In the leadup to Destiny’s latest big DLC drop Shadowkeep, there has been a flurry of communication as Bungie attempt to articulate the swathe of changes coming to the game and content structure as a whole. Now when I say they’re attempting to do this I mean it in the nicest way possible, because it’s a monumental task to appease Destiny fans who are used to being disappointed as often as they’re rewarded. Bungie have a lot to prove as this the first big release cycle since they split with Activision, so I’m sure they’re feeling the pressure. That’s why their approach over the last few weeks has been interesting, because it has both succeeded and failed in different ways.
The main method of communication has been through Game Director Luke Smith’s long form posts on their website called ‘Directors Cuts.’ In these, Smith has talked in refreshing transparency about challenges they’ve faced over the last year, and plans moving ahead. He’s chatted about every aspect of the game, going into detail when he can. He also vaguely dropped in new info about how the game will work moving forward, some of which sent the community into a bit of a spin. The biggest of this was a tidbit about seasonal content being removed as they progress through the year. He wasn’t specific about which events were temporary and which weren’t (although he was clear loot associated with the event wasn’t going to be lost forever), leading to calls about cut content and people expecting the worst. It was later clarified it’s just one of the upcoming activities which is likely not going to impact the content very much, as it’ll be replaced with the next seasons event.
Bungie also did a stream to show of the new ‘armour 2.0’ system, in which they detailed the new modular perk system and the new stats they were adding to the game. One aspect to this new system is now armour pieces have an elemental affinity, and so do mods, meaning you need to match them up in order to use them. This caused some outcry because it limited perk choices and some saw it as a stealth nerf from bungie. Again, they came out and clarified there were in fact generic mods that work with any armour type and just have a slightly higher cost to use.
The most recent version of this occurred over the weekend, where they had a playable preview build open for people to try at PAX. Some members of the public took a look through the collections tab which catalogues the loot in the game, and found that the raid armour, the most difficult activity in the game, looked to be a reskin of an older armour set. This again has been clarified that yes, that is the raid set, but they elaborated that it does have some kind of extra ornament glow effects, and a close up comparison shows there is significant differences between it and the original set. So, not an amazing outcome, but not as bad as first thought.
These three instances have a running theme between them; Bungie just isn’t explaining this stuff very well. I’m sure they constructed this stuff with the best intentions to be clear and concise, while still leaving some mystery for players to discover when they play, which is a great philosophy to have. The issue is that you need to run this info by someone who isn’t as familiar with the content to raise any questions your audience might potentially have. The idea that you do that armour 2.0 reveal stream and make part of the system look actively worse than it really is proves there’s a problem.
Smith’s Director’s Cuts sort of suffer from the same issue. He’s intentionally going for a very informal tone, often flipping between a lot of topics in quick succession, which frankly makes it a little more difficult to understand at times. While I still applaud the transparency of the format and hope to see more in the future, every writer needs someone to do a quick passover and point out where you might need to add some clarification. This is doubly true when you’re talking to an audience that will probe every word you say with a magnifying glass and then make a YouTube video about it.
The reskinned raid armour issue is more strange than anything. It’s clear it was a mistake to leave it visible in the collections tab of the build, they likely weren’t meaning to reveal anything about the armour sets and leave it for players to discover on release. They decided earlier this week to play it safe and release images of all the armour sets coming with the DLC, which does lay everything out on the table in terms of which sets come from what activities (Including one purely cosmetic set in their in-game store), but kinda ruins some of the fun of discovering it as we play. They’re making the best of the situation they put themselves in but it’s still unfortunate they forced themselves into this position.
All of this reveals a Bungie who’s going through some growing pains. There’s a more experimental tone to how they reveal this content, and it feels like they’re lacking someone who’s a little bit more removed to ask the obvious questions the audience would ask. I hate the over reliance on slick PR approved marketing that you find everywhere in the games industry, and Bungie’s unconventional approach is a refreshing contrast to that, but at the same time the issues I’ve listed here are unforced errors. They have put themselves in hot water simply through a lack of foresight about how their messaging would be received. This latest release cycle proves they’re still refining how best to communicate with their audience, and need some processes in place to make sure they’re not creating outcry when there doesn’t need to be.