Understanding Destiny 2’s Massive New Technical Changes For Beyond Light

Yesterday, Bungie posted a rather technical TWAB featuring Destiny 2 Engineering Director David Aldridge. He explained a bunch of changes coming to Beyond Light in the backend that may not show up in huge ways right at launch, but are the start of building the game into something better for the longer term, now that Destiny 3 is no more (or at least years and years away) and we have three new expansions to get through in Destiny 2.

To be extremely clear up front, none of this is saying that Destiny 2 is getting a new engine. While some of these changes are sweeping and major, Destiny is not replacing its engine with a new one, it is upgrading and fixing its current engine. Sure, Bungie may be developing a new engine for the longer term, both for Destiny and its future IPs as it attempts to grow into the next BioWare or Blizzard, but that’s a conversation for several years from now, not for Beyond Light and the next few expansions.

So, Aldridge makes a few different points about what’s changing, and while again, not all of this will be super visible right when Beyond Light hits, the potential for larger changes to come is there.

We shifted our mission scripting model to run on the Physics Host instead of the Mission Host.

Aldridge explains this as missions now gaining the ability to have more knowledge about enemies and their actions than the way missions work now. The new Physics Host model will give missions full access to the game state, which should result in more complex and interesting gameplay in missions. But up front, this may end up breaking some old missions and encounters that were not built on this system. For instance, this is the reason that the Prophecy dungeon is going away for a short time, because this change made it entirely inaccessible.

We revamped our content building and patching pipeline for speed and install size.

It used to take a full 24 hours to ship a build of Destiny 2, which is just an absurdly long time, and now they have it down to under 12. The bad news with this change is that Destiny 2 and Beyond Light will have to be a full re-download for players to implement these changes. The good news is that there will be a pre-load window on November 9 ahead of the November 10 launch, though obviously that makes things a bit tricky for those wanting to play immediately on new Xboxes. Additional good news is that the overall game size will be smaller now, somewhere between 59 and 71 GB, which honestly, is downright tiny in the current state of the industry for a AAA game.

I did find it interesting that while yes, there are changes to make updates and the game size itself smaller overall by removing bad processes and dead assets, that the 30-40% reduction in size pretty much corresponds with the sense that 30-40% of the game (if not more) is being shelved with the Content Vault. Five massive zones are gone, along with smaller things like Zero Hour, the Farm, Forges and so on, so taking those away and adding Beyond Light (Europa and the Cosmodrome), and we still have a game 40% smaller than before. Pretty wild.

Finally, in general, this new system will allow Bungie to make changes to the game faster and more responsively than they can now where it no longer takes a full day to ship a build. They can also keep working on content closer to release to add additional changes, 1-2 extra weeks, according to this.

We rebuilt our character face system.

This is fascinating. It actually turns out there is a technical reason behind why the face customization system didn’t change at all between Destiny 1 and 2 and why we have not been able to edit our faces since. It’s pretty technical, but the long and short of it is that because of how inefficiently the old process worked (rendering every decal across every permutation of every face) meant the system could never be expanded.

But it will be able to with this rebuild. And yes, I do think we should start getting our hopes up about both the ability to re-customize our faces and potentially new customizations options (yes, even beards, maybe). Again, this is not something that will launch with Beyond Light, but this section makes it pretty clear that Bungie knows we want to better customize our Guardians, and nothing about them changing this system implies to me that we would have to take an extreme step like deleting and remaking our Guardians to implement it, so I wouldn’t worry too much about that.

We relit portions of EDZ and Nessus.

As the last two year 1 zones, apparently EDZ and Nessus do not meet the new visual standards of the game, and will be relit in order to try to combat that. I heard some saying that this implies that Europa will be a much better looking zone, though I am wondering why DLC areas like The Tangled Shore, the Dreaming City and the Moon aren’t mentioned here, as that might imply those are already the “better looking” type of zone that the EDZ and Nessus will now be. But I never really noticed a difference between the fidelity of year 1 zones and year 2-3 zones personally. But yes, in general, it seems likely that Destiny will continue to see visual improvements over time as we move into next-gen and PC only soon enough.

So yeah, some of this is hard to parse, but overall this seems like a tremendous amount of work being done behind the scenes that will ultimately make the game a lot better, even if it’s not right when Beyond Light debuts. Good stuff, and I can’t wait to see the fruits of this in the longer term.

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