How Bungie Created Strand, Destiny 2’s First New Subclass in 3 Years
- We take a deep dive into the decisions behind Destiny 2’s second Darkness subclass
- Gameplay Features Lead Eric Smith talks us through Strand design choices
- Check out early concept art for Strand supers and abilities
Late February saw the highly anticipated release of Destiny 2: Lightfall, the new expansion that signals “the beginning of the end” to the Destiny’s Light and Darkness saga. The campaign takes Guardians to the hidden city of Neomuna, nestled inside Neptune and undisturbed until the forces of the Shadow Legion arrive. It’s up to you and Neomuna’s protectors, the Cloud Striders, to defend the city.
Our Guardians also discover a brand-new power: Strand. They learn to wield this suspicious, stringy substance throughout the Lightfall campaign, and it manifests itself into a whole new subclass for Destiny 2 players, the first to be introduced since Stasis in 2020.
We wanted to learn more about this new subclass, how Bungie arrived at its design and how all of its elements weave together, and to dig deeper in, we spoke to Gameplay Features Lead Eric Smith to uncover how the new Darkness power came to be.
Like every subclass in Destiny 2, Strand gives each of the three player classes—Titan, Hunter and Warlock—different abilities and one powerful Super ability tailored to each class. Beefy Titans gain the Berserker ability, summoning two giant hand-blades to cut down enemies, the sleek Warlock sends wisps of Strand coursing through baddies that explode into fierce Threadling enemies, and slick Hunters can use the Silkstrike skill to summon a long rope dart and thwip through their foes.
A Helping Strand
Strand focuses on traversal in a way that has never been explored in Destiny 2. Every character gains a grapple, which allows you to latch onto a surface or area and swing through the air, perfect for getting around quickly or solving tricky jumping puzzles. Smith tells us that the grapple sits at the center of the Strand class, and that it was made possible by the team’s exploration of the skill.
“The theme of the Strand damage type is all ropes and strings, so it just felt like a natural fit to put a grappling hook in there,” Smith says. “We did a lot of exploration of how the grapple should work, did we want it to be a burst of acceleration, or zipping from point to point, and we ended up in this place where, as players learn Strand, it’ll read your mind a little bit.”
“You can zip to a certain point if you’re looking straight at it, but you can also swing under it, you can throttle left or right or swing around it. We ended up with a really dynamic grapple we’re all very proud of.”
The grapple ability replaces the grenade slot for players using Strand, so it also needed some sort of damage capability to make up for the loss of that slot. The result is, what if you are the grenade?
“As it takes that slot, we wanted to give it an offensive utility,” Smith explains. “One thing you can do is grapple punch, which does pretty big area-of-effect damage. You can use the grapple to get out of bad situations, but you can also use it like you would a grenade to clear multiple enemies. I think there’s a learning curve to Strand that I’m excited to see players master.”
Strand And Deliver
During combat, Strand users can create Tangles by defeating an enemy that has been debuffed by another Strand ability. For example, Hunters have the Ensnaring Slam ability, which allows them to suspend groups of enemies in the air by slamming the ground. Titans can also suspend enemies with the Drengr’s Lash skill.
This Tangle can then be shot to cause an explosion, picked up and thrown at another enemy, or into the air to be used as a grappling point. Smith tells us that the passive Tangle skill felt immediately at home in Strand’s roster.
“Once we got that system in there and we had different perks triggering the Tangles, it felt like we were doing something different than the other subclasses,” he says. “It happens passively, and once you create a Tangle, there’s a branching decision-making point where you can choose what to do with it.”
The Tangles are just one aspect of Strand that works to make it a more collaborative subclass for Guardians playing together. For example, because a Guardian’s grapple ability has no cooldown if it’s used on a grapple point, the Hunter can use their Widow’s Silk ability to create a grapple point that another teammate can use without expending their own grapple ability. Smith explains that as Strand develops, the team wants to create more opportunities for fireteam members to combine their unique skills.
“We wanted players to blaze a trail for their teammates, to help them with jumping puzzles, and that’s something we’re planning to double down on in the coming Seasons,” he says.
Release The Threadlings
The Strand subclasses introduce Threadlings—small creatures formed from Strand that will scurry off and attack whatever is in range. Smith tells us that this was one of the more difficult abilities to nail down, due to Destiny 2’s turbulent terrains and dynamic environments.
“The Threadlings are what we call ‘ground follows,’ because they’re restricted to crawling on the ground, and we have a lot of surfaces in Destiny 2 where it can be difficult for a player to use them effectively,” he explains. “They have a pretty long tracking range so they can follow an enemy and then stop and jump which gives them some verticality, but we’ll be tuning how they work as time goes on.”
The team also had to balance how much damage Threadlings can do and how often they’re active, not just in PvE modes like the campaign, but in online PvP, where the smallest amount of damage can dramatically change the game.
“Too many Threadlings in PvP would feel frustrating to play against, so it was a balancing act of letting players have maximum fun while not destabilizing PvP modes.”
This balancing act was also important during the design of the three main class Super abilities, and Smith details the level of work and the spread of disciplines that must be involved in the creation of one.
“Anytime we make a new Super, we come up with a list of possible designs, and we trim that down to what’s realistic,” he explains. “But there are a lot of decisions, it’s animation, it’s VFX, design, engineering, audio—so many things have to come together, and then you have to balance the Super itself across so many game modes.”
You can check out some of the unused Super ideas in the images below, but Smith did tell us that the Warlock Super ability almost ended up with tentacles that sprout up and lash out at enemies. The actual Warlock Super, Needlestorm, which lets players unleash a barrage of spikes onto enemies, is still equally as cool.
With Strand explored in detail, we were left with just one question: Why did the team choose green for the subclass color? Smith tells us that on the hunt for the perfect hex code, the team wanted to ensure every class is both immediately identifiable and aesthetically pleasing.
“We had a handful of options, but green felt the most distinct,” he tells us. “It just worked really well with the Strand theme. We kind of saw it as green ball of yarn, and wanted you to think of that every time you walk past yarn in a store.”
Lightfall players unlock Strand permanently at the end of the Lightfall campaign, and from there, can unlock Aspects and Fragments that allow them to really personalize the subclass to their playstyle, be it keeping distance or smashing straight into the action.
Last Friday also saw the release of Root of Nightmares, the brand-new raid packaged with Lightfall, so be sure to get swinging through Neomuna to unlock those Strand abilities and get equipped to confront the ancient threat growing at our doorstep.
Destiny 2: Lightfall is available now on Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One.
Destiny 2: Lightfall