To celebrate the announcement of Destiny 2 Lightfall, Bungie gave players free access to all current campaigns for one week. That meant that technically anyone could jump in and play through Shadowkeep, Beyond Light, and the Witch Queen, but in actuality, it’s highly unlikely that many were able to get through them all. A week isn’t a ton of time to get through all three campaigns’ associated quests and content – but it’s enough to lure in new players and bring back old ones.
Season of the witch
I stopped playing Destiny 2 for two reasons: time and money. I first started with Beyond Light and got about 100 hours of playtime in within a month – though most of what was going on still confused me. After asking around for some more direction post-Beyond Light campaign, I honed in on quests and raids that would provide me with some great gear or help me level up my Stasis ability. But eventually, I just drifted away, unwilling to allow myself to continue to be enveloped in such a time-consuming game when there were others out there that cost less to enjoy.
While there was still stuff to do in the Destiny 2 expansion I already had, new seasons and a new expansion promised more of everything – which, quite frankly, overwhelmed me. I couldn’t bring myself to put any more time and money into Destiny 2. Even when our own Austin Wood called The Witch Queen “a new peak for the series” publicly (and “Bungie’s best campaign including all three Halo games” privately), I was hesitant. You don’t just dip a toe into Destiny – you cannonball into the deep end.
But with Witch Queen available at no extra cost, I had to try it. Within moments of hearing Debra Wilson’s excellent take on the Witch Queen herself, Savathun, I was emotionally invested and compelled to forge on to learn what the hell was going on. After fighting my way through Cabal and getting launched via cannon onto Savathun’s ship, my jaw dropped at the world design, which felt like Giger meets Lord of the Rings. I was bewitched, and before I finished the second campaign mission, I bought the Season of Plunder pass – I knew I was going to beat the entire campaign, so why not earn some extra goodies along the way? After two consecutive late nights, I beat the Witch Queen, bleary-eyed but completely enamored with it. And I’m still going to buy the expansion because I’ve got so much more to do, from weapon crafting side quests to Exotic weapon quests to missions specific to the campaign’s new character, a funny little Ghost named Fynch. I’ve barely scratched the surface, and I desperately want to go deeper.
Once more unto the breach
Why doesn’t Bungie do this more often? It’s notoriously difficult to get into Destiny 2, even with the current New Light campaign which rejigs the game’s introductory missions to better acclimate newcomers. There’s just so much to do, so many things to collect, and so many proper nouns to parse through that it can very easily overwhelm. And even lapsed players struggle to return: with well over a hundred hours under my belt, I found aspects of this last week incredibly daunting. I’d forgotten all the controls (and spent way too long trying to remember how to summon my Sparrow), almost cried at all of the blinking icons alerting me of places to go and people to see, and edged towards a breakdown when I remembered just how much min/maxing you can and should do.
The three campaigns Bungie gave us for free are the best ones the studio has made yet, but there’s just too much to get through for players to get a handle on them in just a week. If the core gameplay of Destiny 2 already overwhelms, three meaty expansions with complex storytelling threaten to short-circuit your brain. If a week isn’t enough time for a familiar Destiny 2 player, it’s certainly not enough for a new one. It only took a few minutes of Witch Queen cutscenes to draw me back in, but I’ve already played Beyond Light. A new player will need more time to grow fond of Crow and to better understand why the core characters are going through a crisis of faith – and that’s on top of learning the game’s mechanics, consumables, build options, and more.
Giving away the three current campaigns may not be a reasonable way to keep Bungie funded, but there are other things the studio can do to help court new and old players – and mitigate expansion bloat. The studio could offer another free week or two leading up to Destiny 2 Lightfall, which would help increase the chance that a casual or lapsed player will shell out the $50 for the expansion in February. Or, it can lump all the current expansion together in one big, high-value bundle that gatherers together the entire Light and Darkness saga, which will also help summarize the story so far.
Ultimately, Bungie offering a free week to play all the current Destiny 2 campaign did exactly what the studio hoped: it dragged a former player back into the fray. But there’s a solid chance that more free weeks will lead to more new and returning players, many of whom will transition into more permanent, paying Destiny 2 fans. Seems like a good idea, no?