Do Destiny 2's Guided Games Work?
In the first Destiny, the activities with the most enticing rewards required the most legwork to initiate. Because Nightfall Strikes and raids lacked any sort of matchmaking, dedicated players had to gather teammates through outside means (such as Reddit or DestinyLFG) if they wanted to take part in them. The logic behind the omission of matchmaking was that Nightfalls and raids were simply too difficult for any three (or six) random schlubs to finish one without everyone coordinating and communicating through voice chat. Still, for as long Destiny has been around, players have wanted matchmaking for Nightfalls and raids so they can avoid perusing a website for an hour or two in order to find a group to play with.
Bungie has relented to fans’ demands to some degree with Destiny 2, which includes Guided Games, a feature currently in beta. Guided Games are a kind of matchmaking meant to introduce solo players to the kinds of small, tight-knit communities Destiny has fostered over the past three years, letting them eventually join a clan they like and get in on the highly cooperative parts of Destiny that truly set it apart from other shooters. But to see how well they worked in practice, I ran last week’s Nightfall strike about a dozen times to find out.
To start off, Bungie makes a big deal out of entering a Nightfall through Guided Games. After you select the Guided Games version of the Nightfall, you select whether you want to be a Seeker or a guide. Right now, any two members of the same clan can be a guide, but only certain players who receive tokens (provided at random) can be Seekers. Seekers search for a party made up of a guide pair. After choosing the matchmaking queue that fits your needs, you press a button the launch the mode.
As a Seeker, I then had to accept the “Guardian’s Oath,” which has me swear I’ll abide by tenets like “Attentive” (“Respecting everyone’s time commitment to the Nightfall”), “Observant” (“Checking the modifiers and adjusting your play style or gear accordingly”) and “Willing to Learn” (“Understanding that different groups have different strategies”).” Once I agreed (if you decline or fail to accept in time you’re kicked out of matchmaking), I had to wait about 20 minutes to find a Guide. By comparison, Guides only have to wait about a minute to find a Seeker. Once I found a group, I could see their clan banner and description of themselves (you’ll find a few examples of the clans I found while playing throughout this article). Once I accepted, I joined their fireteam, ready to start a Nightfall strike with a pair of strangers.
All of this to-do is a little much for what amounts to a strike where the enemies hit harder and there are a couple of special rules at play, but it gets across the point Bungie is trying to make. By having players go through multiple confirmation screens, a long matchmaking queue, and another confirmation screen, Bungie wants everyone to take Nightfalls seriously, to pay attention to this activity instead of zoning out and shooting at red health bars like they might usually do.
Once I was in a fireteam, however, oaths, cooperation, and communication almost always went out the window. Only three of the 10 guide pairs I played with even spoke to me, as most were too busy running headfirst into the trenches to tell me what I was supposed to do. Last week’s Nightfall has players run through a harder version of the “Exodus Crash” strike, where enemies hit much harder, health and shield recovery are painfully slow, and players can pick up health drops from enemies. Also, a 15-minute time limit was in place, which players could extend by shooting “anomalies” scattered throughout the strike.
The time limit, especially, made it more essential (I imagine) that the two people who were guiding me simply trudge through enemies or find anomalies and hope I’d figure it out (or at least keep up) than to teach me anything. It’s hard to explain a grand strategy when you’re always two or three shots away from death and under the barrel of urgency. The lobby screen before launching the Nightfall could have served as a great place to brief someone, but no one ever lingered there for long.
Though I would introduce myself to my teammates through voice chat, I never really received anything in return. Instead, I got one group which was trying to figure out what all the modifiers were, one team that answered a question I had then mostly said “I’m down” or “I’ll get you up,” and one team where a player was berating their clanmate for dying too often and citing it as a part of a larger pattern of them not caring enough about Destiny. During one run, I was disconnected from the Destiny 2 servers and given an “Oath Breaker” debuff, which meant I couldn’t run another Guided Game for the better part of an hour.
I mostly got silence, however, and never did I get the experience all the oaths, button prompts, and build up seem to promise: A team-building experience where a group of players takes a moment to explain what is going on, develops a cohesive strategy, and executes it through cooperation. That’s what I imagine when I think about the kinds of activities that require people to cooperate to the point of necessitating voice chat and having players jump through a number of hoops to enter matchmaking. It’s not what I got.
If all of my attempts had ended in failure, I would have chalked it up to Bungie sorting out its algorithms and gathering data on which clans are helpful and instructive and which are not. But I managed to complete the Nightfall four out of the 10 times I attempted it, and all of them were with players who didn’t utter a word. Though over my several runs I did eventually develop a knack for knowing where the anomalies were and how to properly make my way through the Nightfall’s tough-as-nails enemies, I managed to finish the Nightfall on my second attempt, which is when most players would stop running the Nightfall on a given week since you only have incentive to finish it once per character per week.
That I was able to do the Nightfall at all without going to a website or Discord channel means Guided Games are working from a functionality standpoint. But they fail to reinforce Bungie’s mantra that Nightfalls require the kind of hoops Bungie has put in place in order to run them. I don’t think I ever got anything out of Guided Games that I wouldn’t have gotten out of regular matchmaking. In fact, in their beta state, that’s all Guided Games seem to be: Matchmaking, but with more menus and waiting.
It’s entirely possible that the “two Guides plus one Seeker” structure made for more skilled teams overall (which meant I was more likely to finish the Nightfall). Despite the fact that I finished it more than a couple of times, the Nightfall strike is brutal, especially during the first couple of runs. In regular matchmaking, I can foresee scenarios where players quit a Nightfall the moment they see both of their random teammates die, in the hopes they’ll find a more skilled team. I’m willing to put up with those failed runs if it means I can't find groups more quickly, though.
Players want to run Nightfalls easily and Bungie wants players to take them seriously. Guided Games are a decent olive branch to palyers, but surely there’s a middle ground where Bungie is able to make players bring their A-game to these encounters without having them accept phony agreements, or one that doesn't take so long to get into. The feature is still in beta, which means Bungie is still working out the kinks. And I hope they can, because I have a feeling raids, which are several times more complex and require twice as many people, will be the real test of Guided Games down the line.