LOS ANGELES — “Destiny” has been one of the most popular video games over the last few years, mainly due to its pedigree — the game was made from Bungie, the same company that produced the original “Halo” games — and the way it constantly changed and improved through regular updates, patches, and downloadable content.
But one of the big themes in “Destiny” was the back-and-forth between the game’s players and the developers at Bungie. Though it’s a great game today, “Destiny” was very rough at launch. Fans and reviewers criticised the game’s incoherent story and frustrating in-game progression systems, among other aspects. Players — especially those who loved the game, embraced its potential, and played it for hours every single day — demanded specific changes and quality-of-life improvements. In turn, Bungie would work to address those concerns and desires to put them into the game over time. It was a perpetual cycle of give and take.
At the “Destiny 2” event in Los Angeles on May 18, which Business Insider attended, Bungie’s game director Luke Smith said the sequel would be “a new beginning for everyone. It’s a convergence for veteran players and new players into our universe.”
But this game is a new beginning for Bungie, too. It’s an opportunity to start fresh with players, especially after the rocky launch of the first “Destiny” game. So for Smith, who was one of the lead designers on the first “Destiny” game, and who now leads efforts on the sequel, this fresh start means focusing on a phrase he’s used repeatedly while talking with Bungie’s various teams about “Destiny 2”: “How do we unhide the fun?”
This 'unhide the fun' mantra applies to some of the most simple aspects of 'Destiny 2.' Take the map, for instance. In the first 'Destiny' game, each planet had a map, but it wouldn't tell you anything -- either about landmarks, or where to go. In 'Destiny 2,' the map is is a real, interactive map. And now you can immediately jump from planet to planet without having to go to orbit first, which is a huge time-saver. 'That's one way we're unhiding the fun,' Smith said.
Another big change in 'Destiny 2' is the weapons. The variety of weapons, and how they behave, was a big highlight in the first 'Destiny' game, but Smith and the team at Bungie wanted to take that variety even further and, more importantly, improve the balance between those weapons in your arsenal.
That's why Bungie changed the three weapon slots each player has. Previously, all players would have primary (scout rifles, hand cannons), secondary (sniper rifles, shotguns), and heavy (rocket launchers, machine guns) weapons. In 'Destiny 2,' those slot names will become 'kinetic' (weapons that fire bullets), 'energy' (weapons that fire lasers and alien ammunition), and 'power' (shotguns, grenade launchers, and other heavy weapons).
According to Smith, the inspiration for the weapon changes came from 'the community's desire to have cool primary-feeling weapons with energy types on them,' as well as the desire at Bungie internally to balance PvP, or 'player versus player' multiplayer matches. In the first 'Destiny,' PvP was fast-paced and frenetic, but lots of people complained about getting killed in a single shot, usually from a shotgun.
Smith explained why minimising the impact of one-hit kills was so important in 'Destiny 2':
'One-hit kills are often something you couldn't react to. You don't know how you could've done it better, right? And if you don't know how you could've done it better, it means you're never going to improve. So, improvement is a huge part of mastery, wanting to get good at something. One of the reasons I believe people love video games as their choice of entertainment and hobby is because it's an opportunity to improve at something. You're gaining mastery. No matter what game you're playing, you're ultimately getting better at it. And the weapon slot changes also spark a desire to do things like reduce the amount of one-hit kill weapons that are available -- and when they are available, we let you know when they are available. We're presenting more information to you because when we present the information, players consume it, and it's an opportunity to get better. Teamwork, facilitation, it's all based on more information.'
The new weapon slots also give players the ability to further customise their characters. Here's Smith again:
'For me personally, one of the things I'm most excited about in an action game is the ability to truly specialize. I like to run goofy builds that work sometimes. When I'm not try-harding, I'll run double sidearms with a precision shotgun. So now I can do that. Maybe it's not the most efficient way to play -- the scale of our community, they will find the most efficient way to play -- but there's so much more fun to have with the flexibility of the new slots. I think it's awesome.'
Another huge feature in 'Destiny 2' -- arguably the biggest addition to the series -- is the ability to find other people to play with, particularly for the most difficult activities like the six-person raids, without ever leaving the game. In the first 'Destiny' game, players would have to go online to find groups or individuals to complete certain activities. Personally, as a professional with only a handful of hours each day to play, I found this system extremely frustrating and limited.
Finding other people to play with was my biggest pain point as a 'Destiny' player. But in 'Destiny 2,' you can now form a group, known as a 'Clan,' with any number of people on the fly, but you can also find groups to play with if you're more of a solo player (like me) through a feature called Guided Games.
'The goal is not to force people into groups that they're uncomfortable with,' Smith said. 'We've thought about this a fair bit, in terms of getting players into groups and wanting to have clans that are active, but we also don't want to do something that forces clans to grow to somewhat unmanageable size, where everyone just becomes a name on a list, encumbered by this gigantic second friends list.'
The implementation of Clans and Guided Games may change over time, but even in its most basic form, they act as a way to 'unhide the fun.' Having to keep a laptop open while playing a video game on your television is, simply, not a great experience. 'Destiny 2' looks to change that by creating a more formal system for helping players find each other for different reasons and tasks.
Similarly, Bungie looks to dramatically improve another harsh criticism of the first 'Destiny': the lack of a story, and the decision to put all of the backstory information in 'Destiny' on a website instead of in the game itself. Though Bungie did not discuss 'Destiny' lore at the big reveal event, we asked Smith if players can expect more in-game systems for learning more about the story of 'Destiny.'
'There will be dramatically more of that in 'Destiny 2,'' Smith said. 'I think the fantasy of lore is not going to a website to read about it; the fantasy of lore is having your curiosity piqued while you're going through the world and having it sated by having the world speaking back to you. And that's what we're doing in 'Destiny 2.''
At the 'Destiny 2' reveal event, there was very little talk about the brand-new aspects of 'Destiny.' Bungie wants to surprise players when the game launches later this year. So for now, Bungie is focusing on sharing the improvements from the first game to the sequel, and the inspirations behind those changes. For example, all new group modes in PvP will feature four players on each team instead of six because, according to Smith, 'PVP is a symbiotic relationship between (the) sandbox and PVP (teams), and this group of individuals is universally passionate about small formats.'
But Smith did share with us a few interesting details about the new things 'Destiny' players can expect. In addition to Clans, Guided Games, and the implementation of lore, Smith discussed the game's four new planets to explore, how the new subclass abilities can complement each other 'like peanut butter and jelly,' and hinted at changes to inventory management and all-new weapon types. Smith also told us about a new weapon foundry called Veist, which makes guns you can buy and find, that go into the new energy slot. Smith described Veist weapons as 'super high-tech looking,' adding 'they feel like they stepped out of an anime.'
After speaking with Smith and playing 'Destiny 2' for several hours at the reveal event last week, the game certainly looks like more of a refinement of the original game rather than a complete re-imagining. Part of Bungie's goal was to allow for more specialisation, which allows for two 'Destiny' players to have completely different experiences, while making it so 'you can't make bad choices,' according to Smith. It's a delicate balance. But considering how much the first 'Destiny' got right, and how these new additions solve very real pain points from the first game, 'Destiny 2' may look familiar, but it feels like a whole new world.