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Setting Out: Story and Design in Destiny 2

We have spent a lot of time playing Destiny 2, and we caught up with Project Lead Mark Noseworthy to talk about the characters, design, and layout of Destiny 2. Read on for our preview and interview!

By Kevin Kelly on August 28, 2017 Editorial Manager
Level 28

If you stare into the distance, you can just make out Destiny 2 starting to hit the horizon. It’s not long now until the highly-anticipated game debuts on September 6, and we recently spent time playing the game and exploring some of the many locations there are to visit as you fight to regain your Light and defend humanity along with your fellow Guardians.

What stands out immediately is that there are a lot of things to do in Destiny 2. From Public Events to Adventures and Lost Sectors, you’ll find multiple paths open before you as you continue your career as a Guardian, or if you’re taking up the mantle of defender for the first time.

And that’s all in addition to the campaign, which features a truly compelling storyline with one of the best antagonists I’ve ever experienced in Dominus Ghaul, leader of the Red Cabal who wants to take the Light for himself.

During a recent preview event hosted by Bungie in Seattle, I spent much of my time exploring the European Dead Zone, just one of the many locales available in Destiny 2. That’s where you’ll check in with a sniper named Devrim Kay holed up in the tower of a church that has seen better days, yet still feels like a place of reverence and importance. From Kay’s vantage point, I could see a Public Event raging down below, while I received information from him.


From there, it was off to points unknown as a followed the campaign path, yet I kept putting that on hold to take part in other adventures, because Destiny 2 does a fantastic job of putting a wealth of choices in front of you. Never once did I feel a nagging feeling to get back to the campaign, because everything else you can do taps in to more of the game’s rich story. There is a ton of stuff in here for you to enjoy, both on your own and with other Guardians, and personally I can’t wait to jump back in.

Oh, Cayde-6 was right, there actually is a ton of loot.


At gamescom, we spoke to Bungie Project Lead Mark Noseworthy about the story and the EDZ, and here’s a deeper look into Destiny 2.

Mark, what does a Project Lead do?

Mark Noseworthy: The Project Lead's job is to manage the leadership team, that includes the executive producer, and is ultimately responsible for the game getting done on time, on budget, to meet our expectations and to have a team that's willing and able to do it again.

What has the character process been like for Destiny 2? There are some very rich characters here, and Ghaul is definitely a standout.

You know, we wanted to tell the story with relatable themes. The primary role of the story in a video game is, we think, to give you context in the universe and to make the game make sense. One of the ways we do that is by having a clear plot and interesting characters, but it's also making something you can relate to.

With Ghaul we wanted a villain that wasn't this mustache twirling cartoon character, but someone with some depth to him, someone who you could actually sympathize with. There are great villains in pop culture, characters that are really sympathetic. You can understand maybe why they're bad, or what their motives are. You don't agree with them, but you understand good guys doing bad things for these reasons. If I were him and I'd gone through the things that he had gone through, maybe I'd be the same as him.


We wanted Ghaul to be like that and that's why you get some exposure to him through his relationship with the Consul and you get to understand why he is here, and that's because he's jealous of the Traveler having chosen humanity. To bless the Guardians with these gifts and yet he's had this pretty rough life, starting at the bottom and he's worked his way to the top and earned everything and won every award, battle champion that he could and now there's this one thing that eludes him that he wants.

And he wants to take that, and, you know… I don't want to spoil the story.

There is a lot to do in this game. What went in to adding so many things for Guardians to take part in?

Yeah, you know the metaphor I've been thinking like this: the campaign is what we call the Red War, that's like the tree trunk. That's the base upon which this story in Destiny 2 is being told. It's the thing that makes it relatable, it's the hook that is going to bring people in.

But the optional content that you can do and the destinations, the exploration in the form of Adventures, or the things you can scan with the Ghost, or the quests you can go on, or the NPCs that are there. All those things are filling out the branches and the leaves of that tree trunk, and they tell their own little stories.


Every Adventure is a 10 or 15 minute mission that is separate from the Red War, but it tells a story that's about the place you're in, and the combatants that you're fighting there. If you think of a destination like Nessus, that's the destination that's been terraformed by the Vex. It's got a colonial ship that was crashed, this giant ship spread out over the course of nearly half of the location.

And when you play there and eventually if you play there long enough, you're going to have these Adventures, and if you scan enough of the things you come across, you're going to learn the story. What was this ship? What happened to it? Why is it here? What is its relevance? What is the meaning of the Vex? Why are they terraforming this unstable planetoid? Those things are separate from the Red War completely but they are interesting stories on their own. They flesh out the tapestry of the game.


Speaking of the tapestry of the game, what was the thought process for the European Dead Zone and coming up with this new massive unexplored new area for Guardians?

One of the things so far that we've done with Destiny 2 is that we've wanted not just the story to be relatable but the places as well. So that's one of the reasons we stuck to our solar system as the basis for our storytelling.

That's not to say we'll never go beyond our solar system, but there's something very relatable about Earth and the Moon and the Sun and these things that people know about them. You can imagine something like, what if Venus had been terraformed? What would that be like?

It made sense in Destiny 2 for one of the core locations, a place you're going to spend a significant amount of time with, to be on Earth. And the EDZ, the idea of this spooky corrupted forest with a shard of the Traveler in the distance, the mysteries that are there.  Plus, a spooky forest is just interesting, you know. It's a motif used in genre stuff all the time.


We wanted to set a location on planet Earth because it helps people relate to it. There's a church in Destiny 2 now, it's one of the first things you see in the EDZ and it's pretty striking. It's a beautiful church, but it also, this feels like a real place. There's a guy up in that church, I'm going to go see him, and he's always going to be there.

Having that makes even the combat and the battles and public events happening around that church, make the place feel very real. That for me is a moment in Destiny 2 where I felt like, wow, we're really nailing the feeling of these being real places much more than Destiny 1. And some of that has to do with the EDZ, and how relatable it is.

The Farm is the new social place for Destiny 2, since the Tower has been destroyed. How did you want the Farm to be different from the Tower?

The Farm is a place where humanity is just starting to rebuild, and so didn't want it to feel like a place that was technologically advanced. But at the same time, you want it to feel welcoming, a little hopeful. Like a place where people could be rebuilding, but they're not starting to build skyscrapers in here. You can hear some of the NPCs there and the trauma that they've been through. It's really like humanity have been metaphorically knocked back to the 17th century.

It is sort of nestled just on the precipice of the European Dead Zone, and you see this Shard in the distance that plays an important role in the story. It sort of foreshadows your player's journey of recovery.


Some players may be entering the world of Destiny through Destiny 2 for the very first time. What would you say to them?

The good news is that they need no preparation, because we have built Destiny 2 on the assumption that everyone playing knows nothing about Destiny 1. On a story level, on a mechanical level, we tried to make this a fresh start, an even playing field for all players.

And there will be veteran players who come into Destiny 2 who will bring in their old characters, and they'll all be at level one. They're all in the same spot. And because we knew we were going to be moving to the PC with potentially millions of new people to the franchise, we had to design the scenario for the game, the mechanics, the story, assuming you knew nothing about Destiny.

That doesn't mean we've dumbed the game down or made it less complex. There's a very rich set of systems that work together in Destiny, but we've tried to introduce them in a way that people can understand them and over time have that complexity close to them.

So, what I would really say to newcomers is that they haven't missed out on anything that they need to understand, and we're going to introduce the myth of the universe before they even play so they can catch up on the simple plot beats of what's taken place before.

Thanks Mark, I appreciate it. Thanks for making the time.

Thank you very much.

For more information about Destiny 2, be sure to check out and follow @DestinyTheGame and @Bungie on Twitter.


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