Destiny 2 Beyond Light is Getting Some Big Under-the-Hood Tech Improvements, Also Snowstorms

When Bungie decided to maintain Destiny 2 for the long run instead of shifting to another sequel, it meant figuring out how to shore up the platform in order to support years of future development and evolution. Announcing Beyond Light as the beginning of a trilogy of yearly expansion releases extending through 2022 (and likely being supported at minimum through fall 2023), Destiny 3 was off the table, but under-the-hood changes needed to be made to the base Destiny 2 platform.

The latest This Week at Bungie blog post dove into some of those nerdy technical aspects, courtesy of Destiny Engineering Director David Aldridge, hinting at the direction Bungie wants to take the game over the next three years. First, to be most clear, this is not a “new engine,” which is a claim I’ve seen popping up on Twitter from people who don’t understand how game development works. Destiny 2 is not moving to a whole new engine, but rather, one might compare this to getting a tune-up and upgrading a few parts. Fundamentally, it’s still the same engine, but it’s undergoing various enhancements that lay the foundations for things Bungie plans to do in the future.

There are four main things that Alridge talks about changing with Beyond Light this November, as well as how they will affect players:

Mission Scripting Changed to Physics Host From Mission Host

As an online game, the choice of where to host certain pieces of game logic within the game becomes critical to what the developer can actually do with those mechanics. Destiny 2’s particular networking model is unique, but the long and short of this decision is to allow the team to have “more novel mission mechanics” by running mission scripting on the Physics Host. Aldridge explains that the Physics Host has full access to the game state, allowing the mission mechanics to know precisely where enemies are and what actions they’ve recently taken. The existing Mission Host “only knew how many combatants were alive in a squad and what that squad was generally trying to accomplish.”

This is an enormous shift because missions can now be scripted and designed with a lot more specificity. Exactly how Bungie will utilize this remains to be seen (I’d love to hear some examples of something they can do now that they couldn’t before), but it seems like a pretty massive change to where mission scripting is being hosted.

Aldridge warns that this shift could result in unexpected bugs. Beyond Light content was built on the new hosting and scripting logic, but previous content, mission, public events, etc.—while they’ve been thoroughly tested—may still see some odd behaviors or bugs slip through. Ultimately, this will afford Bungie the opportunity to eventually build much more complex, precise, and interesting mission mechanics.

Notably this will now let players to join other fireteam members in the Tower without having to reload the entire Tower instance, allowing for “face-to-face joining in social spaces.” Aldridge says this is just laying the foundations of the new mission scripting and they hope to continue to iterate on its capabilities in future content.

Content Build Pipeline is Faster, Smaller File Sizes

Knowing that the total file size of Destiny 2 was getting a bit heady, they set about making some tune-ups to how the content building pipeline worked, accounting for both speed and size. Tech jargon aside, this means that the overall file size of Destiny 2 is about to get much smaller, and Bungie can get shippable content updates and patches ready to go faster. It will require a full redownload of the Destiny 2 client when Beyond Light releases, which will purge the game of “dead” content, or older files and assets that had been updated or replaced but were still a part of the complete install size. This trimming of the fat, in addition to sending some areas to the Destiny Content Vault, will reduce the game’s overall file size by 30-40% (between 59 and 71GB total size, platform dependent).

This process again sets a foundation to help Bungie deliver content and fixes faster in the future, as well as mitigate large install and file sizes. It also gives them the opportunity to work on content updates closer to actual release, meaning they can react to things faster, especially as it relates to the ongoing seasonal cadence. Due to the entire client needing a full redownload for Beyond Light, Bungie plans to allow for preloads on the evening of November 9th, ahead of the expansion’s release the next day.

Rebuilt the Character Face System

This part of the post stops short of confirming that we’ll be able to redo our Guardians’ faces, but Bungie is revamping the entire custom face models for Destiny 2. Using techy jargon like “combinatorics” and “decal authoring face permutations,” Aldridge basically says that the previous custom face system was rather limited. In Beyond Light, it is getting a “significantly more capable system,” again, as a foundation they “hope to leverage for more player customization options in the future.”

This change came with a full review of existing player models, making adjustments to how they look and working with Bungie’s own Diversity Committee to bring more face shapes into the game in the future. Aldridge says it’s “the long-term goal of enabling everyone to imagine themselves as their Guardian.” He also explains that your Guardians may look a little bit different in Beyond Light.

There’s no confirmation that we’ll be able to recustomize our existing Guardians’ looks, but it seems a strong possibility eventually, even if that feature doesn’t ship with Beyond Light. Also, are we finally getting beards?

Relighting EDZ and Nessus

In the three years since Destiny 2 released, a lot has changed. Tech has improved. And Bungie wants to make old content feel new again. As the only two locations from the base game sticking around, the team wanted a “visual refresh” on the old destinations, both to bring them up to current lighting standards and to give them a fresh new look when players explore them. Also of note, the post states “portions of EDZ and Nessus,” so it seems like the new lighting may be limited to specific locations on the patrol spaces. It’s also not entirely clear how drastic the lighting changes will be, but it seems big enough to at least warrant a mention, so expect some noticeable visual differences.

Bonus: Snowstorms on Europa

While not part of Aldridge’s details regarding the techy upgrades coming with Beyond Light, Bungie did also detail a pretty big change for the upcoming Europa location: dynamic snowstorms. Until now, Destiny 2’s weather has been largely static, limited to skybox changes, but never making an impact to gameplay. The goal with Europa’s snowstorms was to make the environment feel threatening and dangerous, an element of survival. But the blizzards that impact Europa had to be carefully balanced so they wouldn’t have too much of an effect on how the game feels to play overall.

“It was painfully unfun and made doing anything in the game almost impossible,” said Europa Design Lead Alex Velicky of early iterations on how snowstorms might slow the player, affect grenade trajectory, or knock Guardians off of their sparrows. Ultimately they landed on a design that impacts visibility, making the environment feel harsh, but also not overly limiting the player and what it feels like to be a Guardian.

Bungie has an entire blog post going into the deep nitty gritty of the iterative process, visuals, and sounds of the storms, an element that should make Europa feel genuinely new and legitimately dangerous as we traverse the frozen wastes.

This radical tune-up to Destiny 2 is undoubtedly what caused a delay in Beyond Light’s release, but the foundation it sets up seems like it will be worth waiting for. Most notably, these enhancements and changes unlock some of the previous limitations Bungie had to mission design, so expect to see the developer start playing around with more unique ideas.

Bungie recently detailed Europa more fully, including releasing a full map of the area and screenshots of each individual location. Beyond Light will be coming to PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Stadia on November 10th. It will be available on next-gen consoles on their respective release dates.