The Eliksni, a species of insectoid scavenging raiders, are just some of the many types of characters that populate the world of Bungie’s loot shooter Destiny 2. Also called the Fallen, these descendants of a once-great civilization spend their days scouring the cosmos for vestiges of their lost past. I feel bad for them. I think about what isolation that may bring — rock-hopping across a solar system occupied by Guardians who only ever aim for your head. Then again, the life of a Guardian can be just as isolating.
Each week, tens of thousands of Destiny 2 players (called Guardians) unfurl their to-do lists of bounties, challenges, quests, and pinnacle activities and embark on completing them before those activities reset each Tuesday. It’s a Sisyphean task — the live-service game is enormous. Playing it alone presents a unique challenge, but it’s made easier thanks to the community around it, including Twitch and YouTube streamers whose videos help demystify the game’s raids and puzzles.
When Bungie, the developer behind Halo for Microsoft until 2007, released its space epic Destiny in 2014, it shipped 10 million copies to retailers on its first day. (The actual figure sold on day one is around $5 million.) Bungie’s success with the Halo franchise laid the groundwork for Destiny, and though critics initially considered it bland and lackluster, it was later overhauled. Fast forward to 2017’s Destiny 2 and you get the feeling Bungie has hit a stride: more intricate and demanding raids, exceptional Exotic weapons and gear, and a pretty consistent gameplay loop. While the activities in Destiny 2 look far prettier than the ones of its predecessor, the core experience remains unchanged — you live and die as a fireteam, a group that tackles the game’s challenges together.
Fireteams vary in size and capabilities, with some activities capping your group to only three Guardians. Most of the game’s activities are designed for fireteams, including basic Vanguard and Nightfall strikes, Dungeons, and the Crucible game modes Elimination and the agonizing Trials of Osiris. Six-player activities still exist and require far more communication and execution to obtain maximum rewards; these include signature raids and Legend/Master-level missions like Xur’s Dares of Eternity or the latest pirate-themed soiree, Ketchcrash.
The number of solo activities in Destiny 2, however, can be counted on one hand. And many of these occupy a gray space, as some players create their own self-imposed rules to make missions “solo-able.” Single-player content includes Lost Sectors, main story quests, and Exotic bounties. Daily and weekly bounties can be done solo as well but require players to complete objectives in matchmade modes (like getting eliminations in Crucible or melee kills in Gambit), which can be as tedious as they are useful if fireteam members inadvertently interfere. Two years ago, players went so far as scripting programs that disabled matchmaking across all of Destiny 2, called Powershell Scripts. These programs communicated with your PC’s firewall to prevent matchmaking from occurring, allowing players to solo run whatever they wanted.
Space feels lonely for a fireteam of one. Lost Sectors are some of the only places in the world of Destiny 2 where the word “solo” appears in plain text. These dens span the game’s solar system and can yield sweeter loot when set at harder difficulties — Legend and Master Lost Sectors have a better chance of dropping Exotic armor when played solo. Sadly, these winding taverns can be combed in minutes with the right loadout and highlight the underwhelming experience of running D2 alone.
But the broader D2 solo-player experience really varies from Guardian to Guardian. In the game’s subreddit, r/DestinyTheGame, one user lamented their disaffection with the overwhelming isolation they felt while playing. In the same post, another stated that they loved playing solo as it helped them avoid toxic encounters online.
“If I’m just jumping on to play, it’ll almost always be solo,” Paul Tassi, who runs a popular D2 YouTube channel and writes for Forbes, said over Zoom. “Strike playlists, Dares of Eternity — it can be kind of a leisurely grind.” These particular activities eliminate the need for a solo player to find two to five other friends for a play session, according to Tassi. For certain activities, matchmaking is enabled and random players fill open slots automatically. This blurs the lines between solo and group play for Tassi, who said that there isn’t much communication required to complete objectives.
“Before I had a bigger community and friends playing, I would miss out on a lot of stuff because I didn’t want to do full LFG [looking for group],” Tassi said. “Trying to do [the raid] Vault of Glass for the first time — if you don’t have that existing group, it’s kind of putting yourself out there to find five strangers, and it could go really well [or not].”
LFG resources exist, like Bungie’s companion app for D2. Players describe what they’re looking to complete and how many members they need to fill out the fireteam. But complex raids and hyper-competitive modes like Vault of Glass and Trials of Osiris have made it so that some players make absurd requests, like requiring a certain kills-to-deaths ratio or already knowing the intricacies of a raid beforehand. As a result, the LFG experience can unfortunately be muddied by toxicity, Tassi explained. A skill gap can create a steep learning curve for a fireteam navigating a raid as a ragtag group of random players.
A number of D2 content creators have built their reputation on teaching the community how to complete intricate puzzles or different raids as solo players. Some have even carried viewers who haven’t been able to join a fireteam.
“I’ve played Bungie games since the first Halo. So, when Destiny came out, that was of course something I was going to pick up,” EpicDan22, a Twitch streamer who guides D2 players through LFG and raiding, said over Zoom. Daniel liked the game from the outset, but felt that enjoying all the game had to offer depended on how many Guardians you brought with you. He decided the D2 community needed more solo player support.
“From everyone I’ve talked to, the issue has often been, ‘There’s a lot of content but the accessibility of the content is sometimes very lacking,’” he said when asked about playing solo. So he sought to fill that gap.
In one of his videos, he meticulously walks two other Guardians through the Grasp of Avarice dungeon in order to unlock the highly coveted Exotic rocket launcher Gjallarhorn. Dan is most known in his community for being wholesome and supportive — even if a player doesn’t have the best loadout, he considers other optimal weapons and abilities to use to help players navigate demanding activities for the first time.
Dan is optimistic about the planned LFG features Bungie announced during its D2 showcase in August. A forum-style fireteam finder section of multiplayer activities will be added in-game — previously players had to use the D2 companion app to find teammates in non-matchmade activities. “Things like that hopefully solve some of the problems if you’re a D2 player; [for now] you have to use outside sources to find a fireteam or to manage your inventory,” he said. “Just seeing the youthful joy of helping my friend complete a raid is something I haven’t experienced in such a long time.”
Other Twitch streamers and YouTubers simply show off their skills with solo builds, which can also help solo players navigate the challenging activities Bungie hurls their way. Leopard, another popular streamer in the D2 community, creates solo builds with surgical precision and has maintained a reputation for running some of the most challenging activities alone. As he took streaming more seriously, he pivoted from casually playing with his friends to playing it solo. But he still thinks about the ways the game could incorporate matchmaking into more of its activities.
“There’s never a total right or wrong answer, it’s always shades of gray,” Leopard said. “Think of a raid, with six players — you’re 30 to 45 minutes in and someone is throwing constantly, and they cause the best player to leave.” Despite potential problems, Leopard and I agreed that it also eliminates a lot of the choices solo players have in pursuing an activity as exciting as a raid.
Five years on and the question of how to get the most out of playing the game solo is still hotly contested. Content creators like Leopard and EpicDan22 have made it more accessible for solo players to tackle the game’s extensive list of activities that cater to fireteams. But the conversation about how trends vary among Destiny 2’s solo players illustrates just how big and varied the game’s audience is. Still, the urge to participate in all the game has to offer rings true across the player base — no matter the vast space between them.