Guest post by Shawn Gallagher.
Destiny is a strange beast. It took a while, but eventually the game became an enduring, highly-regarded staple for many of its players, so it makes sense that a ton of them are also pumped for Destiny 2. Ahead of its release, however, Bungie continues to field criticisms of the game. Specifically, players are arguing about whether it qualifies as a “true sequel” or simply “Destiny 1.5.”
Without going too deep down that rabbit hole as I have in the past, I’ll just say that Destiny 2 looks like a sequel to me. Some key improvements over the original will, to my thinking, prove to be a game changer for the franchise. Namely, I’m talking about the much more robust Clans system and its lone wolf inspired counterpart, Guided Games.
When Destiny was released, it turned out to be almost nothing like what so many of us had imagined. The story was hollow, the missions were repetitive, and the progression system was convoluted. Despite all of this, many of us can’t stop playing.
There is something there, some undeniable pull to the game that calls you back to it time and time again. A lot of people are still answering that call to this day. Luke Smith, the director for Destiny 2, likes to describe Destiny as “sticky.” I’d be hard-pressed to come up with a better adjective. The game can be just plain fun. That said, it hasn’t always been that simple.
Most of the best stuff in Destiny is reserved for players who are able to put up with enough complicated nonsense to actually reach it. Too frequently, the game gets in its own way. In order to take on its toughest challenges, for example, you need people. Finding the right ones – competent players you gel with – can prove to be a huge pain. This is exacerbated by the fact that in Destiny there’s no matchmaking system for the kinds of missions I’m talking about.
Chiefly, this means that end-game content – stuff like Raids, Weekly Nightfalls, and Heroic strikes – are off the table for many. It’s not that the missions themselves are too hard; the challenge of overcoming them is their most rewarding aspect. Put simply, they’re just prohibitively difficult to organize around. Many players lack the time or patience (or both) to establish functional partnerships with random strangers.
Sometimes you get lucky – you land yourself in a group of awesome people and everything runs like clockwork. The rest of the time, your best bet is to hang out on third-party websites dedicated to helping players find groups. It can take a while and the results can be hit or miss. There was a period when such utilities didn’t exist, however. Times were dark then, indeed. The core of the original Destiny experience has always been its emphasis on teamwork. Yet, that’s precisely where the original sometimes floundered.
Even so, it’s not all bad. Requiring players to reach out to one another forced them to meet new people. Some lasting relationships have been forged because of Bungie’s insistence on making players develop a rapport before jumping into meticulously crafted Raids. To our credit, we made it work. Like any other, the Destiny community has some bad apples, but on the whole, it’s one of the most inclusive and resourceful groups that I’ve ever seen.
That’s largely because, though the game is a maelstrom of fun and frustration, its foundation remains rock solid. The gunplay in Destiny is top-notch. Bungie has a towering pedigree in that area. Thanks to their work on Halo, they’ve got years of experience honing exceptional shooting mechanics. When it comes to that, few studios are at their level. Speaking of which – the level design is pretty on point too. The worlds of Destiny are a sight to behold, even if they were never utilized to their potential.
Destiny is a game that’s meant to be about more than some quality shooting mechanics, though. It’s a franchise that’s meant to be peeled back in layers, but doing so has proven challenging in the past. Bungie looks to fix that with Destiny 2. From what we’ve seen so far, they’ve taken a number of steps to systematically address several of the major hang-ups we have with the first game.
First and foremost, Bungie wants to knock down as many roadblocks to content as they can before launch. “Designing a sequel and a game that can welcome new people in is all really related to this one principal that’s been driving a bunch of Destiny 2’s design, which is… call it unhiding the fun,” Smith said. He was describing their approach to the sequel in a featurette for IGN.
Say what you will about the studio, but they have an idealistic vision for the franchise. Smith laid out their goal with Destiny 2: “We want to be the game where you can encounter other people. We want to be the game where you turn a corner, there’s something amazing happening, and there are other people to play with. We think of those people as potential friends, and we think of the world as a place where you can meet people who become your potential friends.”
Okay—Bungie likes that players need to rely on each other in Destiny. That’s pretty clear. Given that it was so problematic to do so in the original, it makes sense that they’d want to address that in the sequel.
Thankfully, he Clans feature has been completely overhauled in Destiny 2. Now, you can invite players to your clan from inside the game. More than that, there’s a whole bunch of new features built into the system that makes the game worth the investment.
Being able to see what members are up to was always part of the system, but it tedious and surface-level only. That feature is back, but with its own set of refinements. A key upgrade is the new rewards system that has been implemented into Clans. Every member, no matter how much they play, now contributes toward their clan’s progress. Reaching milestones unlocks rewards that benefit every member, regardless of the scale of their contribution.
Bungie’s been pretty tight-lipped about the scope of these prizes, or even how much time is required to get them. That said, if the intent is to keep people together, then tangible rewards are a nice – unobtrusive means to get players to go along with it.
There’s nothing revolutionary about the concept of Clans. They’ve been in MMO games for as long as those have existed. I imagine that at some point, before Destiny was chopped up and reassembled before launch, Clans were planned to be more fully fleshed out. We never really got the improvements we needed in the first game, so it’s good to see a more feature-rich system this time around.
But the real benefit of Clans, for many, lies in the way they can now impact solo players, or lone wolves as Bungie calls them – enter Guided Games. Think of it like a built-in looking-for-group mechanic. From the ground up, the new system has been designed to give all players the means to access the bulk of Destiny 2’s content.
Guided Games is a way for lone wolves to seek out Clans that are already hosting a game. They might be in need of one or two more players because the majority of their clan mates are offline. It’s also possible they’re a smaller Clan, looking to fill out their roster. (Side note: I haven’t been able to find it clearly stated anywhere whether you can search for groups that aren’t Clans.)
Say, for instance, that you prefer to play by yourself most of the time. You’re hanging out in the social area breaking down Engrams at the (hopefully) more-forgiving Cryptarch. Then, you spy another player wearing some new piece of armor that you’ve never come across before. Naturally, you assume the gear must be from some difficult, group-based challenge since that’s pretty much always the case. Rather than resigning yourself to the idea that you’ll never get it because you don’t have a bunch of friends who play Destiny, you can turn to Guided Games.
The new system allows you to filter your search in order to narrow down the results. That way, you can find Clans that fit your criteria. Unlike the original Destiny, you won’t need to mess around with hopping in and out of groups until you find one you click with. I’ve been there – that was, by far, the worst part of the first game. (Second worst was ending up with blue gear after decrypting purple Engrams, back before that was finally addressed.)
The crucial part, I think, is that there is no commitment with Guided Games. Your experience with a group can very much be “one and done.” Should you decide you actually like the people you played with, they can offer you a membership in their clan right from in the game. The whole arrangement is designed, as Bungie puts it, to “help players fill out their friends list so they’ll always have people to play with.”
I don’t know about you, but I like that adding people to my friends list is an option again, rather than a necessity. Sometimes, you just want to get the job done and move on. Granted, there’s no actual pressure to keep players on your friends list, but it does send a message, one that says your only intent was to use them, and now that you’re finished, they’re worthless to you. That’s the opposite of what Bungie intended, I think.
Unfortunately, Guided Games isn’t going to solve all of Destiny 2’s matchmaking issues; there remains Bungie’s stance on putting random players together. On the hardest difficulty settings, generally referred to as Heroic, you’ll still need to source players on your own. Hopefully, by the time you’re ready for that content, the Clans and Guided Games systems will have helped you to fill out your pool of reliable pals.
Additionally, it’s important to remember that Destiny is and always will be an evolving experience. That’s not an excuse for bad design, mind you, but with this franchise in particular, development doesn’t end at launch. The Taken King is proof that a lot can change post-launch. If more features need to be added or fixed in order to make the experience better, Bungie has a pretty good track record of making those changes.
From what we’ve seen so far, Bungie was clearly paying attention. Just look at the world zones for the evidence. We have actual maps for them now, which is pivotal because they’re much bigger. They’re reportedly filled with much more meaningful things to do, too – things like towns filled with NPCs who hand out quests, treasure hunts that take you to Lost Sectors, and souped-up patrol missions called Flashpoints, just to name a few.
All of that sounds awesome, but none of it compares to the impact I feel like Guided Games is going to have. I realize that, after a while, we’ll probably take the system for granted. But for me, right now, it’s the biggest change Destiny 2 has going for it.