Given the whole shared-world shooter structure of Destiny, it's weird that Bungie has never tried to blend PvE and PvP before. (To be honest, the design team has likely been too occupied putting out fires of their own making.) Despite the gear, weapons and abilities being shared across all modes, PvE and PvP have largely remained separate entities since the original game's inception. That will change in September, however, with the release of the Forsaken expansion, and with it the new Gambit mode.
Gambit is a unique take on multiplayer that, along with this DLC's darker tone, stands a good chance of bringing lapsed players back. Here's how it works: Two teams of four line up, throw emotes, and then teleport to their own arenas. These soon start filling up with waves of AI enemies, which drop motes as you down them. Deposit the motes in a central 'bank' and increasingly large enemies will be sent across to harass the other team, whose own bank will be locked out until the enemy is killed.
So far, so PvE. But here's the PvP twist. Once your bank reaches a certain threshold a portal to the other team's arena opens up. At that point, one of your team can hop through to the other arena and try to take some of their players out. To avoid getting deleted by smart players the second you step through, you'll also be given a damage resistance buff. You will however only have about 30 seconds to wreak havoc before being yanked back to your own arena.
During one of these 'invasions', any players you kill will lose the motes they're carrying, as will you if you die. The smart plan is obviously to send someone who's a) really good at slaying, b) has a full super and plenty of heavy ammo, and c) isn't carrying a bunch of motes. For the limited purposes of my E3 demo yesterday, I ignored those caveats and jumped through whenever our portal opened. Because journalism.
Once on the other side my heart rate ticked up. Partly because it was exciting to be behind enemy lines, but also because I didn't want to look a dick in front of my teammates. First time through I snagged a couple of shotgun kills before the timer ran out, but on the second run I was spotted much sooner and got hosed down immediately. During my final trip I tried to be a bit more canny, sneaking up behind a couple of players who were about to bank their motes and treating them to a rocket sandwich instead. That felt great. Not quite swinging the sword to kill Crota, but not far off.
Initially I assumed I'd be too nervous to be the designated portal person, but grabbing kills is addictive. It's exactly the kind of hero moment Destiny's devs have talked about but struggled to deliver. I also think it feels good precisely because of the inverse fear that you'll mess up and have to return sheepishly to your team. Certainly I can imagine a lot of fun shit-talking between the current crew I run raids with.
Once your bank is maxed out, a 'Primeval' is summoned on your side. Essentially this is the boss, and might take the form of a Taken Centurion, Knight or whatever. Burn it down fast with power weapons and supers and your team wins the round. One complicating factor is that once your Primeval is in play, the enemy team will have a permanently open portal into your arena. With both Primevals spawned, it effectively sets up a DPS race. It should be interesting to see good teams using the kind of co-ordinated tactics currently being used in Escalation Protocol (ie Tractor Cannon+Melting Point) unleashed on Primevals. I'm pretty sure we're going to see some very quick kills.
Perhaps what I like most about Gambit is that it's social and competitive, without having the relentless capacity for salt that getting spammed by Vigilance Wing and Graviton Lance in, say, Trials creates. Bungie wouldn't be drawn on the exact loot pool behind the Gambit mode, but suffice to say there will be one, and assuming that gear is desirable enough—which is perhaps not something that should be assumed at this point—then I can see this being a really popular activity. Based on an admittedly tiny sample size, my worries around Gambit would all involve balance. Will it be too snowbally once a meta is established, or will good players be able to carry lesser teammates with big portal plays?
Playing Gambit, and the single story mission Bungie is showing from Forsaken here at E3, also gave me a chance to test out bows (which are another addition to Forsaken) and the revamped weapon slot system, which enables weapons of all archetypes to be equipped at once. I haven't really spent enough time with bows to comment on their power, but the one I used most was certainly fun to ping at people. It was an Arc Exotic called the Trinity Ghoul. Precision shots with this bow give the following arrow chained lightning.
During Gambit I found my optimal loadout to be an auto rifle paired with a shotty and rocket launcher. But that's likely to switch up depending on the map. I had more trouble with the new Striker Titan abilities. The revised melee is superman slam punch that's essentially the 'death from above' ability from Destiny 1. It's cool, but I struggled to work out what height I needed to be at to activate it. The super, meanwhile, essentially turns you into a human rocket. I messed that one up multiple times.
That's probably because I'm a Warlock main, and the new Solar Warlock super is absolutely baller. Not in a flashy way, but in the sheer amount of utility it has. On cast you slam a flaming sword into the ground, triggering an AoE explosion that leaves behind a 'Well of Radiance'. This is a larger, souped up version of the usual Warlock rift, which buffs your outgoing damage and constantly heals you—if you played D1 then thing Weapons of Light plus Blessing of Light in one ability, and drool. If you didn't, then know that a better rift may not seem sexy, but in endgame activities, especially the raid, it'll likely be essential.
Before wrapping let's talk a little about the opening story mission. [Mild spoiler warning] As expected it opens in the Prison Elders, which is in the midst of a major breakout. Cayde-6, long the comic relief of the series, is at his most boastful and boisterous, showing off with sick golden gun sprees as I ploughed throw waves of Hive and Cabal. Also on the scene is Petra Venj, the one-eyed warrior currently commanding the Awoken in the absence of the Queen and her brother Uldren. More on him in a sec.
The action was largely as expected. Which, if you're me, is a-ok. There was a descending multiple part lift sequence in which I had to hold off some hive while shooting their gunk off the mechanism, and there were also some neat moments in which the various escapees were fighting each other. The kicker though came at the end, when a cut scene played that showed Cayde getting shot by Uldren. It's different to the one released in the recent trailer (you don't see his ghost die, and the Fallen Barons aren't watching), and arguably more shocking—again, if you're me, and invested in this world—because he seems so alone.
Don't read anything into the fact it's a different cinematic though. I asked Scott Taylor and Christopher Barrett why the change afterwards in my interview, and they explained it was simply because the trailer needed to encapsulate all the info. Cayde really is gone, and with at least some of that light-hearted tone will be lost. To which I say: cool. This universe works best when it's flashy super powers are underpinned with some actual grimness. I can't wait to dive back in for more in September. But then I would say that.