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One month on, Destiny 2's end-game needs tuning

The token king.

After a month of play, the Destiny community is picking apart Destiny 2's endgame - with mixed results.

There are two major bugbears at present - the game's focus on tokens as a means of ranking up and collecting loot, and the shift away from endgame multiplayer activities factoring in and increasing your power level.

Destiny 2's reputation rank-up system is based around tokens. Every vendor in the game, from the gunsmith to the raid loot seller, requires you plug in tokens gained from completing activities in order to make progress.

Loot still drops during activities, but in seemingly smaller amounts. For reliable drops, you need to head back to the specific vendor, trade in your tokens for reputation and hope you rank up.

It's frustrating there's no way of knowing exactly when you are eligible to rank up while playing Crucible, or when zooming around one of the game's planets nabbing the tokens for that destination's own vendor.

But perhaps more of an issue is how this constant focus on tokens changes the game's feel. It was summed up well last night in a tweet from top Destiny streamer Gothalion, one of the game's most visible community members:

Destiny is a game about shooting aliens with friends until your foes' heads pop off and engrams fountain out all over the floor. The rush of hoovering up your hard-earned gains is dulled when you find you've earned... just more tokens.

Why are people upset now? Well, the token system has come under increased scrutiny this week with yesterday's return of competitive multiplayer event Iron Banner. Previously, Iron Banner featured bounties and ranks and guaranteed items for hitting certain targets, as well as items to buy once you had got there.

Now, like everything else in Destiny 2, Iron Banner simply uses tokens. Players are upset that this special part of the game now feels exactly like the regular Crucible instead, and I agree.

Which brings us to the second point - power levels not being a focus for top-tier activities such as Iron Banner and Trials and the upcoming Prestige Raid.

Iron Banner and Trials were the only PVP match types to recognise your Light level in Destiny 1. Not only did you have to be the best of the best at Crucible, but you'd have to think about your loadout based upon your own strength, too.

I can understand this change - it means players who only want to play the game's PVP modes aren't required to grind through PVE content or mount the raid. And yet I feel these top-tier PVP events have lost something as a result.

Acknowledging your power level made Iron Banner and Trials feel special. When I finally, finally reached the Trials' Lighthouse (with much help), it really meant something to me. And for people who really don't want to engage with the PVE endgame, the rest of Crucible offers a level playing field to dip into.

This feeling has only been exacerbated by Iron Banner. Without acknowledging your power level, and with the token system, Iron Banner now functions exactly the same as regular Crucible: the only difference is the NPC you turn tokens.

As for the Prestige raid, again, I see both sides. The change here versus Destiny 1 is that Hard Mode versions of Destiny raids traditionally offered higher level cap gear. The expectation with Destiny 2 was it would follow this same pattern. Instead, the Prestige raid version simply rewards those who complete it with cosmetic items, such as an alternate-coloured version of the standard raid gear set.

The change means everyone in the game can hit the top level cap without completing the Prestige raid. But really, with enough time, you can hit the level cap without ever doing the regular raid, Nightfall, or Trials. Bungie has made the path to the end-game far wider - and even acknowledged the Prestige raid would be beyond many of its players.

"We do not expect everyone to be successful in completing this activity," community manager David "Deej" Dague wrote in last week's Bungie blog. "Mechanical changes to the encounters are minimal, but they are there. The Prestige Raid is about mastering a more punishing sandbox. Our goal is not to provide a boon to your character progression, but there are unique rewards to help you shine. Consider this your invitation to prove to the world that you are among the very best of the raiders who overlook the City."

But by ensuring everyone can get to 305, hardcore players feel like they are being penalised with only cosmetic differences to show for their skill with the game - especially as more and more players get to the 305 point. Making the level cap more attainable also contradicts the point of not acknowledging it in Trials and Iron Banner. Why ignore your power level when you can level up far easier?

Dague concluded the above blog post with his take on what kept him playing: "The ultimate loot is the friendships that can grow out of a game like this," he wrote. The words struck a chord. Destiny's community, already grumbling about the lack of an end-game, seized upon his words and a meme was born: Destiny 2 had a "friendgame" rather than an end-game.

It's not what Deej meant, but I understand some of the sentiment behind the fan reaction. It's fair to say Destiny 2's endgame feels less of a hardcore experience than Destiny 1's - and there are good and bad sides to that, as noted above. The question is what, if anything, may change in the future - and when?

It's hard to see a wholesale move away from Destiny 2's ingrained token systems - even after the game's first expansion, due before Christmas. Re-enabling power levels in Trials and Iron Banner feels more attainable, however - or to have some option for players who want to play Crucible with power enabled. I feel there's a solution in there for the Prestige raid, too. (Droppable exotic mods which add 10 power instead of 5, but which can be obtained in smaller quantities elsewhere?)

In short, the time feels right for Destiny 2's end-game to get some tuning - and sooner rather than later, as the majority close in.

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