Game Technology News Destiny 2 how a fresh start let Bungie make its biggest game yet
When it came to Destiny’s sequel, the Halo developer wiped the slate clean to win over new players and give veterans a fresh experience
Destiny 2, the first true sequel to Bungie’s 2014 massively multiplayer online first person shooter, begins with the required bang. The game drops players in the midst of an all-out assault on the Tower, the core social location from the first two years of the series’ history and the last bastion of mankind as it fights a war against four separate alien races collectively referred to as “the Darkness”.
A new villain, a leader of one of those four races named Dominus Ghaul, has decided to take the fight to humanity’s homeworld in an attempt to prove to the Traveller – Destiny’s mysterious space-god who elevated humanity to a race of superhero “Guardians” before falling silent aeons earlier – that his people, the Cabal, should have been the rightful recipients of its power.
That’s all so much space-nonsense, of course, but that’s always been what Destiny’s good at. The series, which melds a far-future setting with a vaguely magical knights-in-shining-armour sensibility, has sometimes failed to hit the right notes (Peter Dinklage’s bored narration of the first game became infamous for underselling lines such as “that wizard came from the moon”), but this time round, the space-nonsense pays off almost immediately. Ghaul’s attack succeeds, despite the best efforts of the player’s character: the Tower is destroyed, the Traveller is chained and the Guardians are stripped of their powers, items and abilities.
It’s an elegant way to reset the board, skipping Bungie past the problem that has plagued MMOs: how do you get new players in when the existing community has such an entrenched advantage? In Destiny 2’s case, the answer is almost literally to raze the earth and build something new from the ashes.
“I think of that reset as a fresh start,” the game’s designer Luke Smith told the Guardian shortly after showing the game to the public for the first time. “It’s a new beginning for all players: veteran players like me can now recommend it to people like my brother-in-law, who couldn’t get in to the first Destiny because my nieces were super young. Now they’re a little older, and we can play together, both from the same start.”
Of course, veteran players might not see it like that. For them, three years of work building up a character with a past, powerset and inventory is suddenly stripped away. That’s where the core story is important, Smith says. “We’ve tried to ground loss in the narrative, and give you a face to hate. That face in Destiny 2 is Dominus Ghaul. From there, we get to a place where we have to go out into the wild, find new guns and new armour and become more powerful again. We enter this recovery journey.”
In focusing so strongly on the campaign at the heart of the game, Destiny 2 looks at first like it’s following the pattern of the first game in the series. Destiny’s previous follow-ups, in the form of four downloadable expansions of varying size and quality, by and large stepped back from the cutscene-driven, narrative-led campaign of the first game. But that doesn’t mean the sequel is trying to call back to the original, which famously featured a plot that didn’t make a whole lot of sense and an ending that failed to end.
Smith nods to the problems with the first game. “We want people to understand the coherent story we’re telling in Destiny 2, we want people to loathe Dominus Ghaul, we want people to love the characters we’re putting in to the game.” The new game, he says, “is going to feel like a completely different thing”. In part, that’s because Destiny 2 looks set to live up to one of the pre-release promises of Destiny 1 which the first game never really kept: the ability to occupy a living world, filled with other players going about their own thing.
Rather than selecting story missions from a menu and teleporting straight into the action, the sequel takes a more open-world approach, with players able to speak to characters, get side quests, explore the game’s four main areas (the first alone, the “European Dead Zone”, is “the largest area we’ve ever built”, according to Bungie’s Mark Noseworthy) and even start story missions, all from within the game’s world.
“We wanted to create worlds you could exist in, worlds that unfold as you’re playing them,” Smith says. “You’ll complete a mission in the place like the European Dead Zone, and maybe you’ll return to the character who’s there, and that character will unlock some adventures for you to do, and another mission. And you have this moment when you’re staring at opportunities on your map: where do I want to go next?” Even introducing a map to the game is a change from the norm, a nod to gaming conventions that Destiny had originally spurned.
It’s also an interesting move from Smith himself, whose rise through Bungie has been based largely on successfully invoking a sense of mystery or otherworldliness. He designed the Vault of Glass raid for the first Destiny – widely held to be the best experience in an otherwise flawed release – before being promoted to creative director for the Taken King.
That expansion pack saw the introduction of a new area, the Dreadnaught, which was filled with oddities and quirks for players to uncover: a particular chest which could only be opened if a player traversed the entire area in a matter of seconds; enemies that only spawned on a particular day of the week; a new gun which could only be unlocked by following a byzantine quest chain which could only be started on the seventh day of the month.
Those sorts of mysteries provide a reason for the community to put their heads together and solve the game’s puzzles, and they offer a challenge for veteran players which is more than just who can shoot the most aliens in the head quickest – but their success is also their inaccessibility. Smith’s challenge for Destiny 2 is to show he can create the same experience while also introducing new players to the game.
The mysteries will come, he says, but “we want to focus, at least right now, on getting as many players into this universe, and this world, as possible. I know we showed a lot today, but we’re going to have plenty of secrets for players in the game this fall.
“The way we’re looking at the project and the experience is Destiny 2 is a new launching of a platform,” he adds. “When you buy a new game, you go home and you crack it open, things like story, narrative and characters are what gets you through the door.” That means that the conversion for now is about onboarding: tempting new players over with the promise of a clean slate, coherent story and the chance to finally jump on to a game some of your friends have been obsessing over for years.
For veteran players, meanwhile, the pitch is largely quality of life improvements, matched with more of the game they’ve been playing and loving all this time. Some of the biggest cheers from an audience of Destiny fanatics in the room at the game’s launch came for seemingly minor features like the introduction of in-game support for player-led clans, the ability to have two different primary weapons equipped at the same time, or the aforementioned map.
In typical Bungie fashion, the team hasn’t been content to simply copy the competition. At times, that’s resulted in the developer taking too long to learn lessons that were there for the taking. But it also results in elegant features like “Guided Games”, Bungie’s offering to players who can’t put together a full group of six friends to experience the endgame content like raids.
(Just half of players who hit the level cap of Destiny – effectively finishing the game – go on to actually complete a raid, Smith said.)
Destiny’s social lead, ME Chung, said that the team’s longstanding opposition to simply enabling matchmaking for those experiences was a result of “knowing how toxic gaming communities can get if you throw people into temporary experiences with complete strangers”. Instead, Guided Games will pair clans short a couple of players with a solo player who just wants to experience the end-game content: rather than throwing six strangers together, in other words, one stranger is paired with five friends who’ve agreed to show them around. The hope is the end result is more pleasant for all concerned – and even, in some cases, that new friendships can result, with the stranger deciding to join the clan for good.
Just like the first Destiny, launched against the background of a billion dollar, 10-year publishing contract with Activision Blizzard following Bungie’s independence from Microsoft, it’s clear that Destiny 2 is only intended as the beginning of something larger, that “platform” Smith spoke of.
This time round, Bungie has the experience to avoid some of the pitfalls that it fell into with the first game, and it wants to show everyone how good it can be now that it knows what it’s doing in the field. Hence that reset.
Game Technology News Destiny 2 how a fresh start let Bungie make its biggest game yet source:https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/may/22/destiny-2-how-a-fresh-start-let-bungie-make-its-biggest-game-yet