Destiny 2 Is at the Lowest It’s Been in Years… Bungie’s Solution? Nerf Everything

Following news of frankly disgusting layoffs that cut 8% of Bungie‘s workforce, including beloved composers and art directors who had been at the company for decades, Destiny 2 is at one of its lowest points in years, arguably the lowest it’s been since its transition to free to play back in 2019.

Destiny 2 player numbers in the last year, courtesy of Steamcharts.

With this in mind, the playerbase had expected some sort of shakeup or positive news coming from the company (especially with leaked information in mind that reveals a hefty delay for the upcoming The Final Shape expansion). Instead, what they got this Wednesday was a TWID (This Week at Destiny, the weekly blogpost that replaced the long-running TWAB, also known as This Week at Bungie) that details sweeping nerfs to survivability, even harsher nerfs to popular Titan subclasses, and more general nerfs that will massively affect players’ ability to buildcraft, and the uptime of their abilities.

A few buffs to Exotic armor pieces that weren’t being used much, a reversal on a past nerf to a very popular Hunter Exotic, $60(!) cosmetic armor pieces inspired by The Witcher, and no much else were the upsides to this laundry list of nerfs. Meanwhile, the also massively popular Well of Radiance has been confirmed as being next on the hangman’s row, as the developer says it’s looking to reduce its dominance in the sandbox (a dominance that’s been encouraged by Bungie‘s reliance on Raid/Dungeon fights that place the player in an area with no cover or next to no cover, while being pelted by incoming damage, and with a short amount of time to unload one’s arsenal before having to go back to doing whatever mechanic enabled damage in the first place).

Somehow I don’t think $60’s worth of cosmetics is gonna make people change their minds…

Now, I’m not a game designer and I won’t pretend to know how to balance a massive game like Destiny 2. It’s a job I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, considering the amount of things that must be juggled in order to keep things going in a mostly smooth way. My issue here has actually got to do with timing more than anything else. In the verge of one of Destiny 2‘s longest Seasons to date (if the leak turns out to be true, and considering it comes from Jason Schreier of all places, chances are it will turn out to be true) the developer is actively making the game less fun to play for everyone, with certain popular subclasses being affected even more, as builds that have been around for more than a year get completely gutted by sweeping nerfs that fundamentally change how they play. Was this the right time to do this? Why not wait for the launch of the expansion and sneak in all of these changes with it? After all, that’s pretty much what happened with Lightfall, and while that DLC had an overwhelmingly negative reception, most of it was due to how terrible the narrative was, and not necessarily due to the massive sandbox changes that shipped with it.

To take an example from a recent Game as a Service (GAAS) launch, Diablo 4‘s first Season was marked by a pre-Season patch that nerfed pretty much every single viable build into the ground, actively making the game less fun for its playerbase… and resulted in a frankly crazy drop in player numbers. This was reverted with Season 2, as Blizzard went the opposite way, buffing every single class and promising that in the future they would mostly only touch overperforming builds if a bug was the cause of their power. To their credit, they have kept their word so far, and players seem to be quite happy with the end result.

Diablo 4 did the opposite of what Bungie is doing now in order to get out of the hole it’d fallen into.

I presume that the nerfs detailed in this TWID have been cooking for quite some time, but it’s quite amazing how out of touch with the wishes of most of the community they seem to be, going by the reaction on social media (outside of dedicated streamers who always ask for nerfs, pretty much everyone else is scratching their head about these changes, it seems). Knowing Bungie, they are not about to do a U-turn now and this patch will ship next week. Will it add fuel to the fire and further contribute to a dwindling playerbase? My guess would be yes, but at the same time, this upcoming Season will add a new Dungeon (for holders of the paid Dungeon Key, or anyone who purchased the Annual Pass) and that could keep people engaged for a while, so things might not be as dire as they look. At the end of the day, I think my reaction can be most accurately represented by this Dodgeball clip:

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