How Destiny 2 Can Still Be a Good Game

Destiny 2 gets a bad rap, but the science-fantasy world and its fans keep me rooting for it.

Even as many fans’ interest in the game wanes, I’m still rooting for Destiny 2 to dust itself off and become the game it was always meant to be. Of course, it’s been hard to stand in Bungie’s corner.

Destiny 2′s problems have been meticulously chronicled: a stagnating Crucible fails to hold PvP players and Twitch streamers in the days of Fornite and Overwatch. Twitch streamers are leaving Destiny for other games. Players are finding other online pastimes, other first-person shooters. BioWare’s upcoming hefty science fiction world Anthem could be either a poorly-timed Destiny clone or a Destiny-killer. Not to mention that Destiny 2‘s early progression system controversy didn’t do the game any favors at launch…

Even while I’m discouraged that Destiny has become such a cautionary tale, I can see how it got that way. I’ve drifted away to other games myself, games which feel more like a valuable use of my time or are just a more fun and rewarding way to relax. Bungie struggles to fit itself into a redemption narrative in part because the studio started with so much goodwill and is still cashing out on it with what some would call an unfinished sequel that still doesn’t have some of the basic features of the original.

With the price of games so high, players deserve to get what they pay for, and it’s understandable that players do not want to blindly support Destiny if there are other games they simply find more satisfying elsewhere. Destiny has failed to reward players in meaningful ways as well as provide players with the experience they fell in love with in the first place. For example, making super abilities relatively difficult to charge up in Crucible meant that the core PvP experience felt like a military shooter more than the beloved arcade shooter bursting with astrophysics-powered magic.

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Destiny will always be the game that dominated several years of my life, though, as well as the way I met some of my friends. Because of that, it’s especially disheartening to see it considered an odd has-been of a game now, a world hanging on by a thread of the memory of what the series once was.

However, Destiny 2 does have strengths that keep me interested. The campaign has stronger character arcs and more humor than the original. The magic abilities are well-animated and vivid, the gunplay is exceptional, the space fantasy version of our own solar system is a great way to combine the familiar and the magical.

Mystery is built into the game at every level — from the jaunty, punchy, sometimes deeply emotional flavor text to the missions and characters themselves. The Exos see a stone fortress when they die and find themselves in a nightmare world of endless war not so dissimilar to the one they wake up in in the next resurrection. That’s the kind of worldbuilding that latches onto the imagination. So too do the sentient Warminds, thousand-year-old artificial intelligence residing in underground bunkers and controlling networks of satellites capable of either protecting or destroying the life left on Earth after the last interstellar war.

The Curse of Osiris DLC was short and but went in some cool new directions with its narrative, introducing an alternate timeline and letting the player interact with a legendary character from the game’s lore who had never before appeared on screen. The relationship between Ikora Rey and her former mentor, Osiris, was also a decent emotional hook and Bungie even released free tie-in comics that expand on their relationship — a sign that the studio is at least interested in expanding the ways it tells its stories.

Curse of Osiris felt a bit empty and unsure of its own identity, though. Osiris made hundreds of computer-simulated doubles of himself, but the real story of his relationship with Ikora felt less emotionally engaging than the victorious engram-opening at the end of a Strike. Just as the original Destiny‘s Rise of Iron was about looking back on a glorious, nostalgic past, Curse of Osiris was about looking forward to an uncertain future populated by murderous robots and one man’s number-crunching clone-children. The Guardian saved the present day, but those alternate futures are still out there, showing a dead, dark world without any Guardians in it. Bungie is facing a similar time of uncertainty. 

On May 8, the second expansion, Warmind, will show what Destiny 2 can do next. For me, it’s a promise: I’ll have a reason to play again, even if only for a short time. I’ll have more lore to talk about, more flavor text to analyze and over-analyze. The new PvE activity, Hive Escalation Protocol, is Destiny 2’s version of Court of Oryx, a tiered horde mode. Tiered PvE provides varied activities with the opportunity to quickly earn engrams, giving players the traditional risk-and-reward gamble that Destiny 2’s random engrams and Eververse store haven’t provided. Story-focused players have something to look forward to as well, with Guardian Ana Bray searching for answers about her family in the Martian space station they founded. 

As this recent fan survey showed, lore-focused fans want to feel like we’re visiting consistent, interesting characters when we play. The Taken King, generally regarded as the best of the original game’s expansions, holds on to its crown by offering fan favorite characters, a mechanically interesting Raid, and a humorous and coherent story. A common refrain among fans is the plea for a Destiny 2 expansion the size of The Taken King — that at least provides as much story as that expansion.

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The Taken King built on what had already been put in place in The Dark Below. The prince of the Hive was dead, but now players faced a Hive king and the chance for revenge for the generation of Guardians the Hive had almost exterminated. Ultimately, Warmind will have to prove what kind of future Destiny 2 will have. 

I’ve spent the first few months of 2018 meeting a friend for Iron Banner, mostly chatting about our lives and the newest piece of lore. The energy of being able to travel to post-apocalyptic Earth or the strange moon of Titan with my friends keeps me rooting for Destiny, hoping that people don’t give up on it completely in between playing the many other games currently occupying the shooter and adventure genres. It has been joyful for me to discover the sea beast swimming under Titan’s methane ocean or to get lost in conversation about Destiny’s characters and the game’s mysterious lore.

Bungie needs to hold up its own side of the deal, though. The studio needs to give players enough to keep us coming back. Changes have been slow to come by, but there are signs that Bungie is listening. The studio held a “community summit” on April 20 that allowed YouTubers, Twitch steamers, and other high-profile fans give developers feedback directly, and the consensus seems to be that players feel heard and positive. Whether Bungie makes the necessary changes or not, I’ll be here waiting to say I kept rooting for the potential the Destiny franchise showed back in its first iteration.