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(Bungie Image)

Bungie, the Bellevue, Wash.-based studio behind franchises such as Destiny and Halo, broke several months of relative silence today with a series of potentially seismic changes for Destiny 2 in the wake of its newfound status as an indie publisher.

As part of a long live-stream from its headquarters, Bungie announced a new Destiny 2 expansion, a new direction for the game going forward, and the introduction of a new download that effectively makes Destiny 2‘s entire back catalog of content free-to-play. Bungie’s news coincided with Google’s Stadia-related announcements today, which included a Bungie-Google partnership.

Destiny 2 is a massively-multiplayer online shooter that’s maintained a steady community of around 3 million players since its debut in 2017. While it was dogged by complaints at launch, a series of updates and content releases led to a critical high point with the debut of 2018’s expansion Forsaken.

However, in the wake of reports that Destiny 2‘s publisher Activision intended to take steps to try and boost Destiny 2‘s sales, Bungie broke ties with the company in January and elected to self-publish the game going forward. Today’s live stream represented the first major news dump from an independent Bungie, which involved a lot of imminent changes to the game, its revenue model, and its direction going forward.

The 3-part vision

Much of today’s live stream was hosted by Datto, a Seattle-based YouTuber and prolific Destiny 2 player, who made an interesting point: today marks the first time that anyone involved with Destiny 2 has ever used the term “MMO” to refer to the game.

According to Luke Smith, game director at Bungie, that was due to a certain amount of baggage that comes along with the term, which the studio is now leaning into. It’s one of what Smith and Mark Noseworthy, general manager at Bungie, detailed as a 3-part plan for the “vision of Destiny“:

  1. Being an awesome action MMO.” While Destiny 2 is not moving to a subscription model, which is part of what a lot of players associate with the term, it does mean improving the RPG elements of the game. Starting in Shadowkeep, players will have access to deeper character and build customizations; Bungie is “adding stats back into the game,” and improving the social elements of Destiny 2.
  2. “A single evolving world.” The Dreaming City in Forsaken was a successful example of what Bungie is trying to do, and it’s planning to do more things like it, where the game’s world slowly changes around the players, and in doing so creates social bonds between them. Players tend to remember who they were playing with when they’ve hit certain milestones.
  3. “Play it anywhere.” This is a big reason for Destiny 2‘s announced partnership with Google Stadia, as it brings Destiny 2 to any device capable of running a Chrome browser. Bungie wants players to be able to go anywhere and play with friends.

According to Bungie’s Del Chafe III, a creative director, “Destiny‘s going to be around for a long time.” They’ve got plans for the game that stretch out for years to come, and are building mechanics to match.

Cross-save and an end to platform exclusives

Along with Shadowkeep comes cross-save functionality. You can now bring your Destiny 2 character with you between platforms, on any version of the game. Cross-saving will be available for players on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, and Google Stadia. Bungie is working with Sony to ensure that the feature will be live for Shadowkeep‘s launch.

The PC version of Destiny 2 was only digitally-available via Activision Blizzard’s service. With Bungie’s move to independence, it’s also moving the PC Destiny 2 over to Steam, where it’ll be an exclusive.

Speaking of which, Bungie is also declaring an official end to platform exclusives. Moving forward, there are no gun models, strikes, or other content that are unique to one SKU of Destiny 2. All players on all platforms now receive exactly the same Destiny 2 experience, with all the various expansions, add-ons, and SKUs bundled together into a single, straightforward $40 collection.

(Bungie Image)

A New Light

One of the primary barriers to entry for any game like Destiny 2, which runs through multiple seasons of content for multiple years and is built around the consistent improvement of player characters, is the attached time sink. Theoretically, a newcomer to Destiny 2 would require as much as 40 hours of gameplay before they could play with their veteran friends, as they slowly worked their character up through several layers of now-obsolete zones, dungeons, and storylines.

The answer to this, presented by Bungie, is Destiny 2: New Light, a free-to-play version of the game which will become available in September. When you download New Light, you can start a brand new character, who plays through a short introductory scenario in the Cosmodrome from the original Destiny. After 20 minutes, you’re dropped off at the Tower, the main hub of Destiny 2, on a character that’s capable of jumping directly into current content.

Raylene Deck, design lead on New Light, said during the livestream that a New Light character will hit the Tower with a power level of 750, but the numbers are still being tweaked internally.

Bungie’s representatives were careful to say that New Light is not a “trial edition.” You’re effectively getting all the old Destiny 2 content for free, which unlocks slowly as you continue to play the game. You can get from the Tower to free-roaming on Mars in “a couple of hours,” though that’s another thing they’re still trying to balance. A New Light character can play all the way through old Destiny 2 content like the full base campaign, Warmind, and Curse of Osiris.

The phrase that various Bungie employees kept using was “break down barriers.” The idea behind a lot of their moves, such as the collected editions, the Stadia partnership, and New Light is to bring returning players up to speed and make it easier for new players to jump into the social aspects and raiding scene. Bungie is making a lot of big moves at once, all based around attraction and retention.

Shadowkeep: ‘The darkness is a lot closer than you think’

Finally, Destiny 2‘s next major expansion, which made its debut during Google Stadia’s Direct earlier today, is Shadowkeep, a creepy, psychological thriller of a ride that brings the Guardians back to the ruined surface of Earth’s moon. Here, the Hunter Eris Morn makes her return to the series, as a tormented survivor who, according to Bungie’s Ben Wommack, “does things that no one else can.”

Destiny players haven’t visited the moon since the original game, when it served as the setting for 2014’s The Dark Below expansion. In the years since those events, the lunar surface has become disfigured by glowing cracks, and a giant red looming citadel has emerged. As players explore the area, they’ll find new stories about old characters, as well as a few newcomers, with nightmares underneath. The footage shown of the underground areas in Shadowkeep were dark and horror-themed, with a new base for the Fallen, and a promise of a map that’s twice as big as the moon you remember from Dark Below.

According to Bungie’s Ben Womack and Katherine Walker, a return to the moon has been a favorite topic of their in-house story meetings for a long time, and they’ve wanted to bring Destiny 2 back here for a while. Womack promised that story vignettes, as seen in Forsaken‘s Dreaming City, were one of his favorite things about that expansion and will be making a return in Shadowkeep.

New features of the expansion include new exotic weapons, a new “Armor 2.0” system that changes how armor perks and mods work, and the addition of finishing moves, or pre-animated enemy takedowns that the designers compared to a big, flashy slam dunk in a game of basketball.

Shadowkeep, notably, is a standalone expansion, or an “expandalone,” in Bungie’s terminology. You don’t need the base version of Destiny 2 or the Forsaken expansion to play Shadowkeep content.

According to Bungie’s Smith, Shadowkeep marks the beginning of the next chapter in the story of the broader Destiny universe. When pressed by Datto — “are we going somewhere with this story?” he asked — Smith admitted that Destiny 2’s plot to date has had a lot of “monster of the week” stories that seemed to be going off in multiple random directions at once. He mentioned the cliffhanger with Uldren in Forsaken, which won’t be followed up on in Shadowkeep, but they really want to make the game feel like the universe is actually going somewhere.

“Not toward an ending,” Smith said, “because Destiny isn’t ending, but that it’s going somewhere.” They’re currently focused on building Shadowkeep, with the multiple big changes that’ll come along with it, with no intention of a Destiny 3 in the near future.

“We want Destiny 2 to be the ultimate version of the game,” Smith added. “But we’ve got to repair the foundation.”

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