Bungie is constantly changing and improving Destiny, though rarely in the precise ways players have requested. That seems like it will hold true for Destiny 2.
At last week's big Destiny 2 blowout event in Los Angeles, the differences between the new game and the old one were not always apparent.
I saw the same guns, the same enemies, the same classes, and the same celebrity voiced characters. I played a couple of hours of the game on PC, and even there it felt much the same. The same flow in combat, the same structure to missions, the same rhythm in the competitive Crucible.
On a more granular level, however, it became evident that Bungie has made some significant tweaks. Two of those tweaks may solve lingering Destiny 1 problems, though not in ways fans may have expected.
After playing the game, I sat down for an interview with Bungie executive producer David Allen. Toward the end of our conversation, I asked about Bungie's relationship with Destiny's most ardent fans. I've always seen that relationship as adversarial, to the point where the early days of Destiny were all but defined by tensions between the people who played the game and those who made it.
I mentioned how Bungie has always seemed quick to patch out exploits that benefitted players -- things like the Loot Cave and various raid exploits -- while leaving things like the infamous year-one heavy ammo glitch unaddressed for months on end. What concrete steps was Bungie taking to improve fan relations with Destiny 2, and to respond to player feedback about bugs and other issues more quickly?
Allen started by saying that he didn't agree with my premise of an adversarial relationship, which, fair enough. He then brought up the new Guided Games system as an example of how they're incorporating fan feedback into the game. Destiny has never had matchmaking for its six person raids or weekly nightfall strikes. Bungie's stated philosophy has been that those sorts of ultimate challenges are designed to be played by teams who are using voice chat to communicate, and adding public matchmaking would dilute that and lead to more bad experiences.
Instead of adding raid matchmaking to Destiny 2, they're adding Guided Games. Allen told me they hope it will fulfil the same function but with a better overall experience.
Bungie demonstrated Guided Games' take on LFG during their stage presentation.
Guided Games allows players to seek out like-minded groups for challenging endgame content like the raid or the nightfall. In the past, players would have to turn to an outside LFG (Looking For Group) site, and Guided Games aims to let you find a group (or let your existing group fill out its ranks) without leaving the game. It remains to be seen how it will work in practice, but it's a good idea.
It's easy to wonder why Bungie wouldn't just go with the obvious solution and give players optional matchmaking for all events. Allen explained why they have taken a different approach. "We want to make it a situation where not only are you getting to play those activities, but you're getting to play those activities in a way that [is] closest to the way that we ideally want," he said.
"Raid matchmaking is something that the community really wanted, and we wanted to be able to deliver a way for people to play the activities they couldn't get into before. But it doesn't always necessarily take exactly the same form that people may have been asking for."
In other words, it's still Bungie's game. When players identify a problem or express a want, Bungie is going to come up with their own solution, even if it's not the one players think is best or most obvious. "I want to make sure we're listening to the community and acknowledging what the community wants by addressing those issues," Allen said. "But they're not always necessarily going to take the form that… the solution that people are asking for isn't always the solution that we're gonna end up on. And I think Guided Games is an example of that."
It's an approach I've noticed at several points during Destiny's tumultuous first three years, in particular in the flood of unasked-for quality of life improvements that came with 2015's The Taken King. "Given how much crap we've given Bungie over the last year for their various poor decisions," I wrote at the time, "it's reassuring to see them come up with solutions for things we didn't even realise were problems. Turns out these guys know what they're doing, after all. It's almost like they made this game."
Destiny 2's new weapon loadout system is another example of Bungie solving problems in ways players may not have asked for or anticipated. Under the old system, players had three weapons: primary (pistols, auto rifles), special (shotguns, snipers), and heavy (rocket launchers, LMGs). The PvP Crucible never quite achieved an ideal balance between those three weapon types, and things became particularly lopsided when balancing primary vs. special guns.
In particular, it was too easy to dominate in Crucible by running around with a shotgun. Straight-up primary vs. primary gunfights were fun, but rare. More often, you'd be halfway through a shootout with an adversary and someone would jog up and casually pop you with a Matador 64.
Between 2014 and now, Bungie tried to balance Destiny PvP in a number of different ways. They made shotguns shorter-range, and tried lowering their damage. They slowed the aiming on sniper rifles and increased the zoom on short-range scopes. When those tweaks didn't work, they went after ammunition, making it much harder to get sniper rounds and shotgun shells. Players cried bloody murder throughout the entire process.
Taking all of that into account, Destiny 2's weapon slot overhaul makes more sense. Under the new system, the first two weapon slots will be occupied mostly by guns previously thought of as "primary" weapons -- hand cannons, scout rifles, pulse rifles, auto rifles. The third slot will be a sort of wild card slot, and we'll have to pick one gun from among the special and heavy archetypes. Want a sniper rifle? Well, you can't have a rocket launcher. Want a shotgun? No grenade launcher for you.
I'm not completely sold on the new system, particularly for PvE. When I'm out in the world fighting aliens alongside my buddies, I like having a primary, special, and heavy gun. For Crucible balance, however, it makes more sense. With two primaries, players will be more versatile with their loadouts and able to engage in more varied shootouts in a given match.
You could switch to your scout rifle for a long-range encounter, then round the corner, whip out an auto rifle and hose down someone ten feet away. Allen also explained that your energy weapon will be more effective against anyone with an active super, which adds a tactical wrinkle to weapon selection.
Furthermore, by putting heavy weapons in the same slot (and therefore the same ammo tier) as special weapons, it stands to reason that shotgun and sniper ammo will become much harder to come by in the Crucible. Purple ammo drops will give you shotgun ammo, sure, but they could give other players rocket ammo. Special-archetype weapons could finally become the niche, special occasion weapons Bungie seems to want them to be in PvP.
Bungie could've continued to tweak the current weapon paradigm, buffing and nerfing primaries and specials according to the data they have collected. They also could've added raid matchmaking and fine-tuned it as they went. Instead they came up with their own, more unexpected solutions. Both fixes have yet to be tested, but the overall approach has grown common in the age of persistent, evolving "service" games like Destiny. Players and developers will often agree on the problem, but the solution may look different than what we were expecting.