Gambit Prime can largely be considered the lynch pin content for Destiny 2’s new Season of the Drifter. There really isn’t much here outside of this game mode. The other new activity, The Reckoning, is just your average horde mode that you will only really play if you are interested in Gambit Prime anyway. So, with Bungie positioning Gambit Prime as a means to keep people engaged until the next Season begins, you would think that some of the games underlying issues have been dealt with. Sadly, this is not the case.
What It Does Well
The main thing Gambit Prime does well is turn Gambit into a more focused experience. The three rounds of normal Gambit are gone, replaced by a single round that is naturally divided into two clear portions. In the first section you kill enemies and gather motes, hoping to reach the max value in order to call in your Primeval. In the second, you kill Envoys to open up the Primeval to damage, and attempt to kill it before your opponents can kill theirs. It is a simple race to the finish, and the mode benefits from this focus greatly.
It also introduces the idea of roles. You can focus primarily on certain tasks. They center around important things that need to be done to find success, from collecting motes, to killing enemies quickly, guarding your mote bank, and killing other players who invade you, or by invading them. Colored armor sets earned in The Reckoning allow you to gain bonuses towards your chosen role, and serve as an easy way to advertise your intent in the game. So far, so good. Unfortunately, this is also where the problems start.
What It Does Poorly
Destiny 2 has always had a problem with matchmaking. This was evident in Gambit from the amount of times you get matched up with three other random players, and are expected to take on a premade group of four. Four people, all communicating, can just be more organized and efficient than four people who are not communicating, and are all marching to their own tune. Gambit Prime ups the amount of communication you need, but my experience is that it does nothing at all to try and match groups of four up against other groups of four. When I play solo, I regularly have to take on full groups of clan members and premades. When I play with three of my friends, we are regularly fed groups of randoms who simply cannot hope to keep up with our well organized pace.
The result is you get stomped, or you stomp the enemy. I have probably had two close matches in Gambit Prime. One was me and three randoms taking on four other randoms, the other was my premade taking on another premade. Both rounds were intense fun, and you could see the kind of experience that Gambit Prime could offer. The truth of my experience is just that Bungie don’t seem to be willing to take the correct steps to try and ensure this even matchmaking happens more often.
Anything involving PvP in Destiny just always seems to suffer from this problem, and the communities complaints around matchmaking are, at this point, long and well documented. With the core of Gambit Prime resting primarily on the idea of team work and organized play, it would have been nice to see Bungie take some steps to address this.
Peer to Peer Tears
A spin off issue of this match making problem is the impact of each player’s connections. Being stuck in a lobby with a laggy host is simply nightmarish. Dealing with invaders becomes a roll of the dice, enemies you need to kill for motes will warp around the level and sometimes won’t take damage. Finally, picking up motes becomes hit or miss, as you might need to stand on top of them for a few seconds for the game to realize it needs to let you pick them up. As an experience, matches like this are a complete right off.
When the matchmaking doesn’t seem to worry about party numbers, or connection, you are left to wonder what kind of criteria it is using to put games together. Connection was a huge problem in the original Destiny, and while many in the community hope it would be fixed in Destiny 2, all Bungie did was hide other player’s connection indicators. A problem swept under the rug is not a problem solved. It is just another aspect of the base game that erodes the potential enjoyment of Gambit Prime.
I don’t want to sit here and imply I know a lot about multiplayer gaming, computer networking, peer to peer connections, and netcode. I’m simply not that guy. I can only talk about my experience in the game, what I see and experience when playing it, and how that affects my enjoyment. Even as a fan of Destiny, the issues I have described in this article have always been an problem for me. It is perfectly possible to like a game, and still be critical of where it falls down.
If you are interested in a detailed look at the complexities of how Destiny 2 works, I would strongly suggest this video by Battlenonsense. At this point in Destiny 2’s life cycle, it is highly unlikely that anything can really be done about the issues that affect it. We can, however, hope that Destiny 3 arrives with new solutions to problems that are, at this point, just getting a little old.