Destiny 2's Luke Smith on PC features, PvP, new subclasses, and more

The Exo Stranger from the original Destiny.

Ghaul seems like a cool new big-bad to introduce in the same way Oryx rocked up for The Taken King and provided the main antagonist. But are we going to learn any more about the core story introduced in Destiny 1, who the Speaker is and where he comes from, what the Darkness is? Are we going to hear from the Exo Stranger? Are those kind of questions going to be answered in Destiny 2?  

Not specifically all of those questions. I think some of those questions we’ve taken off the shelf to look at, and some of those questions we’re leaving on the shelf and may never answer. Personally, I think of Destiny 1 as sort of an issue zero in a comic book series. It’s about introducing the universe and some characters in it and some statements, but I think we want to—and a bunch of those statements were questions. I don’t know that we’ll answer all of those statements from the first game, and aren’t going to attempt to in Destiny 2 either. We’re telling a story here with some momentum and I think it’s going to show direction and progress for where the arc of Destiny is going to go. And that arc is, for us, really beginning with game two. 

Is there a world in which we never find out who the Exo Stranger was talking to on the phone?

Yeah, I mean, there’s a world where you never find out anything else about the Exo Stranger, and there’s a world where the Exo Stranger is the star of—

Destiny 3?

[Laughs] Yeah, there’s a world where the Exo Stranger has a cartoon or a comic book series or whatever. With Destiny, we have so many cool opportunities to tell stories in and out of the game. And we have a bunch of characters who are interesting, but the Exo Stranger is one that always makes me chuckle a little bit. Because I feel that’s one character where we actually wrapped up the arc. She gave you a sweet gun and then dissolved, presumably off to do something else. So I feel like, of all of our characters we’ve introduced and exited, we actually exited her effectively. But she always comes up. She always comes up, so there’s obviously something to that character that piques people’s curiosity. 

So you’re not going to tell me whether the Awoken queen is dead either, I guess? 

No, no, I’m not going to talk to you at all about any of those characters. I know that there is a lot of passion from our fans about the mysteries of the Awoken and the Reef. And while Destiny 2 is not going to specifically stare into those mysteries, we see it in the way people that cosplay the characters and love them. So yeah, there are more stories to be told there. 

OK. So, tell us a bit about the guided games. That seems like an interesting, potentially elegant solution to the matchmaking problem you’ve had for a long time. How does it work with five people wanting to do a raid, we find someone looking to join up who’s looking to be guided, and then that person’s either terrible or rude. Do we boot them? 

If a person gets in and doesn’t really fit with the group, we’re going to give them an opportunity to sort of jettison as well.

Luke Smith

Yeah, we can get into some of the specifics here. We definitely want to make sure that the groups and the singletons have opportunities to be protected from toxicity on either side. We’re going to have a way where, if you’re in a group of five and the person you matched with is a douche, we’re going to have a way for you to solve that problem. And similarly, if a person gets in and doesn’t really fit with the group, we’re going to give them an opportunity to sort of jettison as well. We want to make sure that what we’re doing with guided games is create an experience that can build communities and groups of friends. 

Like [social lead M.E. Chung] talked about today, it’s about putting players in the crucible of challenge and forging relationships, forging friendships coming out of challenging experiences. And we don’t want the challenging experience to be “these people are jerks.” We want the challenging experience to be “oh my gosh, these monsters are really hard to kill.” Things like that bind players together. 

So presumably there will be some sort of mechanic to stop us, say, getting all the way through the [Nightfall strike] and me kicking the rando at the end? 

Yeah, we’re looking at all sorts of degenerate cases like that. With guided games, what we’re trying to do is build—I mean, it’s a community-building tool and an opportunity for solo players, who maybe never found a community, to either find a community or leverage the strength of communities to play the coolest stuff in Destiny. 

On consoles there was voice chat. Of course on PC people are quite used to text chat. Do you have any plans to integrate that sort of communication into Destiny 2? 

Our policy right now on text chat is similar to our voice policy, which is if you’re in a group, you’re in a fireteam with someone, we make it optional. So on PC, if you join a guided game—I’m player six, I join you guys’ group—I will be able to pop into text chat and we’ll all be able to talk. One of the big scary barriers—and I think this is something that PC’s amazing at—is that, by having text chat, a scary barrier is like, “dude, come to my voice party.” Because you just have the potential to have your perception of someone ruined, like “oh it’s a kid,” or he sounds like me, a nasally Westerner. That’s not going to be fun to listen to for five hours. But with text chat it’s like frictionless—everyone can sound cool or be cool in text.  

What kind of rewards can clans expect for helping random players with guided games?

We haven’t totally solidified that yet, so I don’t want to get into that yet today. We’re definitely still making our way through the reward and economies. For us, the economies and the way it all stitches together is one of the things that we end up spending a lot of time in the waning months of development working on because you just need to have sort of everything else stood up. So as we’re standing everything else up we start to see the magic of the economies coming together. 

We have a desire right now to think of clan rewards kind of like Super Bowl rings, and I say that because when your team wins the Super Bowl—I don’t know how it is with soccer, full disclosure—but when your team wins the Super Bowl, of course all the players get cool Super Bowl rings and the owner gets a cool Super Bowl ring and the general manager, but so do the folks working at the stadium, the groundskeepers. This is about rewarding everyone who’s a part of the clan. 

So you will sometimes receive engrams from activities that you weren’t even there for just by being in the clan and being an active member of the clan. This is about “oh my gosh, my team did an amazing thing in activity X” and “wow, I got a cool bonus reward for it, so I got to sort of share in that triumph with my clan” and “I’m happy to be a part of it and I’m an active member so they’re happy to have me, too.” 

Are the old subclasses—Sunsinger, Defender and Bladedancer—gone? They’re replaced by Dawnblade, Sentinel and Arcstrider? 

Yes. For all intents and purposes, they’re gone. 

How did you decide which subclasses you wanted to give more major overhauls?

We peer into the subclasses and look at opportunities. While I know that many players love the Sunsinger warlock, I think the fantasy of having a super in Destiny is the fantasy of using it, and the Sunsinger encouraged you to not use your super. It encouraged you to sit on it and use it like a one-up when it was time. That also makes things like counterbalance more of a headache than we want it to be. So we knew we wanted to give the solar Warlock an overhaul. 

I think we just had a different fantasy in mind for the Arcstrider from the Bladedancer. I think there are similarities in that they're modal, but there’s no stealth capabilities, and that’s a key difference. I think the Bladedancer could be, at times, certainly when the game first shipped, very difficult to fight [in PvP], and that the Arcstrider feels more fun and more fair to fight against. 

With the Void Titan, in looking at the Sentinel, we wanted to take some cues from the Nightstalker Hunter. And I mean this in the sense of themes that override. When we were working on the Nightstalker for The Taken King, we were constructing a subclass that we specifically wanted to feel like an aggressive support character with battlefield control. 

Destiny 2's Nimble Arcstrider

Instead, with the Sentinel Titan we wanted to have an aggressive support character with battlefield mitigation. You have this shield—like you can see in the trailer—you can run around with the shield and bash—you know, melee, close quarters combat—you can throw the shield like Captain America, and you can also bring up a shield to create a wall that you can walk with. As we’ve been playing with that more in the studio, we’ve been messing with that time so it can be an aggressive support character that feels defensive in nature. 

The other thing is that I love the Defender Titan, personally. He’s a class fantasy that I really like—and in the team too, oh my gosh the sandbox team feels this way as well. So one of the Sentinel trees actually has the option to, when you cast your super, you can press and hold the super activation and you’ll place a Ward of Dawn instead. I think the Ward of Dawn has this amazing property that I love in our supers when we have them, which is that you can really appreciate a well-placed ward and you can really point at one when your buddy places one badly. It sort of lives there, so it has this lingering effect on combat. It changes the arena in a temporal way, and I think that’s an amazing property for a super. I would love to have more things like that in Destiny, and you can see that we do have some more things like that for Titans in the new barricade ability. 

You’ve also given some of that functionality to Warlocks as well, because they can place the empowering rift and heal with the new class-specific abilities. Was that due to a desire to create more interesting end-game team compositions and strategies?

That certainly was part of it. It was also about creating more synergies and opportunities to work together. There’s this cool clip in the gameplay premiere trailer where a Titan drops a barricade and a Warlock flies overhead with Dawnblade wings out. And we’ve seen moments like that when we’re playing here. We’ve also seen moments where a Warlock drops a rift and a Titan barricades in front of it and just creates a front to fight into, which is awesome. So incentivizing those moments—I think there’s true fun to be had with your powers being part of a symphony that you and your fireteam are conducting together. I think that’s the opportunity on the table for Destiny.

In a similar vein, could you tell me about the logic behind the switch in weapon distribution? You’ve now got more weapons like shotguns and snipers in this power slot, but you can also have two types of pistols and so on. What are the benefits of that change? 

There are a couple. Since the game originally shipped in 2014, players have loved having their most-used weapons having elemental damage on them. It’s why, when Fatebringer got to return this year, people were excited about it even as an exotic because it’s cool to have a memorable weapon with a damage color on it. So part of it was, “can we take a bunch of those weapons people like—the weapons that have high uptime, primary weapons in Destiny 1—and give them damage types?” That motivates part of the change. 

The other thing that motivates a bunch of the change is these weapons—fusion rifles, sniper rifles, shotguns, rocket launchersin PvP, these are all one-hit-kill weapons. These are all weapons that, in an instant, turn you off and send you to the respawn screen. When these weapons are available all the time in PvP, like they have been in Destiny 1 throughout its life cycle, this makes PvP pretty hard to learn and understand how to get better at. This means PvP in Destiny isn’t something [all] players can master, so for us, going into the smaller-team formats in Destiny 2, we wanted to create a PvP that more players can master at a variety of skill levels, and that means better information communication. 

That means, for things that can kill you in one hit, making sure you have understanding and knowledge of where these are on the battlefield and who has them. That led to our new callouts technology. If you’re playing PvP and you have a shotgun, and you load your shotgun from one of the wall-mounted power ammo distributors, then everyone on your team and everyone on the enemy team will see, you know, “Smith loaded a shotgun at garden.” So now when people see me running through the world, they know I have a shotgun and they can react and learn and do better. 

The ammo is snitching on me to the other team. 

Yeah, it totally is. The other thing this does is—and I think this creates some anxiety—it creates a more interesting choice in your loadout in your power weapon slot. You are actually being forced to make decisions between what type of power you’re going to bring to bear. For some players who are self-described, “I’m a sniper, I’m a sniper,” that’s the power they’re going to choose to bring to bear for their power slot. 

How is that decision going to ripple into the rest of their loadout? Are they going to take a submachine gun? Are they going to take a scout rifle? Which one of those are they going to take in the energy slot? Because the energy weapons can deal additional damage to players in their super state, so that choice becomes really important. We think it leads to a more interesting decision space for players. 

So when a hand cannon, say, drops in the wild, does it drop as kinetic or energy? Is that something I apply later? Can the exact hand cannon drop as kinetic or energy? 

No, the exact hand cannon cannot drop as kinetic or energy. Basically the weapons have specific assignments. Weapon A will only ever appear as a kinetic weapon, and weapon B will only ever appear as an energy weapon.

Sticking with Crucible for a moment, I don’t know if you’d agree with this, it felt like one of the issues with Destiny 1 was huge gaps between balance changes, which led to some obnoxious metas. Do you foresee being more active in terms of how Crucible is balanced with Destiny 2? 

We have some different tools at our disposal for Destiny 2 because of the way we’ve built the weapons. We’re actually going to be able to do some different types of modifications to weapons, where in Destiny 1 we largely modified whole archetypes in large balance patches. Let’s say Clever Dragon, the high rate-of-fire pulse rifle, is really powerful in the current meta, we’re going to hit all high rate-of-fire pulse rifles. In Destiny 2, if we have a weapon that is a specific infractor, we’ll have the ability to go in and just touch that. 

If we scan the legendary hand cannon weapon space—and I talk about hand cannons all the time because they’re like my personal fantasy weapon, I love walking around with a giant pistol where accuracy is a priority—and when we see, across the legendary hand cannons, underrepresentation for a particular hand cannon, then we’ll be able to go in and address that hand cannon, not necessarily have to touch every hand cannon in the game when we do it. This is something that the team’s really excited about being able to do.  

Do you have any plans to offer saveable loadouts in Destiny 2? I tend to use third-party stuff like Destiny Item Manager to switch between specific builds. Is there any sense of getting that in-game?

We have no plans to ship with customizable loadouts. We know that that’s something players love to use the external apps for, and we wish—we think that functionality is really cool, but we’re not pursuing it.

Going back to the Overwatch comparison, are you planning to include a ranked play mode for Destiny 2 PvP? 

There is not going to be a ranking system for the September launch. 

But it’s something under consideration for down the line?

We always have ideas. I mean one of the things I’m working on right now is a roadmap for Destiny 2, you know with the live team, and this is going to be—you know, I anticipate things like ranking systems are going to be very desired, and we’re going to have those conversations. But I’m not going to commit us to any of that work on the phone. 

Are you guys still going to try to balance unilaterally across PvP and PvE? 

Part of the fantasy of Destiny is building your character and taking him or her across all the modes, so that consistency is really important to us. I think that the heart of your question can be interpreted in a bunch of ways, which is “why did you nerf my hand cannons in PvE?” A question that I’ve asked, too.

Right, why are snipers flinching in PvE? It feels like the desire to keep a competitive mode competitive has too much impact on PvE in my opinion and, I think, quite a lot of people’s opinion.

I think that as we set out to build the weapon plan and the way that the talents work in Destiny 2, I think we’ve gotten more attuned to that, and I think we’re taking a better whack at it in game two. I totally hear you.  

Let me ask the real question, then: now that the vault’s gone, where are we storing all our stuff?

There’s a vault on the Farm! There will still be a vault there. 

Is the Farm vault bigger? It feels like it would be smaller, like a shed.

It does feel like it would be smaller. I mean, I exited my last meeting which was about some systems work, and the vaults are always a topic of conversation and discussion for the systems team. We’re continuing to look at it, but nothing to share today.

Will the ships serve any purpose beyond a cool loading screen?

No, they will not. They are a cool loading screen trinket.

Tim Clark

With over two decades covering videogames, Tim has been there from the beginning. In his case, that meant playing Elite in 'co-op' on a BBC Micro (one player uses the movement keys, the other shoots) until his parents finally caved and bought an Amstrad CPC 6128. These days, when not steering the good ship PC Gamer, Tim spends his time complaining that all Priest mains in Hearthstone are degenerates and raiding in Destiny 2. He's almost certainly doing one of these right now.