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How Destiny 2’s new PvEvP Gambit mode came to be

Bungie explains how the ‘Halo Firefight meets Super Puzzle Fighter’ mode happened

Destiny 2: Forsaken - a Guardian shooting enemies in the Gambit mode Bungie, High Moon Studios/Activision
Ryan Gilliam (he/him) has worked at Polygon for nearly seven years. He primarily spends his time writing guides for massively popular games like Diablo 4 & Destiny 2.

Destiny 2: Forsaken’s new Gambit mode was one of the most intriguing additions teased in the expansion’s announcement in June. It sets out to marry Destiny’s two core pillars — PvE and PvP — in one mode. But Gambit didn’t start out that way.

Gambit is Destiny’s first ever PvEvP game mode. Two teams of four players each drop into separate arenas, battling various enemies within those spaces. When the enemies are killed, they drop items called motes; players gather and deposit them in a giant, cylindrical bank in the middle of the arena. The first team to bank 75 motes spawns a boss, and the first team to take down their boss wins the round; matches play out in a best-of-three format.

The twist with Gambit comes in how players can mess with the opposing team. Banking motes in quantities of five, 10 and 15 will send extra enemies called Blockers to the other team’s bank area. Blockers lock down a bank, making it impossible to deposit any motes until they’ve been defeated. At certain points in the match, players can even invade their opponents’ arena physically, giving them a chance to kill members of the enemy team.

We sat down with Gambit’s initial design lead, Lars Bakken, and current design lead, Robbie Stevens, of Destiny 2 developer Bungie to talk about Gambit’s history, and how something like it was created in the first place.

“When we first started talking about what ended up becoming Gambit, the pitch was an endgame PvE experience more along the lines of Trials [of the Nine],” said Bakken. “It hit some of those notes, even though it didn’t end up becoming exactly that.” Bakken went on to describe Gambit as a competitive experience, but not a “hardcore” one.

Bungie wanted to create “a brand-new type of activity that didn’t exist in Destiny, and didn’t exist anywhere else,” according to Bakken. One of the thought experiments that resulted in Gambit was the idea of a squad that loved playing strikes but had a fourth partner who was a skilled Crucible player.

“We started with this idea of hardcore PvE,” Bakken said. “What we ended up with was something none of us had ever played before and sort of fits in its own part of the universe. It fits nicely with Destiny, but isn’t like anything we’ve done in the past.”

With Gambit’s history as a mostly PvE-focused mode, we were curious about how the PvP invasion system became such a core part of Gambit’s identity, and how it shifted over time. Bakken came back with an odd comparison between Bungie’s past work and a completely unrelated game.

“We talked about [Gambit] really early on as [Halo’s] Firefight meets Super Puzzle Fighter,” said Bakken. “That was our goal, our mainline thread. Early on, you think about Firefight: There’s no competitive part to Firefight, apart from trying to take someone’s headshot kill or something like that. But you look at Super Puzzle Fighter: It is a direct, head-to-head competitive mode where you’re not playing Street Fighter, you’re not kicking another player in the face, you are sending disruptions over to the other player, and messing up their carefully tuned set of blocks that they’re working toward.

“As we were trying to bring that into a first-person game like Destiny, we started to wonder very early on, ‘What happens if we let another player actually go over to the other side?’ because each team is in their own bespoke arena. And because it was so easy to prototype, we had this mantra on the team like, ‘Why don’t we just try it and see what happens?’”

At the first play test, said Bakken, the people playing as the invaders were having a blast. At that point, Bungie knew it had to figure out a way to include that feature in Gambit, rather than sticking to the original PvE-only concept. But finding the right balance for the invasion element was challenging.

“What started as ‘hey, let’s test this to see if it works’ became a core principle of the mode,” said Bakken, “and we did work for months to make sure that there was enough of it so that players that were super hardcore PvP players were like, ‘I want that all the time, I want more of it,’ and the PvE players are like, ‘Ah, there’s just enough of it in there that it doesn't want to make me stop playing the game.’”

Stevens — who took over the day-to-day testing of Gambit from Bakken — chimed in with a final story about how Gambit’s PvP system came to be.

“We were trying to stay away from PvP for a little while,” said Stevens. “But this is one of those situations where, and I remember it pretty clearly, I came into the office and I looked at Lars and said, ‘Hey man, I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I think we actually want players to shoot each other.’ And he kind of looked at me and was like, ‘Are you sure?’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah, yeah, I think so.’ [...] Within the first half an hour, we knew we had something.”

Players can test out Gambit for themselves during Bungie’s free trial on Sept. 1. Destiny 2: Forsaken will be released Sept. 4 on PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One.

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