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  • Daniel James

Ignore the Naysayers: Destiny 2 Looks to be a Substantial Sequel

Reponse to Destiny 2 on social media has been largely positive, with players praising the opening gameplay and changes to PvP. But a common thread of wariness appears around discussion of the game’s visuals. From an artistic and UX perspective, Destiny 2 looks incredibly similar to Destiny. The character screens, inventories, HUD, etc…all look the same. Further, the enemy character models show more detail, but are virtually identical to the original’s, with the exact same attacks, weapons, animations…and even nearly identical AI. Gameplay from “The Inverted Spire” strike seemingly shows a game that’s indistinguishable from the one we play now.

One of Destiny players’ darkest fears regarding Destiny 2 has been that it may be just a glorified expansion. For some, the gameplay has fed those fears. But a more practical look at “The Inverted Spire” strike shows otherwise. Bungie’s changed everything that needs to be changed, and familiar elements are in service to these changes, rather than vestigial.

Let’s get something clear: Even in its deeply flawed launch, Destiny was superficially impeccable. The art design, music, user interface, HUD, combat remain some of the absolute best to be found in any first-person shooter. Destiny has so much wrong that changing elements they nailed, would be a criminal waste of resources and insult to players. In fact, a look at its core game systems shows that Destiny 2 has changed from its original more than most game franchises ever have between single iterations.

Foremost: Combat and the RPG systems are vastly different. In assessing how differently the game will play, the combat and RPG elements are the dominant factors. They motivate us to shoot things in the face, determine how we shoot those things, and give us rewards for doing so. Between these two, we have the vectors of our immediate and long-term enjoyment of the game. And Destiny 2 dramatically changes both of these.

In Destiny, the primary gear grind was towards weapons. A player would grind their personal preference of strikes, raids, bounties and Crucible to get the weapons that they desired. This was all to the end of creating loadouts that complemented our play styles. Popular combos such as shotgun/scout, sniper/hand cannon, pulse/sidearm defined how you played the game. Playing with one combo made for a vastly different experience than another. Learning how to adjust to new loadouts and responding to the loadouts of one’s opponents made for dynamic gameplay.

Yet a huge source of frustration was persistent regarding the dynamics of the secondary weapon.

Because Snipers, shotguns and fusion rifles had an extreme propensity for single-hit kills, Destiny fit a different mold than Halo or Call of Duty. In COD, players picked a primary and a weaker secondary. In Halo, players could fill dual primary slots with a wide array of equally balanced weapons. The map would periodically spawn “power weapons” such as snipers, shotgun, rockets and swords that players would sacrifice a primary slot to fill. The COD model excelled at providing easily accessible and infinitely variable play. Alternately, the Halo model excelled at perfect balance, sacrificing variability and accessibility for a near-infinitely scaling skill curve.

Destiny mostly plays its balance of these two approaches, evenly down the center. It’s far more accessible than Halo while keeping a skill gap that exceeds Call of Duty’s. Overall, it makes for a uniquely rewarding experience.

Secondary weapons, however, frequently jeopardized this balance over all three years. Snipers, shotguns and fusions had one single mechanic in common: instant-kills at unique ranges. This was balanced by relatively limited ammo. Thus, the attempts to balance these weapons have been driven by adjustments along these two lines. Snipers have had their scope dramatically altered; Shotguns have had their ranges nerfed repeatedly; Fusion rifles, especially, were nerfed so badly that the skill requirement to use them—while certainly rewarding—makes them inaccessible to entry and mid-tier players. Rebalancing occurred frequently, constantly throwing the secondary meta, and responsively, the primary meta, into continual flux.

Destiny 2 4K Images | Nvidia

Further, the use of ammo itself has had to be completely reworked around them. Spawn times have been repeatedly altered. The way players spawned ammo was continually switched and reduced until—in Rise of Iron—the system was so broken that players were given no ammo at spawn, and lost any gathered ammo upon death. The tragic reality is that, at no point during any of Destiny’s three years was any single secondary weapon “overpowered.” In fact, “overpowered” weapons have exclusively been primary weapons: Thorn, the Vex Mythoclast, and in the eyes of some, Hawkmoon and The Last Word, at various periods. Like Sisyphus, Bungie was force to continually readjust a weapon class whose core identity was deeply incompatible with the game.

Destiny 2 has done away with secondary weapons entirely. It even appears to have shifted away from the Call of Duty archetype. Like Halo, we now have two primary weapons and a single power weapon. Bungie's twist is that we have a dedicated power weapon slot to accommodate PvP activities, where the juggling of primary/power slots just isn’t practical. Not only does this simplify balancing, but it radically changes the way we play. It fundamentally changes the dynamics of The Crucible—whose changes have come entirely from weapon rebalances.

Here, Bungie has effectively changed Destiny far more than any franchise has ever done in a single, direct sequel. No mainstream FPS has ever directly changed their weapon system this drastically. Even beyond the PvP meta, they’ve completely altered the way we grind for weapons.

Hereforth, an effective loadout is built around two primary weapons that are complementary. Hand Cannons, Pulse Rifles and Auto Rifles are now going to be balanced along entirely different lines. A single primary weapon is now expected to perform in a wider breadth of situations across PvE and PvP lines. We’ll see weapons balanced for extremely close range, extremely far range, and everything in between. This new branching of purpose will undoubtedly be manifest in the wide array of perks and exotic weapons we can see. Entire archetypes of weapons that were previously impossible can be created.

Furthermore, the grind towards these becomes both more intense and more rewarding. Stat balances immediately become more important. As new archetypes arise, so do our priorities for grinding. With a wider array of weapon types, we need more loadouts to respond to our opponents’ new loadouts. What Bungie’s delivered is a more diverse meta that can potentially be impervious to the frustrating ruts the first game frequently found itself in. If you’ve watched True Vanguard or Mtashed, you’ll recall their frustration with these ruts. Players relied heavily on a few loadouts, with a few weapons, because the reponse to the meta was limited by our proportionate responses to each other. Weapon diversity was pushed to the far end of the skill curve, because weapons like Fusion Rifles and Auto Rifles weren’t viable for lower and mid-tier players. This issue will be dramatically reduced, or even entirely eradicated in Destiny 2.

Let’s talk about the grind some more. The RPG elements of Destiny have been overhauled substantially. With Guided Games, Bungie’s reduced the cooperative threshold that held half the player base back from end-game activities like Trials, Nightfalls and Raids. Even further, they’ve added Treasure Maps and Undiscovered Zones. I imagine both will be forms of dungeons—areas with exclusive, hard to find, rewarding to discover, loot. Secret exotic weapons and armor will be hidden in rabbit holes around this new world. In the Gameplay reveal, Bungie described these rabbit holes with vivid detail. Explore a location like Io, they explained, and the exploration takes you deeper into undiscovered areas of the lore. Bungie’s created a vastly different, greatly deeper world for us to explore.

Destiny 2 Screenshot | Bungie Reveal Stream

So what about the things they didn’t change? Will familiarity turn to frustration as elements that we once loved become wearisome and annoying? I doubt that very much.

Look closer at what’s remained the same. They’re all superficial: Art design, movement, user interface and the Hud. They look nearly identical to what we use in the original Destiny. But is this a bad thing? Superficially, from Day 1, Destiny has been impeccable. It was their brilliant sense of style that kept many players from quitting vanilla Destiny. The user interface is near perfect—the only issue being item management and vault space, things that Bungie’s promised to fix in Destiny 2.

So why should these aspects of Destiny be changed? The feel, sound and art of the game is what sold us to begin with. Change for the sake of change is bad. Just ask 343 Industries, whose attempts to change the unchangeable in Halo have widely resulted in incredulity and anger from their fans. Especially in a game that promises to be a deep RPG with a steep skill curve, changing familiar visual elements would detract more than benefit. Being forced to relearn the UI—how inventory works, how to manage quests, what exact enemy animations mean, what visual cues tell us about the world—would prove a distraction and burden. When we begin Destiny 2, we want to head directly into the challenge ahead, rather than interrupt their playthrough to grasp at the meaning of purposeless changes. Bungie is equipping us with familiar hands to grasp a vastly different world.

Destiny 2 may look familiar to players, but this familiarity is in service only to the series’ continuity. It’s the next step of our investment in a brand new world we’ll engage with in vastly difference ways. In reality, Destiny has always been a visually impeccable game, from concept, to marketing, to product. All signs show that the game at the core of Destiny 2 is a wholly new one, set in a familiar universe. Overall, it’s a welcome, precise approach that it needed.

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