Destiny franchise director Luke Smith has published the Director’s Cut for Destiny 2 in 2020 on the Bungie blog. Check it out below:
Setting aside the tricks our memories play on us, things are often clearer in hindsight than when we’re looking ahead. The recent past is clear, loaded with learnings from the mistakes we make, and the future is fuzzy, hopeful, and unknown. As we readied last year’s Director’s Cut, we had made a number of changes to the game and wanted to give you all some insight as to why we made those changes.
Each Director’s Cut is a chance to acknowledge and own the learnings from the past (when the wounds are fresh) and give a glimpse at tomorrow.
This edition is arriving a little earlier in the development process for how we’re thinking about Year 4 (and beyond) and, while some of the changes the game needs are clear to us, there are others we’re still thinking about. Last summer’s payload covered a wide-range of topics that ended up touching on almost the whole game. Today’s DC is going to look in depth at just a couple of topics: how our philosophy on Seasons is evolving and the problems with weapons that last forever, with some additional quick-hit topics at the end.
This isn’t exhaustive, we know there’s more going on in the game than below. And there will be more to talk about later in the year.
Before we look ahead, let’s look back one more time. 2019 was about a few things for Bungie and Destiny:
Asserting our vision for Destiny. It’s an action MMO, in a single evolving world, that you can play anytime, anywhere with your friends. It’s a game we want to keep building on, and to do so with creative and work/life sustainability. Without our team’s talents, there isn’t a Destiny. And while that seems OBVIOUS to say, I think it’s pretty easy to lose sight of amidst the “This was awesome”/“This was not so awesome” reactions to entertainment. As I covered at length last year, the way we built the Annual Pass wouldn’t work for us over the long haul. We had a lot of help and person-power from our awesome (and now former) partners. We needed to find a better way forward, while preserving the player experience and our business, because we are now self-publishing Destiny. That was a big lift for Bungie in 2019.
When I think about the total scope of that work and the sheer force of will the team demonstrated to deliver in 2019, I feel pretty good about what we achieved (usually, this is where we’d list all of the positives but, instead, let’s use the word count to improve on the past and look ahead to the future).
As we began 2020, much of the existential dread of “Will we make it out of this transition?” is gone. We’ve clarified our vision for Destiny and are working toward the future with that vision in mind. For me personally, the drive home each night isn’t focused on “Will Bungie survive?” like before. Now it’s “Where can Destiny go?” and “How can we get there?”
When I came back from the holiday this year, something about Destiny felt off to me. Season 9 is – to me – the best winter season we’ve done in Destiny 2. But something felt missing. And that missing element is what I think we need to focus on throughout 2020 and into 2021.
Aspiration: 1. A hope or ambition of achieving something. 2. The action or process of drawing breath.
In Destiny 2, aspiration is what keeps our game alive. It is the air that fills its lungs, it is the breath that gives the game meaning. Aspiration can be about entering Destiny 2 for the first time and feeling the potential of what you could become. It can be about the pursuits in front of you. Or it can also be PVP players looking over the horizon and seeing the Lighthouse and its treasures awaiting them – if they pass The Trials.
Aspiration isn’t something reserved for the elite or the engaged; it’s for everyone (although when I listen to players express the feeling that, “There’s so much to do and none of it matters,” I feel that pain). It’s about the potential of a game to be more than something that just fills your time. It’s about having goals and working toward something that matters to you. I’m not so naïve as to think we can make something that matters to everyone – we all have different values, goals, and time. But I do think Destiny 2 can do a better job of enabling players to set short-, medium-, and long-term goals to work toward.
As a player, aspiration is something I feel so strongly about. It’s the difference between a game I fall in love with and a game I consume like junk food.
Last year, we started thinking about aspiration and what is missing from Destiny. The gaping, burning-eye-shaped hole is something I’d felt since we set Trials aside early in D2. Its return is part of a bigger goal for Destiny moving into 2020 and beyond:
We need to refuel aspiration in Destiny 2.
And a bunch of what we’re going to cover in this edition of the Director’s Cut is going to orbit this.
Seasons of Change
With a few Seasons under our belt since Shadowkeep, we’re well underway on internal discussions around how we feel about them. We look at these iterations through a bunch of lenses. First, there’s the soft, smushy, “How do we feel about Seasons?” These feelings are mined from our own experiences and from ongoing roll-ups of information from our Community. We also look at how well Seasons are engaging our players. Are people coming back each week? How long are they playing? What do we look like month-over-month and how does it perform against our historical data? Then we start to talk about where to take Seasons in Year 4. Looking back, there is some good stuff and things we need to work on.
Let’s start with what’s been working well.
- Our Seasonal narratives are starting to connect to one another. The transition to Season 10 – with the community getting involved by donating Fractaline (in 100-count stacks accompanied by looooooooooong button holds [big shout out to the top 3 Fractaline donors in the world: 3jlowes, Dathan WarBucks and joshd29]) and lighting the Lighthouse – was a neat start at players working to move the world forward, ensuring that each story link in the Seasonal chain connects to the next and sets up where we’re heading.
- The “Save a Legend” element of Season of Dawn was a nice deep cut for those who have been with Destiny since the beginning and a way to introduce the-ultimate-Titan-as-pigeon-superfan-slash-Guardian-orinthologist to many people who hadn’t found his grave the first time. Seeing your reactions was a highlight (and the team had a lot of fun building this one).
- I’ve enjoyed the simplicity of leveling up Destiny’s version of a Battle Pass. We wanted a progression that you could advance just by playing the game. (We don’t think we’ve got the whole XP thing figured out. Running in and out of Lost Sectors and flash-farming XP isn’t what we had in mind, but we can keep tuning it!)
Speaking strictly about my own play patterns, I feel the need each Season to get all of the Pass’ Universal Ornaments and the title. I like knowing those cosmetics are unique and won’t be offered again. However, I find myself personally less motivated to try and get awesome rolls for the new weapons, which is especially strange considering I like having a “nice version” of each gun in Destiny.
Wanna do some weapon stuff now? There’s gonna be more weapon stuff later on, but let’s just chum the waters a little bit:
I still really like playing this game. I’ve acquired almost every weapon in the game (whyyyyyyy Anarchyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy). I have some pretty slick rolls on a few of them and near-miss “internet-approved god rolls” on others (Spare Rations Rapid/Kill Clip and then Full Bore and a quick visit to Disappointown with Alloy Magazine). Like many of you, I end up gravitating to a few weapons and just using them instead of everything else. Sure, the Outlaw Multikill Clip Breachlight I farmed from Season of Dawn is nice to have (and I love the art for the Dawn weapon set) but is it really going to displace my go-to PVE kinetic weapons? Probably not. I know that.
I recently sat with a couple of external folks who really love Breakneck. It’s the only thing they use. They aren’t ever going to use another primary weapon in Destiny 2. Why? Because they don’t need to.
Part of aspiration is the pursuit that comes with it and, right now, the way we are (and have been) treating weapons in Destiny 2 isn’t actually fueling the aspiration engine.
Back to Seasons.
On the other hand:
We aren’t delivering the feeling of an evolving world. Instead we are delivering the feeling of ephemeral private activities and rewards that go away. The Forsaken Annual Pass had its share of challenges (see last year’s DC), but it also had this awesome property: If I stopped playing for a Season, when I came back, there were a bunch of rewards and activities that I could catch up on.
What we’re discussing now – and which is early enough that things might still change – is how we focus our efforts around Seasons from a development standpoint, while also trying to create the moments that make memories, WHILE ALSO balancing the amount of “fear of missing out.” This is a tricky balance, because these elements don’t connect neatly and, in many cases, they work against one another.
The wall of text below is how we’re thinking about things at the moment. We’re going to be continuing to take in the feedback our guts and data provides (your reactions and feedback are a part of that data, so do continue to let us know your thoughts) on our Seasonal model. Before we get into some more thoughts and details, I want to be extremely clear:
This year’s version of Seasons has too much FOMO in them. We want to fix this, and next year’s Seasons will have less.
Because we aren’t spending our development resources and time as well as we could, we’re talking about moving away from creating Season-bespoke private activities and instead using that time and effort to build themes that aren’t just represented by a marquee event that will fade away, but rather to inject these Seasonal themes into more of the game. Like we continue to evolve the world’s narrative, we could invest more in the evolving world of our public spaces and take further efforts to evolve Destiny 2’s core activities.
Core activities? What are those?
Core activities are a way we think about a player’s options and motivations in a given evening of Destiny. They are meant to be more evergreen (quest/campaign content, for instance, is not generally evergreen). It’s usually something matchmade and designed with replayability in mind, either from the properties of the activity itself or the rewards. For example Crucible is fundamentally replayable because the opponents can be different and other players are the ultimate A.I., where The Ordeal is fundamentally replayable because of its reward structure, rather than random encounter generation. (In fact, we hope The Ordeal is consistent within a given week to create mastery and efficiency in defeating it).
Ideally, core activities are convergence points for player motivations (e.g., “I want to maximize XP, chase awesome items, and generate economy that I can use to further my goals” [Yes, I know no one talks this way]).
Right now, our Seasonal Activities (like Sundial) compete with the core activities. They have new rewards and award players powerful gear, but they don’t provide a bunch of XP. Core activities provide a bunch of XP, but we all feel the pain of, “How many more Seasons will I get the Titan Rain-Catching shoulder pads from the Drifter?” What this competition means is that it can be really hard to line up a “night of optimizing” in Destiny because you’re being pulled in different directions by our design!
So what could investing more in core activities look like? It could mean more rewards being distributed into these activities or it could mean taking a theme for a Season and using it to galvanize Strikes. If we’re going to ask players to engage with these activities, we have an opportunity to leverage rewards throughout the Season. Imagine the armor sets or Sundial weapons being woven into core activity reward pools. Or imagine experiences like pursuing rolls for sweet weapons that could only be found in a given playlist as an end-of-match reward, like a Crucible Eyasluna.
We also think we could invest more of our development time on our questlines. Right now, things like Sundial consume team resources and then fade away. Imagine instead that Seasonal questlines like “Save a Legend” didn’t go away in the following Season, but instead existed until the next Expansion releases. That way, as players drift in an out of the game, there’s a bunch of content building up for them to play when they return.
Just as we continue to evolve the narrative of our world, we can continue to invest in evolving the world of open world public spaces (in case you’re unfamiliar, these are the spaces where you seamlessly see other players appear). We’ve built a world where players can encounter others, but we haven’t made a world with fights challenging enough where you feel like other players matter.
Weapons Forever: The Problem
OK. Let’s talk more about weapons. And let’s begin with how weapons have worked in Destiny 2. All the way back to Destiny 2 vanilla, every weapon you get is a weapon you can keep and infuse to raise its Power level indefinitely. Remember the waters I talked about chumming earlier? It’s time to eat.
In Destiny 2, with infusion, it’s like having every card you own in Magic available and playable in all formats forever. It passively creates power creep (an ongoing Destiny problem), which also means our teams need to spend more and more of their time re-testing and supporting old stuff instead of making new stuff, it reduces player desire for new items (which dismantles aspiration like the shard-the-blues post-Crucible match ritual), and it means we ultimately create a ton of gear that doesn’t have any value beyond ticking the box on the “I Got It” checklist.
That isn’t value. It’s actually the opposite of value, because it’s work that we could be putting into making new stuff, or improving old stuff.
Our combat team works extremely hard to make weapons feel unique. Each Legendary (and many blues) get their own flavors of special sauce. Sometimes it’s the way a gun sounds, sometimes it’s the insanely over budget range stat (HAND IN HAND), sometimes it’s the recoil pattern, sometimes it’s the art, sometimes it’s something indescribable that just makes an item resonate with our players.
In an action game like Destiny, our weapons are feel-based extensions to the character. I’ve played MMOs and ARPGs where I get amazing weapons, but rarely have those weapons felt like an extension of my avatar. Certainly in an action game like Dark Souls or Sekiro, the weapons become a feel-based extension of my character, rather than a stat stick like Fang of Korialstrasz.
Remember many, many words ago (in previous DCs) when I talked about the collision between the action game and the RPG? Couple with that with our theme of aspiration and I believe we are approaching an inflection point for weapons and infusion in Destiny 2.
We’ve made a lot of Magic cards, and we want you to keep the ones you love in your collection (as opposed to taking them and throwing them all away and having the Tower get destroyed again). And a bunch of those Magic cards could be playable around the world while free-roaming or in PVP formats. But where Power matters or aspirational activities are involved, we’re going to make some changes to Legendary weapons.
There was a lot of learning to do when Destiny launched in 2014. But there was also some real good stuff in that game. I think back on a bunch of it fondly – almost wistfully at times. The weapons from the Vault of Glass could be powerful, unique, and rare. If you had Fatebringer, you probably had a bunch of Ascendant Shards to commemorate all of the times you didn’t get it. I miss those days, when rewards were rarer and so special that you celebrated (or hated!) when your friends got one. That’s in part because the design of the game gave them space to be different, space to be awesome.
It’s hard to cleave out that space in the current version of Destiny 2. Weapons that are supposed to come from pinnacle activities like Raids or Trials don’t really have space to breathe. The answer can’t be “Just make them better,” because that approach ends up with the Reckoning situation I described last year. Now we had Pinnacle weapons, which were largely just talents that had Exotic-esque capabilities in Legendary-clothing. These weapons were typically the result of long pursuits and when they arrived in your hands they were pretty strong (sometimes hilariously strong; looking at you RECLUSE). It also meant the team spent significant time developing each one.
If you imagine the abstract weapon space as a pyramid, those pinnacle weapons largely sat at the top of the pyramid. Most other Legendary weapons are down in a clump of “They aren’t really that different.” Why? Because when every Legendary item the team builds is going to be around forever, outliers get weeded out.
Back to 2014: The Vault of Glass weapons could be memorable because we knew they weren’t going to be in the ecosystem for things like Trials, Nightfalls, and Raids forever. They’d naturally fall by the wayside because Power (Attack/Light in those days) would make them obsolete.
In the world we’re imagining, we’ll have space at the top end to create powerful Legendary weapons. Legendaries that are just better than other items in the classification. We’ll be able to do that, because the design space for weapons will expand and contract over time. Items will enter the ecosystem, be able to be infused for some number of Seasons and beyond that, their power won’t be able to be raised. Our hope is that instead of having to account for a weapon’s viability forever when we create one, it can be easier to let something powerful exist in the ecosystem. And those potent weapons entering the ecosystem mean there’s more fun items to pursue.
Changes like this also mean Legendary weapons (or their talents) that would be “shelved” could be reissued at a future date. Or could be brought back in fun ways by involving our community. The more specific nitty gritty for this will come a little bit further down the road but we wanted to get some of thinking behind it to you sooner rather than later. The simplest version of how it is going to work is: Legendary weapons will have fixed values for how high they can be infused. Those values will project the weapon’s viable-in-end-game lifespan and we think that lifespan is somewhere between 9 and 15 months.
One final note: We are not applying this to Exotic weapons at this time. We want to iterate on the Legendary ecosystem first.
Last year, we said:
We want playing Destiny to feel like you’re playing in a game world with true momentum, a universe that is going somewhere. A game where things are happening—not just in terms of new items and activities but also in terms of narrative. It’s frequently seemed like Destiny was treading water in terms of moving the world’s narrative forward. We want to tackle this in Destiny 2’s third year.
That statement is still true for us today, as we look into D2Y4 and beyond. We started this in Year 3, but the job isn’t done. By its very nature this is something that really doesn’t have “an end.” The idea of building a narrative that is moving the story of your Guardians (plural, all of you!) forward, creating a universe where permanent change is possible, and where players can have meaningful impact, is still a thing we’re chasing and experimenting with.
To get there, change is going to be inevitable (see above where I talked about how we’re thinking about adjusting the Seasonal model). We’ve said before that Destiny 2 cannot keep growing indefinitely. There are lots of reasons why this is true, some technical, and some creative, because the story wants to push into new areas.
On the technical side, I come back to sustainability. As new areas, features, and event types are added to Destiny, the problems of maintenance grow accordingly for the team. New changes to the system have to be checked against all content, new and old alike. That introduces risk and a big burden on our teams to maintain that legacy content. In practical terms, it also prevents us from responding to players who have problems as quickly as we would like.
Seasons can do some of the heavy lifting here, in the sense of giving players a sense of shared purpose and understanding of what they’re working for. But when we ready expansions, it’s a chance to make some more fundamental changes to the game world and its systems. We’ve done significant systems changes to all Destiny games every time we’ve shipped an expansion, and now we’re going to be making more changes to the game world as we go forward.
We’re getting towards the end here but, before we wrap, here’s a few quick hits on some important topics.
SHORTCUT #1: Faction Rallies
Lots of folks have been wondering if Faction Rallies will return. We have no plans to bring back Faction Rallies. The reward gear hasn’t been used that much, our character cast is growing too large, and crucially, they didn’t drive a bunch of engagement with the game. That said, there’s some sweet looks in that gear and we’re moving the Faction Rally armor to the Legendary engram reward pools in Season 10, alongside a few popular faction weapons.
SHORTCUT #2: Bright Engrams
For Season 10, we’re doing away with Bright Engrams as purchasable items. We want players to know what something costs before they buy it. Bright Engrams don’t live up to that principle so we will no longer be selling them on the Eververse Store, though they will still appear on the Free Track of the Season Pass.
SHORTCUT #3: New Light, New Intro
Our goals for New Light last year were about bringing new players into the universe and getting them to the core activities as quickly as we could. We dramatically underestimated how many new Guardians would wake up on the Cosmodrome. We’re going to improve the New Light entry this fall and flesh the starting experience in Destiny out.
SHORTCUT #4: Questlog
There’s another round of changes coming out with Season 10 for the Quest tab. The number of Quests you have at any given time sure can feel daunting, especially for procrastinators, so we’re adding a new feature to the Quest tab – categorization. All Quests are automatically assigned a category, and this buckets them into a specific area within the Quest tab.
For example, Exotic quests get their own category, as well as Seasonal quests. The Seasonal quest category is helpful in that it contains all of the quests that expire at the end of the Season. There are several categories, including one for older releases (e.g. Forsaken quests). This should help players focus on the quests that are new and most relevant vs. older content that maybe isn’t as high-priority as it used to be.
Thanks for being here. I appreciate that you’re invested in the game enough (or excited enough about trolling) to sift through the text above. We’re early into 2020 and we’ve got some cool stuff planned. Shortly, Season 10 is entering orbit and there will be more to talk about as the calendar continues. A lot of work from a lot of folks goes into each time I, or anyone else from the dev team, talks about how we’re thinking about the game. Many thanks to them, and many thanks to you for being a part of this community.
See you soon,