saying is if Trials comes back, the community is going to go ballistic over my Handheld Supernova Warlock with Contraverse Hold, and I'm not prepared to give that up.