Forging the Horn – Behind the scenes of Gjallarhorn’s return in Destiny 2

There have been many great weapons in Destiny’s history. Some have gained fame for their effectiveness in combat or their amazing beauty. A handful have earned legendary reputations for their unique traits or memorable backstory. Then there is Gjallarhorn. Introduced in the original Destiny, the Exotic Rocket Launcher has become a staple for players since its debut in 2014.

While Bungie celebrates its 30e birthday in 2021, we celebrate in the only way we know how: by continuing the party in Destiny 2 with our amazing community. As part of that celebration, we’re bringing Gjallarhorn back with a new exotic quest that gives players the opportunity to add the powerful Rocket Launcher to their arsenal.

While Destiny 2’s Gjallarhorn will long be known to fans, the team behind its return has added some fun twists that prove that even old… ahem, wolves can be taught new tricks. We recently spoke to the Destiny development team to learn more about Gjallarhorn’s return.

Legacy of Boom

“Gjallarhorn was one of the first Exotics where you really felt overwhelmed, especially against bosses,” said Bungie designer Brandon, who led gameplay design on the weapon’s return to Destiny 2. When asked about the legacy of the weapon, he added: “It was also incredibly elusive for players who didn’t buy it from Xûr in the early weeks of Destiny.” [Editor’s note: “Why would I waste my heavy slot on an exotic rocket launcher?”]

Those who managed to get their hands on Gjallarhorn from the seller were lucky indeed; most players found it to be a rare drop at the end of raids like Crota’s End or Vault of Glass, among other resources. But even then it remained elusive and (as such things are usual) highly sought after. As Brandon puts it, “Who didn’t scream out loud when they finally dropped the gun after months of grinding?”

Bungie’s Mark Flyg, a senior artist who worked on the visual effects (VFX) on Gjallarhorn in Destiny 2 and the original weapon in 2014, thinks there are several reasons for his sacred reputation. “It was one of the first exotic weapons in the game, meaning there were far fewer other ‘hero assets’ to choose from (since you can only equip one exotic at a time). It is a beautiful weapon with a unique and royal look that sets it apart from the others; and the ability to clear the playing field with a few shots made it a nice tool in your arsenal.

That ability to clear a room is due in no small part to the intrinsic Wolfpack rounds, where rounds fired shatter into multiple clusters of explosives that track down their targets. As a result, a fire team full of Gjally-equipped Guardians in the original Destiny would make even the most loyal of enemies cringe in fear.

For the return of the weapon in Destiny 2, the team has given the Rocket Launcher some timely updates that make it just as effective. Lead designer Brandon said the goals were to maintain that sense of being overpowered that the original Gjallarhorn offered, while also giving it a touch up to compete with the exotic rocket launchers found in the modern sandbox.

“There’s no question that the original’s Wolfpack Rounds advantage was a critical part of the weapon’s identity, so we kept it as the intrinsic advantage in Destiny 2,” he said. “We also wanted to update the weapon by adding a new perk called Pack Hunter that would give it even more power when used in a fireteam.”

That new Pack Hunter perk is one of the best examples of how Bungie can update a weapon for the modern sandbox while preserving a weapon’s original flair. With Pack Hunter, Gjallarhorn expands the Wolfpack rounds to include Guardians in range who wield a non-exotic rocket launcher. In addition, the Destiny 2 Gjallarhorn Catalyst enhances the perk to create more Wolfpack rounds when the first round takes a final hit, and also gives the weapon two rounds in the magazine.

“The Pack Hunter advantage came about when we thought about the player experience in the original Destiny,” Brandon said. “Often, fireteam leaders demanded that everyone in the group equip Gjallarhorn for harder content like raids, much to the chagrin of players who didn’t already have the weapon. I thought it would be fun to flip that idea on its head by making sure only one person needs to have the weapon, while everyone in the group can ‘have’ Gjallarhorn.”

under the ice

The work to bring Gjallarhorn into the modern age was a careful balance between past and present. As Bungie staff artist Matt Lichy says, “I wanted to try and keep the overall look created in Destiny 1 as much as possible, but keep it up to the current quality standards we use now.”

Lichy said he referenced the weapon’s original textures (built by former Bungie artist Mark Van Haitsma) and updated it for the modern game’s higher geometry budgets and new PBR (physically-based rendering) shader methods. While the Destiny 2 Gjallarhorn has some extra detailing on the gun front and top hood, Lichy said the goal was to preserve the iconic look of the original.

“Weapons retaliation is what I would consider ‘iceberg assets,'” said VFX artist Mark Flieg. “The end product that players see represents only a fraction of the work that goes into each product.” So what was the “work hidden beneath the surface?”

“My primary focus [was] to direct the draft and give players feedback on their actions. However, if people focus on the VFX after the first few shots, I’ve missed my target – my intention is to help you feeling your shots, without slowing down the action.”

True to its namesake – the mythical Norwegian horn blown by Heimdall – Gjallarhorn is more than just its iconic look; it had to sound great too. Bungie sound designer Noah Sitrin worked on Howling the Wolf.

“We wanted to make the weapon feel as special and powerful as players remember when they first got their hands on it in D1,” said Sitrin. “We also wanted to distill the weapon’s audio theme and spread it across every sound it makes. This meant that we had to rely heavily on the graceful, wolf-like and larger-than-life qualities of the Gjallarhorn.”

While many of Gjallarhorn’s fundamental sounds – such as shooting and the accompanying explosions – have remained relatively unchanged from the original Destiny, some secondary sounds have been significantly improved. “I started from scratch with secondary sounds like reloading, handling and aiming and put a lot of character into it to make it feel like a finely crafted but brutal weapon. We used a lot of heavy mechanical elements and mixed animal growls with synthesized basses to give it that intense, animalistic quality.”

If you think the Wolfpack Rounds perk is cool, just wait until you hear it. Sitrin explained: “A big part of the fun in this new Gjally is that you can share the advantage of Wolfpack Round with your teammates. Initially, the only way you could tell if the perk was active was the short, growling sound that sounds when teammates come within range. This indicator gets the job done, but we felt there was an opportunity to go for a stronger theme here.

“We thought, ‘What better way to let you know that wolfpack rounds are active than to have everyone’s rocket launchers howling when they fire?’ This change was very well received in playtests, and it made me laugh personally as soon as I got it working, so it had to stay natural.”

A labor of love – that’s Gjallarhorn’s return for the entire team at Bungie. We look forward to seeing Guardians enjoy this re-released weapon and see the videos of all those Wolfpack rounds creating chaotic beauty across the solar system. Enemies of humanity, consider yourselves warned!

Bungie’s 30e Anniversary pack is now available.