Feature Article

Destiny 2's Design Director Talks Past, Present, And Future

At a critical juncture in development, Bungie looks forward to the future

With the recent release of Destiny 2: Shadowkeep, as well as the free-to-play New Light version of the game and cross-save functionality, Destiny is in a good place. Bungie, freshly independent after splitting with publisher Activision, is looking ahead to the future of Destiny--whether that means expanding Destiny 2 further or developing Destiny 3.

I caught up with Bungie design director Victoria Dollbaum at PAX Australia to discuss where Destiny is at, and where it's headed. Dollbaum is responsible for overseeing Bungie's staff as they figure out what the team should be building, how their work serves their goals, and what they need to do to make Destiny 2 as good as it can be for its ever-growing audience.

"I make sure the team is on time and understands what they're building," Dollbaum says. "Because sometimes we'll build things, and we'll say, 'Well, the thing we built was cool, but it's actually not hitting any of the goals that we've set.' So how do we adjust?" Destiny has gone through numerous adjustments since the original game launched, of course, and as new players flood in through New Light, the newly launched free-to-play version of the game, the team has asked themselves what the experience is like for first-time players. "It's very hard to take the perspective of a person who has never touched Destiny before," Dollbaum tells me, but New Light has been designed with them in mind.

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Now, Dollbaum says, the goal is to keep building, and to try to keep every player on the same page. "Since we're trying to move towards an evolving world, we want you to come into the present, not the past," she elaborates. It was important for the team that new players could immediately play with established Guardians without feeling out of place. "You can just go straight into playing with your friends right away, unlock some destination, be the correct level to already start playing with them in the content that they're in."

Destiny has also fostered a community that is, by gaming standards, very pleasant, one that Dollbaum says is "pretty open to new players." Because of adjustments to how 'Power' levelling works, Dollbaum says, "it's actually very hard to tell who the new players are because the game starts everybody off in the same place." Beyond this, it's always been important to Destiny's design to focus on the positives of each player's contribution: you're never shown how much damage individual members of your team did to a boss, for instance, because the team wants to make sure that the game does not, in their words, "incite toxic behaviour".

Shadowkeep, meanwhile, is "doing really well" from Bungie's perspective. By coming to Australia for PAX Aus in October, Dollbaum missed the usual excitement in the office over the first Raid being completed and said that she felt a certain anxiety over not being able to play the game that week. "Pretty much everybody (in the office) has their Twitch open and just watching their favourite streamer compete for World First (raid clear)," she says. "Every once in a while, you'll hear a cheer go throughout the studio when some group beats something."

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It's also, Dollbaum tells me, exciting to see players "start to interact with this first thread of the narrative that will then lead them on to the next season." Narrative is a strong focus for Destiny's future, she tells me, stating furtively that "over time, the story will start to expand… things will happen." While Dollbaum cannot be too specific about these threads, I was curious to ask her about what the future looks like beyond Shadowkeep. The first Destiny made way for Destiny 2 after releasing two major expansions--will 2 have a longer tail? "We have plans for Destiny as far as the stories we want to tell, whether that means it's a release like Shadowkeep or Destiny 3," Dollbaum says. "We don't have specific plans for any of those things. But we know the story that we want to tell, and we know where we need to go. We're just going to continue to deliver you guys content that is like Shadowkeep and the seasons following. What form that takes can change."

With this in mind, I ask if Destiny is working towards a specific end point, or whether there's a narrative that started in the original game that they're planning to eventually conclude. "I think there are a couple stories that we're telling with the characters, but the world is not going away," Dollbaum says. "There are always stories continuing. There's no hard end point where we're like, 'We're done with telling the story of Destiny'. We know the threads of the stories we need to tell. And then where they go from that, some of them could end, some of them could keep going."

Hanging over all of this is Bungie's split with Activision, and the move towards self-publishing Destiny. "It's just a new space for us," Dollbaum says. "We're learning ways to do things or experimenting with new methods. I think we're trying to be more honest and open with the community, too. It's all part of learning what it means to be independent, and the things that we need to do that we used to rely on other people to do for us." While this might look like a move towards a greater level of freedom, Dollbaum says that "if anything the pressure is just kind of increased because we have high expectations for ourselves, especially now that we're independent". But she's feeling positive about it: "There's a lot of pressure to build an awesome game that everybody's going to like, and I think we see that in Shadowkeep."

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In the immediate future, Bungie has some core goals for Destiny 2, Dollbaum tells me. "We have a future and we're going to build into it," she says. "It's about adding more of those RPG customizable elements into the game, so things like the artifact and Armor 2.0 system, allowing players to customize their characters to make your builds different than somebody else's. And it's about creating a world that evolves alongside you, so the actions that you are doing are what lead us into the next season, to the next story."

Destiny 2: New Light and Shadowkeep are available now on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Read our Destiny 2: Shadowkeep review, where we explain why the game exhibits "improvements that represent a giant leap forward for Destiny 2."

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James O'Connor

GameSpot reviewer and freelance writer.

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