Right now, in the middle of November 2023, Destiny 2 has seen its average live service daily player count drop to an all-time low of only 33,552. This is the first time in the games six year life span it has seen the servers so barren.
Are the low player counts due to outside competition, or has Destiny 2 just finally reached its limit? The live service game has been updated, tweaked, added to, and rehashed hundreds of times over its lifespan. It truly is a testament to the potential of the live service model. However, every dog has its day, and maybe this is the sign to take an old hound for the eternal walk around the block.
Not the first of its kind
Destiny 2 is by no means the first live service game to attempt a run as long as it has. With EVE Online having run since 2005 and reporting almost as many players as Destiny 2, there are still some old hands in the game. World of Warcraft, despite Blizzards’ secrecy when it comes to player counts, still racks up tens of thousands, if not more, players per day.
Bungie took an educated risk when it decided to keep Destiny 2 as its one and only release out there. However, it had some juggernauts standing in its way. The roaring and seemingly endless success of many other live service games paved the way for a first-person shooter in a live service market that really didn’t have one.
Destiny 2 took the traditional shooter and translated it into the same model as games like World of Warcraft and EVE. What really put it apart from the rest was its gameplay. Whereas the others in the market were all role-playing games, Destiny 2 stood alone as the only first-person shooter. Of course, Warframe preceded Destiny 2 by a few years, but as a third-person shooter, it sits slightly apart.
I feel that a lot of the other, more long-standing games have a certain edge over Destiny 2 simply for the fact that they are RPGs. Of course, Destiny 2 has guardians constantly coming back for the slowly unravelling story. But at the end of the day, players are still just shooting or jumping their way around a map. The market is already oversaturated with this style of gameplay.
Just more of the same
Where I think the problem lies with Destiny 2 is that it has simply not brought enough to the table for it to be able to run as a live service game as long as it has. Of course, every new season introduces a little something new to the mix. The story is marching ever on, for better or, more recently, worse. And, of course, cosmetics, armour, and weapons are forever being churned out.
But, for me, someone who has run on and off with the game almost since release, it all feels a little worn out at this point. I will admit that from the early days, when the game was still not free-to-play, it is almost unrecognisable. The changes and developments have made it into a shooter with a storyline that is quite unlike anything else on the market. However, that doesn’t mean it’s a game that stays fresh over half a decade of playability.
Going through the motions
I often find myself just going through when I play Destiny 2. My mind shuts off, and I run through the same dungeons, the same raids, and PvP over and over again until I get the rolls I want and the levels I need. I know there are new ones every year, but in the same breath, they’re not really all that different.
Each season we get a whole bunch of new stunning settings. They never fail to make me stop and marvel. The new raid will come with some absolutely mind-boggling puzzle that takes pro players hours to fathom. However, once this initial shine has worn off and the puzzles and secrets are all discovered, it is just the same game with maybe a few new mechanics thrown in.
I have never played WoW or EVE, so I can’t comment on how comparatively mindless the grind really is. But, for me, a week or so after release, all that is left is the grind. I know the game inside and out. I know I am just going to have to keep running through the same old stuff to complete the season. This isn’t particularly fun. If it wasn’t for the fact that live service games work on a very deeply ingrained dopamine system, I wouldn’t bother.
A Golden Goose named Destiny 2
Over the years, Destiny 2 has raked in Bungie hundreds of millions of dollars in microtransactions alone. This number is dwarfed by the earth-shattering $3.6 billion that Sony bought the company for. Of course, Destiny 2 isn’t the only IP that came with the studio, but it no doubt had a significant hand in the deal.
With every new expansion, Destiny 2 players are expected to fork out around $40. This is currently about half the price of a full AAA game. To buy all the packs, and the prices vary, it will cost around $200. This is no small price to pay if you want to get all six years of content and experience a game without borders.
You can further rack up the dollars if you start to invest in cosmetic items. Over the years, players of the live service game have been up in arms as Destiny 2 tries once again to squeeze the fan base for cash. Of course, the cosmetics are just that. However, after the amount guardians pay for the content alone, they can be forgiven for wanting a break.
I can quit any time
Something that Destiny 2 has nailed, and something essential to any live service game, is the dopamine hit. Every time I finish a task, the little pop of rewards gets me going. Each new piece of armor, each shiny new weapon, and the promise that the next one might be better keep me playing. I run through the mundanity of the same levels just for that promise of the pot of gold at the end.
The gameplay loop of Destiny 2 offers just enough to avoid painful bored. If running raids and dungeons is too much, switch to PvP. If your PvP battles are becoming dull, try Crucible as the hybrid. I have to give it to Bungie. They know how to keep their players locked in. Over the years, they have added enough new modes and mechanics to ensure the game doesn’t ever get so boring that the rewards aren’t worth it.
The gameplay hook
The gameplay itself is remarkably fun for a while, too. Of course, the enemies are spongy, as they always have been, but the process still holds fast. Dancing around the map, figuring out new builds, and aiming for the current meta has a sense of achievable expertise to it that not many other games really do. Due to the nature of build crafting, it feels like when you’re good at the game, it is because you earned it.
The mechanics need to be learned, and the best weapons and armour need to be earned through hours of gameplay. When playing with a group, the fact that your guardian is kitted up to the eyeballs and able to carry a team is because you have played enough and dedicated enough time to Destiny 2. The sense of pride, I guess, and achievement is visible in more than just hours played and trophies earned. It is directly displayed in gameplay.
The Struggle is real
Destiny 2 is under some pretty hard strain at the moment. At the end of October 2023, Bungie laid off approximately 8% of its workforce. This number included the legendary composer Michael Salvatori known and loved by anyone who has ever switched Destiny 2 on. On top of this, the game has taken in its lowest earnings to date, even with the finale of the current storyline on sale.
The layoffs are apparently tied to the incredibly low uptake for The Final Shape, which is the conclusion to the current Light and Dark storyline. The bad sales could be for a number of reasons. However, I think that the main reason is the failings of the previous expansion, Lightfall.
The last expansion currently sits at an abysmal 3.0 Metacritic score. The expansion did not meet the expectations of the Destiny 2 audience on any level. Storyline-wise, it asked more questions than it answered. The characters felt one-dimensional, the new location was uninspired and dull, and the questline seemed less like a chapter and more like a filler.
This flop of an expansion was, for some, the final push towards no longer investing money into the company. This came at a vital time for Destiny 2, as they really needed to rally the live service player base for the grand finale of the storyline. Where Lightfall should have been the huge cliffhanger that brought back players, it instead encouraged many not to bother forking out, once again, for another expansion. With the added knowledge that so many of the team have been let go, there is even less faith that the finale will be well-written or inspired.
Don’t call it a comeback (It’s been here for years)
However, with all that said, there is a chance that Destiny 2 could make a remarkable comeback in the final round. There are more than just terrible scriptwriting and devastating layoffs afoot. There is also the added pressure of other games on release at the same time.
We have just seen the release of Modern Warfare 3, Diablo 4, and the free weekend of Half-Life 2. Each of these are a potential drag of players away from Destiny 2. However, over time, they may end up returning. Both Modern Warfare 3, and Diablo 4 have not done so well in the rankings themselves. As players drift away from the much younger games, they may just end up returning to Ol’Reliable.
I think that despite the terrible pre-sales of Destiny 2: The Final Shape, it could still eek out a victory. Due to the Lightfall flop, players may just be a little more hesitant to order the next expansion before the verdict is in. This is not a bad practice, and I would love to see it more often in the gaming industry.
If Bungie manages to produce a high-quality and engaging conclusion to the Light and Dark saga, the players may return. However, with their dwindling staff, this doesn’t look too promising. Cutting so many from the team is sure to damage the creative output. The move also stinks of panic mode and doesn’t inspire confidence.
So what’s the fate of Destiny 2 as a live service game?
With heavy layoffs, a dwindling player count, and low uptake on The Final Shape, it doesn’t look good. However, I am not one to bury a game before it’s dead. Many live service games in the past have made Undertaker-style comebacks. It isn’t unusual to see a dip in players. Not every game can have the 400,000 average player consistency of Dota 2.
Destiny 2 now has the power of Sony behind it. I have faith that they can use some of that to produce something truly gripping for the end of this saga. With the new beginnings available to the game, post Light and Dark, some serious changes could be afoot. I feel they need to build on the diamond-hard foundation they have made and reinvigorate the whole game with a new engine, new environments, and a fresh storyline.
We won’t see Destiny 3 because it isn’t needed. However, a whole new game, built on the magic they have laid underneath the musty old game on top, would bring Destiny 2 back to the former glory I still remember.