Destiny 2: Beyond Light just released last week, and while I’ll have more thoughts on the Beyond Light campaign and renewed hobby later, I did want to talk about one major element Beyond Light improves in Destiny 2: the new player experience.
Back in 2019 when Shadowkeep launched and Destiny 2 went free-to-play with Destiny 2: New Light, the new player experience was somewhat at odds with the rest of the game. As a living game, in Destiny 2, the state of the in-game world stands at the current narrative arc, so the difficulty then becomes how to best bring new players onboard. At launch in 2017, the Red War campaign provided a sufficient onboarding ramp that introduced players to characters, mechanics, and all of the basics you needed to know to enjoy Destiny 2.
Shadowkeep introduced a new challenge. The state of the game had moved beyond Ghaul’s conquering of the Traveler, and if Bungie wanted to balance out players jumping right in and joining their friends, they didn’t want to require they complete the whole Red War campaign first. So they constructed a new player experience in New Light that mimicked Destiny 1, first waking up in Old Russia, going through the wall of the Cosmodrome, and finding a ship to bring the new guardian back to the Tower.
While Shadowkeep’s New Light experience taught the basics of the controls, it failed to guide players much beyond that. Once they’d located the ship after the brief opening sequence, they would be dumped unceremoniously in the Tower and forced to fend for themselves. The Red War and Forsaken campaigns were hidden in a sub-menu that required you to talk to a specific (yet unmarked) NPC in the Hangar. Players were left largely directionless and confused. What’s a Strike? What’s the Crucible? Gambit? The idea here was centered on community and getting new players playing with friends quickly, but it relied heavily on outside research, being a part of the community and having friends who played, and tended to alienate players without groups quickly.
Beyond Light’s New Light
For Beyond Light, Bungie brought back Destiny 1′s old Cosmodrome location and retooled it to be at the center of the new player experience. Instead of finding a ship, players now come across a guardian named Shaw Han who is working to push back the Hive in Old Russia. There’s an extended questline that will have players working with Shaw for a couple of hours before obtaining a ship of their own and heading to the Tower. Even then, once you get to the Tower, a series of quest markers guides you through the process of meeting characters and understanding their purpose.
There’s still plenty left to discover for new players beyond the introductory questline, but it feels far more welcoming to the experience than the previous New Light iteration did. As somewhat of a standalone story arc, Shaw Han’s presence in the Cosmodrome offers the perfect ramp for new players to learn the basics of not only gameplay, but the state of the world, so that when they get to the Tower, it feels like they are naturally joining the big fight against the Darkness at its current place in the narrative timeline. After all, within the lore, new Guardians are being resurrected all the time. It stands to reason that many of them would have missed past story events.
Getting the new player experience just right is a challenge for Bungie, because Destiny 2 is constantly changing and shifting. Many mechanics are specific to the expansion or season that is currently running, though there are fundamental basics that underscore most elements. With the evolving storyline, the intro quest needs to be able to be slotted in anywhere, both covering those essential basics of the game while letting players take off on their own once they’ve gotten their newly risen feet wet in the Cosmodrome.
As a longtime Destiny player with literally thousands of hours into the series, it’s hard for me to gauge exactly how effective this new introductory questline is for someone fresh out of the grave, but I was surprised with how expansive it was when I played it (a quest kiosk in the Tower allows existing players to experience the full New Light questline for themselves). Going beyond covering basic shooter mechanics, it touches on things like bounties, what strikes are, and even gives new players a taste of who characters like Shaxx and Drifter are, even if it doesn’t directly have them playing Crucible or Gambit right away. It also offers a “free” Exotic weapon through the retooled Riskrunner quest, a tribute to Cayde-6 and a good story primer for the current makeup of the Vanguard.
Though the New Light quest may not be nearly as expansive or intensive as something like the Red War campaign in terms of showing players the ropes, it’s far better than a ten-minute intro sequence that barely explains anything. It’s also a much better option than utilizing the current year’s story as a primer to Destiny, letting veteran players avoid overt tutorialization where it isn’t needed. Depending on what changes occur future story arcs, the New Light quest may need to be adjusted slightly to fit into the in-game world state (I’m eyeing all of those “Zavala going darkside” rumors that have been flying around), but it provides a much stronger platform to introduce new players to Destiny than Bungie’s ever had before, short of launching a whole new game.
After all, if Bungie plans to support Destiny 2 for at least two more expansions and their seasons through fall 2023 (and whatever comes after that), they need an effective path for any new players who want to join in the fight during that time.