Skip to main content

Destiny 2's raid team lead talks cheeses, secrets, dungeons and the influence of old school Mario

One Thousand Voices. For when you absolutely have to melt everyone in the room.

One Thousand Voices. For when you absolutely have to melt everyone in the room.

I often see people saying "I wish I could raid but I’ve got no friends in the game." What can Bungie do better to turn those solo players into regular raiders?

SC: We’ve thought a lot about that—one of the things we did this time was introduce the idea of a dungeon. The Shattered Throne dungeon was an attempt to give all players access to something that felt kind of raid-like. I know a lot of people refer to it as a mini-raid. I realise it’s not easy to solo, but it is a potentially solo-able experience and at least you can go in there by yourself and make some progress.

The hope was to let all players aspire to do this thing, and then as they get in there—solo, with a friend, or even three people—they can start getting exposed to the mechanics that are so compelling in the raid, and hopefully get excited about that. The idea of these dungeons is really to bridge the gap, and give players a taste of what makes raids so special.

I’m very excited that you said dungeons plural…

SC: Sorry, I mean dungeon singular. Did I say dungeons plural? That’s not a real thing… [Laughs]

Feedback to Shattered Throne has been super positive. Did the raid team have any involvement in designing it?

JB: That was actually a different group working at the same time, but it was led by Brendan Thorne who was on the raid team previously, so it had a lot of raid experience built into it.

Given that Bungie announced that the next couple of DLCs won't feature traditional campaign missions, and will instead bring new activities and modes, is it fair to say that dungeons are the kind of thing we can expect from the Annual Pass?

SC: I hope we are able to deliver more of that type of experience in the future. I mean yeah, that is fair to say that those type of activities are interesting to us and I think interesting to the players…

ST: But to be clear, Steve is not confirming that content…

SC: Scott’s keeping me honest! But yeah, there are a lot of different activities that we’re really excited about moving forward, and I think you’ve seen it in the Whisper of the Worm mission, the Shattered Throne Dungeon… it’s those types of activities that are really interesting to us.

Going back to Last Wish, what were the design goals for the Wishing Wall room that lets you input codes to trigger easter eggs and skip encounters?

JB: We looked at what we did for our last big two full raids, and were really happy with Wrath of the Machine and the monitor puzzle. We did something totally different with Leviathan, where the secrets were less about unlocking some epic reward, and more about moving through the underbelly space. So we knew we wanted to do something that was on a totally different axis to both of those.

And so we sat in a room and spat out a bunch of ideas. One of the things we were really passionate about was looking back at Vault of Glass and its potential for mystery. "Have we found all the things? We think we’ve found all the things but we don’t fully understand if we have. There was always a sense of “there could be more here…" One of the things we knew early on with Last Wish was that we wanted to have our secrets feel like a potential well that you can always be dipping in—and that you couldn't be sure all the wishes have been found. 

The other inspiration we worked from was someone talked about the cheat codes of old. Internally, we called the Wishing Wall the GameShark for a long time. The old Mega Man X password puzzle was a really big inspiration for us. So we wanted to do something that hit on those retro vibes of: "Oh, my friend just slipped me a sheet of paper with a cheat code on it, let’s go into a raid and see what it does…"

The Wishing Wall features 16 different symbols involving dragons, birds, snakes and fish that are also used throughout the raid for puzzle mechanics. Did you ever think: "This is going to be too much for people, they’re not going to be able to differentiate the birds"?

We were passionate about was someone saying "Dragon" and the other person being "What the fuck dragon are you talking about?"

—Joe Blackburn

JB: At one point in design, we knew we weren’t making it hard enough. For our first pass at the symbols, we had these beautiful designs come back to us. The one that people now call  'Boring Bird', which is just a bird on the ground looking to the left, that used to have a snake under its feet. We went back and said "this is great, but we can’t have this snake. People are just going to call it 'Snakebird', and everyone will knows exactly what you’re talking about."

What we were passionate about was someone saying "Dragon" and the other person being "What the fuck dragon are you talking about?" Like: "All I see are dragons!" “Dragon breathing fire!" "There are two dragons breathing fire, which one?" The first time you come into Last Wish, talking about these symbols is so hard—but by the fourth and fifth time, your group has its own language, or you’ve stolen one from Reddit, and that becomes one of the ways you become an expert at the content.

The raid banners which you can place before each encounter are such a great addition, and something people have been crying out for for a long time. Why do we have to pay currency for them, shouldn’t they be there as standard?

JB: We knew we wanted to put a mechanism in to allow you to get super energy and ammo before every encounter, but we wanted to preserve the feeling that the raid is a place that no-one has ever been into before. Our big example was: if I walk into Riven’s mouth and there’s a Vanguard public event banner sitting there already, I’m going to be pretty disappointed. right? So we wanted to have this mechanism where players purchased these banners, brought them in, and they’re the ones slamming it down and staking their claim. 

Be careful what you wish for on the cheat code-style wall.

Be careful what you wish for on the cheat code-style wall.

Something Destiny 2 did too much of was to remove [player] agency over solving problems and kind of just gave them everything they needed.

—Steve Cotton

SC: I want to elaborate on that. There was definitely a big push in all of Forsaken to give players an opportunity to feel smart and to feel like they’re the ones solving the problems of Destiny. Something Destiny 2 I think did too much of was to take that [feeling] away from players and remove their agency over solving problems and kind of just gave them everything they needed to do. And so having a player have to now have to choose to go get a raid banner and bring it into the raid is an example of something like that, and I think we’re doing it all over the place.

Speaking of players feeling smart, Joe can you tell me whether in your eyes each of these ways to beat encounters qualifies as a cheese, an exploit, or legit strategy? Number one is all using the IKELOS shotgun to kill Morgeth the Spirekeeper by shooting him in the back of the leg.

JB: I would say that is not a cheese or an exploit. I would say that you’ve invested time in Destiny and now you get to feel a type of powerful. It sort of hits on that idea of the first time we did this it took 20 hours, but now it takes 20 minutes. So on that one, yeah, good on you!

OK, how about equipping a 100K Nightfall emblem so you take no damage on the plates at Shuro Chi.

JB: Oooh—that one is a bug, it is being fixed. There are players that have used that bug in a different way, but we just want to get it fixed.

Last one: killing Riven in the first stun room using cluster bomb rockets and a bunch of buffs.

JB: That’s the one we’re probably looking at right now. We’re evaluating the community’s response to it and we’re still looking and learning and figuring out what the right thing for that encounter is.

How does the existence of boss-slaying weapons like Whisper of the Worm and the IKELOS shotgun alter the design of raid encounters? Presumably you also have to cater for teams who don’t have those guns.

JB: There’s actually a huge gap in player performance in Destiny. It's one of the things that makes Destiny great. We love watching Slayerage and Gigz two-man encounters, and the fact that two players can hold that much personal skill in their pocket—but it does pose a huge challenge when we look at aspects of encounters and say "Yeah, if you’re coming in and you’re not the most hardcore hobby Destiny player, this is really, really brutal" Then we contrast that to someone who has Whisper, who has One Thousand Voices, who has an IKELOS shotgun and all the experience… We try to find a middle ground where, when you have those weapons, you feel like "Oh, I’m succeeding" but the content doesn’t become trivial.

The god-killing gun

Last Wish's rare exotic weapon is One Thousand Voices. You can only get it by beating the whole raid, and even then it's still a random drop. The gun fires a giant beam of death that also supercharges everything which it touches. Essentially, you use it like an Apple pencil, scribble over the screen, and everything you touch dies. Here's Blackburn on their goals for the gun: "We knew we wanted to have a raid exotic that harkened back to the Vex Mythoclast. This gun that operates outside of the bounds of how any other gun feels in Destiny, and we wanted it to be rare, and we wanted people who saw it in a Gambit or a Crucible match to be like "Holy shit! I’m just happy to get killed by that thing, I’ve never seen one before! It’s my dream to hold one, but I’ll accept being killed by one for now!"

What was the thinking behind the Deal or No Deal boxes at the end of the escape sequence?

JB: We’re always looking for more ways that players can have interesting stories in raids, and Deal or No Deal is the exact inspiration there. We’d just come out of the Leviathan experience, where when you killed Calus a massive elevator drops down and you got to go to this cool space that was full of Calus 'bots. That was a really neat loot moment and we knew we wanted to do something special in Last Wish... So we opened up the experience statement conversation again and said "What’s a cool way for players to get loot?" And Deal or No Deal came up—this idea that you have the option to choose a chest that holds your destiny in it, right? And you get to think that "Oh, this is my lucky chest—always top right. That's where I know One Thousand Voices is going to be"

Do any of the chests have different RNG?

JB: I am not at liberty to give away secrets like that.

Well, in my testing I’ve got two One Thousand Voices, and I’m saying the chests in the shadowy area are the lucky ones.

JB: See? You’ve found your sweet spot, you’ve got to let them know.

When I got mine I just walked around the Tower with it equipped hoping people would ask me about it.

JB: That’s the kind of stuff that really gets the raid team excited. We refer to those [items] as moon rocks. That sense of "I’ve been to this epic place and I brought back this souvenir and it’s proof that I’ve done something amazing."

RIP Riven. To be fair she killed me many times before I was able to take this.

RIP Riven. To be fair she killed me many times before I was able to take this.

Let's talk raid armor. In Destiny 1, with Crota and King's Fall, it felt like we were wearing the discarded bones of our opponents. With Leviathan you started bringing in lore tabs that told these discrete stories—in that case about becoming Calus’ Shadows. Now, with Last Wish, you’ve got these medieval-looking sets. Are they meant to be reclaimed from Guardians who fell while hunting the Ahamkara?

JB: Yes, absolutely. So, Jon To, who’s a fantastic writer—he wrote Callus, he wrote Riven, he’s the Drifter writer—we’re really fortunate to have him on the team, and we sort of handed off this problem to him. Pretty early on he came up with the idea that they should be about the people that hunted the Ahamkara to near-extinction. I am thrilled with how that turned out.

I guess it also plays into the 'Greatest Hits' nature of Last Wish as well, because there are a lot of classic heroes and heroines from Destiny lore in there.

JB: Yes, exactly. I love all the stuff with Eris, the Queen and Shaxx… that’s really exciting to me.

Why don’t you have raid-specific perks on the armor? That seems like it was something people really enjoyed back in Vault of Glass and Wrath of the Machine but you’ve done away with it now.

JB: What we wanted to hit on this time was a set of items that you could collect from the raid that would not only make you powerful in the raid, but would make you powerful throughout the game, and what we landed on there were the Taken mods. There's a single weapon mounted mod, and a suite of armour mods, that all augment how you fight Taken—and so that not only provides you with what we think is a big benefit in the raid, but there’s also this idea that "Yeah, maybe I want to take 20% less damage from Taken while I’m in Gambit".

We didn't want everyone in the game to just be wearing the raid armour set, we wanted you to have the flexibility of customisation where: “I got these mods from the raid and I can put them in any armour set that I’m passionate about.” 

But isn’t that the problem you've landed up with anyway in the sense that it’s only the Reverie Dawn and the Great Hunt sets which can roll with enhanced perks?

JB: Mmm, what specific perks are you talking about for those two sets?

Those are the two sets which can get the enhanced perks like Sniper Rifle Targeting, enhanced Hand Cannon loader, and so on.

JB: I think we’ll always probably have a set of armour that’s top tier and we’ll try to add to that as time goes on, but I definitely don’t think we’d be happy with a situation where everyone in the game who raided just wore the raid armour set.