destiny 2 strand interview

Destiny 2: Lightfall Interview – Weaving A New Way to Play With Strand

Tugging at threads with Kevin Yanes and Eric Smith as we deep-dive into Lightfall's brand-new Darkness subclass.

There’s palpable excitement in the Destiny community as we inch closer towards the release of Destiny 2’s fifth major expansion, Lightfall. While the narrative prospects of this penultimate piece to the Light versus Darkness saga are tantalising, there’s just as much anticipation for the brand-new Darkness subclass; Strand. We were lucky enough to see the new Strand trailer early, alongside being invited to a roundtable interview with a handful of other outlets. Here’s what design lead Kevin Yanes, and feature lead Eric Smith had to say on Strand’s inspirations, power fantasy, and what players can expect from it when Lightfall launches later this month.

What does Strand do better than Solar, Arc, Void, and Stasis? Why am I going to run Strand over those subclasses in endgame content?

Eric Smith: I think Strand does a number of things better than any other subclass. The grapple abilities specifically provide players with more movement freedom than they’ve ever had before. The core gameplay of loop of Strand is very dynamic. When using a Strand subclass, any Strand debuffed enemy that you defeat is going to turn into a Tangle when you kill them.

A Tangle is this kind of swirling bundle of strands, I can pick that Tangle up and throw them at enemies as a bomb, or I can shoot the Tangle where it lies or floats in the air to create an explosion. Additionally, when I grapple to a Tangle, it doesn’t cost me my grenade energy. So I can grapple to a Tangle, snatch it out of the air, throw it at an enemy, and still have a grapple ready to go. I think that sort of thing lends itself to the high actions per minute gameplay that you’re going to see with Strand.

There are a lot of Aspects and exotic armor that alter your Tangles in various ways. So for me, it doesn’t play like any of the other subclasses. It has its own unique identity.

There seems to be an underlying theme of control and manipulation with the darkness subclasses. Was that an intentional decision to separate them from the light subclasses and lean into a different kind of power fantasy?

Kevin Yanes: I would say that it isn’t necessarily an explicit goal for all Darkness subclasses to have manipulation of control over the battlefield, but we knew we wanted them to feel different. When we designed Stasis, we didn’t want it to just be melting things with your eyeballs, so we went down a crowd control route.

When we looked at Strand we also felt the same. We didn’t want to make just another flavor of instakill, so we looked at the suite of things we had done and we knew that the space of crowd control was relatively unexplored in our game. We had this fantasy of dark telekinesis from the beginning, telekinetic suspension, lifting things with your mind – that became a core driving fantasy. That led us down the path of featuring more crowd control in the game.

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The Darkness subclasses also have a physicality to them in Stasis crystals and now Tangles, are these created with other gameplay purposes in mind?

KY: One way we think about Darkness subclasses and Darkness-like mechanical languages, is having physicality to them. All the Light subclasses are ethereal, magical, and energy based. With the Darkness subclasses you see a lot of physicality and manifestations in our world. Tangles, the Woven Form, Threadlings, Stasis Crystals and Bleak Watchers all reinforce that identity.

How is Destiny 2’s Level Design Affected by the Introduction of a Grappling Hook in the Strand Subclasses?

ES: Lightfall’s campaign specifically, was affected by the grapple and Grapple Tangles scattered throughout Neomuna. Grapple Tangles are like normal Tangles, but they’re more ethereal, so you can pick up and throw them for an explosion but you can still grapple to them for free. Those are scattered around Neomuna allowing you to chain grapples. Additionally, there are sections of Lightfall where we’re grappling to moving objects and vehicles to pull ourselves around the environment.

That said, the grapple can be used in any environment in the game. One thing we did with the grapple was, when you press the button, we always want to honor the players intent by pulling them in that direction, because that’s why they pressed the button. Even if the grapple doesn’t have the range to reach a surface and latch on to it, it’s going to anchor itself in midair, and pull us in that direction. So I can use this in existing raids and strikes to great effect in that, if I see a platform, and I want to swing up to it, I just look in the air, I press the button, and it’s going to pull me up there.

This is something we knew was a big deal when it came to existing environments, because it allows players to do things in those environments that we’ve never allowed them to do before. That part of it can be a little bit scary – when you put something out into the world that touches so much existing content, but we’re really excited to see what players do with it.

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What does unlocking Strand look like? How grindy will it be in comparison to something like Stasis?

ES: We definitely learned from the Stasis unlock grind that it was hard to dedicate that much time per character to do all that. We’ve streamlined it this time. Instead of it being locked behind time-gated quests, it’ll be much more open in that I’m earning currency to unlock these things when I want to unlock them, essentially.

KY: When you end the campaign, you’ll have a pretty competent subclass, right? You will have a few Aspects, and I think we do a better job of onboarding the player here. Whereas In Beyond Light you had just a skeleton, you had to go out and fulfill the rest of that yourself. We definitely heard the feedback from Beyond Light, we know there are a lot of people who want to come in and try the new powers but the barrier to getting there was too high.

I know internally, we have a bunch of folks who wish they had it on their alternate characters but can’t summit the hill of going through that quest line again. That is absolutely something we wanted to fix this time around. So if you beat Lightfall, you’re going to be able to play with the new toys relatively quickly. If you want to expand that arsenal, it’s going to have a really clear and easy path for you to do so.

Strand is a fundamentally different subclass in the way that it adds traversal options in the form of a grapple. Have you been wanting to take subclasses in a new direction like this for some time?

KY: Yes, we had wanted to take subclasses in a different direction for a long time. We saw a little bit of this with Stasis where we focused on crowd control over just raw damage. When we started designing Strand, we actually wanted to take it much further, we had a large ideation phase, larger than our other damage types. We talked about a whole bunch of stuff that I’m not going to spoil because one day we might use it, but it was pretty out there. As we refined it and found what was necessary to the experience we pulled some stuff out and we indexed more subtly on things that we felt like were going to change the experience.

For instance, one of the things you’ll find when you use Strand is that it’s more rewarding the higher your actions per minute are. There are combinations you can have like debuffing a target with a melee, turning them into a Tangle, throwing that Tangle, grappling onto that Tangle which detonates as you follow up with a grapple punch, which, depending on your class might spawn Threadlings, or might unravel them to create new projectiles that then feed into your loop.

I remember the first couple of PvP play tests and I was giggling because I’m like, oh my god, the interaction matrix is massive here. When you string all of these commands together, you feel this rush of dopamine that I don’t think any of our other subclasses have without considerable mastery. The neat thing about Strand is we really have ended up with something that we believe is pretty easy to get into, but has a considerable amount of depth for you to master let alone the build crafting game that surrounds it.

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Where did the inspiration for Strand come from?

KY: As for how we arrived at this power, we tried to find something that was cohesive with the 80s action hero theme of Lightfall. We dabbled in a number of interesting concepts from nanomachines to visualized audio, we always tried to relate everything back to the initial Darkness language of resonance. You can see that in Stasis where you have these Cymatics-like patterns on everything, the way the crystals fester and move, all of that is to reinforce that this is from the same power suite. Strand is no different, right? So we went into this world of telekinesis. Telekinesis was big thing in the 80s and 80s entertainment, we landed on this idea of dark telekinesis and we started thinking about how that was going to manifest in-game.

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The concept of the Weave came out of the idea that it’s this dimensional construct that is interconnecting all living things. The power of Strand is the manipulation of that interconnected web of things. So you’ll see things like the World Strands, which are just like you, a powerful entity, or the way constructs of Strand that are bleeding into our world will start to illuminate some of that dimensional weave behind it. That all started from the point of how do we do 80s action hero sci fi? What are the tropes there? We built off of that for months and months.

Eric Mentioned that Hunters can place Tangles Via an Aspect. Does this mean you can create your own sort of jungle gym within an encounter space?

ES: Absolutely. You can create your own jungle gym, the Tangle lasts an (undisclosed) amount of time but once you grapple onto it, it actually resets that timer. So the answer is yes, you could create that jungle gym indefinitely as long as you keep grappling to those Tangles.

KY: Those Tangles are for friendlies too, right? A common practice is to dive a zone with a Hunter leading the charge, creating Tangles to grapple off of that don’t consume your grenade cooldown. You can then follow up with grapple punches, you can do cheeky and funny things you otherwise wouldn’t be able to.

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What does Strand offer from a mastery perspective and how long do you feel players will need to play with the subclass to really feel good with it?

ES: It’s going to vary depending on subclass, obviously, but I think we wanted to add some depth to Strand. Using the Hunter as an example, we’ve talked about Tangles, and how when we notice there is a Tangle, we can shoot it to make it explode, we can grab it and throw it, we can grapple to it. The Hunter has a melee attack called threaded spike that goes out and bounces between enemies, and once there are no more enemies, it comes back to the Hunter. When it comes back to the Hunter, it’s going to provide melee energy based on how many enemies that hits, but you can actually press the melee button again, at the moment that the spike comes back to you and catch it out of the air to increase how much melee energy you get. If you can excel in that timing mini game, you can increase your overall output.

Additionally, the Hunter super, you weave this rope dart that has a light attack as well as a heavy attack. The light attack, if you hit enemies with the tip of the dart, will deal bonus damage. If you defeat an enemy like that they’re going to explode and damage enemies around them. So you can run in all willy-nilly and just swipe at everything, but if you can actually master the spacing required to like get that critical hit every single time, we’re rewarding that mastery with additional damage.

The Game Awards and Neomuna Destination Trailers have both shown off a new Hunter Ability akin to Shatterdive and Quickfall. Can you shed some light on this ability and its applications?

ES: Yeah, so this ability is called Ensnaring Slam. It’s one of the Hunter Aspects. It’s similar to other Hunter air slams but it has a unique timing and weight where you do this gainer backflip and slam to the ground suspending all nearby enemies. It has great synergy when paired with the grapple. For example, you can grapple above a group of enemies and slam down and it just feels really good to do so.

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Can we expect more Fragments and Aspects for Strand as future seasons are rolled out after Lightfall’s release?

ES: We will be releasing new parts of the subclass, new Aspects, as the seasons succeeding Lightfall come out.

What are your favorite Strand exotic gear combos?

ES: I think for me one of the new exotics we just showed in our weapons and armor video that came out earlier this week was the Warlock Swarmers boots. When you destroy a Tangle, it creates Threadlings from that Tangle. That’s one of my favorite combos, you know, the Warlock is all about Threadlings, so any exotic that allows me to generate more Threadlings is gonna help that play style a lot.

The Warlock has a special kinship with Threadlings, which are these explosive creatures woven from Strand matter that crawl towards enemies, and then jump on them and explode. This is going to happen, regardless of what class you are, but if you’re a Warlock, Threadlings that can’t find any more targets are actually going to come back to you and hop on to you, which is an action we call perching. When a Threadling perches on you, it condenses down into the smaller form and orbits around you. So I can run around with my minions, and as I attack enemies, they’re also going to pop off me and rush toward those enemies.

KY: I don’t want to try to pronounce the name of this helmet (Cyrtarachne’s Façade). The new exotic Hunter helmet that applies Woven Mail on grapple. I’m personally a big fan of that because I feel like not only does it provide a great advantage through Woven Mail, giving you damage resistance on your entire body including PvP, but it also creates this entire new avenue of Fragment build-crafting that was not available to you before. Woven Mail isn’t something that’s readily available to the Hunter, and now it being applied through a grapple, it starts to synergize with one of your other aspects that gives you the double grapple charge.

Then I can start to itemize and use the fragments that reward me for having Woven Mail on or do different effects based on things permitted while using Woven Mail. Personally to me, that’s the most interesting part because that’s the stuff you get to nerd out about and theory craft. Hopefully somebody does the work there and talks about it on YouTube or on Reddit and they’re like I created this super busted thing.

To me that’s like a successful exotic ability pairing when a new avenue of gameplay opens up that’s completely emergent, just from the systems talking to each other. We call them little engines that are self running. Then you start to add another part to it and now they’re talking to each other and these engines are almost perpetuating each other. That’s the kind of the fantasy we have when we’re thinking about build crafting in the game.

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We have five subclasses right now and many are expecting a sixth in The Final Shape to make for three Light and three Dark. After designing Strand, how do you feel about the remaining design space for abilities in Destiny 2, and is there another big fantasy you still want to try?

KY: I feel good about the design space we have,  I hope we proved that with Subclass 3.0, we can take a defined subclass like Arc, Solar, Void, and bring newness to them. Thruster, Thunderclap, Gathering Storm, Child of the Old Gods, Lightning Surge, all new abilities that are nowhere near available to you in the old subclasses. Maybe it’s nice naivete, but the abilities team doesn’t like to like give up or feel like we’re at the end of the systemic road we’re on.

I think we believe pretty heavily that there’s a considerable amount of design space available for us to consume and discover more of. In terms of what design space would be around for a new fantasy of subclass? That’s a hard question to answer. Because if you’d asked me this after Stasis, I wouldn’t have even been remotely putting myself in the mindset of what Strand could be. I think, should we sit down and think about a space of a new power, I have all the all the confidence in the world that the team we’ve assembled on combat gameplay can pull it off.

ES: I agree. There’s still plenty of ability design space in Destiny 2. Like I said earlier, for every ability idea we execute on we leave a ton of others on the cutting room floor. There are new emotional fantasies, new mechanics that aren’t necessarily causing and preventing damage. There’s all sorts of things that we we’d love to explore in the future.

I think grappling hooks are awesome, and people love using them. We didn’t ever want to like shoehorn it into Destiny 2, but because of the kind of emotional fantasy we created with Strand revolving around rope and string, it was the perfect time to make it happen. I think there’s a lot of other stuff lurking out there, waiting for the perfect time to be implemented into the game.

We’re only a few short weeks away until Lightfall officially launches on February 28th, in the meantime, keep an eye out for the conclusion event for Season of the Seraph as we move towards the beginning of the end, and check out the official Strand trailer below!