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No, Destiny 2 isn't pay-to-win

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Also, save your money

Bungie/Activision

Tess Everis has set up her microtransaction shop in Destiny 2, and the Eververse Trading Company just sells one thing: bright engrams, which are basically loot boxes.

Right now, a lot of Destiny players are wondering whether the bright engrams are worth buying with real money, and whether they’re necessary in order to prepare for the harder content.

Short answer? No, you don’t need them for gameplay and they’re really expensive, so the only reason to buy them is to collect emotes and cosmetic items.

For the much longer, more detailed answer, keep reading. Destiny 2 is mucking a few things up, but it’s not offering you a for-pay advantage.

What’s a bright engram?

If you’ve ever played a game with loot boxes, like Overwatch, the concept here is familiar. Destiny 2’s bright engrams are randomized grab bags (mostly) filled with cosmetic items.

They can contain Sparrow vehicles, spaceships (which in Destiny are really just customizable loading screens), Ghost shells, emote animations, and unique cosmetic gear that drops with a power level of 3, but can be infused to become useful. They also drop rare-quality mods for weapons and armor, as well as shaders to color your armor.

Destiny 2 - Tess Everiss and Eververse Trading Company at the Farm
Get ready to spend some money! (If you want.)
Bungie/Activision

Once you’ve reached the level cap (20), you’ll get one bright engram each time you fill your experience bar. So you’ll get one for approximately every 90 minutes of gameplay while you’re doing strikes, Patrols, Public Events or Crucible matches.

You may be able to obtain all the possible drops from bright engrams for free — if you anticipate spending several hundred hours playing Destiny 2 over the coming months and years.

Here is what could be inside those bright engrams

These are the mods you can earn by buying bright engrams:

Armor Mods

  • Arc/Solar/Void Impact: Increases the recharge rate of melee abilities of the corresponding element
  • Arc/Solar/Void Ordnance: Increases the recharge rate of grenades of the corresponding element
  • Arc/Solar/Void Paragon: Class abilities recharge faster when using a subclass with the corresponding element
  • Acceleration Mod: Greater mobility; faster movement
  • Self-Repairing Mod: Faster recovery
  • Impact Absorption Mod: Greater resilience, allowing you to take more damage
  • Kinetic/Energy/Power Counterbalance Mod: Reduces recoil for the corresponding weapon type
  • Kinetic/Energy/Power Bracket: Improves handling for the corresponding weapon type
  • Kinetic/Energy/Power Munition Loader: Increases reload speed for the corresponding weapon type

Weapon Mods

  • Kinetic/Void/Solar/Arc Damage Mods: Changes a weapon’s attack to the corresponding damage type.
  • Weapon Attack Mod: This legendary mod adds 5 attack to a kinetic or exotic weapon.

Legendary mods do the same things the rare ones do, and, additionally, add 5 defense to armor or 5 attack to weapons. You can get legendary mods in Gunsmith packages, or you can exchange three of the same rare mod to the gunslinger for a legendary of the same type when you reach a power level of 280.

So why isn’t this pay-to-win? The Gunsmith sells random rare-quality weapon and armor mods for 2,500 Glimmer each. Mods seem to be Destiny 2’s Glimmer dump, so think of these as being similar in value to ammo synthesis from the first game.

You can get rare mods from bright engrams, but they’re so readily available from the Gunsmith that spending money to get mods is completely unnecessary, and any advantage it confers is so slight as to be immaterial. You get tons of Glimmer as you play — and these mods are not the primary goal of your grind — so you’ll get all you need in the course of pursuing your other goals.

There are also ship mods, which only come from bright engrams and are completely cosmetic. They also change the animation that occurs when you spawn into an area or resurrect — the “transmat effect.” Some rarer ship mods are designated as legendary, but there is no way to upgrade or exchange them, and they don’t interact with the Gunsmith or with armor and weapon mods in any way.

Don’t buy bright engrams to get weapon mods, regardless of whether someone told you they’re “pay-to-win.” It’s a waste of money, and confers little advantage. Only buy bright engrams if you really want to get a lot of cosmetic items.

But I really want a lot of cosmetic items! How much will I pay?

If you like cosmetics, but you don’t want to play that much or wait that long, you can just buy bright engrams for cash. Bungie sells a currency called Silver, which is used to buy bright engrams. 100 Silver is more or less equivalent to $1; Bungie gives you a bonus $3 worth if you buy $20 of Silver, and a bonus $8 worth if you buy $50 of Silver. Bright engrams cost 200 Silver each, and you can get a bundle of three for 500 Silver or five for 800 Silver.

This means bright engrams cost between $1.40 and $2, depending on how much Silver and how many engrams you buy at a time.

That’s really expensive for a loot box. The boxes in Overwatch cost 80 cents each if you buy a bundle of 50 for $39.99, for comparison. Also, if you are new to the Destiny franchise and you are considering spending money on Silver, you should be aware that players who bought emotes and other cosmetic items in the original Destiny did not get to bring them over to Destiny 2. You should be prepared for Bungie to take away all the microtransaction goodies you buy every couple of years when the expansions stop and a sequel is announced.

So what do you get if you pay?

I bought 23 bright engrams as soon as I hit level 20: four bundles of five, plus a one-time starter bundle, which contains three engrams and 500 of a currency called Bright Dust. (You get Bright Dust from dismantling cosmetics contained in bright engrams.)

I spent $50 on Silver to get 5,800 Silver and I have 1,700 left, so this cost me about $35. Here’s what I got from those 23 engrams, plus the three freebies Tess Everiss gave me as a leveling reward:

  • four Ghost Shells
  • six legendary Sparrows
  • seven legendary ships
  • three rare emotes
  • one cosmetic armor item
  • one exotic weapon skin
  • one exotic emote
  • one exotic sparrow
  • one medium gift of Bright Dust, containing 500 Dust
  • one huge gift of Bright Dust (1,000 Dust)

I also got two weapon, armor or cosmetic ship modifications and some shaders in each box.

You don’t need to pay to win

Part of the reason we hurried to get this article online is that there have been a lot of news stories ahead of the release of Destiny 2 that claim these are “pay-to-win” boxes because they contain useful rare-quality (blue) modifications for weapons and armor. When applied to gear, these modifications do things like change the elemental damage of energy weapons or make class abilities recharge more quickly.

While these items do affect gameplay, the worries that their inclusion in the boxes make Destiny 2 “pay-to-win” are overblown. Mods are useful, but players who don’t buy bright engrams should be able to get all they need in the course of powering up their Guardian. The Gunsmith sells random mods for 2,500 Glimmer each, and Glimmer is plentiful as a reward for completing Public Events and other activities. You also get mods in Gunsmith packages.

By the time players get to power level 280, when the Gunsmith starts letting you trade rare mods for legendary mods, most players will have plenty of them. The mods contained in these boxes do nothing appreciable to shorten the process of getting raid-ready, and confer no material advantage in the Crucible or in difficult PvE content.

I’ve hammered Bungie for flirting with selling material advantages in the past, but putting mods in bright engrams isn’t really an example of sliding down the slippery slope. It’s more likely that Bungie put mods in the engrams as filler, so a bunch of items would pop up when you open one of these expensive boxes to make it feel like a better value. In other words, they’re padding.

Each bright engram contains four items, but one of the items is always a shader and two of them are always mods. That means that per engram, you only actually get one roll at the loot table for the big-ticket cosmetics.

Outside of that, the Sparrows you can get are slightly faster than the Sparrow you get as a reward for completing the campaign, but legendary Sparrows are so common in bright engrams that you’re likely to get at least one from the three free Bright Engrams you get as a reward for reaching level 20. If you have bad luck there, certainly one of your early free bright engrams you’ll earn through experience points will include one.

As best I can tell, the exotic Sparrow I got is functionally the same as the legendary sparrows. It just looks cool and throws off some crazy particle effects.

Destiny 2 - exotic Sparrow in action
Sparkly!
Bungie/Activision

The Ghost Shells you get from these boxes also seem to have randomized perks, and some of these can be useful. I got one that highlights both caches and resources in the EDZ, which is handy. However, Ghost Shells are available from numerous other sources, so that’s not compelling enough to pay for, either.

The real reason people will buy these boxes is for the cosmetics. So let’s talk about those a bit.

Cosmetics are expensive now

Bungie used to let you buy the emotes you wanted: Rare ones in Destiny cost 200 Silver, and most legendary ones, like dances, cost 500 Silver. If you wanted the Napoleon Dynamite dance or the Carlton, you could just buy it without digging through random boxes.

The only way to get new emotes in Destiny 2 is through bright engrams. That means everybody gets some of the stuff for free, and maybe some of the more hardcore players will get all this stuff for free. But if you’ve got your heart set on the new Salt Bae exotic meme emote, and you want it right now, you’re either going to have to get really lucky or spend somewhere in the $100 range to find it.

Destiny 2 - salty exotic emote
So salty.
Bungie/Activision

These kinds of loot systems are great for people who want some random cosmetic stuff without buying anything, and for people who want to collect everything. But they’re not great for people who want to buy specific items and aren’t really interested in the rest of it.

Bungie ruined collections to sell more boxes

In Polygon’s review-in-progress for Destiny 2, senior reporter Samit Sarkar describes the sequel game as “Destiny without all the bullshit.” But let’s be real, folks. Without bullshit, it wouldn’t be Destiny. So here’s some bullshit.

Bungie made some quality-of-life changes in the later Destiny expansions that collectors appreciated. The studio created kiosks in the Tower that stored your collections of spaceships, Sparrows and shaders.

Each item was unlocked in the kiosk, and you could grab one at any time once you earned it, so you didn’t have to store things in your vault anymore. You could go and look at your collection of bikes and ships, and pick out whichever one you felt like riding. You could also recolor your armor at will to fit your mood.

But Bungie couldn’t sell you boxes containing duplicates of items that you already own for $1.50 each if ships, shaders and Sparrows unlocked at a kiosk like they did in Destiny.

So the kiosks are gone, and the Sparrows, ships and shells you get from boxes are back to being inventory items. They can be dismantled into a new currency called Bright Dust, which you can use to purchase some of the other items in the bright engram loot table. Bright Dust is kind of like Overwatch credits, except that Overwatch recently cut way back on duplicate items in loot boxes, because duplicate items in loot boxes suck.

Shaders got the worst of it, though: Bungie turned them into consumables. I guess the idea was to put shaders in every bright engram without each color becoming useless duplicates of shaders that players had already unlocked. So now, if you want your armor to be pink today and neon green tomorrow, you’re going to have to burn through your shaders every time.

Looking cool is obviously something players who buy cosmetic items care about, and Bungie just made it much more difficult and expensive to look cool. How could the studio have possibly thought players would be OK with this? Fans are furious, and rightly so.

The perfect illustration for the community’s response to this would be the Salt Bae emote. But nobody has it because it costs a bonkers amount of money to unlock.

Save your money

The good news is that you don’t need to pay Tess Everis to win in Destiny 2. The bad news is that Bungie undid some nice things about Destiny so it could make this new thing, which is not nearly as nice. But it’s not a matter of paying for an advantage in actual play.

The exotic emotes and pyrotechnics-spewing Sparrows look cool, but these boxes are more expensive and more stingy with the premium items than similar loot systems in other games. You will probably be happier in the long run if you just enjoy the bright engrams you get as leveling rewards while avoiding Destiny 2’s Silver economy as it currently exists.