Two weeks ago, Bungie revealed initial details concerning Destiny 2‘s Season of Opulence sandbox update scheduled for June 4 and the community is understandably upset. With more negative nicknames than existing exotics (“the Season of Impotence,” “the Season of Obsolete Exotics,” the “Go Slow Update,” or the less eloquent “Season of Nerfulence”), the update paving the way for season seven brings with it notable nerfs to some of the game’s most powerful, beloved, and fun exotic weapons and armor. With absolutely no news concerning buffs bolstering underutilized exotics to take the place of the nerfed ones, players are rationally responding with skepticism, irritation, and anger.
Whether the nerfs are necessary or not, valid concerns are coursing through the game’s community, concerns including a lack of interesting tools to turn to post-nerf, the persisting precedent that the best loot in game has an expiration date, and the fear that the grind isn’t worth the effort if the reward will simply be nerfed down the road. These particular concerns have been discussed ad nauseam and, while I agree, there’s little I can add that hasn’t already been vocalized. Instead, I’d like to raise an additional issue that’s gotten considerably less coverage that I believe is equally valid and has me more concerned than any other scruple with the sandbox changes, and that’s the issue of player choice and agency.
The Destiny 2 base game was a unique, initially engaging excursion in the Destiny universe, but one that ultimately lacked longevity and the endless endgame appeal of its predecessor. With restrictive weapon loadouts, a slower time-to-kill, and slower ability regeneration speeds, in its initial state Destiny 2 proved a poor substitute for Destiny in terms of pure power fantasy. These issues were exacerbated by uninteresting exotic options to enliven the experience. As a Warlock main, I felt particularly restricted and underwhelmed in Crucible and solo play, only ever utilizing one of three near identical exotic pieces with enhanced ability regeneration (Nezarec’s Sin, Crown of Tempests, and Eye of Another World) for the better part of a year in the absence of an exotic that truly enhanced any subclass abilities or supers, like the Hunter’s Raiden Flux chest piece and Orpheus Rig boots or the Titan’s Doom Fang Pauldron. Group play was even more confining as the exotic Lunafaction Boots were too viable to be ignored in group and endgame activities. Needless to say, the experience got stale.
Luckily, the metagame received several substantial shakeups between March (Update 1.1.4- the Go Fast Update) and August of 2018 (Update 2.0) bringing new exotics and subclasses to the forefront before a multitude more viable options were introduced with the Forsaken expansion in September. Players felt powerful again for the first time since D1 with access to an arsenal of exotics that truly enhanced the experience and varied in utility activity to activity. Where only two exotic armor pieces had been part of my regular rotation, locking me into a specific roles, I could now seamlessly shift into a damage or ad control role supplied with substantial new staples like Geomag Stabilizers, Chromatic Fire, and several killer armor combinations (like Nezarec’s and Skull of Dire Ahamkara or Phoenix Protocol and Lunafaction Boots). With time, every single subclass seemed to have a suitable exotic to enrich gameplay and a multitude more exotics remained un-vaulted than ever before.
Enter the Season of Opulence update that threatens to upheave too much of that player choice and what the active player base has come to love and I’m legitimately apprehensive of a return to some semblance of the terrible meta of Destiny 2‘s base game. With two Warlock staples suddenly being stripped of their power (both Phoenix Protocol and Skull), my choice of viable exotics is being severely restricted across two different subclasses. What’s worse is that the targeted exotics’ viability extends into solo and group play, enhancing the experience whether playing alone or on a team through the exotics’ self-sufficiency, the loss of which ultimately diminishes the Destiny PvE experience in almost every capacity. Legitimate options for coordinated, cooperative play are dwindled to Lunafactions and possibly Geomags for additional damage output assuming the “Well-lock” role has already been filled and the team doesn’t want another. The same exotics may be the new staples of solo play as well, perhaps with the addition of Chromatic Fire and Getaway Artists for their distinct abilities, still leaving nothing that emphatically enhances the player experience and feels nearly as engaging and enjoyable. Even if significant new options are introduced, it’s difficult to see past the restriction of player choice and voice particularly in the face of Bungie’s previous claims to pursue buffs over nerfs and leave power in the hands of the player.
Perhaps the response to these changes might have been better met if Bungie didn’t have a history of eviscerating outliers in the sandbox. In the case of Whisper of the Worm, this exact scenario already occurred in D1 with the exotic’s predecessor, Black Spindle, leaving players exceedingly exasperated at the vicious two-steps-forward-one-step-back dance Destiny has been doing since day one. After all, if Bungie didn’t want us to wield all this power, why give it to us in the first place? Players don’t want weapons and abilities to feel good for a season only to see that power later stripped away, particularly if that power presents players with legitimate options and agency where previously there was none. I, for one, am not ready to be re-locked into the Luna-lock role until Bungie gives me a new key to break free.
Perhaps Destiny 2 put it best itself during the fifth Invitation of the Nine, notably named “Strength.” When questioned by the Nine about what the player’s avatar wants, the Emissary of the Nine responded shortly and accurately “Power.” When the Nine followed up by asking if the Guardian wanted to be powerful like the Emissary, she curiously responded by breaking the fourth wall, stating, “No one is like him/her….He/She has agency like you wouldn’t believe. He/She can leave this place.”
“This plane? We can leave this plane,” responded the Nine, not grasping the Emissary’s statement.
“Think bigger,” continued the Emissary, “He/She can leave this game.”
What was delivered as a fun break in the fourth wall ultimately proved foreshadowing for the state of the game itself mere weeks later. Whether the Emissary now speaks for the Nine or the player is a question for another day, but in either case Bungie would be wise to heed the words of the Emissary before the player base walks away.