Destiny 2: Fleshed-out plot is as important as the gameplay

Show-not-tell way of storytelling can also help hook players to a game

When Destiny debuted nearly three years ago, expectations of this sci-fi-meets-fantasy video game were sky-high.

Developed by Bungie, which had guided the iconic Halo game series to blockbuster success from 2001 to 2010, Destiny went on to become a popular series. But it has also been criticised for not having a meaty storyline.

However, its upcoming sequel appears to be finally living up to fans' initial expectations.

At Bungie's Destiny 2 gameplay premiere event in The Jet Center in Los Angeles last Thursday, I tried my hand at the multiplayer online first-person shooter. And, as one who has spent nearly 1,400 hours on Destiny, the sequel looks to have improved greatly in the story department compared with the original launched in 2014.

Bungie marketing director Eric Osborne told The Straits Times in an interview at the event: "Story was a huge investment for us, we wanted to make sure we brought a lot of great epic adventurous cinematics. We wanted to bring our best characters to the forefront."

Destiny 2, which will be released globally on Sept 8, brings a number of new features and content. They include an interactive map, new areas to explore and treasures to find. There is also a reclassified weapon system, and new power abilities aimed at keeping gameplay fresh for returning players and fun for new ones.

Its streamlined player-vs-player component shrinks the usual six-a-side matches to four-a-side across all game modes. And, for the first time, the game is available on the PC, through Blizzard Entertainment's digital distribution platform. It is also available on the PlayStation 4 and XBox One video game consoles.

Bungie's Destiny 2 gameplay premiere event in Los Angeles last week. The sequel, to be released worldwide on Sept 8, appears to be finally living up to fans' initial expectations of a meaty storyline.
Bungie's Destiny 2 gameplay premiere event in Los Angeles last week. The sequel, to be released worldwide on Sept 8, appears to be finally living up to fans' initial expectations of a meaty storyline. PHOTO: ACTIVISION


One appealing factor of the original Destiny game is its stellar shooting physics, borrowed from Halo, in addition to an addictive in-game loot reward system. Still, gamers felt that its narrative was paper thin.

This is understandable as the original Halo games by the same developerin the 2000s were well regarded for their storylines.

"Vanilla" Destiny, as the game was affectionately known in its first year, seemed like a rushed product. Missions were strung together, without much diversity or story depth. It was a matter of go here, shoot this and retrieve that - very impersonal.

In later updates, more storytelling elements were added, such as having game characters talk about missions with the player, instead of having a faceless voice do so previously. I began to care more about the game because I became attached to these characters.

And, going by a mission I played at the Los Angeles event, Destiny 2 looks to be continuing this positive change to the original.

In Destiny 2, players will face a new enemy, The Red Legion, who come to steal The Traveller. PHOTO: ACTIVISION PUBLISHING, INC

In this game, you play as a Guardian, a great warrior brought back to life by a mysterious moon-sized being known as The Traveller.

You are imbued with the "light", which lets you possess different abilities, such as those of a burly Titan, an evasive Hunter, or an adaptable Warlock.

I battled against a new antagonist - Dominus Ghaul, with his Red Legion of Cabal warriors - who has laid siege to the Guardian headquarters, The Tower. Ghaul has come to Earth to steal The Traveller and your "light", fuelled by his resentment that his alien race has been overlooked for great power.

Even in my limited play time, Destiny 2's story came across as robust and rich.

For instance, the threat Ghaul poses felt more personal because of how the game involves characters from the first game that I've come to care for.

And I'm not fighting against the villain alone, but working with old buddies to fend off enemies in the middle of battles.

Destiny 2 will bring players closer to the game's characters, like Zavala (above), Ikora, and Cayde-6. PHOTO: ACTIVISION PUBLISHING, INC

The action and banter with my virtual comrades in arms don't happen in cinematic cutscenes I watch, because I'm involved in these sequences and playing many of them out. It's a riveting experience, like being your own action star.

This show-not-tell approach to visual storytelling was lacking in the original's missions.

What Bungie has done to improve the Destiny series is something I hope more game developers will take heed. While innovative gameplay and pretty graphics can draw a gamer in, ultimately it is a good story that makes you part of the action that will keep you coming back.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 24, 2017, with the headline 'Destiny 2: Fleshed-out plot is as important as the gameplay'. Print Edition | Subscribe