Destiny 2 Review
Destiny will go down in my personal history as one of my greatest disappointments in video games. This has as much to do with my own, perhaps unfair expectations as it does the real flaws present in the game, but I did not like it one bit. I was through the campaign in a meager 5 hours, and yet immediately upon completion I could recall almost nothing of what happened. It was nonsensical exposition dumped on me by a poorly acted robot. My visions of grand exploration had been crushed by a limited set of cripplingly restrictive environments, and suddenly the solar system had never seemed smaller. But wait, they said. The raid was special, they said. It was unique, unlike anything else in the game, they said. And so I decided to check it out, only to find that Bungie decided to gate it behind a special type of leveling system only attainable through some of the most tedious and repetitive grind I’ve ever been subjected to, exacerbated by several broken game systems. Much of this was remedied through later patches and expansions, as both Bungie and the community worked together to figure out what the game was, what it could be, but it was too late for me. Just weeks after it launched, I was out. This wasn’t fun, it wasn’t complete, it wasn’t good. I went back a month before Destiny 2 launched, to make one more attempt at understanding a game that had polarized the industry in a way I’d rarely seen. It worked. Maybe they were onto something here. Things were…kind of fixed? Kind of fun? Progression was almost reasonable? The two raids were both mechanically creative and visually stunning. The shooting was as good as ever. And then it clicked. Destiny isn’t a story about me, or even my character who’s not really a character. It’s not a sweeping cinematic tale, it’s not about elaborate side-quests or intriguing NPCs, it’s not interested in providing you player choice or agency. Destiny is about shooting a lot of shit, and shooting it good. Shooting it with your friends. It’s not an RPG, it’s a first-person shooter. It’s not an MMO, it’s a glorified cooperative horde mode expanded into an entire game, where the objective is as much about looking like a complete badass as it is conquering your enemies or completing missions. It’s not for everyone, but I think I finally ‘got it’. So, as I returned from casting Oryx’s body into the cold emptiness of space, I took one last contemplative gaze over the Last City. I was ready for Destiny 2.
From the very beginning, the sequel makes an effort to let you know it’s bigger and better. The opening mission is twice as long as anything in the first game, full of the kind of scripted events, characters, context, and dialogue that Destiny sorely lacked. The static vending machines disguised as people in The Tower finally have a voice and personality, and it cannot be overstated just how important this is to making Destiny 2’s campaign as enjoyable as it is. Unfortunately, the game isn’t able to sustain this new approach, and after a few incredibly powerful opening missions, you’re quickly returned to the usual mission design of going from point A to point B, by yourself, while killing waves of enemies and occasionally scanning objects. This is made tolerable by a solid cast of characters who frequently provide you with entertaining dialogue, and in an effort to break up the monotony of shooting, Bungie threw in some new toys to play with, including lots of cool weapons and some vehicle segments. It’s not a revolution in game design, but the variety is appreciated and the campaign never overstays its welcome. The final few missions provide plenty of memorable scenery and moments, but the story never really comes together the way it seemed like it could have. Ghaul’s presence is justified as he gives a face to the threat, but some really interesting elements of his personality are frustratingly left underdeveloped, and by the end it’s just another episode of Evil Guy Wants What’s His.
Of course, the campaign in Destiny is just the beginning. I completed it in about 10 hours, with some adventures (side-quests) sprinkled in, and once you easily hit the character level cap of 20, the real game begins. Each character has a secondary level, called Power, determined by the combined stats of all the armor and weapons you have equipped. This Power level determines almost everything you’ll be doing in the game, from what activities are unlocked to what items get dropped. While the first game had something similar, it felt unpredictable and unrewarding. Destiny 2 has found a way to make progression and leveling as fun and exciting as it should be in any loot driven game. Simply playing the game’s many modes and missions will provide all kinds of items, so that rarely an hour goes by without the chance to examine an exciting new helmet piece or powerful hand cannon. By the time the soft-level cap hits at 265 (where it becomes significantly more difficult to find powerful gear), players have already hit the point where everything is accessible, including the raid. This fixes my biggest complaint with the original Destiny, and Bungie has clearly gone to great lengths to make this more accessible for every kind of player.
First off, there’s a lot of things to do for the solo player, or anyone who prefers to fight with people rather than against them. Completion of the campaign unlocks a ton of Adventures and Quests, unique missions on planets that can be tackled in any order. Strikes are unique missions that require a fireteam of 3 to make it through them and defeat a challenging final boss. There’s also the Nightfall, a more difficult weekly variant of these strikes that also features modifiers – anything from time limits to restricted health and respawns. Public events are quick objective based encounters that pop-up frequently while roaming planets, and can be joined by many different players for unique rewards. Lost sectors are hidden areas that typically take you down through a series of tunnels or rooms to defeat a powerful enemy and, yes, you guessed it, find a chest full of loot. While this sounds like a healthy amount of activities, a lack of variety in public events and the fact none of the lost sectors are randomly generated means that after seeing these a few times, it can eventually grow stale. The other main issue with these activities is that few of them offer meaningful rewards for players looking to expand their power past the cap of 265. To do so you need ‘powerful’ engrams, which are generally only doled out by completing weekly milestones. This has the unfortunate result of punishing players who continue to play adventures or quests while their friends rapidly ascend to higher power levels. It’s not a gamebreaker, but it feels like an oversight and in some ways a waste that end-game progression should be so restricted. If you find yourself growing bored of this, Destiny 2 also offers a few different flavours of PvP (player-versus-player) combat, including both casual and competitive modes for the Crucible. There’s everything from standard deathmatch to bomb defusal to capture/conquest, and while these aren’t incredibly original, it’s all polished and well balanced with a heavy emphasis on teamwork. Players who venture off solo will often find themselves overwhelmed attempting to wrestle control of a capture point from 3 hostile Guardians.
That brings us to the raid, the activity universally considered the most difficult, prestigious, and rewarding task you can complete in Destiny, one that requires complete mastery of everything you’ve learned before it. Without going into spoilers, Destiny 2’s raid is called Leviathan, and takes place in a gorgeous new location that’s aesthetically unlike anything else in the game. It’s also extremely hard to complete, which seems to currently be the subject of much debate. Players must complete 3 ‘challenges’ before attempting to fight a final boss, and each challenge requires nearly flawless execution of both combat skills and puzzle solving. They are all unique in both their mechanics and design, and immensely rewarding when completed with 6 of the best Guardians out there. The raid zone is also full of secrets to discover and hidden rooms and labyrinths to explore, which not only pads the content but also provides a nice reprieve from the exhaustive amount of combat. There are some flaws in the raid, however. Things like unpredictable AI behavior and outright bugs detract from the overall experience, at times making it slightly frustrating, and other times inducing controller tossing. While I expect some of this will be tweaked and resolved in the future, I do think the difficulty is intentional, and likely to remain. My take on it is that Bungie has decided to lower the barrier of entry to the raid, but maintain the sense of reward by making it so nothing less than flawless execution will grant players the satisfaction of victory. Because of this, I have yet to successfully complete it, and only time will tell how the community looks back on Leviathan. For now, it appears to be a lengthy and challenging obstacle that is sure to provide many additional hours of enjoyment before being checked off the list.
Destiny 2 is a huge success, it not only manages to right most of the wrongs of the first game, but also stands on its own as a genuinely great multiplayer shooter. Newcomers will slide right in with ease, and veterans will embrace the expanded characters and world they’ve come to love. It’s gorgeous, it’s fun, and there’s few things more enjoyable than tackling a strike with some of your best friends. An impressive amount of content and some of the most satisfying and engaging gameplay around make it hard to not to recommend this game. The light is back, stronger than ever, and it’s waiting for you Guardian.