Many Destiny players spent the past three years asking Bungie for in-game matchmaking for raids and other high-end activities, and Bungie has so far refused to add that feature into the game.
However, the studio has finally launched its Guided Games feature for raids and Nightfall strikes in Destiny 2, which allows one or two solo players to match up with an organized clan group of four or five players. The hope was that this feature would give players who hadn’t previously played Destiny’s endgame an opportunity to do so, while avoiding the chaos and toxicity that random groups would likely bring to high-end activities.
But players using the feature are having some problems, and those issues show that Bungie was right to be apprehensive about matchmaking for so long.
Random groups fail at difficult things
The Destiny population includes players with a range of skill, experience and dedication levels. That remains true even if you control for gear power levels. Many players cannot or will not learn to do everything a raid requires, or they lack the manual dexterity to execute some of the more demanding strategies.
Only about 16 percent of Destiny 2 players on PlayStation 4 have finished the raid. That’s a historically high level of player engagement for a Destiny raid, compared to the 5.4 percent of Destiny: Rise of Iron players who have completed the Wrath of the Machine raid on normal difficulty — a year after that raid launched. But five out of six Destiny 2 players still haven’t seen everything Leviathan has to offer.
Even if a substantial percentage of the population isn’t even trying to do the raid, any randomly matched player who might be interested in doing so is likely to be inexperienced. And that inexperience matters.
Raids in Destiny and Destiny 2 contain complex encounters, with mechanics that have to be mastered through trial and error. It took my group a couple of hours to figure out each of Leviathan’s four encounters the first time we ran it, without videos or guides.
Progress in a Destiny raid comes from each member of the group steadily improving their performance and mastering the necessary mechanics. The whole group has to repeat that learning experience whenever somebody leaves the squad to be replaced by a new player, especially if they’re inexperienced. Even players who have done the raid a few times learn to adapt and communicate with their group a specific way, and it can take a while to learn how to do so with a new player.
If your group suffers constant attrition, it is likely to disband without clearing that encounter.
This is why, on sites where players form their own groups with strangers, players who have previously cleared the raid only want to team up with other players who have also finished the raid, and demand that participants prove their experience by displaying their raid emblems.
Players are willing to spend four hours learning the Pleasure Gardens fight the first time they do it, but nobody wants to spend four hours on it every time. And Leviathan doesn’t leave much room for error if one player in your group doesn’t understand the basic strategy at play.
The flip side of players leaving the group on their own is the tendency of randomly assembled groups to kick out certain players. If five members of a squad are progressing toward beating the encounter and one player keeps causing the group to fail, they’ll likely want to get rid of that person.
And “that player” is likely to be “that player” in every group they join, resulting in a situation where they’re constantly kicked from groups and creating a widespread perception that Destiny has a toxic community. The reality is that no one wants to be held back by a stranger if that stranger doesn’t have the necessary skills to play at the level required. It sounds elitist, but wait until you’ve been bashing your head against Calus for two hours because one teammate can’t hack it.
Finally, unlike games such as World of Warcraft or League of Legends, Destiny doesn’t group players into servers by region. Instead, it groups players from around the world into instances and matchmade activities together. That means that you might get guides or seekers from Europe, South America or Asia.
Aside from some latency issues, this is fine for casual Crucible matches or strike playlists. But it is extremely difficult — if not impossible —- for a group to coordinate during complex, team-based encounters if they don’t speak the same language. Some players, meanwhile, don’t have microphones for their consoles, or don’t like using voice chat.
Three of the four encounters in the Leviathan raid require players to communicate information only they can see to their teammates, who have to act according to that information. It doesn’t work if players can’t talk to each other.
Guided Games tries to solve the problems of random matchmaking
Destiny 2’s Guided Games feature is designed to correct these problems, and it partially succeeds.
Guided Games require four or five players to participate in a pre-formed group, with at least half of those players belonging to the same clan. These players are the “guides.” It’s their job, to some extent, to know what to do and how to do it.
Random players looking for groups are “seekers,” and they must meet a certain minimum power level requirement to be eligible for the activity.
All players are asked to take a “Guardian Oath,” which essentially informs the guides that they are likely to be matched with an inexperienced player, and makes them promise not to be abusive. You can’t get mad if someone doesn’t know what they’re doing — after all, you’re signing to be grouped with someone because they likely don’t know what they’re doing. That’s the whole point.
The event also applies a 45-minute “Guardian Oath” status to all the players in the activity. If anyone leaves before that status expires, without a vote from the group to terminate the activity, then that player may be banned from Guided Games.
Guides also get assigned an “oathkeeper score” based on how frequently they successfully complete guided activities. Theoretically, seekers should prefer to match with clans that have high oathkeeper scores, but, as a practical matter, you usually don’t get a choice.
This system tries to mitigate the toxicity that comes with throwing a lot of inexperienced players into a difficult activity together. Destiny 2 pairs just one or two newbies with a (hopefully) experienced clan group that has volunteered to help the newcomers learn the ropes (or just carry them through the encounter). Bungie has also put penalties in place to prevent players from bailing on struggling groups or booting struggling players.
And it has been modestly successful. But there are still some problems.
An imperfect solution to an impossible problem
There are many more seekers trying to use the system than there are groups to guide them, and that situation has left people waiting in a queue for 45 minutes or longer. Players can’t do anything else while they queue up, and they can’t stray far from their televisions — the game doesn’t give them very long to accept the match if they find a group. Many casual players who are likely to seek guides may not be willing to commit two hours to a raid after spending nearly an hour waiting to begin playing.
Bungie will hopefully patch Destiny 2 to allow players to participate in other activities while they’re in the queue for Guided Games, and new incentives or rewards might entice more guides into the system in the short term. But this is a setup that is trying to encourage a relatively small population of successful raiders to ferry the rest of the player base through the encounters. The elite players have to outnumber the regular players at least two to one, and in many cases five to one. That’s a tall order.
On top of that, the Prestige raid launches on Oct. 18, and many elite raiders will stop doing the normal mode once that’s available. The wait for guides could become even longer.
Second, many seekers are getting matched with guide groups that haven’t actually completed the raid themselves, and are using the system to fill out their groups or to replace people who bailed on their failing raids. These guided groups are generally not having much success. Eventually, the oathkeeper score system might fix this problem, or Bungie might patch the system to require guides to have finished the raid. But that will also lengthen queue times. A group of new raiders looking for random players is at a severe disadvantage for many reasons.
Third, players are encountering communication issues. Seekers and guides are getting matched with groups who can’t speak their language, and guides are getting matched with seekers who don’t have microphones.
Bungie could implement a language filter to try to match seekers and guides with same-language groups, but that will, once again, extend queue times. I have no idea what Bungie can do about seekers without microphones, but having a player who cannot communicate makes it very difficult to progress in a Destiny raid.
It may be worth lowering your oathkeeper score to get out of a situation that you know from the start is likely hopeless.
The old way is still the best way
A lot of players resent these sites and the groups that form on them because they often demand high levels of gear and experience, and players who aren’t on the cutting edge can struggle to find people who are willing to play with them. It’s also common for less experienced players to join groups by lying about their raid experience, only to get swiftly kicked when the groups see them play, or for people to try to start groups that require gear or experience that they don’t have themselves. That rarely ends well. Don’t lie about your loadout or experience level. It’s not like this stuff is hard to check.
But there are experienced “sherpas” on these sites, players who enjoy leading inexperienced groups through the raid. And if you’re less experienced or under-geared, you can always start your own group of similarly experienced players and work through the raid together like those of us who beat the raid the first week did. You have guides and videos to help, and you’d be surprised how many players are willing to learn with you — as long as you honestly communicate your level of knowledge about the raid and your skill upfront. No one likes a surprise in these situations, and learning the raid along with others doing the same thing can be incredibly satisfying.
Jealous of the “elitist” players with 305 power joining groups with other 305 players to blast through the raid in 45 minutes? You should go in, learn the encounters and become the kind of player that people want in their raid. You’ll find it’s a lot more rewarding than trying to get carried, and Destiny 2’s leveling system means you can gain power levels even if you can’t grind every day.
And if you’re one of the players who refuses to make the effort to find groups on one of these sites, are you really going to be willing to put in the several hours of wipes it takes to master a raid encounter? Destiny 2 raids have a checkpoint system that means you can take a break and resume it at the same encounter later in the week, but if you’ve progressed in the raid you can’t search for a new guided group at the same checkpoint.
Also, if you regroup with the same guides for a second session later in the week, the game will treat that as a regular group rather than a guided game, so they won’t get oathkeeper credit. Bummer.
You have to give a bit if you want to take
A lot of players who dislike websites where pickup groups form around strict gear or experience requirements seem to object to the fact that there are players who don’t want to raid with them. But what do they expect?
These players also tend to not want to put in the effort to group up with other players at their own gear and experience level to learn the raid together. What they want from matchmaking is a system that will force experienced players to carry them. Those players don’t exist. You have to be willing to work within the system and learn how raids operate before hoping for a successful group.
Guided Games can hook up players like this with groups who are indeed willing to provide that service. But seekers may need to wait a while for such a group to come along; for the guides, it’s a lot of work for little reward.
If there aren’t enough guides, Bungie could try to entice people into running guided groups by dangling better rewards in front of them; Bright Engrams, extra loot, or unique emblems and emotes would be a good start. These players are helping others learn how to run what may be the best part of the game. They deserve a hearty “thanks,” and a nice reward for doing so.
But the sort of players who will be motivated by loot to queue as guides may not have as much patience as the dedicated “sherpa” players who deal with the foibles of casual or inexperienced players trying to dip a toe into the raid experience. When you use loot to incentivize players who wouldn’t be helping new players otherwise, you raise the risk of toxic experiences.
There are players out there who think teaching others is fun, and those are the ones you want to be matched with. They’re going to be motivated by helping people, not just the hope for a few engrams.
Bungie can build the interface. The studio can provide the incentives. But trying to socially engineer a positive matchmaking experience for difficult activities like Destiny 2’s raids is a problem neither Bungie nor anyone else has solved well.
The hard work of learning the raids and building a group is still mostly up to the player. And it’s worth the time.