Back in 2014, Bungie and Activision worked together to create Destiny. At the time, it was seen as one of the most ambitious projects for AAA game development, a major attempt at a massive online action title. It was meant to combine the online world and community activities of World of Warcraft with the imaginative space-opera storytelling of Halo. It was seen as a massive disappointment at launch.
Yet somehow in 2020, not only is Destiny as a franchise still going strong, I am actively excited for their upcoming expansion, Beyond Light.
It is quite impressive that Destiny 2 still has a passionate community. Internal fighting over how to support the title—Activision wanted to annualize the series like Call of Duty, Bungie wanted to keep updating the game with ongoing content and expansions— continuously happened during the game's development, which led to some baffling compromises and backpedals in terms of content and support. Just for an example, 2015's The Taken King expansion felt more like a proper sequel with how much it added and expanded than the actual Destiny 2 in 2017, which ended up removing material just to sell later as DLC.
But the player base stuck around. There are entire platforms where content creators go on about the best builds for endgame activities like Raids, and the the community of lore hounds goes so deep into the material that it gives the venerable Soulsborne series a run for its money.
It wasn't until last year that Bungie formally parted ways with Activision and began supporting Destiny 2 as a free-to-play action MMO with the release of its Shadowkeep premium expansion. Furthermore, the studio transitioned from large bombastic productions in annual bursts to a seasonal battle pass model. Better still, they began actively collaborating with their community to gauge the best way to keep their players immersed in the experience without breaking the bank.
On the whole, this was one of the best decisions the studio could have made. One of the biggest reasons Destiny 2 hasn't completely lost its own player base like so many of its imitators is that the fundamental gameplay loop of shooting aliens with punchy, satisfying weapons is still fun, whether it's your first headshot or your six-hundredth; the hard part was making these gun battles feel unique and distinct every single time. In addition, despite many online shooters using a battle pass model, Bungie has begun actively experimenting with long-form storytelling with each of its seasons focusing around a certain theme or part of the world, bringing the entire player base in on what is going to happen next.
Rather than save major changes to the status quo within premium expansion packs like the death of fan favorite Cayde-6 in Forsaken, the seasons can deliver similar moments in cheaper, more accessible, but nonetheless exciting chunks. In the past year since this started, all players in Destiny 2 have worked together to stop a time-travel plot, used aforementioned time travel to bring an ancient hero from the game's lore back to life, scrambled to help a war AI arm and blow up a spaceship on a collision course with Earth—complete with a live event as a reward—and are now helping evacuate several planet's worth of major characters from the arrival of a new enemy slated to play a big role in the next expansion.
All of this happened while still adhering to Bungie's juicy gunplay that makes you feel like a walking force of nature the entire time. It's the very bedrock that keeps players coming back, even if their interest in these events remain at the surface level.
As for why this has me excited for Beyond Light, it is in not just what Bungie is adding to Destiny 2, but what it is changing, both big and small.
The most controversial of these changes is Vaulting, which is essentially Bungie removing content from the game to improve and reintegrate it later. Speaking as someone who has revisited the content being removed, I am quite relieved. Several of the locations never really had the most robust content such as the moons of Titan and Io, and the endgame raids on Emperor Calus' Leviathan are fraught with connection troubles and glitches that kept leading to frustrating party wipes. A sly benefit is shrinking Destiny 2's file size, which slowly ballooned to over 100 GB on consoles, a fact that hasn't done anyone any favors, be it hard-drive space or abysmally long loading screens.
On top of all of the general anxiety felt by the removal of content, one of the biggest issues facing this change is the new player experience. It is no secret that once Destiny 2 went free-to-play, new players have been left in the dark as to where to start. The game's major campaigns are accessed by talking to an NPC tucked away in a corner somewhere, and the rewards for completing them are paltry at best. Making matters worse is that the content vaulting will effectively render these campaigns unplayable.
It seems this will be addressed in Beyond Light. Not only will there be a more guided experience for new players, it will be handled by a brand new NPC companion that will take players through the game's basics.
It's only once you see all of these various changes put together that it becomes clear what Destiny 2: Beyond Light is really aiming to be: Destiny 3 in all but name. Content is being shelved in order to update them, returning players have new content to explore with the new Stasis subclasses, and new players hearing about how much the game has changed since 2017 get a more guided tour through how the world works. Furthermore, the new expansion will include brand-new changes to how armor mods and class progression work, putting the entire player base on a more even playing field with what activities to do and items to track down.
Back when Bungie first announced Beyond Light, they showed off a roadmap for what would come later for the game. This included the working titles for the next two premium expansions in 2021 and 2022. I remember seeing everyone's reactions in real time, mostly excitement and joy that Bungie had a concrete plan with what they wanted to do with this world they had created. One of the most telling reactions was someone chiding that if Bungie had stayed with Activision, it would have meant that 2021's The Witch Queen expansion would have been called Destiny 3, dividing its fanbase with a season pass, premium expansion down the line, followed by yet another sequel that would do it all over again.
As it stands now, Destiny 2 is settling into a similar state of perpetual growth and experimentation that one of its best comparisons, Warframe, now shares, with great fundamental gunplay, an imaginative world with lots to explore and expand upon, and a player base continuously engaged with challenges both big and small. While I have no delusions that Beyond Light will magically fix everything, I do appreciate its commitment to keeping the community together and making good on its promises of delivering a perpetually evolving sci-fi universe. Now it's just a matter of seeing how it pays off when it releases Nov. 10.