Destiny has grown stagnant.
Destiny has had quiet periods before, of course, but its current slump feels like one of its lowest ebbs. Players, as ever, desperately need new things to do. But Destiny has also been struck by various bugs, while the game's community has become increasingly infuriated by a lack of communication. And then there's Bungie itself, which from behind-the-scenes reports sounds increasingly unable to cope with maintaining the game while building the next.
I loved Destiny: The Taken King, which brought fresh life to the game and redefined this strange loot-driven FPS role-playing MMO. Destiny's second year of life got off to a great start - and this was only the start, players were told - which only makes it more of a shame that now, at the start of 2016, any goodwill generated back in September has all but evaporated.
There are various reasons for this, but most seem to stem from Bungie's constant struggle to keep players busy. It's like that scene in The Wrong Trousers where Gromit is trying to lay track while riding on the train just behind. Bungie has been fighting to stay in front of its player base ever since Destiny vanilla launched.
And it's different, now. Last year there was a plan. Players knew what was coming because many had paid for it in advance - and while The Dark Below and House of Wolves had their issues, the fact they were scheduled meant expectations were set for the year ahead. Bungie's content plan was 'well telegraphed', to use a hateful marketing phrase.
This year, Destiny has flown blind. Bungie has failed to set players' expectations and the impression is one of indifference. That, or the developer is simply keeping schtum about the road ahead because there is so little to talk about. There was no DLC plan announced for this year, but there was still an expectation DLC would come based upon last year's schedule and a long-ago leaked plan that suggested this would be repeated. And also, most importantly, because Bungie never told fans anything different. Bungie does not exist in a vacuum - it knows which of its plans have leaked and what Destiny players expect. But it took until the time players expected this year's first DLC to launch (a year on from December 2014's The Dark Below) for someone at Bungie to speak up and say - actually, we're not doing that, we are doing something else, do calm down.
Plans change, and fair enough. Bungie reportedly scrapped this year's DLC schedule in order to focus more fully on Destiny 2, which required more time - although Bungie has of course said nothing on the matter. What it has done, however, is sell vanity items to keep the money rolling in, while events and smaller updates of new missions roll out for free in reward. That was the idea, anyway, but after a low-key Halloween mask affair and a limited-time Sparrow Racing event that was more of a beta for a fuller future offering, Destiny's community is asking - loudly - when those new missions are coming.
Last week's announcement of a week-long Valentine's celebration did nothing to answer this, and despite vague references to something meaningful arriving later in the spring, Bungie's preference for drip-feeding information via flowery blog updates has only infuriated fans further. Most players are simply asking for more transparency - for Bungie to say 'look, we're sorry things are taking longer than we thought', to set expectations and say 'we have a half dozen new missions which should be ready in April, until then our focus is just to keep the game running smoothly until the release of Destiny 2'.
Bungie is in a Catch-22 situation, though. If it comes clean, as some players see it, then it will effectively be telling players to switch off their game. This is something no developer is going to do - especially with The Division on the horizon. But if Bungie continues as it has it risks alienating more players already angry at the lack of communication. Meanwhile, Bungie has added a larger number of items for purchase using real money - including level boosters for starting a new class which push well beyond the definition of cosmetic bonuses. And then there are reports of what else is happening behind the scenes - that despite Bungie's increased focus, Destiny 2 has now been delayed as well.
Destiny's community is hardcore and loyal, but it is fair to say the current level of vitriol on Reddit, Twitch and YouTube has rarely been higher. Destiny has had numerous technical problems in recent weeks - and things were especially skewiff while Bungie was away for an extended Christmas break. Destiny's travelling weekend merchant Xur found himself stuck behind a door (again) and a weekly Nightfall mission was temporarily broken while another door refused to open. The game's player-vs-player Crucible mode has suffered from visual bugs, and players have reported a noticeable increase in lag since Bungie altered its matchmaking algorithm without notifying players - all just before breaking for Christmas.
The level of "saltiness" among the game's Reddit community is now so high that some Destiny fans have created their own "No Sodium Destiny Reddit" where being salty about the game is banned. Even high-profile YouTubers such as Datto, who has appeared on Bungie streams and been flown out to the studio, are abandoning the game - at least, for the moment. Bungie needs to be more open with its community and let people know what to expect. With this, Destiny's community can better manage their own expectations. Bungie has always talked about Destiny being a journey it will make in partnership with its fans. It's time to see if this can really happen.
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