A month before Bungie planned to release Destiny — and just before its head writer quit — the developer "substantially revised" the game's story, according to a recently filed court document that provides insight into the game's development.
"Although Destiny was planned for release in September 2013, the story was substantially revised beginning August 2013, requiring a new release date of March 2014 and edits to much of the work previously completed," the document reads.
Deep within the filing, in which Martin O'Donnell prevailed in his case against the studio about his firing, lies an explanation of the events that took place in the studio between 2013 and 2014. Cross-referenced with publicly available information, it chronicles the game's troubled development and may shed light on what's coming in Destiny's second year.
A month after the story revisions, in September 2013, Destiny‘s head writer, Joe Staten, announced that he was leaving the company. For the preceding 15 years, Staten's story work included the Halo franchise's narrative and the Halo: Contact Harvest novel. Staten now works at Microsoft Game Studios.
Staten wasn't the only high profile departure before Destiny's release.
After publisher Activision replaced his music in an E3 2013 trailer, O'Donnell took a "vacation/sabbatical" in the fall of 2013, returned and "worked on the story and recorded dialogue," the court documents say. Upon his return, his supervisor and team believed he was not "fully engaged" as Audio Director, and he was fired in April 2014.
Bungie's fall 2013 release window was internal, not public, as was the revised March 2014 release. Destiny didn't ship in spring 2014, though. Instead, following an alpha and a July 2014 multiplayer beta, the massively multiplayer online first-person shooter was released on Sept. 9, 2014.
Since then, Destiny's story-based component has been the target of criticism. That includes Polygon's review, which called out its "brief, unsatisfying story missions" and "light narrative."
In the year since its release, Bungie acknowledged Destiny's narrative shortcomings. And it aims to fix some of them with the game's upcoming expansion, The Taken King, this month. We played a brief snippet of the expansion at E3, and its story elements took center stage alongside combat. Its executive producer, Mark Noseworthy, told us about an expansion built on a narrative foundation and Bungie's desire to tell stories better.
"We're constantly trying to improve every part of Destiny," Noseworthy told Polygon. "Certainly with the campaign, we're trying to deliver a story that players can really sink their teeth into. The Taken King's a villain, a bad guy that you see and understand, and his motivations and what he's doing. You're trying to stop. You understand the steps you're taking to get there, to defeat him. We're definitely trying to improve the storytelling in the game."
Today, Bungie will update the game today to version 2.0, which includes sweeping changes to the game's weapons and substantial changes to the game's leveling and loot systems. Destiny: The Taken King will launch Sept. 15. Among the expansion's copious changes, Bungie will replace Peter Dinklage's oft-criticized voice acting with Nolan North throughout the entire game.