Destiny 2 is a game of sequencing. The grind is almost perfectly synergized in such a way where everything you do feeds into something else. But there's one catch: You have to work to make that sequencing as efficient as possible. The work comes in with trial-and-error, research, and other somewhat tedious and meticulous planning and executing.
That's really a big part of Destiny 2 now. I always feel like I'm working towards something I may never achieve instead of playing a game. Everything I do feels like an extrinsic reward now. I feel like I'm constantly chasing loot and not actually enjoying my experiences--my playtime is constantly used to level up, get better gear, and do all the things I actually used to do in Destiny 2...but on such a bigger scale that it's overwhelming at times.
The game never sleeps or slows down, it's always demanding, offering, giving you a reason to keep playing. This is the motivating force to any live service game, but some are more pushy than others. Destiny's core tenants as an FPS with a hybrid MMO-style somewhat betray its go-go-go grind attitude.
There's an innate pressure with Destiny 2's current grind. Shadowkeep's absolutely incredible lore-filled campaign acts as a kind of refuge from the deluge of service content, and there's some neat stuff to explore. But the core heart of the game is (and arguably always has been) about progression.
There's always something to do in Destiny now. This is both great and terrible at the same time.
It's great because you'll technically never run of out of things to accomplish, but terrible because, well, a lot of the stuff you're doing is usually for the sake of the grind. It's not always for the sake of actually playing. When the playing overlaps too much with the grind you get caught in a kind of whirlwind of consistent behavior that puts extrinsic rewards--eg that gun that's on the horizon, or that new ship--ahead of intrinsic rewards, which is enjoying the actual experience for what it is, not what you get out of it.
That, I fear, has become a common thing with Destiny 2: Shadowkeep, at least for me. I see now why I stopped playing in 2017. Not because I wasn't having fun, that happened too, but the fun wasn't at the forefront of what I was doing. The grind was always the most important thing.
No matter how far you get, or what you do, there's always something to chase. This infinite replayability is a godsend for some games and basically means the game just doesn't end. But the cost of that is a spinning cycle that sees players
Destiny 2 isn't really a game you can just pick and play any more--not really. It's a game about strategy, inventory management and constant gear juggling, and a bounty simulator. Destiny 2 has grown so much since I last played and that's not necessarily a bad thing. None of this is necessarily a bad thing, it just depends on how you play.
I'm not saying the game can't be played casually and enjoyed for what it is, and that you can't take a break from the infernal grind to go and simply revel in the best art direction in the entire games industry right now. That's absolutely a thing you can (and should do). But I am saying Destiny 2 has some very deliberate hooks that're designed to keep in swimming in that ever-flowing river of content.
The biggest problem with Destiny 2's grind is how cryptic it can be. Bungie doesn't guide you properly or even really highlight the correct sequencing of activities--like I said, you're just kind of thrown into this sea of stuff and left to your own devices. It's immensely overwhelming for someone like me, so imagine what it's like for a brand new player who jumped into the F2P version to play with their friends, or try it out solo.
The result is a feeling that you're not actually progressing, that your time isn't being well spent. That's the quickest way to deter someone from your game. Inundating users with way, way too much stuff to do right off the bat and making them do actual work to figure it out is a bad way for a service game to operate.
Even as I level up my Power, collect the billions of currencies the game now offers, and earn nifty gear and weapons, I don't always feel like I'm actually achieving anything.
The reason for that is there's always something better to get, some better way to use my time that I'm not yet aware of, some awesome raid weapon or ornament. The progression is so incremental that even when you get to the 950 power soft cap you're still nowhere near finished. At that point the game basically opens up for you and you can comfortably do the new Raid and grind for the best gear in the game.
As a lapsed player I feel so far behind and that I'm missing out. A new player might feel even worse. Sure they could ask friends for help and study the best ways to level up, but that sometimes makes Destiny 2 feel more like a school project than a game you play for fun.
Monetization plays a big part of Destiny 2, but only with cosmetics. Overall the game's microtransactions are unobtrusive and aren't obnoxious. There's no lootboxes, no pay-to-win schemes (except for a $20 booster that raises your Power to 950), or big shortcuts. Bungie sells weapon ornaments, emotes, finisher moves, ghost shells, ships, and shaders for a premium Silver currency that can be bought with real money.
These cosmetics are part of the grind and are sometimes doled out via bounties, but are more aimed at enthusiast players.
Destiny 2: Shadowkeep and New Light have their saving graces, though.
Bungie's gunplay is absolutely incredible and the game is so buttery-smooth on PC that I simply can't ever go back to PS4. And now that I migrated my characters over with cross-play, I never have to. Even if I'm grinding for a weapon or to complete bounties or grab those shiny mod components, amazing gunplay and FPS action is always at the forefront. Irregardless of what I'm doing, that constant is always there.
Another redeeming quality is the art direction.
Bungie makes some of the best-looking games I've ever seen, and Shadowkeep is absolutely spell-binding in this regard. The environments are so twisted and macabre, straight out of Clive Barker's Hellraiser mixed with a Giger painting. The Moon is one of the most eerie places in any video game and really brings this otherworldly vibe to the experience.
There's magic in the service game elements too. It's not like you're doing the grinding by yourself, and this never-ending sea of content has lots of other swimmers too. You're going to make a lot of friends along the way to help you out, and this is the main core of Destiny's magic: The camaraderie of other players.
Sometimes that camaraderie happens without a single word. There's an unspoken bond with a teammate in Destiny, a kind of glue that holds you together. For a brief time, you're not alone in the game. You're part of a Fireteam. Whether that's a Strike or a Gambit match with a group of randoms, or a meticulously-planned Raid with a bunch of buddies across voice chat, Destiny 2's multiplayer is magical.
It's absolutely possible that the extrinsic grind can bring intrinsic rewards, and this is usually made possible with the kind of special bonding you have by playing with others. In this way, Bungie has tapped the age-old formula to live gaming success.