Destiny 2: Lightfall was unusual for Bungie. The now Sony-owned studio hyped up Lightfall as the beginning stages of the biggest light vs. darkness battle we’ve ever seen. “The battle begins here and now,” said Commander Zavala in an epic launch trailer. The in-game reality felt, for many, like the story writing was lackluster. Even six months on, Lightfall has mostly negative reviews on Steam, a sign that fans were expecting more.
There’s now a lot riding on The Final Shape, the upcoming Destiny 2 expansion that’s set to conclude the light and darkness saga of Destiny in February — a story that’s been told for nearly 10 years now. But with unease in the Destiny community, how is The Final Shape going to draw unhappy or lapsed players back into Destiny 2, and what does the future hold for the Destiny universe?
“Lightfall is probably our most out of bounds release, from like a big crazy urban fantasy, from the kind of story we were telling and from even the way we’ve told it over the years,” admits Joe Blackburn, game director of Destiny 2, in an interview with The Verge. “The Final Shape, we knew from the beginning was going to be the most core thing we’ve ever shipped. What I hope for is, if you ever liked Destiny, this expansion is for you.”
The Final Shape will see Destiny 2 players face The Witness. Image: Bungie
It sounds like The Final Shape will return to the type of storytelling and experience Bungie does best — and something we certainly saw in The Witch Queen recently. Bungie is keeping tight-lipped on the narrative details of The Final Shape, but we do know players will enter The Traveler, a mysterious entity in the universe of Destiny that hangs motionless in the sky as a source of light for Destiny players.
There will also be a battle with The Witness, the main antagonist of Destiny’s light and darkness saga who commands the Black Fleet — an armada of pyramid vessels that players have seen plenty of in the game and in trailers. But once this battle is over, what happens to the future of Destiny?
Bungie is pivoting to what it calls episodes, three chunks of new content per year for Destiny 2 that are slightly bigger in scope than what is offered on a seasonal basis right now. “We definitely look at episodes as the evolution of the seasonal model, not the evolution of Destiny all up,” says Blackburn.
Destiny 2’s episodes are an evolution of the seasonal model. Image: Bungie
If you remember the big Forsaken DLC, that was three drops of content in a year, too. But it often felt slow, like you were waiting for something to happen in the game. “Three a year allowed us to do larger cohesive stories… we’ve learned a lot in the past two or three years of our seasonal model about how we can do things better,” says Blackburn.
Each episode will include three acts, with new quests, story, armor, weapons, and activities. Bungie is also committing to a new exotic weapon and new exotic mission every single episode for the first three (Echoes, Revenant, and Heresy) that start after The Final Shape. It’s also interesting that Bungie has timed this content to begin in March, not immediately at The Final Shape launch.
So what happens to that yearly big release of Destiny 2 content that players look forward to? Is that going away? Blackburn was hesitant to answer this directly, instead referring me to a statement from the Destiny 2 account on X / Twitter:
This statement doesn’t say yes or no to a big yearly DLC, though. “What we’re trying not to do is scare people that Destiny 2 is going away. It’s not. Our support for it is not ending,” explains Blackburn. “We’re also just trying to stay focused on what’s in front of us here and not turn the conversation into the next two years.”
So Bungie doesn’t seem ready to talk about specifics, and I think a lot of that is because the studio is still figuring out exactly how its storytelling for Destiny 2 will evolve beyond the immediate focus of The Final Shape and the year ahead.
It sounds like episodes will truly move the story forward, though, which won’t necessarily mean an entirely new cast of characters. “You should expect a mix of old and new characters, but what we don’t want to do is tell stories where the only way you could enjoy this story is if you have a PhD in Destiny lore from the light and darkness saga,” says Blackburn.
Part of the beauty of Destiny is the lore, with four-hour videos from masters like Byf ready to help players piece together Bungie’s storytelling. But nobody should need to watch hours of videos to understand Destiny 2, and Bungie has been working to improve the new player experience for years now, with varying degrees of success, so it doesn’t feel overwhelming and confusing.
Cayde-6 will return for The Final Shape. Image: Bungie
“One of our covert success stories from Lightfall… the players we’ve brought in over the last year have been stickier in Destiny than they’ve ever been,” reveals Blackburn. He attributes most of this to Guardian Ranks, which helpfully guide new Destiny 2 players through the experience of the game to complete activities to upgrade their character.
But beyond what to do in the game, the entire story can often feel confusing to new players who don’t always get the chance to catch up on the history and lore. Bungie is introducing a new Timeline Reflections feature that allows players to experience major plot points and events from Destiny’s past. The first of these launched this week, with players able to once again experience the demise of Cayde-6. It’s a great reminder of the strong Destiny storytelling and content that Bungie has produced over the years, and I had fun experiencing it with friends who were also keen to revisit Cayde-6’s past story.
The Final Shape is now designed for any Destiny 2 player to jump back into, regardless of their previous progress in the game. Part of the lure of Destiny has been power leveling your characters with armor and gear, but in recent years, it has felt like an unrewarding job that prevents friends from joining certain activities until they’ve spent time grinding to the necessary light level.
A new Fireteam Power system is going to address that, letting anyone access most activities in the game even if they’re not at the right power. So if you have a friend who spends their free time in Destiny 2, you’ll be able to jump in with all your blue gear on and get activities finished without feeling like a burden. “If you stopped playing at Destiny 2 [launch], you might want to put on a special weapon and a heavy weapon,” jokes Blackburn, referring to the double primary weapon meta during the launch phase of Destiny 2.
Inside the new Pale Heart destination. Image: Bungie
But what about solo play? I often hear from Destiny 2 fans who just don’t care about fireteams or having to use an LFG system to find people to play with. “I think in some ways The Final Shape is a more solo-friendly experience than we’ve ever shipped before,” says Blackburn. “We have some things we’re excited about, and I think The Final Shape is going to be a really good experience however you want to play.” Blackburn teases that part of the improvements will be down to the new Pale Heart, a linear destination inside The Traveler that’s unlike anything we’ve seen in Destiny 2.
The other side of Destiny 2 that doesn’t always get as much attention as fans hope during Bungie’s showcases is player-vs-player (PvP). The future of Destiny 2 won’t be healthy without this side of the game improving dramatically.
Blackburn published a state of the game earlier this month, Bungie’s way of updating the community about the future of Destiny 2. It addressed some feedback from the Destiny 2 PvP community, but it didn’t do enough to ease concerns about the state of PvP.
While Bungie has invested in PvP game modes, armor, and weapons, the company has tried to shake up the meta in weird ways and has rarely delivered new maps. Blackburn’s original state of the game didn’t promise any drastic changes to PvP or the map situation, so he was forced to respond in a video days later and shift strategy after community outcry.
The new Vex-style PvP map in Destiny 2. Image: Bungie
“We know that the strategy that we’ve had for PvP over the last two years isn’t working, so let’s inject a strategy shift here,” says Blackburn. “That is going to take resources from other parts of the game, and we feel like now that is important. We’re going to make that tradeoff in some ways, but it’s not a tradeoff we make lightly. It’s definitely a thing both internally and externally where we’ve got to make a change here.”
Bungie is forming a PvP strike team to take a look at the many issues that exist in the PvP side of the game. I know if I were part of the strike team, the first thing I’d do is remove that annoying and giant banner that appears over your crosshair when you’ve won a game or round but you’re still in combat. You literally can’t aim properly with this on the screen, and it’s one of my many pet peeves with the PvP side.
Blackburn isn’t ready to make any big promises here, as he wants the PvP strike team to come out and start talking soon, but he’s quick to make it clear Bungie hasn’t pulled all its PvP talent away from Destiny to create Marathon, its upcoming extraction shooter.
A narrative has emerged that Bungie is ignoring PvP in Destiny 2 because of Marathon, but it sounds like the company has been wary of taking resources away from the other parts of the game that players are often more willing to spend money on.
“If we have resources and minds that we could put on a problem, there’s not a thing we’re afraid of tackling,” says Blackburn. “We also have some legacy talent elsewhere… while some of those folks are off doing awesome stuff that’s needed for the future of the company, no one is afraid of going over and speaking to [them] and saying, ‘Hey can you come in and play this thing? Can you help us with this thing?’ There are no 10-feet walls at Bungie where we’re not sharing or nurturing that talent.”
The PvP strike team will be a crucial moment for Destiny 2 alongside The Final Shape and beyond. What’s clear from Blackburn and the team is that, even as one long-running saga is coming to an end, Destiny 2 is very much here to stay.