IF YOU WANT YOUR NEXT GRENADE MORE QU ICKLY, YOU ’RE GO ING TO HAV E TO WORK FOR I T
ABOVE Crucible play is now far more defined by teamwork; the new 4v4 structure means sticking together is a smart play.
RIGHT The Titan Sentinel subclass plays up to the shield-flinging Captain America fantasy, but can also access a defensive Ward Of Dawn bubble
OK, sure, there are times in both Destiny and its sequel where the action is anything but serene. Raid bosses are fought with teeth firmly clenched. And there are plenty of moments during Destiny 2’ s story campaign – which we have played in its entirety – where we find ourselves hunkered desperately behind cover urging our shields to start recharging, or scrabbling around manically, our guns empty, hoovering up ammo pickups like a Roomba gone haywire. Yet at its core, Destiny is an uncommonly relaxing take on humanity going to war with an endless conveyor belt of angry alien monsters. You play with muscle memory and instinct, the controller melting into your hands as you tear through enemy factions with your co-op buddies. Smith once described Destiny to us as “the bar I can go to when I get home, where I can wear my pyjamas and shoot the shit with my friends”. You’re there notionally to drink, but it’s a social occasion above all. You go to the golf course to hit balls into holes, sure, but you’re really there to hang out and talk.
Conversation is a key theme for Destiny 2, a driving factor behind many of the changes Bungie has made to the game’s mechanical template. Some endgame activities will lock your loadout, for instance, preventing you from changing your weapons or subclass after you load into a mission, requiring that you and your fireteam devise a plan before setting out. The weekly Nightfall – once the most attritional activity in all of Destiny, a rock-hard fight against overlevelled bullet-sponge enemies, that kicked you back to orbit if your entire team died – is now a timed challenge. The limit will vary (Smith gives 13 minutes as an example), but you’ll need to be efficient as well as effective – something which will only be possible if a team settles on a strategy beforehand, then properly executes it. Much of the first Destiny was designed around difficulty as a question of persistence; the sequel pitches it as a matter of planning and skill.
“We’re looking at difficulty as a way to drive conversations,” Smith tells us. “Do you have the right tools? Are you looking into your backpack to see what you have? You should totally have favourites – if you have a favourite hand cannon then awesome, great, you should use it. But I also think there should be times where you’re like, ‘You’re not the right tool for this job’. So you look at your entire golf bag and say, ‘OK, what do I have?’”
The idea is most deeply rooted in the new – and somewhat controversial – way in which weapons are classified in Destiny 2. In the previous game, you had primary weapons (rifles, hand cannons and the like); secondaries (snipers, shotguns, sidearms and the charge-firing fusion rifles); and heavies (rocket launchers, machine guns and swords). In the sequel, heavies and most secondaries have been bundled together in a single slot, and are now known as Power weapons. The other two slots are for what used to be called primaries: Kinetic weapons fire standard, ballistic bullets, while the Energy variants add elemental effects, dealing bonus damage to enemies with appropriately coloured shields.
It’s a change that has not gone down well with the Destiny community. Players see it as evidence of Bungie being so desperate to fix longstanding problems in the Crucible, the game’s PVP component – where shotguns and snipers have long reigned infuriatingly, instakillingly supreme – at the expense of the PVE game, where it seems as if options have been taken away from players. Smith readily admits the change has been at least partly implemented to make life easier for Bungie’s design teams – “It’s about, as a designer, being able to understand how much power a player is going to be able to bring to bear,” he says – but stresses there are benefits to players in both modes. The game’s
YOU PLAY WITH MUSCLE MEMORY AND INSTINCT, THE CONTROLLER MELT ING INTO YOUR HANDS
beta did not contain the final implementation of how Energy weapons work against AI combatants with elemental shields, for instance. When the shield is depleted, it explodes, nuking any enemies that happen to be nearby.
Yet beneath the spectacle lies, once again, the team’s desire to make players plan ahead and talk. Smith asks us to picture running the Vault Of Glass, the first (and still best) Destiny raid, using the
Destiny 2 weapon system. “Imagine the conversation you’re going to have when you’re about to do the Oracle phase,” he says, referring to a section where players must quickly take down a series of randomly spawning spheres of light – and will be instantly killed if they miss even one before it disappears after a few seconds – while also dealing with waves of high-level enemies. “Who’s bringing a sniper rifle? Who’s bringing a fusion rifle for the Minotaurs? You’re now putting those powerful things in conflict with a rocket launcher, which is for AOE wave clearing and can effectively replace something like a Nova Bomb [a highly damaging Super move belonging to the Warlock class]. Well, now, Nova Bomb could be more important, because not everybody’s running with a sniper rifle and rocket launcher. What this system does is make player power more predictable, but it also allows Supers, in a number of ways, to shine even brighter in the game.” Our visit to Bungie coincides with the launch of
Destiny 2’ s beta, and while our visions of a workforce running manically around a studio on fire fail to come to pass, the game’s first time in the wild adds a complicating element to this story. Normally, we play, and Bungie talks. Yet while we are at the studio, millions of people around the world are also playing the game; forming opinions on it, discussing it and, before long, complaining about it to high heaven. Smith quickly took to Twitter to assure the Destiny community that the beta was based on a months-old build of the game that had undergone extensive tuning since, but that wasn’t enough.
The new weapon system was one bone of contention. Another was the length of ability cooldowns, the timers which dictate when you get to use the thrilling space magic that is as fundamental to Destiny’s enduring appeal as its wonderful, overthe-top arsenal, or the unending thirst for loot the game fosters in its most committed players.
So, yes, relax: base cooldowns are lower in the final game than they were in the beta. Yet there is a wider, structural change at play here, one born of a very different philosophy to that which drove the first game’s design. There, cooldowns were mostly reduced by stats that randomly rolled on pieces of armour. They were passive, bestowed upon you automatically by the things you wore. Here, they are active; if you want your next grenade more quickly, you’re going to have to work for it.
Take, for example, our beloved Warlock. A perk in the Dawnblade subclass lets us speed up the recharge rate of our grenade with airborne kills; an exotic chestpiece, acquired during the campaign when our character’s level is still in single figures, makes us hover in place when we aim down our gunsights in the air. Dispatch four or five enemies while airborne and our grenade is ready again. Doing so is a risk, of course – there is no cover in the sky, so we are a static target in the line of sight