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Destiny’s Solo Problem, And How To Solve It

by Matt Miller on Jun 02, 2015 at 12:00 PM

As I noted in my write-up about House of Wolves, now is the best time for lapsed or new players to get into Destiny. The Prison of Elders arena mode and end-game PvP Trials of Osiris event round out an already compelling package of activities. At the same time, the endgame experience is increasingly group-centric. Lone wolf guardians (or just players who hop on at odd hours) are at a severe disadvantage, both in activities they can enjoy, and in the rewards they can reap. However, Bungie already has the tools and mechanics in place to solve the problem, and in the process the developer could enrich the anemic storytelling that has plagued the title since launch. The answer lies in further embracing the potential of the bounty system.

This isn’t a revolutionary idea. Commenters on the robust Destiny subreddit and the Bungie forums have regularly touted the desire for more bounty options. The Dark Below introduced quest line bounties from Eris Morn. While there were only a few of these, they added a layer of storytelling and provided activities for solo (or group) players to try out. And yet, House of Wolves, for all its successes, seems to have moved backward rather than forward with the plans for expanding bounties and quests. The patrol-based Fallen hunting missions from Petra are simple, one-step affairs that have little to no story contextualization. A new exotic bounty was also added, but it’s locked behind a random drop at the highest level Prison of Elders arenas. 

As it stands, Destiny is at risk for alienating some of its player base. The excellent Trials of Osiris competitive mode is a blast with a strong team at your back, but players doing random groups are in for a rough ride. And Prison of Elders is proving itself to be an extremely challenging gameplay loop, with later bosses often beatable by some teams only if they opt in to fast, opportunistic strategies using specific weapons. In short, the bulk of the newest content isn’t welcoming to solo players, casual engagement, or as I’ve heard from several fellow Destiny fans, even some experienced raid players. 

Moving forward, I’d love to see Destiny supplement these types of group-oriented activities with a more robust take on the already existing bounty system. Additional bounties or quest lines should be available throughout the social spaces of the game, from many of the existing vendors. These new bounties should provide commensurate rewards to both the effort involved in completing them and matching up with the equivalent group activities. New bounty activities can be multi-part, and veer throughout the game’s activities, from Crucible matches and raids to patrols and story missions, much like the existing exotic bounties. Whether through dialogue or text, these new bounties would give us a chance to learn more about the quest-givers, and further flesh out the lore behind weapons, jumpships, or even shaders and class items, all of which could be rewards for completing the tasks. Bounties of this type needn’t replace existing reward-incentivized group activities. Instead, they provide engagement for players as an alternative to those group-required activities like nightfall strikes or Trials. 

I’d love to see new bounties allow solo players to acquire level-capped gear, but these new bounties can do more than lead toward armor and weapons. Consider Variks and his tokens of flight. While I appreciate the option to get a new ship, there’s little narrative context behind the exchange. Consider instead if Variks told you that he had access to an old Fallen jumpship, but it was missing a critical engine component. The part is long broken, but the Vex Axis Minds use a similar component, necessitating a run at the Nexus or Undying Mind strike. In turn, that component needs to be fueled up by the energy released by Cabal soldiers when they’re destroyed. And so on, until after several steps, you finally turn the component in to Variks for a ship that isn’t just cool looking – you remember how you acquired it, and everyone else in orbit knows the challenges you endured to get it. Isn’t that cooler than turning in a randomly acquired token?

This approach lines up with Bungie’s guiding mantra – become legend. Legends are stories, tales that are so epic in scope that they stick in the mind, and slip into memory not just because of the end reward, but because of the path the hero took to reach that reward. Most of Destiny’s best rewards are currently governed by the fickle fate of a random number generator; it would be exciting to have more projects to undertake in the game that resulted in clear, concrete rewards. While quest lines with definitive loot at the end helps solve the problem of engagement for solo players, it’s hard to imagine that implementing such a change wouldn’t also reward the entire player base, who above all things desire variety in their Destiny gameplay experience. 

Story-based bounties offer a chance to flesh out the numerous underused characters already in place within the game. Sure, I can spend 150 vanguard marks to get a new scout rifle from the enigmatic robotic quartermaster. But if I could get an elemental version of the same scout rifle, if only I return with a relic of the lost age for the robot’s growing secret collection of trinkets, wouldn’t I do that? Not only do I get a cool new legendary weapon (for about the same amount of effort it would take to farm the marks) but I’d also get a tidbit of story about the eccentric vanguard quartermaster as a nerdy Wall-E-like gatherer of antiquated objects. 

Bounties in this structure also let Bungie tease out upcoming content in more compelling ways. What if Brother Vance, in addition to his role as the Trials vendor, is seeking out information about his long-absent mentor, Osiris? A quest line could give us more detail about the mysterious warlock and his whereabouts, and in a way far more rooted in the game than grimoire cards. Or what if the Speaker offered a quest line that in the process of completion detailed the part that Prince Uldren of the Awoken played in the war against the Fallen, thus setting the Queen’s brother up as a more significant figure in a subsequent expansion?

I recognize that as a layman to game design, it’s never as easy as it might seem to implement new systems into a game, and a broad reinvention of the bounty system isn’t a simple request. However, Destiny bills itself as a game built for long-term investment by its players, and broader lore development and high-value activities for solo players are increasingly necessary. 

Rather than detract from engagement with other high-level activities, like raids or arenas, solo players would be more likely to join in on the fun if they can get to the end-game on their own terms. If someone can hit the current 34 level-cap as a solo player, they are much more likely to jump in and help another player with a level 35 run at Skolas’ Revenge, because they feel like they’re ready to contribute meaningfully, rather than being a drag on the team. 

I’ve had a great time with House of Wolves so far, and I’ve lucked out into some strong teams that have helped me cap out my Guardians. However, I’m increasingly aware of how little I now have to do in the game if members of my curated friends list aren’t around when I log in. I’d love to have a new ship to shoot for, or a cool shader to aspire towards, with a clear path to completion, which could keep me busy while I wait for an opportunity to join up with friends. 

Check out this companion article, with over twenty ideas of bounties that could enrich the Destiny experience. Would you feel more engaged by a broader selection of bounty quest lines, if they led to an alternate path to cool legendary weapons, ghost shells, or sparrows? Share your thoughts in the comments below.