What Do We Expect From A Video Game Sequel?
Last month, Bungie and Activision debuted gameplay from Destiny 2 — the sequel to 2014’s “shared world shooter”. After the initial excitement of seeing favorite characters in new worlds subsided, the conversation within the games’ press and Destiny community turned to whether or not Destiny 2 felt like a proper follow up.
It’s a pertinent question in the case of Destiny developer Bungie. Their breakthrough IP, Halo, was and continues to be a blockbuster franchise — each sequel brings fans back into the fold for a new story and updated multiplayer mode. With Destiny 2, Bungie is drawing on that tradition, but also nodding towards the increasingly popular games-as-a-service model — where, instead of the typical sequel release cycle, developers provide new content at a regular basis. The shortcomings of the first game have fans wondering whether Destiny 2 can pull of either approach, let alone both.
Destiny often draws comparisons to the Halo series. Besides coming from the same studio, they share the same basic story (super soldier saves civilization from aliens), aesthetic (epic sci-fi) and gameplay genre (first person shooter). This comparison also sets an expectation for what should be in a Destiny game on day one. Halo games, like a typical entertainment product, provide a packaged experience at a flat price. For $60, each sequel continues the story of the Master Chief through a 10–20 hour single player campaign, which can be replayed at higher difficulties. Additionally, updates to the multiplayer mode (new maps, weapons and mechanics) give players new reasons to mess around with friends or challenge themselves against the digital masses.
Destiny didn’t live up to these standards. Although it offers a single-player campaign, it’s largely considered one of the game’s weakest elements—the story is incoherent and encounters aren’t difficult enough to provide a satisfying challenge on repeat play. In the multiplayer arena, Destiny lacked some of the key features that made Halo multiplayer so replayable— such as private games with customizable rules, or a competitive ranking system.
Where Destiny falls short of Halo, it borrows from service games like World or Warcraft or League of Legends. Service games, like all software-as-a-service products, provide continuous updates at a continuous cost. In the case of World of Warcraft (WoW), a monthly subscription covers regular in-game events. Every two years, a $50 expansion provides dozens if not hundreds of hours of gameplay—new worlds to explore, quests to embark on and high-level raids to conquer. League of Legends, on the other hand, is a free-to-play title supported by micro-transactions. These range from cosmetics to playable hero characters, and though they are entirely optional, the average LoL player spends about $24/year. Revenues from micro-transactions support a couple dozen free updates each season—this helps keep LoL’s competitive multiplayer feeling fresh.
Whether events, expansions or seasons, WoW and LoL benefit from consistent and dependable content schedules. In comparison, Destiny has been anything but consistent. Bungie launched Destiny on September 9, 2014; they released one expansion later that year, two expansions in 2015 and one final expansion in 2016. These ranged in quantity and quality of content—compared to WoW, they grew stale quickly and left players with long stretches of little to do. Destiny also offers micro-transactions, which are supposed to support regular updates. Though some of these updates have been substantial—compared to LoL, they were infrequent. In total, Destiny 1 cost at least $175 across three years and left players hungry for content most of that time.
If you asked Bungie what type of game Destiny 2 is supposed to be — a new chapter in a blockbuster franchise or an iteration on an ever-expanding service game — they would probably say both. But with the shortcomings of the first Destiny in mind, potential new players wonder whether they’ll be buying a complete game and returning players fear the seemingly inevitable content droughts. If you asked people what they want from a Destiny sequel, you’d get a wide range of answers—a more cinematic story, a larger universe to explore, additional multiplayer features. At the bare minimum, Bungie owes players a clear sense of the experience they’re buying in to.