Destiny was a “surprise” after its 2014 release.
Players were eager to get their hands on the final game after all the pre-release teases, and some were shocked when it didn’t measure up to expectations. Shooting into a cave for hours didn’t bring enough joy for many Guardians, but the narrative began to shift when people discovered Vault of Glass, Destiny’s first raid.
Vault of Glass was special in that it shaped a player base and gave it hope. There were boss fights in massive arenas, an impenetrable maze and time-travel. The loot was so overpowered it’s now infamous. You can call the raid a lot of things, but it is not forgettable.
Destiny’s first expansion, The Dark Below, offered a shorter raid with an obnoxious final boss. And yet it helped sustain the community. House of Wolves, the expansion after that, didn’t produce a raid, instead offering The Prison of Elders, a score-based survival arena. We were not amused.
The Taken King and Rise of Iron, the game’s two final expansions, added the longest and best raids. Bungie was learning. So what will the raids of Destiny 2 offer to up the stakes?
What’s the problem with how things are?
If Destiny 2 is going to give us goodies like adventures and the mysterious new “Lost Sectors,” then the old raid style won’t cut it. Raids should be the culmination of all of our efforts as players, but the first game’s raids were more like puzzles to be solved than challenges to overcome.
Bungie was very secretive about each raid, never revealing what the bosses could do before launch. The raids were designed to be solved. Players were meant to go in, slam their heads against the boss and eventually figure out how all the pieces move.
Once the puzzle of “how do we beat this boss” is figured out, it all came down to execution. After you master that? You were done, outside of grinding for loot.
The last Destiny raid is almost a year old. The puzzles have been solved. The execution has been perfected.
It’s time to find a new way to treat the best part of Destiny.
A better way to raid
How could you make a better raid? By following in the footsteps of the best in the business: Blizzard.
World of Warcraft launched in 2004 with two ludicrously hard raids: Onyxia’s Lair and Molten Core. These 40-person raids were strenuous, requiring coordination and planning that were hard to come by for most players.
Blizzard learned, over time, that giving players choices in how to approach these fights would increase the reach of the game. Now players can use matchmaking to find groups, raids are diverse in content and there are multiple difficulties for both hardcore and casual players. You do not have to play a certain way anymore, but there is still an optimal way to play, depending on your goals.
Destiny 2 is the second iteration of a now three-year-old franchise. Three years after World of Warcraft launched, so did its first expansion, The Burning Crusade. Months after that launch, The Black Temple, the raid where players first defeated Illidan Stormrage himself, was released.
WoW raids had improved drastically in that time. We should hope for the same kind of improvement in Destiny 2.
Unlike World of Warcraft’s average raid, every boss in Destiny is nearly identical, only the arenas change. Whether it is The Templar, Atheon, Ir Yut, Crota, The Warpriest, Golgoroth, The Deathsingers, Oryx, Vosik or Aksis, the solution is the same: accomplish the puzzle, make the boss vulnerable to damage and then shoot it until it dies.
World of Warcraft’s designers have certainly committed the sin of making some boss fights too similar, but after 13 years of raids we can cut them some slack. Raids should be a collection of multiple mechanics. We do not need to completely remove the “solve-puzzle-to-make-vulnerable” bosses in Destiny, we just need to have other fights as well.
Blizzard has several different fight templates that it tweaks and reworks before each new collection of encounters, and not every one shows up in every raid.
There are Patchwerk fights (named after a boss from the Naxxramas raid) like Krosus that ask players to do as much damage as possible in a short period of time. Essentially, kill the boss before it kills you. There are council fights like the Demonic Inquisition, offering up multiple bosses in a single encounter, often with the same health pool. The list goes on. The game has been going strong for 13 years and Blizzard continues to support it with new ideas.
If Bungie were to pepper in Strike-like bosses as well as fight styles unique to Destiny 2, it would reduce the tedium of repeating raids. It would be a step forward, although a small one. The reality is that raids need to be more diverse as a whole to maintain and grow player interest. It would also just be more fun.
Bungie should also learn from Blizzard by making these raids more accessible, and that includes making it easier to find fireteams. Bungie’s current solution for Destiny 2 is guided games, where solo players team up with clans. This is a great step, but it also seems like a bit of a half-measure.
There are reasons to avoid pure matchmaking, of course.
“Matchmaking is about us trying to smartly pair up random people together for activities, but what we’ve found is that some of the more difficult activities, especially the more pinnacle activities, can be really difficult to put a bunch of random strangers together and expect them to cooperate in a fun way,” Steve Cotton, Destiny 2’s world design lead told Polygon.
Players know all this, and are still asking for pure matchmaking. We know that cooperation in that environment is hard, but it’s not impossible. Of course being more organized is advantageous, but the choice that matchmaking would offer would mean that, while people might be paired with randos who aren’t serious about the game, more people overall could try the content with some hope for success.
And, of course, Blizzard has solved for this as well.
World of Warcraft offers Looking For Raid (LFR), a nerfed version of the raid that allows for matchmaking and easy completion. It provides players who would otherwise never have the time or skill to attempt a raid an opportunity to experience the fights and see the environments. It even awards lower level gear to prepare them for the normal raid, should they choose to step up their game.
There is nothing wrong with making something extra easy if it means more players can experience it, and more players trying end-game content means that, in time, more people will be playing the more challenging modes.
There is no right way to do this, but the Blizzard approach of offering a high number of options with differing rewards to try to reach as many players as possible is a good model to emulate.
Bungie could also add something for players that want to spend an excessive amount of time on their game, to compensate for adding an easy mode. Raids in World of Warcraft have Mythic difficulties, a setting that pushes the toughness factor far higher than that of Normal and Hard.
The latest World of Warcraft raid released its Mythic difficulty on June 27, and it took the world’s best players (raiding all day, every day) until July 16 to beat the final boss. That is 20 full days with 653 pulls on the final boss alone.
When the hard mode of the King’s Fall raid from The Taken King released, it took a little over an hour for the best players to finish.
Extreme challenge doesn’t just broaden the difference between the best and the most casual players, it turns the completion of these raids into gaming news. Destiny already does a great job of offering gear and weapons that visually indicate you have seen and accomplished some shit in the game. As the difficulty of raids is raised and the number of people who pull off the hardest challenges dwindles, there is a natural opportunity here to go bonkers with the gear awarded for completing those challenges.
That would give players more incentive to try, and that’s how you keep your audience hooked into your game. Destiny already offers a lot of these ideas, but this is more about moving both extremes outward to give more to both audiences.
The bigger the challenge, the more ridiculous the gear. Destiny 2 raids that match Blizzard’s Mythic difficulty should reward the player with gear that cause other players to react in awe when they see it in-game.
Bungie has to be a bit more careful than Blizzard in this area, however, as the unique gear that they offer up from their unique encounters must not ruin the PvP scene, as everything between the two modes must work in harmony. This is a problem that World of Warcraft fixed a few expansions ago, making gear in PvP essentially negligible to your overall strength.
Bungie likely doesn’t want to change what worked the first time around. But three years was a long time to fight the same kind of fight and be offered the same level of challenge. We want our raids to be more evolved, to be more interesting and more accessible. We want more players to enjoy these challenges, and to learn the skills necessary to take them on on the higher difficulty levels. It’s a lot to ask for, but there are games that have modeled how to do it well. World of Warcraft is only one example.
It’s a weird thing to say, but right now many of us are hoping that Destiny 2 brings us what amounts to The Burning Crusade instead of more of the same.