During our call with Bungie we also spoke about what to expect from The Witch Queen expansion. That interview includes:
* How weapon crafting works
* The changes coming to campaign design
* What fighting Hive guardians is like
It's live now and you can read it here.
It speaks to the overall rude health of Destiny 2 that I didn't go into my interview with game director Joe Blackburn and general manager Justin Truman with the usual list of community pain points to reel off. Destiny 2's traumatic evolution from wannabe mainstream shooter at launch to something approaching a fully-fledged MMO, complete with riveting seasonal storytelling, has been an incredible thing to both witness and participate in as a player.
But Destiny being Destiny, there are always innumerable questions to answer. Like how can Bungie fill the voluminous gap between the current Season of the Lost and The Witch Queen expansion in February? Why has the studio seemed to find it so hard over the years to make enough loot for its game that is entirely built around loot acquisition? And what makes the guns so addictive to fire in the first place, so much so that I've been playing for literally thousands of hours?
Last week, following the studio's mammoth reveal stream, we spoke for almost an hour about all that and much more. It's a juicer, so let's get on with it.
PC Gamer: Looking back at the content vaulting process, how does it sit with you now? Hand on heart, I miss some of the Strikes and destinations that we lost.
Justin Truman is the general manager of Destiny 2.
Justin Truman: Yeah, I think one of the challenges we have with vaulting in general is that, with any piece of content, if you take it out there are gonna be some players who say: "Oh man, I really wish I could go back to that." But if you include everything all of the time, besides the pure technical complexity, it becomes a really big problem. It's more of an 'us' problem than a 'you' problem, but it becomes a very big 'us' problem.
Also, eventually, there are just so many different things in Destiny that it becomes hard to pick out what's relevant. And so we're mainly thinking about this from a curation perspective. How do we ensure that we're always showing you a bunch of cool things that you're not going to run out of, but that whatever you pick it's gonna be a great use of your time? There's going to be some stuff that you wish was in the game, but it's in the Vault and it might make a return at some point.
On the subject of player choice, here's something I feel strongly about: Why can't we unlock all 25 mods on the Seasonal Artifact. We're already restricted by the energy cost of the mods, and the fact they can only be slotted into certain types of armor. So you already have ways to lock out broken combos. Limiting us to 12 per season seems like it reduces player choice in a way that's not fun.
Joe Blackburn: Yeah, I think this is one of the things that we learn as Destiny is going on. We see a bunch of stuff on the Artifact and we're like: 'Yep, we know we need to make it better.' I think originally, we felt like: 'Hey, Destiny has glimmer... How can we make glimmer matter?' [The Artifact costs a scaling amount of glimmer each time you reset the choices—Ed.] And, initially, we wanted to limit some of the build space so that we don't have too much complexity to deal with. As time goes on, I think we've seen how people play with it, and it's absolutely one of the things that we're looking at [for] improvements in the future.
I enjoyed the interview that weapons feature lead Chris Proctor did with the Massive Breakdown podcast, and something he said which sandbox discipline lead Kevin Yanes echoed in a tweet is that the team has been significantly staffed up recently. Why was it understaffed previously and what can you now do differently?
Justin Truman: Yeah, I mean, this is one of these things where we just go through ebbs and flows. We have a bunch of people at Bungie that we want to have super successful careers. So one of the things we do is support everybody moving on to the other exciting things they want to work on. And so that naturally means some groups grow or shrink over time. We looked holistically at [the] sandbox and combat [teams], and were like: 'Oh, man, this is an area where we could stand to double our investment, and we would not run out of runway.' We've been doing that for the last, I think, a little over a year. Just really aggressively pouring extra effort there and new folks at Bungie into that area.
When I spoke to Luke [Smith] last year, I asked what he felt needed most work. He threw the question back at me, as is his way, and I said the game still had a loot problem. There wasn't enough new stuff to chase. There was also a time when players were told it was a choice between making new Trials or Pinnacle weapons, and we couldn't understand why Bungie couldn't make both. But I look at the Light.gg database this season and think: 'Shit, that's a lot of guns.'
Joe Blackburn: [laughs] Yeah, there are a lot of components that come into this. I think Truman touched on the main one, which is just the natural flow of talent around the studio. The other one for us is the skyscraper building design with our weapon quality. Like, I've got to build the next skyscraper and it's got to be at least as good as this one.
Joe Blackburn is the game director of Destiny 2.
I love a lot of exotics from D1. I'm a big D1 fan. But if you compare the average D1 exotic to the average D2 exotic in terms of what they do, it's like they don't hold a candle anymore. And this is a slow climb for us in terms of complexity and awesomeness, and we're never going to get away from that in the game, but that just means we need more, right? It takes more to make a gun that's going to be A-tier, or potentially even get to S-tier, than it did last year.
To add on to that problem space, when we looked at Beyond Light, we knew we didn't have the amount of rewards we need. It's not really even about the amount of rewards, it's that we didn't have the amount of rewards that were hitting that A-Tier to matter. Because we could have pretty easily just pumped out 400 legendaries and people would be like: "Uh, okay I guess... they're all the same perks?" They have to matter.
And so when we were trying to staff the team, we were still putting out season after season after season, and also instantly being like: "Yes, we've heard you, we're making the adjustments". I think seasons 13, 14 and 15 have all come up to the mark. But this is on top bringing new people into Destiny to make guns. So we're telling [designers] please make the guns and also teach someone how to make the best guns in any action game at the same time. This is now part of your job.
Thankfully, I feel like we're cresting the hill in a bunch of ways. But if you are an excellent action gameplay designer, send me an email.
Justin Truman: [laughs] Please!
Joe Blackburn: Just hit me up. We will find a spot for you. The Bungie treadmill keeps on turning. We want to be the best thing that you can hold in your hand on controller or with mouse and keyboard.
I love how modern exotics like Dead Man's Tale and the redux version of Hawkmoon bundle multiple effects together. There's something really powerful about that compared to just 'gun shoots big'.
Joe Blackburn: [Laughs] Yeah, now when you see a gun that's like 'gun just shoots', it shoots in an incredible way. I'll say this to toot the weapon team and the sandbox team's horn: Over the last year, we're so excited when we step into review. It's not a thing that I'm worried about when I've looked at what's coming in [season] 15, and when I looked at what's coming in the 30th Anniversary [event], in Witch Queen… I'm just like: 'Holy shit! Keep doing it, guys. You're super impressive.' It's great to see that knowledge is being passed down and people can still come to Bungie and get trained up in the dark arts.
I really like the new Headstone perk which makes Stasis crystals on precision kills. A friend told me about it and I said: "What, like those little shards?" He replied: "No dude, the giant-ass crystals!" Staying with weapon stuff, you brought back Vex Mythoclast a little underpowered due to PvP concerns, but now it's been buffed and is an absolute monster. With the iconic Gjallarhorn rocket launcher coming back in December, how worried are you about delivering on the nostalgia of its power without breaking the sandbox?
Joe Blackburn: We're always concerned when we bring something over from D1 to D2. 'Hey, is this gonna live up to the hype?' I'm pretty confident, but we absolutely don't want to introduce it in a way that is underpowered—or even the opposite, which is like we let you play with Gjallarhorn for one week, and it melts everything in the game, and then we've got to send in the cruise missiles. 'Get that thing out of here!'
I'm actually cheesily confident because I think we hit a pretty good place way back when Rise of Iron came out and Gjallarhorn first returned. It was exciting. This needs to be the weapon for anyone that's excited about trying Destiny, that you can tell them: 'Put Gjallarhorn in your heavy slot. It's going to be good.' It does not necessarily need to be the weapon that—you've done all the calculus—and it's going to be the absolute min-max best. It needs to be the thing that you can tell someone: 'Hey, this is one of the best guns in Destiny and you are always gonna have a good time if you use it.' I'm confident that we're going to hit that and I'm confident that we have some delights in there.
The sandbox team will probably come and kill me if I say anything more…
It always surprised me that for a weapon that did such crazy damage, the actual on-screen effect was just some white pixels flying around. Is the look of the explosion going to be juiced up?
Joe Blackburn: I think part of the skill of our gameplay team is they find ways to make the lizard part of your brain go: 'That was cool!' Like, is the Cloudstrike [sniper rifle] really anything more than just a very good Firefly [effect]? Probably not, but when you see Zeus zap a guardian in the Crucible and the three people next to them explode you're like: 'Okay, yeah, this is an exotic.'
Cloudstrike is like popping bubble wrap. It doesn't matter how many times you do it, it always feels good. Tell me a bit about the 30th Anniversary event, which is when Gjallarhorn is coming. Is that going to feel like an extra season? It's a big gap between now and February, especially with no raid.
Justin Truman: We're definitely trying to do something different than a regular season. I think if we were going to follow the typical beats for a season, we would have just released another season. Instead, what we want is more of a celebration. We want to have a bunch of really exciting reasons to come back into the game, a bunch of really cool free stuff for everybody to play with. And I think it's going to reach wider than a typical season does, because it's not like it's not going to continue the lore and narrative in the same way. But I think it is gonna be an awesome callback, if you've been a fan of anything Bungie for 30 years on this journey with us.
We're also going to be a bit more front front-heavy with the content, and rather than just trickling a bunch of stuff out over time, go with one big shotgun blast.
The big green elephant in the room is Halo. Are you still hoping to have some stuff in there?
Justin Truman: I mean we're already baked with what we're doing. I will say that even though it takes place in Destiny, the 30th is not about celebrating any one specific game. This is really about celebrating the anniversary of our relationship that we've had with players for this long journey. So I think we want to do stuff that's going to feel really exciting for anybody who's been a community member with us.
The Light vs Dark story arc was originally going to comprise three expansions: Beyond Light, The Witch Queen, and Lightfall. Why do you now need a fourth, with The Final Shape, which was announced last week.
Justin Truman: I'm sure Joe can add stuff here, but the simple answer is that, when we plotted out exactly what story we wanted to tell, it was clear we couldn't wrap it up by Lightfall. We knew the beat we wanted to tell with Beyond Light, we knew the beat we wanted to tell with The Witch Queen, and we knew where we wanted it to end. But when we tried to squeeze that into a single year, we realised: 'You know what, we actually need two years to do this right.'
Joe Blackburn: It's super important for us that this saga doesn't feel like it just concluded in a single expansion. You know, nice quick quick campaign and then on to the next thing. And so we've done a lot more work narratively than I think we ever have in plotting the roadmap and making sure we know how many things we need to get in place. There's a line between drawing that out over 10 more expansions and it feeling too abbreviated, but I think we've found a pretty good balance. We're pretty excited about the sort of characters and villains that you're going to get to see over these next few releases.
In its heyday, which was the most overpowered exotic: Gjallarhorn in Destiny 1 or Anarchy in Destiny 2?
Justin Truman: I think Gjallarhorn at the very beginning. In D1 it defined what an exotic could be in my mind for a good, long while before we addressed it.
Joe Blackburn: I'm gonna be gross and not give a real answer here. Instead, I'll just say some things in between. Gjallarhorn might have been more OP in Destiny 1, but Anarchy was more OP when it mattered. There could be 87 ways to solve a problem in Destiny 1 content, and you were always like: 'Gjallarhorn solves it the best!'
As we've been able to dial in on the action game, and introduced things like Grandmaster Nightfalls, Anarchy started to become like: 'Ooooh, this sure is the answer to a lot of problems.' It's not just about laying traps. It's not just about boss DPS. It's not just about Champions. It's got a plethora of uses. So I believe it's had its time in the sun. I don't think we're completely saying: 'Hey, get in the closet for a while.' But one of the things I'm pretty happy with is that by the time we said 'Hey, we've got to do something about Anarchy', a bunch of the PvE community said: 'We know'.
Can we talk about Vault space? With no more sunsetting, everyone I know is maxed out. I know that your answer is stop being crazy hoarders and delete some stuff, but we need more.
Justin Truman: One part of the answer here is that adding Vault space is meaningfully more technically complex for us, and on our server backend across our entire playerbase, than I think people realize. So it's not just a button that we press and then, hey, we gave everybody more vault space.
I don't want to say that's a 'you' problem Justin, but…
Justin Truman: [Laughs] I know. That's not your problem, that's mine.
Joe Blackburn: This is a Bungie problem, and with the knowledge that it is a Bungie problem, imagine that vault space is a highway through a major city. If we're going to expand the highway, we're going to also have to demolish some people's houses. We're going to have to pay for that in a pretty severe way. We then look at the problem and say: 'Okay, do we need to add more lanes? Do we need to do something different? What's the short term solution? What's the long term solution?' Because I think we've all seen the meme of 'Just add another lane to the highway' and the highway is eight lanes wide. We could probably make [the Vault hold] 600 items, and people would be like: 'Oh, capped at 600? When are you going to make it 700?'
I still want 600 slots though.
Joe Blackburn: [Laughs] Yep!
Can you give me a slight hint at which Destiny 1 raid you're planning to reprise next year?
Joe Blackburn: I'm going to give you the really boring technical answer. We know we want to bring back a banger. So it's really about the complexity of bringing the raids from D1 to D2. I think by saying it will be one of the big raids, that takes one out of the equation. Then it becomes: 'Hey, we're making a [new] raid, two dungeons, and reprising an old raid this year... How can we choose a raid that's going to not sink the ship?' And make it as awesome as the Vault of Glass reprise. So that's really where the team has been at.
Final question, looking beyond the current narrative arc, will the guardians ever leave the Solar System?
Joe Blackburn: Ooooh. I think there's lots of stuff for the second saga to explore. One of the things that we think a lot about Destiny is that it's pretty cool that when you go to the Director map, it's our Solar System. It's sort of what carves us into our space. So I wouldn't cross it off the list, but I'd be pretty sad if I ever opened up the Director and Sun and the Earth weren't there.
In the other part of our Destiny 2 interview: How weapon crafting works in The Witch Queen, the changes coming to campaign design, and what Hive guardians are like to fight. Read it now.