The company seems to feel especially proud after relaunching “Destiny 2″ as a free-to-play game and rebooting the 3-year-old title with “Beyond Light” last month, essentially retooling the game as a sequel without needing to create and publish a new game. Bungie is now known as the creator of “Destiny,” no small feat for the studio behind “Halo,” the franchise that put Microsoft and Xbox on the gaming map. But Parsons seems eager now to talk about future projects, even if he won’t reveal any detail about them yet.
“We’ve been able to take some of our top talent and begin focusing on new incubations,” Parsons said. “They’re exciting not just in the way of, ‘hey, we’re working on new games,’ but that we have a methodology around how we’re going around building them.”
Parsons also sounds confident and delighted to talk about how Bungie has changed its hiring practices since the coronavirus pandemic began, focusing on acquiring remote workers across the globe.
“I can’t wait to go back in the studio and see the beautiful faces of all the people I miss,” Parsons said. “But it’s really caused us to rethink how we prioritize the physical space over just working with great people, and then allowing our systems to be able to rise to the occasion.”
Much of this exciting energy seems to stem from the severance of Bungie from Activision Blizzard, which published the first two “Destiny” titles before Bungie broke away and went independent in January 2019. Parsons is keen to say that the company is very much enjoying its “financial and creative independence.” And that included how to deal with its flagship product.
Making a sequel to “Destiny” came at a “great cost” to Bungie, said Luke Smith, creative director of the series. This drive to recapture the innovative, adventurous spirit of the original 2014 release is what drives the current march toward the future of the series.
“The intent behind the original [iteration of ‘Destiny 2’] was to try to bring in a bunch of new players that we could continue to sustain and support,” Smith said. “But ultimately we found that ‘Destiny’ players are largely ‘Destiny’ players. We had made a thing that didn’t appeal to them the same way because we were looking to new players. And that was a tremendous source of disappointment, for us as well as the players. I feel like we had drifted away from a game that I love.”
Earlier this month, “Beyond Light” introduced not only new powers and areas, but reintroduced the Cosmodrone, the first game’s first area. It also brought a returning cast of characters, like The Stranger, who we haven’t seen since the awkward cutscenes of the first game where she famously didn’t even have time to explain why she didn’t have time to explain. It’s also an unofficial reset, removing some old “Destiny 2” locations to make way for new ones.
“Beyond Light” can be described as a course correction, given how many nods to the first “Destiny” it gives. The Washington Post called “Destiny” from 2014 one of the most influential games of the 2010s, ushering in an age of big studios trying their own hand at the “live service” model, often releasing to near-calamitous results, like EA’s “Anthem” or Square Enix’s “Marvel’s Avengers.”
Meanwhile, “Destiny” and Bungie have remained stable. Despite hitting many of the same early bumps seen in games like “The Division” or “Avengers,” Bungie navigated them first, and self-corrected first, before anyone else even began releasing similar titles. But the series is hoping to win back anyone who might’ve abandoned ship during those rough periods, or who wasn’t satisfied with the payoff to the early allure of the first game’s story.
While “Beyond Light” mostly offers the same massively multiplayer online role-playing experience the series is known for, it also retools its rewards and metagame to almost feel like a new sequel. Most importantly, Smith said, the story needed to reflect this recommitment to what got the studio excited about “Destiny” in the first place eight years ago. There’s a sense that they lost the plot and have been trying to correct the narrative ship, and “Beyond Light” is the first big step toward that goal.
“In any ‘Destiny’ property, there has to be a beautiful candle in the darkness, and the Traveler being whole again … it’s this beautiful kind of unknowable icon that I think is an essential part of that candle,” Smith said. “This is a team that is committed to getting it where it needs to be. And I think what the game needs right now as it enters this phase is to reach out to ‘Destiny 1’ players and say, ‘It’s time to come back. Come back home.’”
But that home needed to be refurnished, and the decision to remove old locations and quests remains difficult. Smith promises it won’t be a regular thing.
“Through play and our incredible fan base, we’ve tried to uncover the diamond in the rough from ‘Destiny’s’ potential,” Smith said. “I don’t think we’re always going to be chipping away at it. We can’t ruin the diamond. For us, this game has become a pretty powerful labor of love.”