When Bungie revealed the first gameplay trailer for Destiny 2 on Thursday, fans made a lot of noise about the new superpowers available and the CGI trailers setting up the new “Red War Campaign” story mode. There was even a comically loud cheering section when Bungie execs announced that, at long last, players wouldn’t be kicked to the game’s waiting zone every time they wanted to do a new activity. But a lot of the nuts-and-bolts changes to Destiny 2 went unmentioned onstage.
Luckily, I spent time on Thursday playing a healthy amount of the new Crucible multiplayer, a full-fledged three-person strike, and the introductory story mission. It’s safe to say that Destiny 2 feels and looks a lot like its predecessor — the changes here are going to be subtle ones. But they are important tweaks that will have some drastic effects on how you play both cooperatively against the AI and against other human opponents in competitive games.
Neat changes to existing subclasses
Naturally, Bungie made a big deal out of its three new subclasses, including a fan-pleasing reveal of the Solar Warlock class, Dawnblade, during the first gameplay trailer. There’s also going to be a new Void Titan class, Sentinel, that is a straight up Destiny version of Captain America, shield and all. As for the Hunter, there’s a new Arc subclass called Arcstrider similar to the original game’s Bladedancer that replaces daggers with a lightning-imbued staff.
This was all pretty much known after Bungie’s presentation. What the developer didn’t tell you, however, is that even the old subclasses are getting revamped. I only had a chance to spend time with the Titan’s traditional Striker class from the first Destiny, but it was noticeably different.
For one, after using its signature Fist of Havoc skill, my super stayed active. I was able to run around the map while charged up with lightning and burst into my enemies at high speeds. It made the super skill less of a one-off shot in the dark and more of an ongoing strategic threat. Bungie has confirmed that there will be significant changes to the other existing subclasses to keep them feeling fresh.
I did however ask about whether the newly announced subclasses would mean the end of Sunsingers, Defenders, and Bladedancers, and Bungie designer and social lead M.E. Chung wouldn’t say in my interview with her. So for those who are desperately hoping the self-resurrection and bubble skills are still in the game, there is still a faint glimmer of hope.
New latent abilities
A brand new addition to Destiny 2 is latent subclass abilities. In the first game, the only things that differentiated one subclass from another were jump styles, grenade and melee types, and super abilities. There was of course the unevenly distributed subclass skill, like Shadestep and Shoulder Charge, but those always felt like fun tricks rather than strategic tools.
Now, each subclass has a series of latent abilities that can be used on recharge. For instance, the new Dawnblade class for Warlocks allows players to create a temporary pool of light that either heals surrounding teammates or gives them a damage boost. This is also coming to older subclasses. The Titan’s Striker class can now create artificial walls to use as cover, while the Hunter’s Gunslinger can use quick dodges that simultaneously reload weapons.
During my time playing the strike as a Dawnblade, the pools of damage-boosting/healing light were critical in taking down higher-level enemies and staying alive during particularly grueling parts of the three-stage boss fight. We can expect every subclass to have some pretty unique abilities not dependent on a super charge, as Bungie seems intent on making the divisions between classes more pronounced.
A weapons system overhaul
Perhaps the most noticeable change to how Destiny 2 looks and feels is in the weapons system. The original game had three weapon slots: primary, secondary, and heavy. Primary weapons were guns like automatic rifles, revolvers, and burst firing guns. Secondary weapons were sniper rifles and shotguns (as well as fusion rifles and sidearms), while heavy weapons were exclusively large machine guns, rocket launchers, and, later on, swords.
Now, in Destiny 2, weapon slots are divided between kinetic, energy, and power weapons. Kinetic weapons still feel like standard primary ones: you have your hand cannons, auto rifles, pulse rifles, and so on. Yet energy weapons are now a kind of hybrid class that consists of any non-power weapon with an elemental charge. That means sidearms, but also any hand cannon or auto rifle with a solar, void, or arc flavor to it. In other words, your loadout can consist of a hand cannon in one slot and an elemental auto rifle in the next. This brings up a lot of interesting new combinations — imagining taking down an enemy's solar shield with your auto rifle and then swapping quickly to a hand cannon to land some head shots when his defenses have evaporated.
The power weapons are now where every one-hit-kill weapon has been grouped together. That means shotguns, fusion rifles, sniper rifles, rocket launchers, and all-new grenade launchers are all in one category. You can only have one equipped at any given time. In my time playing the new attack/defense game mode, Countdown, this created an interesting dynamic. Firefights remained long-range at first, as every player used the new submachine class or relied on a hand cannon or auto rifle. But as the power weapon counter went down, players began stocking up on shotgun, sniper, and rocket ammo and the fight took a radical shift toward more hectic, close-range and one-shot play.
Chung told me that this was designed to make Crucible more friendly and less about who could either close the distance faster and pull off that shotgun blast or camp and nail a sniper headshot. “Destiny 1 could have been better on the readability scale,” she said. “One-shot kills suck when they happen to you.” She added that Bungie wants Destiny 2’s multiplayer to be “learnable and watchable experience,” so that when you die you learn something new. This inevitably means less dependence on a “meta” weapon type and more strategic use of supers, latent abilities, and unique loadouts.
Crucible combat changes
The new weapons system has had a noticeable effect on multiplayer combat. During my time playing Countdown, it was clear that Destiny 2 has borrowed more from the arena shooter realm dominated by Halo and thrown in some of the strategic teamwork of Counter-Strike and Call of Duty. In doing so, the game is leaving behind the more of the free-for-all slugfest aspects of the original Destiny that had everyone shotgunning each other — until someone wiped an entire squad with a super.
This means it’s quite a lot harder to take an enemy down, and it’s far easier on the opposing end to recover from a surprise attack and retaliate adequately. Enemies feel like they have more health and move quicker in relation to your ability to track them with your weapons, which has the effect of slowing down the combat from engagement to the time someone notches a kill. This resulted in some intense bouts that felt more like an exercise in environment control and critical thinking and less about instincts, timing, accuracy and other traditional shooter metrics.
It was a refreshing change, especially given how the original Crucible devolved into an ever-constant game of tag to see who could keep up with Bungie’s balancing system the best. Now, at least for the launch, players can look forward to combat that is fresh and, in my experience, fun to learn.