Last night, in anticipation of the upcoming Rise of Iron expansion, Bungie switched on the ability to create private multiplayer matches in Destiny for the first time.
The much-asked-for feature arrives two years after the game's launch and on the eve of players' plunge into Destiny Year Three. Why now, after all this time? It feels like an addition previously due to launch this autumn with Destiny 2, before its year-long delay and Rise of Iron's invention as a replacement, and after the game's PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions have finally been left behind in the dust.
Regardless, better late than never, private matches transform Destiny's multiplayer mode.
Up until now, the only control given to players has been over the match types you can play - Destiny's own rebrands of deathmatch, team deathmatch, control and capture the flag.
Private matches allow you to invite who you want, to any activity, set match lengths, pick a total point score, toggle vehicles, choose a map, and even pick a time of day.
Destiny offers a huge 27 maps, a number which may come as a surprise even to the game's dedicated fans as some areas are simply never seen. For whatever reason, certain locations have been excised from the game's regular rotation and many others are only spotted in particular modes. Private matches hand control of your destination over to you - so if you want to play a one-on-one match on the largest map, you now can.
I've played a bunch of one-on-one and two-on-two games since Private Matches went live, all with friends, and it's a very different experience. Suddenly, the game's worst, never-seen levels such as First Light and Bastion are fun, their vast size now a stage for tense hunts. Or, play one of the Mayhem match types where grenades and supers spawn constantly for ridiculously overpowered games.
It's cool to get back in the saddle of the game's vehicles, too. It felt like Bungie included its armoured scooter Pikes and beefier Interceptor tanks, which have lain gathering dust since very early on in Destiny's life, as a hangover from Halo. (You can just imagine the response if there had been none.) But, quickly, after hours of fiddling with your character and acquiring your exotic guns, vehicles fell by the wayside. Destiny's strengths have always been its movement and gunplay - getting into a vehicle removes both.
Bungie has already said it is keen to explore the competitive options private matches bring - and it's notable that the new mode launched with a stream hosted by Bungie and MLG. Finally, teams can play against each other and organise themselves without having to rely on Destiny's often infuriating matchmaking.
The past year has seen Bungie flip-flop on skill-based matchmaking by sometimes prioritising players close by to you geographically regardless of their skill level. Grouping people based on location rather than skill provides a more reliable, smoother gameplay experience. Destiny lacks dedicated servers, and having players physically close to each other helps combat lag. But, if you ignore skill discrepancy too much, you'll find games hopelessly mismatched. Players complained they were suddenly logging on for chilled evening game only to be matched with the best of the best. Similarly, pro players complained they were getting too easy opponents rather than others at their same skill level.
Nothing has disappeared - all of Destiny's regular modes and contests are still there. Rise of Iron is only set to add more - with an extra mode and four more maps (three on Xbox One) when it arrives next week. But private matches are almost certainly the most important change to Destiny's competitive multiplayer this year. It may be a long wait still until Destiny 2, but we're glad this addition has come sooner rather than later.
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