ThinkBoxly is the personal developer blog of Lucas Chasteen, author, programmer, artist, and always learning. Read more

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Destiny 2.0 - It's Nice to be Proven Wrong

In general, nobody likes being contradicted. But sometimes, every once in a while being proven wrong about someone or something can mean the difference between disliking or liking them. Yes, in that order.

Fabled game developer Bungie has been in a bit of an awkward spot pretty much since their latest endeavor, the MMOFPS Destiny, released. It pretty much immediately fell out of favor with reviewers, and while much of the player base initially disagreed with critical opinion, the longer the world spent with the game, the deeper everyone watched its cracks form. While it has never really lacked players, Destiny has long been short on customer satisfaction, and the addition of two $20 expansions more or less failed to swing the drifting ship back onto its course. In fact, the game remained such a mess of a product that at one point I declared there was no fixing it without fundamentally reworking the game from the ground up—something any company would normally be reluctant to do. The amount of resources such an overhaul would require could only make for good business when invested in a sequel, I said. And for most businesses that would be true. But not, apparently, for Bungie.

Destiny 2.0 arrived this past Tuesday, almost exactly a year post its original release, and no, it is neither a sequel nor a paid expansion (though one of those is incoming as well). It is a free update which existing players can obtain simply by turning on their console of choice and waiting for the 17GB update file to download and install. That's right: the 2.0 update is basically the same size as the base Destiny game itself. While much of that data is secretly The Taken King expansion set to release next week, there's plenty of unlocked content to make the download well worth your while. It would be too much to list every single change the update brings in this post—leave that to reddit—but suffice it to say Destiny 2.0 is not the Destiny it used to be. The game's Light level system has been done away with and the level 20 XP cap removed, allowing players to reach max level by simply playing the game. 'Light' is now simply a statistical average of your character's equipment and serves only as an indicator of overall capability. You may be level 17, but do you have what it takes to take on mission X? Your Light stat is now the simplest way to tell, nothing more. This also means Destiny is no longer the loot-gathering mess it once was, as players have no more need to repeat the same activities over and over just to roll the RNG dice until they get a particular piece of covetable kit. Gear still plays an important role in the game, absolutely, but it's less of a pyramid climb to the top tier of items, allowing for more variety in loadout and play style.

Moving forward it also appears Destiny will (finally) have more of a story focus, even retroactively to a degree. Destiny now has a full-fledged Quest tracker and upon giving and receiving quests you'll be treated to bits of written monologue a la traditional RPGs to add context and flesh out the otherwise nebulous story as you go along. It's a bit like having part of the Grimoire system built into the game—something that should've been there from the start. These quests will also have you talking to more NPCs than before and giving each one something of a desperately needed identity. And of course these aren't just the same old quests in a new skin—Destiny 2.0 again pulls pages from other MMORPGs to offer a broader, more basic, more fun set of objectives to tackle that make all-around better use of existing mechanics than Destiny 1.x ever did.

And all that is to say nothing of the tweaked and rebalanced armor and weapons, remodeled and repurposed NPCs, Collection kiosks, and the like. In many cases it's the little things that really complete the picture. Take for instance how characters now appear on menus without their helmets. On the one hand it's such a small change it's nothing to write home about, but on the other if you're like me you put a great deal of care into designing your character's face and seeing it frequently and in context creates a sense of connection that was missing before.

And again, everything included in Destiny 2.0 comes as a free update, meaning that at this point if all you've ever spent on Destiny is the initial $60 cost of entry, you now have access to all the Crucible multiplayer maps from both expansions thus far as well as all the tweaks and rebalances of the upcoming The Taken King expansion. Of course, players who haven't picked up at least one of Destiny's expansions are few and far between, and that's kind of the point. Rather than charge a subscription like traditional MMOs Destiny is designed to make its money on regular supplementary releases. But still, it speaks volumes about the progress of the game and of Bungie as its developer that there's no requirement to get into the best that Destiny now has to offer.

And that's as it should be, really. 1.0 or 2.0, at its core Destiny is still Destiny. It wouldn't be inaccurate to say it plays mostly the same today as it did a year ago...but it would be selling it short. 2015 has been a humbling year for Bungie, and it shows in how they've submitted to fan and critical feedback to basically tear Destiny apart and reassemble it as a fundamentally better version of its former self. They even ditched all the voice acting work of Peter Dinklage (which general consensus regarded as rather cringe-worthy) in favor of complete re-recordings of all his lines by Nolan North, a highly respected name in the gaming industry. Now, let's be fair: Dinklage's performance wasn't nearly as weak as the script he was given, but not only is North's interpretation of Destiny's iconic Ghost AI better, it somehow makes it easier to follow what's going on. I don't know how much cash Bungie spent on hiring Dinklage and North, but for players the cost of recording Ghost's lines twice is definitely money well spent.

Destiny year one was a profitable disaster. From a business standpoint Bungie didn't have to change anything to keep the cash cow pumping. But they did. And boy oh boy should Destiny veterans and newcomers alike be glad they did. While it may raise concerns about the consistency of the game's mechanics moving forward, it should also inspire confidence that the game may yet limp its way into greatness despite such a troubled launch. The fundamental changes I never expected to be made are (for the most part) there. Update 2.0 is arguably not quite everything it needs to be (namely, matchmaking is still absent on a number of events), but it's one giant leap in the right direction. Now we just have to wait and see if The Taken King finishes what update 2.0 started when it hits next week.

For a full list of changes present in Destiny 2.0, check out Bungie's patch notes or the reddit megathread, here.

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