My complete argument against gear sunsetting (Destiny)

by CruelLEGACEY @, Toronto, Wednesday, May 20, 2020, 03:27 (193 days ago)

I've had a few people tell me that they're surprised I feel as strongly about weapon sunsetting as I do, or ask me why it bothers me so much. I've talked about it in bits and pieces in several comments across a few threads, but I thought I should put my argument down in 1 inclusive rant - uh... I mean... explanation. Yeah, we'll go with that :)

My problems with sunsetting come in three different forms: I think it will negatively affect the player experience, I don't think it will solve the problems that Bungie is claiming it will solve, and finally, I don't think Bungie actually intends for it to solve the problems they claim it is aimed at solving (that final point is the one that involves the most conjecture, so I'll save it for last).

First, let's look at the arguments in favor of weapon sunsetting. These are mostly points that Bungie has made themselves in the recent TWAB, or in Luke Smith's director's cut when the concept of sunsetting was first discussed, or points that are brought up by players in favor of sunsetting.

(let me just point out here that this is not actually an argument in favor of sunsetting... it is a claim that sunsetting won't have as much of a negative impact as some of us fear. It's an apology, not a justification).

I'm sure I could add to this list, but far as I can tell, these are the 5 major points I see being made by Bungie and by players who are arguing in favor of sunsetting. I'm going to address these points one at a time:

1) They want to make gear acquisition exciting again - There are many elements that go into creating excitement around gear acquisition. The individual pieces of gear certainly are a large part of that equation, but I'll dig into that more when I address points 2 and 3. For now, I want to bring up the manner in which gear is acquired, which is an equally important part of the process. Let's look at how we acquired the majority of the new loot introduced this past season; We have the new seraph weapons, which can be acquired by endlessly repeating the new public event, bunker clears, or bounties (no big problem, just thin activities that don't hold up under extended repetition). We had Tommy's Matchbook handed to us as part of the season pass progression. We had the Fourth Horseman "quest" which involved walking into a new room in the tower, and then completing what were essentially more bounties. There's the Trials loot, which is such a botched system that I won't get into it here. Heir Apparent was handed out for completing triumphs in Guardian Games, which was literally just more bounties. And finally, there's the currently bugged Felwinter's Lie quest, which was a boring and tedious slog even before it was broken.
I'm sure you can all see the point I'm making here; if Bungie actually cares about making gear acquisition exciting, the very first thing they need to improve are the processes by which we acquire new gear. Because they're failing at every turn lately. The gear itself is mostly fine. The way we get it sucks, more often than not.

2) They want to introduce new gear that is powerful and desirable - To this point, I would say that Bungie is generally doing a pretty good job. Heir Apparent is a blast! The Trials Auto Rifle and Shotgun are both top-tier. The new Seraph weapons have some cool perk combinations and a nice aesthetic. Going back into previous seasons, we've seen new additions like Bastion, Devil's Ruin, Xenophage, all of the Saint 14 weapons, Eriana's Vow, Leviathan's Breath, the Garden of Salvation weapons (with Divinity being the real standout)... all cool, desirable weapons, some of which are totally unique and open up playstyles/loadout combinations that weren't possible before. Yet not a single one of these weapons were overpowered or broke the PvE or PvP sandboxes in any way. I know some of these weapons are exotics, which won't be effected by sunsetting for the time being, but I'm making the point that Bungie is actually doing a pretty good job when it comes to making new weapons that are powerful, desirable, but not game-breaking.
There is also, I believe, a giant misconception/miscommunication behind this point. When Bungie says "we want to be able to create new weapons that are powerful and desirable, and sunsetting gives us room to do that" (I'm paraphrasing), I think some players read that statement and think it means "oh cool, we're going to get a whole bunch of new guns that are really powerful and different and exciting and unlike anything we have now!". I guarantee that is not going to happen, nor is it what Bungie means. How do I know it won't happen? Because Bungie has already told us that they can't manage creating 3 new pinnacle/ritual weapons per season. It's too much for the team to handle. They've said so in online statements, and a Bungie developer told a few of us directly. The idea that Bungie is going to unleash an entire new wave of truly new, powerful, unique weapons, AND the point that the team can't manage 3 new pinnacle weapons per season, those 2 points cannot both be true.
So, what is Bungie really saying when they're talking about having room to create new powerful weapons that we'll want to chase? We'll get there.

3) They want to avoid power creep - This is where I really see Bungie pushing a straw-man argument. Yes, in theory, power creep can be a problem in a game like Destiny. But in reality, power creep is absolutely not a problem in Destiny 2 right now. Our guardians have been getting less and less powerful since Season of Opulence (or just before then). Weapons and abilities have been repeatedly nerfed, some entire groups of weapons were hammered down because of their DPS potential when combined with auto-reloading abilities, but those nerfs weren't reversed when the auto-reloading abilities were removed. Champions and the whole champion mod systems severely limit our loadout possibilities in much of the endgame content. All together, this is the least powerful my guardians have felt since Curse of Osiris. So let's stop pretending that power creep is an immediate problem for the game.

Now, looking at the more long-term side of this argument, Bungie and sunsetting-defenders will often say that the only way to make players chase new weapons is to make them stronger than our current weapons, which would obviously lead to power creep. This argument is utter BS. New guns don't need to be stronger. They need to be different, and most importantly, fun. Just look at how fevereshly the community grinded out the Saint 14 weapons last season. We had an activity which was decently enjoyable, it showered us with loot at the end, and that loot was a pool of beautiful, fun, unique weapons, none of which were overpowered. And yet, many players went nuts over collecting their favorite rolls of each of those guns. I still used many of them on a regular basis, right up until I stopped playing last week.

There will be situations where you'll want to go with the absolute most effective weapon in a given slot. But that decision still depends on many things; what kind of weapons do you enjoy using, what kind of activity are you playing, what gear is the rest of your team using, etc. It wasn't the nerf to Luna's Howl that made me use it less often in the crucible, it was getting an Erentil that I really liked, and a Beloved, and Le Monarch, and a bunch of other great guns that use the same slot. Revoker isn't a "better" weapon than Mountaintop, but there are times when it's more effective to snipe than to use a grenade launcher.
I'm not arguing that no weapons are ever overpowered in Destiny. I think most of us would agree that Recluse was a bit too good, for example. But the solution to that problem is simple. In fact, in that specific case, Bungie did the exact right thing; they gently tweaked the weapon, putting it in a state where it is still fantastic and loads of fun, but no longer the dominant weapon that it used to be. They didn't need to sunset it and every other new gun released that season.

My final point on this issue is that many of the so-called "best in class" weapons aren't overpowered by any metric. Spare Rations was the only random-rolled Kinetic 150 RPM hand cannon in the game until Dire Promise returned, and 150 RPM hand cannons are simply better than all other hand cannons in the crucible right now, because of how they've all been balanced. So the rampant use of Spare Rations has nothing to do with it being overpowered. So what happens when Sunsetting kicks in, and serious PvP players are left without a 150 rpm kinetic hand cannon they can take into Trials or Iron Banner? More on that point later.

4) They want to keep the meta fresh and changing - This is not a point that I have heard Bungie themselves stress to any great degree, but it does get mentioned by sunsetting defenders on reddit all the time. "I don't want to use the same guns all the time" or "I'm sick of seeing everyone in the crucible using Spare Rations & Mindbenders". To these players I say: "... are you joking?!?" The meta has changed many times since the launch of D2, and not once did that change require sunsetting. Sandbox updates are all that is needed to shift the meta (I'll get back to that point later as well). I also find it incredibly arrogant that some players would think they should get any say over which weapons I chose to use in a videogame that I play for my own enjoyment. You don't want to use guns that are more than a year old? Great for you! Nobody is forcing you to. Go ahead and use whatever you want. But for those of us who enjoy using ALL of the weapons in our collections, maybe that should be up to us?

Now, to be charitable, I know what some of these sunsetting defenders are trying to say: "I don't want to feel like I have to use the same weapons for months or years just to remain competitive". Again, sandbox updates are the solution there, not sunsetting. But putting that aside, there is an assumption built in to the point they are trying to make. They're assuming that the "new" gear that Bungie will introduce after sunsetting our old weapons will be so new and different that it will automatically shift the meta. But as I mentioned in point 2, that is not what is going to happen. Or to be more specific, if the meta shifts, it will be because of sandbox changes, and not because of some new wave of different and unique weapons.

5) We'll still be able to use all our old gear in lower-level activities, so we aren't really losing anything - This one is quick. The entire Destiny endgame is built around playing high-level content. The driving loop in every season is raise our light levels yet again, and most of the activities that yield pinnacle drops require end-game appropriate light levels. Any gear that can't be used in those activities will be shuffled off to our vaults, until a day when we're running out of space and we need to choose between keeping the old gear that we love but cannot use very often, vs the new gear that we actually need to use in endgame content. There will be exceptions. Some of us will hang on to more old stuff than others. But just like it happened in D1, sunsetting in D2 is basically a kiss of death for our old gear.

What will sunsetting actually do for the player experience?

tl;dr: Nothing good. ;)

Jokes aside, it's impossible to say that these changes will be good or bad for everyone. I'm going to stick to my own personal feelings here. I suspect I'm not alone, but we'll set that aside for now.

For any of this to have a positive effect on my experience as a player, my driving force as a player would have to be the constant acquisition of new loot. For me, this is not the case. I enjoy the FPS experience of Destiny in large part due to my ability to use the wide array of fun, divers, and powerful weapons that I have already acquired. Getting those weapons is almost never the fun part. Grinding for loot in Destiny is usually a repetitive and tedious chore, which often involves playing activities that I don't want to play. No, for me, Destiny is at its best when I've finally got the cool guns I want to use, all my gear is leveled up high enough so that I don't need to worry about it, and I can take my cool toys and go have fun with my friends in whatever activity we're in the mood to play. Gear acquisition, leveling up... that's the investment, not the payoff.

For me, and players like me, weapon sunsetting is taking time and focus away from the part of the game I love (using all my cool loot), and shifting focus towards the part of the game I barely tolerate (repetitive grinds through activities I don't enjoy using gear I don't like until I finally get the stuff I want to use). Bungie's idea of how to keep me engaged as a player is completely backwards. Sunsetting will negate the countless hours I've poured into unlocking the fun in this game. It will remove huge chunks of weapon diversity at a pace far faster than Bungie can replace. And all in service of... what, exactly?

What is Sunsetting actually about?

So this is where I'll get into my conjecture and educated guesses. I've made my arguments against sunsetting. But why is Bungie for it? What problem(s) does sunsetting solve?

The tl;dr for this one is: it solves problems for Bungie, not for the players.

What do we know about the current state of Destiny 2's development?

So how does this all play into the current loot situation in D2, particularly with regards to creating new, exciting loot?

As I stated way above, we know that Bungie can and do create cool weapons that are truly new and exciting on a steady basis. They just don't create a lot of them. But aside from the poor quality of their recent seasonal quests and activities, that's not where the problem really lies. Bungie isn't looking there. They're looking at the weapons we get from the crucible, vanguard strikes, gambit, the "core activities". Luke Smith has mentioned in his director's cuts that a renewed focus on D2's core activities is something the team is focusing on. They want those activities to feel rewarding for us in a way that they haven't for some time, because none of those activities have had a loot refresh in forever. So, new loot is needed for all these core activities.

Cool, right? Except for the part where creating that many new weapons and having them be truly different from what we already have is a TON of work. More resources than they can spare. What alternatives are there? Well, they could take the same archetypes and perk pools that we already have and just crank up the stats on some new weapons, making them better than what we already have. Then we'd chase them for sure, but this scenario really would create a "power creep" problem. So that's not really a good option.

Enter: Sunsetting.

Bungie will sunset all our current gear, and replace it, in waves, with "new" versions of the stuff we already have. They'll create new weapon skins and names... that's way less work that creating entirely new archetypes and perks. I'm sure we'll get the occasional new perk in the mix, and from time to time we'll even get a truly unique standout. But the vast majority of the "new" weapons that will be added in year 4 will be direct analogs to guns we already have. All the PvP sweats will rage over the loss of their Spare Rations, until they discover a "new" 150 RPM Kinetic Hand Cannon that can also roll with Rapid Hit/Multikill clip. Then they'll all grind like crazy for their "new" god roll, and everything will be right as rain.

But with even the slightest bit of thought, some holes quickly appear in this plan. What about the gaps in our loadouts that will appear when some of the more truly unique weapons are sunset? What happens when Mountaintop goes away? Luckily, Bungie has already admitted that they plan to "reissue" some of our old favorite if and when they feel its appropriate. So when you do lose that Mountaintop which you spent months grinding through an atrociously tedious quest to acquire, don't worry... with any luck, Bungie might allow you to grind for it all over again when they reissue it. If they happen to decide to do so. They could just as easily look as some of our old favorites and decide "no... we're better off leaving that one in the past" (looks regretfully at Revoker).

Trimming the fat

But wait, what about all the activities in D2 that won't be receiving new loot pools? What about the old raids, Reckoning, the Forges, Menagerie... All the gear that comes from those activities will be already sunset! Won't that kill all interest in playing those - oooooooooooh! Remember when Luke Smith said they were looking to make some cuts to D2? That the game was too big and they wanted to trim it down a bit? Well, killing all loot incentive behind a bunch of satellite activities is a pretty good way to drive players away from them. Maybe after another year or so, nobody will even complain when they're removed from the game entirely.

Destiny 2: Numbers Going Up - The Game

When I start to add all these pieces together, a picture of Destiny 2's future begins to form. For the time being, I think we can safely expect the big annual expansions, roughly Shadowkeep-esque in size. But for the time in between, the seasonal content, I think Bungie is trying to shift the game into a place where they can focus in a loop that is easily repeatable with very little development resources. Rather than an ever-expanding loot pool, we'll switch towards a model built around a fairly tight and well understood collection of weapon types and perks, with seasonal iterations that expire. It may take a year or even 18 months, but bungie will eventually replace all the important weapon "flavors" that we lose in the first wave of sunsetting, adding in a mix of highly-requested "reissues" whenever they like. Of course, all these "new" weapons will have a 1-year expiration date on them as well, so it's a loop they can repeat and tinker with indefinitely. And since this loop is an iterative process, rather than an expanding one, they will likely run into fewer balance issues, because they won't have as massive and diverse a loot pool to worry about at any 1 time. And THAT is a big win for them, because their sandbox team already takes months to implement obviously required changes. Plus, if they do screw up and make a gun too powerful, they might be able to get away with ignoring it because it will be sunset in a year anyway.

This new loot model will allow them to re-energize the loot pools for the "core activities" of the game, meaning more seasonal emphasis on the basic pillars of strikes, crucible, and gambit. THAT means the live team won't need to spend as much time working on new activities like Sundial or Vex Offensive, which helps lighten the burden on the team while also avoiding the terribly inefficient approach that they took this year of developing locations and activities that disappear after a few months.

IMO, this is what Sunsetting is actually about. It is a partial solution to a bunch of Bungie's problems. They see it as a way to increase player drive towards new loot without spending the time and resources that it would take to create truly NEW loot, while also avoiding the continuously increasing demand on the test and sandbox teams to keep more and more moving parts balanced and working together. And most importantly, it is laser-focused on maintaining the grind, keeping players logging in those hours day after day. It's part of a "how to we get the most hours out of our players while generating as little new content as possible?" formula.

aye, there's the rub

I could be totally wrong about the direction that Bungie is trying to steer D2 towards. But even if I am, there's still the immediate problem that Sunsetting weapons will not improve the player experience. It is only a question of "how bad will it hurt the player experience?". In all this, I haven't even addressed the other half of the issue, which is sunsetting armor. I haven't brought that up because, far as I can tell, it is way less controversial. I haven't seen one single player argue in favor of sunsetting armor. Everyone seems to hate the idea. It's a longshot, but I hold out a small hope that the more we fans talk about it, the more the justifications behind the whole concept are shown to fall apart under scrutiny, then maybe... just maybe this whole thing can be avoided or undone. Or maybe I'm just completely wrong about all of it, and the player base will love it.

But... I wouldn't bet on that outcome :)

Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk.

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