Last night, Bungie ran a stream revealing the big sandbox changes that will define the gameplay of Destiny 2 Year 2. Refreshingly, it spoke in great depth about a great many technical, involved game design matters, with an openness and clarity that’s been rare for the duration of Destiny’s rather casual-focused life so far. In short, it delivered exactly what the engaged, knowledgeable, hardcore Destiny player has been craving for a long, long time.
That said, there was a lot to take in. And while, for a long-serving, 1000+ hour Destiny stalwart like myself, it was easy to see through the Matrix of time-to-kill stats and ammo economies to translate exactly what all of the announcements mean in terms of the practical culture of the game, I felt it was worth digging into that today, now that the dust has settled, to make things more clear. Because what Bungie showed off last night was the foundation of a whole new game, and frankly a much better one. It showed us the framework of a real, fresh Destiny game, to the point where year two’s changes might amount to something similar to an in-game reboot, effectively wiping away the aimless, restrictive nature of year one and replacing it with an actual sequel to Destiny. Let’s start with the fact that…
That accursed teamfire meta is dead
The single biggest thing that had to go. The spear-sized thorn in the side of every fun-loving PvP player, Destiny 2’s change in competitive philosophy has killed the excitement stone-dead up until this point. The thinking was to make Destiny 2’s PvP more accessible by making guns weaker, and resigning any weapon class capable of a one-hit kill to the ammo-rationed Power Weapon slot. It was a well-meaning but naïve design decision, intended to make the game friendlier by giving less attentive players more time to react to incoming fire. In practice, the slower time-to-kill simply resulted in the current teamfire meta, whereby low weapon damage makes strength-in-numbers the dominant ‘strategy’, resulting in a game-flow dominated by groups simply patrolling the map in daisy-chains, relying on combined fire rather than skill, creativity, or flair.
What was once a dynamic, unpredictable, free-wheeling game of improvised combat became static, rigid, and dull. But now it’s over.
Openly exalting the importance of a high skill-ceiling for the first time since Destiny 2 launched, Bungie has recalibrated PvP to make intelligent, aggressive, skilful solo play viable again. Between the greatly increased lethality of weapons and the new, regular availability of balanced instant-killers such as shotguns, sniper rifles, and fusion rifles, those 1v3, David vs. Goliath takedowns are back on the table. Running around in a group of four will no longer keep you safe, and the powerful, specialist guns that reward skilled, insightful play with high damage will now be free to give out those rewards on a consistent basis.
We’re going to see the end of the Crucible’s current air of futility, where low-skill players can always shut down good ones simply by clumping together and spamming auto-rifles and the over-powered Graviton Lance. We’re going to see the return of unique, individual, aggressive play that uses the full Guardian skillset, rather than simply resorting to ‘stick with two buddies and win’.
Destiny 2 will no longer be a home for cowards
A related point. While the initial teamfire meta was bad, Bungie’s later, half-measure attempt to satiate players’ demands for more individual power made things far worse. During an early bout of weapon rebalance updates, the studio massively overcooked a couple of long-range Exotic guns, way out of step with the rest of their weapon class. Pulse rifles Vigilance Wing and the Graviton Lance both became conspicuously over-powered. They gained the kind of reduced time-to-kill we all craved – and which Bungie has now revealed across the board for year two - but they were the only regularly available weapons that did. And they were most effective at a long distance.
Thus, Destiny 2 changed from being a game that favoured static, low-skilled, teamfire-abusers, to a game that favoured static, low-skilled, teamfire-abusers who hid at the end of the map and refused to engage in any meaningful combat. The most effective way to play competitive Destiny 2 was suddenly to not actually play it. The meta encouraged a culture of cowards.
A huge number of players now spend entire matches camped out of radar range, playing selfishly and providing no support to their team-mates. Whole teams will grind out tedious, mindless matches by refusing to leave their spawn position. We now have plenty of players who are so pathetically passive as to quit matches the instant that their Graviton-camping ways are found out, so as to preserve their falsely-inflated kill/death stats. It’s been a deeply unhealthy, toxic, and staggeringly boring environment to play in.
But now those players are dead. Not only does the across-the-board increase in weapon lethality mean that the Graviton crutch will no longer be effective, but the new ammo economy seems specifically designed to kill campers overnight. Green, Special ammo blocks - which fuel the Graviton and other, powerful, long-range weapon classes such as snipers - are now primarily sourced from the corpses of downed Guardians, with only a small amount furnished on spawn. In short, that means that Destiny 2 will now starve its campers to death.
Feel free to hide at the back with your Graviton Lance if you like, but you’ll get two shots off before it’s empty, and then you’ll have to engage in close-range combat. If, indeed, you’ve survived long enough to even venture out, in this bold new world of fusion rifles, emboldened shotgunners, and rapid, three-burst kills aplenty. Risky, energetic, meaningful, and intimate engagements are once again the order of the day, and passive play will be punished into the grave.
The Crucible will finally have the right balance of spectacle and control
Another issue caused by Bungie’s recent half-step moves has been the over-abundance of Power ammo. With the year one weapon slots - which wrongly grouped the likes of snipers, fusions, and grenade launchers in the same ammo category as rocket launchers and overpowered Exotics such as the Legend of Acrius - Bungie only had the opportunity to deliver all-or-nothing weapon availability. To increase ammo drops for the fun but demanding weapons that made the first game’s PvP such an eclectic delight, it also had to open the gates to an overabundance of random missile explosions and instant-kill, 20-foot range shotgun blasts. So when the studio did buff the rate of Power ammo drops in order to make things less stale, it also made things rather messy.
But now, year two finally looks to deliver the balance the Crucible needs. The increased lethality of all weaponry, coupled with a proper separation of Special and Power ammo and the sensible availability of mid-tier, specialist guns, means that we can finally have a healthy, broad, and varied ecosystem of playstyles without flooding the game with rockets. After a series of blunt, uncomfortable solutions to nuanced problems, Destiny 2’s year two redesign finally seems to be delivering a Destiny designed with finesse.
The long-term loot chase is real again (and PvE is about to get exciting)
Reaching beyond PvP, the reimagining of Destiny 2’s weapon perks and mod system just brought the long-term game back to life. Where up until now, Destiny 2’s fixed-perk loot drops were entirely meaningless once you’d acquired a weapon once, now every gun will continue to matter, however many times you get it. First up, random perk rolls will mean that the chase for an optimum version of a weapon will create real, long-tail aspiration, just as it did in the first game. But beyond the return of important factors from the original Destiny, the new mods and Masterwork systems – which respectively allow extra perks to be added to guns, and give greater control over altering their base stats – will mean long-term, personalised investment in individual weapons.
All of these things are great in isolation, but combined they make for a fantastic new horizon. With every new, duplicate weapon drop potentially providing a new, better variant of one you already own, or the raw materials to improve a current, favourite model, the air of disposability that has plagued Destiny 2’s activity rewards should be long gone.
No longer will repeat drops of an already-owned weapon be an instant dismantle, making long-term play fruitless except in terms of raising your overall Power level. Now, every duplicate drop will have the facility to evolve the Destiny 2 experience in term of real, tangible, practical gameplay changes. The personalised, hobbyist, RPG expression that really defines Destiny looks to be back.
And that means everything to the PvE side of the game. Now, finally, your weapon-set, play-style, and the direction of your load-outs and character class building, can be your own again. And when multiplied by three-Guardian fireteams, that finally reopens a wealth of varied gameplay potential for the future, with endless scope for exploration and evolution. With Bungie recently getting more creative with its level design by way of the secret Whisper of the Worm quest and the hardcore remixes of campaign levels seen the current Solstice of Heroes event, the presence of this kind of open-ended, player driven power should blow the doors off in terms of the scope for extravagant, freeform gameplay.