With today’s update, Bungie has set the Guardian populace of Destiny 2 on yet another community challenge. Having finally completed the work necessary to arm the Warmind Rasputin against the approaching threat of the Red Legion’s derelict star consumer, the Almighty, Guardians must now … do it again. Nine million times.
Activating Rasputin’s latent defense network required Guardians to complete an untold number of this season’s new activity, the Seraph Towers, which can be found on Earth, the Moon, or Io. Each successful Seraph Tower activation awarded a new seasonal currency that could then be fed to that tower’s corresponding base, which would in turn level up the rewards granted for completing bounties given by said base. It’s been a lot like last season’s format, where players had to level up Obelisks on various planets using a seasonal currency gained from a seasonal activity. And after Guardians had done so hundreds, thousands, maybe even millions of times, last season culminated in the community needing to donate literally billions of that currency to their Obelisks in order to “unlock” the Trials of Osiris, a returning activity from the original Destiny.
As you can see from the header image above, I was concerned that this season, the “Season of the Worthy”, would follow an identical trajectory as long ago as March 3; a week before it even began. And now here we are, months later, and I was right. Bungie has done it again — it has rewarded a monumental amount of work with the privilege of more, identical work, with the ultimate reward this time being a legendary shotgun from the first Destiny, rather than a competitive PvP mode from the first Destiny. Each of the three Seraph Towers must be activated three million times, which each Guardian participating in each activation counting as a single activation. (In other words, if 10 Guardians work to activate a single Seraph Tower once, that counts as 10 activations, rather than just one.)
As I begin construction on the rocket that will jettison me directly into the sun, middle fingers frozen on high by the unyielding vacuum of space, I want to do more than gloat that I told you so, even if I did, in fact, tell you so. (In this case, “you” are the fine people of the Ranged Touch discord, who suffer my Destiny 2 takes with the most frequency.) I want us all to consider what the goal of this design is, why it is being used a third time (yes third, I’ll get there), and what, if anything, we as players can do about it.
With regards to the first issue, the goal is quite simply to keep players as busy as possible, while using as few company resources as possible to do so. Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and the world’s transition to at-home forms of employment, Bungie was working with a reduced resource pool after buying its freedom from Activision, Destiny 2‘s original publisher and financier. This means that Bungie has to keep us as busy as possible as cheaply as possible, most likely just to keep the lights on. And in order to do that, Bungie has to give Guardians something to do to keep daily active user statistics from tanking midway through a content cycle, and even if that something is “the same thing you’ve been doing, nine million more times,” that still counts enough to keep Destiny 2‘s most dedicated players on the hook.
Bungie’s tighter belt is also likely responsible for why this seasonal format has been employed not once, not twice, but three times in a row, starting first with the launch of Destiny 2: Shadowkeep and the Season of the Undying in October of last year. While the Season of the Undying didn’t have Guardians leveling up kiosks in order to gain access to newer, better kiosks, it did employ the same basic structure as the two seasons that would follow: Players had to complete the Vex Offensive (new seasonal activity) in order to gain enough Vex parts (new seasonal currency) to fill an arbitrary, community-wide meter in order to complete Ikora’s Vex Gate, which then allowed players to continue doing the same thing over again, but this time more. The only difference between Season of the Undying and Season of Dawn/the Unworthy is that Dawn and Unworthy have shown us the arbitrary meter.
And let’s not mince words, these community goals are completely arbitrary. Ikora’s gate was never going to go unfinished, regardless of how many Vex parts we all turned in. The Trials of Osiris were always going to return, no matter how many billions of fractaline Guardians were able to donate to the greater good. And no matter how this season ends, whether the Almighty is destroyed by Rasputin or the Last City is destroyed by the Almighty, it was always going to have gone that way. Bungie is not in a position of financial liquidity or manpower to fully produce separate outcomes based on what the community does or does not do. It’s just not possible, not without Activision’s cash, and especially not with Bungie’s (very hard working, mind you) employees operating remotely.
Shadowkeep‘s seasonal format was sold to us on the idea that we would want to have been there for the supposedly big, world-changing events that were on the horizon, but the fact of the matter is that all of this would have happened whether we were here or not, and being around for it just makes me feel tired. So as for the last issue that I wanted to bring up today — what can we do about any of this — the only real option we have is to call Bungie’s bluff. If we have to complete nine million Seraph Tower activations in order to receive the new legendary shotgun, let’s see if Bungie is really willing to withhold the gun when we fail. It’s the only way to find out if we actually have the ability to meaningfully impact any of this.