Gambit in Destiny 2: Forsaken
It’s good to be bad in Destiny2’ s best mode.
Gambit is a race. Two teams of four players enter separate but identical arenas and compete to be the first team to kill the boss that spawns after banking 75 motes. I explain this to a friend as I accompany him into his first ever match. “Okay,” he says, clearly preparing a follow up question. “What’s a mote?” Ah, right, yes.
I expand my explanation, but quickly get lost in the sprawl of rules and systems. “So, when you kill enemies, they drop these glowing things – ‘motes’ – that you need to collect before they disappear. Once you’ve got some motes, put them in the bank – it’s the big glowing tank at the centre of the map. But make sure you collect at least five, or, better yet, ten or 15. That screws over the enemy team. Oh, and sometimes the bank won’t be available. That’s because the enemy team is screwing us over, too. Does that make sense?”
I explain how you lock down the opposing team’s bank by sending Blockers that become more powerful the more motes you’re holding when you bank. I explain how, at various points throughout the match, you can invade or be invaded by the other team. I explain the various tricks that I have discovered – important tactics like “don’t die” and “if a teammate already has a lot of motes, let them fill up rather than stealing them for yourself”, and “like, seriously, do not die”. I’m still explaining things when we finally load into the map. I haven’t even got to the bit about how you win.
Gambit is, to put it mildly, a lot. There are nuances and competing strategies and the unbearable embarrassment of mistiming a jump and accidentally falling to your death while carrying a massive stack of motes. And yet, it’s also strangely intuitive. You kill enemies and grab the detritus that gathers across the floor – just like in every other Destiny 2 activity. Even as the comically ineffective tutorial is failing to tell you how to play, the game itself is reassuring: you’ve got this. You’ve done this before. You know what to do.
And damn, does it work. You can tell a lot about what a mode is meant to convey from the fictional wrapping Bungie creates for it. Its Crucible PvP modes are more akin to a sporting contest overseen by an excitable man who bellows with pride when you do a multikill. But presiding over Gambit is the mysterious Drifter, who revels in giving Guardians the chance to take a walk on the wild side. More than just a competition, Gambit is designed to let you relish being a bit of a jerk.
A well-timed invasion feels transgressively dickish. It’s not just that you’re killing other players; you’re actively undoing their hard work. In one game, I managed to unleash my super ability on two players running to bank a maximum stack of notes. It’s possible that I actually cackled.
Even though the bulk of each Gambit match is spent fighting AI mobs, the presence of the enemy team is always keenly felt. When you die to the Blocker that was preventing you from banking your motes, you know that an enemy player was responsible. When you execute a perfectly timed invasion that thrusts you into the lead, you know that your opponents are cursing your name. The UI gives you an at-a-glance readout of how both teams are performing, and so even the most rote action takes on heightened importance.
Gambit takes the frenetic pace of a good singleplayer encounter and marries it to the unpredictable nature of competitive multiplayer. It’s a game of constant questions. When should I bank? When should I invade? Do I have enough health to grab that mote before I am surrounded by enemies? It’s intuitive, yes, and gratifying, yes, but also strategic and improvisational.
As you learn the small nuances of the competition, you’re constantly
Gambit is, to put it mildly, a lot. There are nuances and competing strategies
making microadjustments to respond to the current situation. Trying to time it just right so you’ve banked your motes before an opposing player invades, or sending the specific Blocker that will cause the most problems based on the current map or situation. So much of Destiny feels like a solved problem that rewards execution over improvisation, but Gambit has cemented itself as the most distinct, experimental and consistently entertaining activity in the game right now. Long after I’m bored with the Strikes, the story and even the endgame zone, I’ll always have time for one more race.
RIGHT: When the portal opens, you can invade the enemy. Do it when they’re fighting Blockers.
LEFT: The Drifter oversees the competition, and thus is presumably responsible for its weird rules.