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Destiny 2’s Gambit mode is the kind of innovative, intense fun the game needs right now

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The best of both worlds

Image: Bungie

Developer Bungie has a lot riding on Destiny 2’s Forsaken expansion. It launches in September, and it promises to bring with it a number of minor and major changes to how the game looks and feels and what players will spend their time doing in the studio’s supernatural universe. Bungie’s main goal is to try and court back disheartened players who feel like the game lost the magic of the original. But unlike most game developers, Bungie typically chooses not to spill a lot of the details here at E3 in Los Angeles, where most of the game industry’s biggest players are trying to drum up hype for new releases.

Instead, Bungie brought Gambit, one of the more interesting additions coming to Forsaken, here to E3 as a playable demo. Gambit is a new game mode offering something Destiny fans have never quite seen before. It’s a hybrid experience that blends traditional player-versus-environment, or PvE, encounters with competitive multiplayer, known as PvP (player-versus-player). The promise is to deliver the best of both worlds for players who might not enjoy competing directly against other real players and those who do.

The mix is something that’s very difficult to do right. Failing to create a cohesive, fun experience for all players that offers both play styles at the same time is one of the primary reasons why Ubisoft’s The Division, which tried its own version of this blend with its ambitious Dark Zone environment, failed to live up to expectations back in 2016. Bungie has never even tried it in its four years of Destiny and Destiny 2.

Yet after spending about 20 minutes over two rounds of Gambit in a hotel suite here in downtown LA, I can confidently say Bungie has achieved something rather remarkable. Gambit is fun, fast-paced, and competitive while allowing for a fair amount of strategy, role-playing, and player choice. The setup is actually quite complicated when you first encounter it. Two teams effectively spawn into one of four new maps facing one of three enemy types across the four existing races in the game. (A lot of numbers, I know, bear with me.)

From there, you and your three other team members are tasked with defeating AI enemies and collecting the resources they drop. Collecting a certain number of resources and then banking those resources at a central hub will send an especially strong AI enemy to the other team’s side, with the strength of that enemy depending on the number of enemy resources you’ve collected and bank simultaneously. All the while, you’re given discrete information about your opponent’s progress. Collecting resources and banking them at critical moments is part of the strategy, and doing so effectively can halt your the other team’s ability to progress at crucial moments.

The overall goal of the game mode is to spawn your own “Prime Evil,” which is Bungie’s way of saying a final boss. That involves banking enough resources throughout the match to fill a score meter at the top of the screen. But an interesting mechanic that starts to really play into the later stages of a match is called invading, and that’s where the PvP component comes in.

Image: Bungie

At certain intervals, depending on when you bank resources, you’ll open a portal to your opponent’s world. You arrive extra powerful, with a strong shield and — if plan accordingly — enough power weapon ammo and your super bar charged to take out a few members of the enemy team. You show up to the other team as a glowing red figure, similar to the invading feature in From Software’s Dark Souls and Bloodborne games. You’re given about 20 seconds to wreak havoc before you’re teleported back, but if the enemy takes you down, you’re teleported back immediately.

So yes, Gambit sounds complicated, but in practice, it works smoothly and you’ll likely pick up the various rules in just a matter of minutes. After my first match of Gambit and into our second in our demo session, I was much more confident trying out new weapons like the new elemental crossbows. The welcomed return of shotguns and sniper rifles into the main weapon slots also made a huge difference in how fast-paced and fun Gambit felt, and that’s a big change Bungie is bringing with Forsaken. (The developer is going to talk later this summer about how weapon balance will work, and what weapons might go in which slots.) I also felt much more confident invading, and even found myself notching a couple double and triple kills throughout my second match.

Image: Bungie

The mode also finds interesting workarounds to prevent players from feeling like the PvP elements of the mode are too overwhelming, or that you’re too dependent on your teammates. The invading feature only happens once every two to three minutes it felt like, and it’s often a smart idea to make sure the person who goes over has their super attack charged and a lot of heavy ammo. That means you can rotate between your teammates to give everyone a shot at it. There’s also very clearly defined roles, between taking out AI enemies and picking up resources to deposit, so Gambit should work fine with strangers who may not be actively communicating over game chat. You can always find a way to contribute and there’s very few ways it seems to cause your teammates grief or to troll unnecessarily.

Overall, I was super pleased with how fluid, well-designed, and thoughtful Gambit is. It’s a refreshing game mode, and I haven’t had that much fun playing a new Destiny mode since maybe the launch of Rift way back in 2015, during the original game. Bungie says it’s designing all new armor sets exclusive to Gambit so players can earn rare rewards and have a reason to log in frequently and play the mode with friends. The mode is far from being a shot in the arm for the whole Destiny community, but it’s certainly a very solid and smart step in the right direction to help Destiny 2 feel revitalized and worth coming back to this fall.