The process of making games is endlessly fascinating, and over the years we've been particularly drawn to some of the funny little development concepts that calcify into memorable terminology. These are usually phenomena so oft-encountered that developers need a shorthand for referring to them. There are obvious ones like "crunch", but one of the ones we enjoy hearing about is "qualify-of-life improvements".
How can a game developer improve your quality of life, exactly? Usually it's a simple thing. It's particularly noticeable in sequel design, when millions of players (hopefully) of the original game have encountered something so frequently that the developers have taken notice of it and changed it in the follow-up. A particularly good quality-of-life improvement is the sort of thing you only notice when it changes for the better.
Anyway, like many of you, we have spent the last couple of weeks absolutely fused to Destiny 2, exploring the reaches of Nessus, Titan, Io and the European Dead Zone and lately starting to get to grips with Leviathan, the enormous new Raid. Our review is coming soon - we didn't want to rush to judgement on a game that requires so much multiplayer activity - but in the meantime we felt like calling out the little things we've noticed in Destiny 2 that have improved the game considerably. These quality-of-life improvements are the sorts of things that might get lost easily in the discourse around such a vast game, so they deserve their moment in the sun.
Bungie has perhaps wisely kept the famous "Destiny bounce" - the physics that mean you often rebound from a surface as you jump or boost into it, sending you in a direction you don't want. The Destiny bounce is pivotal to the way the game feels, even if it gets us killed more than we'd like. But something the developers have seen fit to add is a subtle bit of mantling - the way the player pulls themselves over an edge if they can reach it but haven't quite landed on top of it.
Mantling is one of those things that you will probably end up doing every few minutes in Destiny 2, and every time it happens it is saving you time. You've jumped, double-jumped, maybe even triple-jumped to reach something and you haven't quite judged it perfectly. Previously there was no in-between - if you didn't get your feet up, you fell. Now, your Guardian essentially (and invisibly) grabs the slightly-missed edge and hauls you over it. It's particularly noticeable when you grab at a railing.
We played the original Destiny for hundreds of hours - and we know of people for whom that was the thin end of the wedge. To say that mantling will smooth the experience for us in the months to come is putting it mildly. Most of the time it will merely mean the difference between seconds gained and seconds lost, but we'd imagine it will also mean the difference between life and death more than enough to make it a huge quality-of-life improvement in the way the Destiny experience unfolds.
Everything to do with the map
Mantling may be easy to overlook, but the myriad improvements to how you navigate between activities in Destiny 2 are collectively fantastic. It will seem incredible to players who begin their Destiny adventure with this game that we used to do things like going to orbit before going to the Tower, and then going to orbit again before going to an activity. It will seem borderline insane that there was only one spawn point for each of the whole of these vast planets, forcing us to spend minutes navigating on Sparrow-back to reach the more distant environments like the Forgotten Shore on Earth. Why would anyone put up with that? Why would anyone make it work that way to begin with?
Well, it doesn't work that way now. Now you can go from the Tower straight to the next mission you want to do. You can go from the boss room of a Strike straight to the Tower to decrypt your winnings. And if you finish an activity deep in the bowels of a planet, you can simply fast-travel to one of the spawn points on the surface. You can see on the map where public events are and when they will start. You can even see where Xur is every weekend without going on the internet. Xur articles were the lowest of the low-hanging fruit for the increasingly guide-obsessed games media, increasing the media and search profile of the game in the first place, and Bungie has removed the need for them because this makes for a better player experience.
That's a common theme with these quality-of-life improvements, too. Some of these habitual behaviours - going to orbit, looking up Xur's location - have become part of Destiny's DNA in a way that felt irreplaceable. But there were no sacred cows among Destiny's rituals for Bungie. Instead the developer seems to have approached Destiny 2's development by looking for unnecessary wasted time and killing it.
These are far and away not the only examples of Destiny 2 prioritizing our quality of life. There's Guided Games, for another, and the increased amount of glimmer players can hold. There are counter-examples, of course - we're not wild about the way Sparrows are withheld from you for the entirety of the campaign - but nothing too damning. Whether Destiny 2 delivers as much over the long haul as its predecessor still remains to be seen, but it certainly feels interesting to note, as we enter our third week playing Bungie's latest shared-world shooter, that having gone into it expecting to be bowled over by big things, instead it's the little things that seem to really matter.