So, ever since I finished the main campaign of Destiny 2, whenever I’ve thought of it, I’ve found it… Lacking. I’ve talked about it a bit with some friends, but I thought it’d be neat to try and write down some more cohesive thoughts about it. And maybe some of y’all find them interesting, too! And, like the title says, this is about making the main campaign more interesting, not better. There’s nothing wrong with the main campaign, and what I’m about to propose would, in fact, arguably make the game worse. I recognize that. I just think it’d make the campaign more interesting, and find it fun to think about.
So, what do I propose? In a sentence: the player does not regain light until the end of the campaign. It’s immediately clear why this would make the game arguably worse: the player would be locked out of core gameplay until the post game. But it might not be readily apparent how it would make the game more interesting, so I shall explain my logic. There’s also a couple of smaller ideas I touch on alongside.
How does the lack of gameplay make the campaign more interesting? Well, it’s about the central theme of the campaign: what makes a guardian? And, more specifically, does a guardian have to have light? And the answer Destiny 2’s campaign gives, in no uncertain terms, is no, you don’t need to have light to be a guardian. It’s most obvious when Zavala literally calls Hawthorne a guardian. Also, all of the vanguard grapple with the fact they’ve lost their light, and what it means for their indentities. And here’s the problem I personally have with the main campaign of Destiny 2: by giving the player the light back basically immediately, they never give the player the chance to consider what it means for their guardian to not have light. (Also, I have a distaste for “chosen one” stories, so placing humanity’s success in the Red War solely on the shoulders of the player’s guardian is obviously unappealing to me.)
What would the campaign even look like without powers? Well, I’ve put a some thought into that. Generally speaking, I think it could follow the story beats of the current campaign and use the same areas, with modified campaign structure and encounter design. Let’s tackle the structure first. Firstly, I would add a tutorial mission at the very start of the game. This is actually something I would’ve liked to see in the game anyway, based on my own experience. When I first played the first mission of Destiny 2, which would have been the beta test they did on PC, I basically didn’t know I had powers, I think I used a grenade accidentally? But anyway, I don’t think that mission is really the place for tutorializing, it’s basically supposed to show you how guardians, and especially the Vanguard you know and love, kick ass in battle. The player should also feel competent and use their powers, which, if you’re a new player, you might not even realize you have. So, a tutorial mission in the very beginning. Just, something that shows you “here’s your melee power, here’s the grenade, here’s mobility power, and here’s super,” maybe ask the player to apply them a bit, but definitely drill in their head that they have these. This mission would lead in to what is now the opening cutscene.
The other big difference is that I would have the mission just lead straight into one another; no side missions. Or less side missions anyway. This is just because, well, you don’t really want the player to experience more of the game without powers than necessary. I’ve deemed the necessary part to be the entire campaign. You could, and my friends have, say that it’s only necessary to extend the time you are without powers in the campaign by like, an hour or two, not the entire campaign, but I think to get the most interesting narrative, you would have to remove the powers for the duration of the entire campaign. I’m acknowledging that there’s middleground here, I’m just ignoring it for this post. Also, for free roam/moving between missions, you’d want to have two separate matchmaking groups: those who’ve completed the campaign and those who’ve not; in other words, those with powers and those without. This is just to keep the story consistent with gameplay. No one’s running around with powers until the Traveler’s freed.
As for the encounter design, you’d likely have to modify everything. Since you have no powers, and you’re always thrown back to the last checkpoint, you’d probably have to reduce enemy amounts, or else you’d really frontload the difficulty. And tension. Which, the latter actually sounds pretty interesting to me, it’d really drive home the point that your powers really make you, well, powerful, but the former would be horribly frustrating to most players.
The one new thing to encounter design I would add is expendable AI buddies! Probably not on Nessus and Io, wouldn’t make much sense from the story perspective, but elsewhere. Main reason I’d want these is because, in the lore, we hear about all the people that died during the Red War, but we never really experience that. Adding AI buddies to some missions would really help conceptualize that. And, since you are supposed to be less capable without powers, it’d make logical sense that you need help from others. And to home in on the first point, they need to be expendable, hence not matchmade co-op buddies. Co-op with friends would still be there, obviously.
So, most of the campaign could be just modified, but what about the ending? Let’s look at the ending sequence, which I think starts with the Almighty. The main difference I’d want is those expendable AI buddies. Taking the whole thing on alone without powers seem suicidal at best. I’m not entirely sure how you’d preserve the set pieces on the Almighty with AI buddies in tow, but I don’t think it’s impossible either. Off the top of my head, the little trip on on the outside of the Almighty could be done by having a locked corridor, and somebody (the player) has to go around and outside to open the way. Or just cheat and have the AI buddies not actually take damage from the Sun (they should still have damage effects) and have them try to move from shadow to shadow. The tube you fly through to get to the center, you could just have the entrance to the tube blocked somehow and require waiting for everyone to gather at the entrance before entering. Or cheat, and have the AI buddies follow through the tube with a slight delay after you’ve gone through regardless of where they actually are. Just cheating is actually probably the easiest and most gameplay friendly way of doing everything. Not sure about the ending sequence, though. Having everyone in vehicles sounds like absolute chaos, and the corraling AI to go through the core and run to the dropship in the end seems, uh, kinda hard. You could just have the surviving AI buddies get on the ship in a cutscene regardless of where they actually were when you made it. You’re probably not looking behind you when running to the ship so just hand waving it and saying they were right behind you is probably fine. Yeah, just cheat and say they made it with you, assuming they survive in combat, obviously.
So then you get back to Earth. I’d really like this mission expanded. It’s by far my favourite feeling mission. So I’d just add a few encounters, keep the matchmade buddies (which, btw, should also show up in during the attack on the City, like they currently do), otherwise, it’s the same mission. You get sent up to Ghaul’s ship alone, and then you get to fighting Ghaul, and I’m actually of two minds how this should go down. So on one hand, you just fight Ghaul without powers, everything goes the way you know, the Traveler wakes, everybody gets their light back. But, maybe more interestingly, when Ghaul takes the light, it could somehow affect you as well, maybe through the wells of light that already exist in the fight, and you get your powers back! So, here it is, the culmination of your journey, you finally get to use your powers again, and it’d just be this epic battle between superpowered beings! Ghaul isn’t a very good boss fight currently, there’s just nothing there, neither challenge or anything interesting. Fighting him without powers? That’d definitely be more difficult, but it wouldn’t really add anything interesting to it. Obviously, you could just change how Ghaul acts, give him more moves and mechanics, and that’d make him a better boss, even in the current campaign. But I’m actually really attracted to the idea of getting you powers back just for this final boss fight, even if otherwise it wouldn’t be changed at all. Because then, it’d be actually memorable. It’d be a reward! You’ve gone through the entire campaign struggling, at least thematically, to survive and triumph, but now you’d be powerful again! You’d just fucking destroy Ghaul and his troops! Now, truth be told, while I think the battle’d work without any changes in this scenario, I think it could be massively improved by some changes. Change the arena layout so you’d have more opportunities to use your mobility option, remember, you’ve gone the entire campaign without it. Also moving around and positioning is just fun. Maybe give Ghaul some new moves to make him feel more dynamic, more threatening. This might just be my experience talking, I’ve killed him three times after all, so I’ve got him down, but I could swear he just didn’t feel very threatening even on my first playthrough. You’d probably want to change the pacing of the fight and give the player the chance to reacquiant themselves with their powers. Maybe just throw some mooks at you and have the Ghost say something/have tooltips to remind you what buttons to press. And that, I think, would make for a far more interesting, more memorable, more rewarding boss fight. No need to make the fight actually more difficult, just give it more context, more flavour. And maybe change how the fight works a bit, I dunno, it’s not necessary, but it’d be cool.
And that’s the campaign, but before you go, I have to talk a bit about the post game. See, you weren’t leveling during the campaign. And now you are! How should the post game accommodate that? And I actually don’t really know. Does anything even need to be done? The main rub here is that I think leveling, well, gaining skills anyway, could be, and probably should be, way faster. You’ve gone through the whole campaign without powers, so you probably don’t want to start from the bottom with leveling up. And in the second final boss scenario, you needn’t either, since you get your powers back for the fight. This implies that you have at least one set of powers in one element to begin with. And honestly, I’d be fine with just giving all the skills in an element when you get that element. There aren’t that many skills so just getting them all at once wouldn’t be too overwhelming in my opinion. But getting skills one by one encourages you to try them out when you get them, so that aspect would be lost. So I dunno. Either way there’s still the matter of getting elements. And honestly, it could be anything. Maybe you do some pilgrimage, maybe you go to the spooky forest, maybe you gather some resource like vision of light, I honestly don’t know. They all work. It’s really just a matter of what kind of flavor you want to add to the game. Since you don’t get your powers there, it wouldn’t be necessary to have to go the spooky forest to get elements, but it’d still be neat! I liked those missions. Maybe you’d still get the cutscene telling you to go the forest and the shard, but when you go there the first time there’s nothing there. You come back, demoralized, go through the campaign, find yourself again, and then, when you’ve got your light back, you go the forest and find a shard that has light and get your new elements! That’d be interesting, certainly, and would preserve the neat missions.
And that’s it, I think. That’s my theorycrafted idea for a more interesting campaign. If I was in charge, is this what I would have done? Assuming that there was enough resources, time, and no playtesting or other research that’d inevitably say that people want their powers early, sure! Would denying key gameplay elements for the duration of the campaign and then having to start progress in the post game have been worth the payoff? Probably not! But damn if it hadn’t been appealing to me, specifically.
So, in short, I think that not giving the player powers back until after the campaign would have made for a more interesting experience. It would give the player a chance to actually think about the powers they’ve lost, and have a much greater emotional payoff when you do get them back. At the expense of gameplay.