What is Destiny, and what will it become?

Destiny 2 is on the way… but what shape will it take?

In the months leading up to the release of Destiny, the game’s developers (Bungie) set our expectations with a carefully planned and executed stream of interviews, gameplay footage, and trailers. Bungie pitched Destiny as a grand space-opera adventure. Many of us went in expecting some kind of Halo/Mass Effect/Open World Shooter hybrid.

As it turns out, Destiny is not what we had expected.

Upon Destiny’s release, fans and critics quickly came face to face with the reality of what Destiny is. The game’s narrative can be described as anything from “bad” to “non-existent” depending on who you ask. While the combat design is excellent, the mission design lacks the variety and scope that made the Halo games so fun and replayable. Which is a shame, because once you’ve reached the end of Destiny’s disappointing story, there’s not much to do other than play those missions over, and over, and over…

… or is there?

Like many others, I’ve had moments during Destiny’s end game, or what I thought was the end game, where I struggled with it’s grindy, repetitive nature. I grew tired of doing the same missions over and over, with very little sense or progression or reward. Then I got to the raid, and everything changed. Unlike the rest of Destiny, the Vault of Glass is a designed in such a way that it actually gets better the more you play it. I play with a regular group of raiders 3 or 4 times per week. We’ve completed the Vault of Glass dozens of times now, and every single run we discover a new little trick or strategy that works better than what we’ve done before. When we’re not raiding, we’re off doing the daily and weekly missions, bounties, etc, all to level up our weapons  and armor with the specific goal of going back into the raid with better and more diverse tools at our disposal.

After discovering the raid, the entire nature of Destiny got flipped on its head. What I’d originally thought was “the main game” suddenly became little side-activities. Yet while the story missions and strikes now feel less significant to me, the raid gives them a sense of purpose that they lacked on their own.  Playing Destiny this way has a powerful sense of long-term progression as my friends and I improve and become more effective as a team. Earning the Flawless Raider trophy was probably the most incredible experience I’ve had playing a videogame.

All this to say that while Destiny does not succeed as the epic space-opera adventure we were hoping for, it does deliver one of the most incredible co-op gaming experiences I’ve played. With the raids at the center of the game, everything else falls into place. The problem is that this side of Destiny doesn’t reveal itself until many hours in. Raids are buried so deep into the game that a large percentage of players will never experience them.

Thinking about all of this got me to wondering: What kind of game is Destiny 2 going to be? The obvious answer is that Bungie will look at the feedback they’ve received and make a game very much like Destiny but with some improvements. Maybe they’ll do a better job with the storytelling. Maybe the mission design will be more varied and interesting. Perhaps there will be a wider range of content to make the grind feel a bit less repetitive. Destiny 2 could be what we wanted Destiny to be all along.

Or maybe Bungie will do something much more interesting.

If the raids are the heart of Destiny, then perhaps Bungie should push that even further. Give the players more raids, and more importantly, get them involved with the raids much earlier. What if Destiny 2 ditched the traditional single player campaign (15-20 small story missions that lead the player through a narrative) in favor of a series of increasingly challenging raids? What might that look like? Imagine a game that centers around a gauntlet of raids as the primary milestones. Players could be sent on smaller side missions or strikes in the lead up to each raid. Not unlike the way GTA V’s campaign is structured around the heist missions, each raid in Destiny 2 could be used as watershed moments to propel the story forward to the next planet, the next enemy, and ultimately the next raid.

Destiny is not what we expected it to be. Nevertheless, Bungie has created something special. They could easily approach Destiny 2 with the intention of fixing all of Destiny’s flaws. But I for one would like to see something more drastic. Take what already works and blow it up. Ditch the rest.

Diamonds are not polished, they are cut.