Release Date: September 6, 2017Platforms: XBO (reviewed), PS4Developer: BungiePublisher: ActivisionGenre: MMOFPS
When the original Destiny dropped in 2014, fans immediately started talking about advertising and story in a way that is very familiar in our post-No Man’s Sky world. The ambitious scope promised in the marketing did not pan out in vanilla Destiny’s handful of locations, and characterization was thin on the ground for both the gun-toting Guardians and the cast of well-known voice actors surrounding them.
Destiny 2’s marketing emphasized humor, fun, and a bit more characterization for the three Vanguard. Whether the game delivered these things might depend on how much you liked to hang out in the world of the first game.
My journey is pretty clear in my reviews on this very website: Destiny changed the way I play games. I’ve gone from someone who staunchly insisted on playing alone (and missing out on some content), to a person who can say the words “my clan” with earnest fondness. Destiny worked for me, and Destiny 2 works a bit better.
First, let’s talk about the story. The Last City has been destroyed, and the three Guardian leaders scattered throughout the Solar System. Your first job is to get them back. This enables the player to get to know the Vanguard better than ever before. Nathon Fillion’s Cayde-6 is hapless but unstoppably roguish, while Gina Torres is worried and then serene as Ikora Rey. Lance Reddick’s Commander Zavala has less of a character arc as the other two, but serves as a good cornerstone for the idea of Guardians as a whole as walls built up against the Dark. At the very least, players will know who they are. The same could not always be said of the original Destiny. Destiny 2’s villains get some more depth too, with long cutscenes.
Side characters bring a bit more depth. Suraya Hawthorne believes that the Guardians held themselves too far apart from the civilians they supposedly protected. While the discussions about surveillance and supermen isn’t exceptionally deep (the Vanguard apparently erase certain records as a matter of course?), the game does finally give players a sense of actually knowing who the civilians are. They have a role in the story now, as does Hawthorne, and that goes a long way toward making the game function as a story.
One Strike in particular features some poignant character writing and genuinely creepy atmosphere, and the vendors from each newly opened planet also provide some affecting backstory. The planets are also beautiful places to walk or drive around, with varied lighting and architecture jaggedly interrupted by enemy construction keeping the scenery pretty interesting – until you find yourself chasing the same type of Public Event over and over. (These communal loot-grabs usually spawn in the same spots.)
Destiny 2 is still great to play while on the headset with friends talking about something completely different. It’s also great to talk about the lore: What does that mysterious signal mean? What will happen in that Osiris DLC? The game makes me care enough to ask. Even if you aren’t attached to the characters, it’s a good space magic simulator that makes players feel powerful and cool while floating around machinoformed Nessus. At its best, Destiny 2 has a great atmosphere and a mixture of human cultures and alien races as distinct as the ones Bungie made for Halo.
In fact, as some of my friends pointed out while playing, Destiny 2 feels more like a Bungie-era Halo game than vanilla ever did. Level design has been stretched out and varied a little, lines of sight carefully controlled so that you feel like you’re loping across a huge field or crawling through infested tunnels.
Gunplay is, as usual, stellar: Bungie has the noise of combat down to a science, and each weapon feels and behaves differently. While weapon types have been reorganized, ammo drops work about the same. Enemies are a bit tougher; even the Fallen are surprisingly durable, and Taken variants of enemy races add a cool aesthetic and extra difficulty. Especially as a Warlock, fighting Cabal can become a boring back-and-forth while my squishy character tries to get around their shields.
Public Events and weekly challenges are more common and easier to spot now, making leveling up feel like less of a grind even if the locations repeat. I’m still overwhelmingly thankful for a Public Event tracker, which has been integrated right into the new Director. Gone are the days of juggling a phone in one hand while tracking events on one of the more convenient fan sites. Now, I can cover those days with a comfortable layer of nostalgia and go back to using the Director.
Bungie has also removed the need to go to orbit every time you travel, which makes the map infinitely more convenient. I would prefer to have to use only one button-press to open it, though; the current method of pressing and then holding down X means I fumble the menu half the time. Missions are now accessed through the Director rather than through the character menu, which makes them a little bit less satisfying to clear out. Once you get used to it, they’re easy to find and some can also be accessed through one button press via your Ghost.
Another nitpick: Light level is now called Power level, which doesn’t add any clarity. Otherwise, leveling works mostly the same. Power levels can be increased by adding more gear or more guns. Shaders are now one-use only and apply to individual pieces of armor or weapons, which I enjoyed. Without spending any real money on in-game transactions, I never lacked for the crimson shader I prefer.
I haven’t been able to do the Raid yet, so my closest encounter with the Leviathan has been in PvP Crucible. Crucible meta is dominated by one or two powerful guns right now, so my biggest complaint is that the barrier to entry is high. Without Mida Multi-Tool or a comparable scout rifle, you’re at a disadvantage already. Offensive Super Abilities are less effective in PvP than in PvE, which means that competitive matches quickly begin to feel like a more realistic shooter instead of a space magic duel. I go to Destiny to feel like a powerful space wizard, and PvP is purely a gun show. Even as someone who used Destiny to get out of my gaming comfort zone in the first place, I still don’t feel welcome in Crucible without having done the quest for the Mida. Another problem is the randomized maps and game types. Even if I get comfortable with one type of game, it’s impossible to call it up again. Crucible just made me miss Halo.
However, going back to Strikes and the Tower instantly made me remember why I like Destiny. The world is beautiful, and with lore built into the world and the dialogue much stronger, it actually feels like a functioning place now. Maybe Destiny will always be a work in progress, but if you held off on the first game, Destiny 2 might be a good place to begin again.