Destiny 2’s Season of Plunder has been a surprisingly enjoyable romp through space pirate fantasy so far, but it hasn’t been without its issues. The biggest one yet materialized this week when a new story quest required players to kill 50 champions before they could progress. Bungie decided to auto-complete the challenge for players a day later, but the situation ended up igniting a fierce new debate over fundamental problems with how the game is currently played.
Season 18 is all about raiding pirate hideouts and hunting for buried loot, and as such it revolves around a new activity called Ketchcrash. Each week, players raid a Fallen pirate ship in Ketchcrash, then complete an expedition to find some treasure, and eventually face off against a new pirate boss to progress the story. It’s simple and repetitive, but also a great time.
This week, however, players were required to kill 50 champions in addition to completing an expedition. These are tougher versions of ordinary foes whose shields can only be brought down with particular weapon loadouts. They’re also rare in the game’s most common modes, making it a potentially big hurdle for many players to overcome. A weekly quest line that might normally take an hour would now require lots of tedious grinding. That is, unless players ramped the game’s difficulty up, and here’s where the controversy begins.
Bungie’s 50-champion contract awarded bonus progress for playing Ketchcrash on Master difficulty. How much more progress? Thirteen times more, effectively enough to complete the requirement in a single mission. Master Ketchcrash is a 1600-power activity, however, and there’s no matchmaking for it. That means players who want to participate need to have a power level of around 1580. They also need real-life friends to play with or be willing to use the LFG (looking for group) tool in Bungie’s Destiny 2 companion app.
Destiny 2 itself won’t do in-game matchmaking for some of its best content, unlike other shooters. “I think matchmaking can make other players disposable to you,” then-creative director Luke Smith said back in 2015 when defending the practice. “The reason that people quit out of strikes is because there’s no consequence to their departure, just a punishment for that disposable person on the other end of the line. It’s pretty hard for me, emotionally, to want to subject groups of players to that.”
For understandable reasons, many players don’t meet the Master Ketchcrash requirements and don’t want to have to use a separate app to beg strangers to play with them. So Bungie decided to nix the whole thing. “Due to the completion requirement being too high for many players, we have auto-completed the Champions Defeated objective for this week’s Sails of the Shipstealer Seasonal quest,” the studio announced last night on Twitter.
Due to the completion requirement being too high for many players, we have auto-completed the Champions Defeated objective for this week’s Sails of the Shipstealer Seasonal quest.
— Bungie Help (@BungieHelp) September 21, 2022
The tweet has now sparked thousands of replies and quote-tweets as players debate whether it was the right thing to do. “Good,” wrote one person. Another wrote, “babies.” Some of the responses were more substantive. “For the people saying just do master… not everyone can do master loads of people don’t have free time just chill please,” read one of the comments. “Then don’t do it lol why do video games have to conform to your schedule?” replied another player. “In turn this is what happens, they make the whole game free af…”
To me, the fact that the discussion has gotten so heated over something seemingly so small shows there are deeper problems at play. The real issue, as far as I’m concerned, is that there is a whole version of Destiny 2 most players never get to interact with because it’s unnecessarily gated behind outdated progression mechanics and Bungie’s own weird apathy toward matchmaking. The problem isn’t that Bungie accidentally made a quest requirement that catered to end game content, it’s that Bungie still seems set on keeping end game content out of the reach of most players.
The truth is that Master Ketchcrash is a lot of fun, especially this week’s version. It’s hard, but not too hard. You don’t need some top build from a Destiny 2 influencer to survive, but you do need a thoughtful loadout with some synergies to not be completely useless. The initial phases of the mission which you can normally sleepwalk through or be AFK for altogether require a modicum of spatial awareness and a general focus on staying alive and completing the objective.
A mission modifier means there’s no radar, which genuinely ramps up the tension, and if the whole team doesn’t stay on its toes and gets wiped, everyone is booted back to space. The final boss fight, meanwhile, has you try to hold your own against a small army of pirates on the bridge of the ship as various enemy types flood the screen from all different directions. It’s the best time I’ve had in Destiny 2 outside of a raid in a while, and there’s absolutely no reason why it shouldn’t be more easily accessible to to everyone who plays the game.
Power level, which is Destiny jargon for a weird number that reflects how much you play the game and how difficult various activities will be, has felt outdated in the game’s current seasonal model for a while now. This became clear when The Witch Queen released with a Legendary setting for the campaign that made it the best in the series’ history and basically completely ignored this mechanic. The mode is calibrated to a certain level of difficulty and doesn’t change no matter how much you grind.
Raids, traditionally Destiny 2’s hardest content, are now in a similar boat since their recommended power level quickly falls behind that of each new season. Raids are still hard because of their esoteric puzzles and unique boss encounters, but the only thing keeping most new players from at least experimenting with them is the fact that they still don’t support normal matchmaking.
For a long time the idea behind not letting players matchmake for raids was that they require tight communication and close coordination, and trying to do that with five other strangers who don’t have mics would suck. The not-so-secret truth, however, is that players do precisely this all the time using Bungie’s LFG app. At any given moment you can find players at various stages of a raid asking for people to join them and to kwtd (know what to do). Sometimes they will have mics on. Sometimes they won’t. Some players, known as sherpas, go out of their way to find raid newbies to teach. Often it’s enough to just hop in and let the veterans carry you through. There are hundreds of written guides and YouTube videos that will show you what you’re supposed to do as quickly, if not more quickly, than five people joking around on the team chat.
Bungie seems to understand that forcing players to do so much of this outside of the game is wearing thin. Last month, it announced a suite of improvements to social functionality that would include adding LFG tools directly into the game when the Lightfall expansion arrives next February. It’s not clear exactly how it all will work, but I’m hopeful we’re nearing a day where anyone can visit Destiny 2’s social hub, send out a request, and then hop into whatever activity they want with the fireteam they need to be able to complete it.
Destiny 2 is a fantastic game. Hopefully, by the time it reaches its 10th anniversary, every player will be able to experience the best it has to offer without having to navigate a byzantine maze first. I’m tired of my friends rolling their eyes every time I try to explain to them what they need to do before I can start showing them the really cool stuff.