Destiny 2: Review
4.5 / 5
Destiny released worldwide on September 9, 2014, for the PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One consoles with some of the most memorable outrage seen in modern gaming this side of No Man’s Sky. A limp, brief main campaign, too little post game activity, and an indecipherable lore were amongst the kinder criticisms; the worst was that it was an uninspired and tepid bullshotting money grab, masterminded by cartoonishly evil executives to cash in on a then recent development deal. The truth, as always, wasn’t quite so simple.
Destiny’s original outing was an ambitious (if not often stumbling and unfocused) attempt to bridge together two of gaming’s most recognizable and addictive genres – first person shooters and massively multiplayer RPGs – in a sci-fi epic inspired by the likes of Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica and developer Bungie’s own earth shatteringly successful Halo franchise .
Despite a decidedly mixed critical reception, Bungie’s Destiny sold over $500 million at retail. On September 10, 2014 Activision publishing executive Eric Hirshburg announced that Destiny had become “the biggest new video game franchise launch in history.”
History was made on that day in more ways than one. Gaming has seen an increased focus in the Games as a Service model since Destiny’s myth making release. Developers are finding it more and more advantageous to release a game once but continue melding and fine-tuning it (in return for the consumer’s continued financial investment) until it becomes unrecognizable from its launch day iteration, typically for the better. Behemoths such as Overwatch (Blizzard) and Tom Clancy’s The Division (Ubisoft) have also adopted this model. The soon to be released Middle-earth: Shadow of War (Monolith) has recently come under fire for adopting a similar gameplay philosophy the first Destiny positioned at its core. For all its faults, Destiny has become the eighth console generation’s foremost game – its forlorn codifier. And it has been a long road in coming to terms with this revelation for much of the gaming community. And yet, perhaps no longer with the second coming of Bungie’s prized space opera, Destiny 2.
The first Destiny began in triumph, the unbidden return of a long dead being revitalized by a talkative robotic space fairy. Soon you would embark on missions to reclaim lost territory from humanity’s intragalactic golden age given to you by stoic, yet sterile mentors from the Last City on Earth’s Tower. Destiny 2 begins in loss – your mentors defeated and their City sacked as you’re besieged by recurring alien menace the Cabal. From the onset, the game seems to relish a new take on narrative: actually having one. Immediately you feel the difference in scale – not how much larger the adventure is but in how much more grounded it attempts to be. During our fight back for the Tower in the game’s prologue we come across Commander Zavala, Ikora Rey and Destiny 2’s de-facto comedic relief Cayde-6 and they actually seem to have distinct personalities. Zavala is weary and decisive, Ikora is taciturn and sensible, Cayde is witty and supportive – and all of which is apparent within the game’s first set piece.
Tellingly, during the opening climax you pose a final defense in the most recognizable location in all of the original game – the main hub of the Tower. As you look round at the smolder and debris you notice fellow guardians, other players in this shared world. Despite not hearing them you can feel their despair and know that they in turn feel yours as enemy aircrafts continue to fire off a barrage of projectiles.
Inevitably, the onslaught comes to an end with you on the losing end. The game’s central antagonist is a brusque, cruel insurgent leader of the Cabal – the Red Legion’s Ghaul. He insults and taunts you in a manner rather unbefitting of an alien warlord and then unceremoniously kicks you off the Tower into the wasteland that the City has become. He has stolen our benevolent terraforming deity The Traveler, and exiled us from our home. And we can’t possibly delve into the beginning without touching on the haunting score by composer Michael Salvatori, which expresses perfectly the encroaching powerlessness and despair of a Lightless world.
Destiny 2’s grand opener is but a taste of what’s to come as far as story and narrative are involved. Those disillusioned with the first game’s offering will have much to enjoy here. Gone are the days when much of the game was explained via third party sources or shuffled away into online compendiums – the world Bungie introduced three years ago now moves and breathes and exists in a way that the first iteration did not. Soon after your exodus from the City, you’re saved by the likes of Soraya Hawthorne – a regular human, not an omniscient space wizard or a shoulder charging space marine – a human woman who has long lived outside the City and away from its sworn protectors the Guardians. She exists as a bit of a fridge moment, one that highlights the sparse nature of Destiny 2’s predecessor: at any point, did they ever even mention non-guardians? And if they did, why is it that I don’t remember?
Destiny 2 does look to change the way we view the world that Bungie first presented, however it’s worth keeping our expectations grounded. Nothing here is as well written as the stories presented in say, industry benchmark The Witcher 3. Nonetheless, I was pleasantly surprised at the charm displayed by characters and a world that I’d mostly come to know as unfeeling and flat. The story itself can be completed in ten to twelve hours but as with all MMO-esque games, expect to play long after the game’s credits roll.
The biggest draw of the original Destiny was inarguably its superb core gameplay. Bungie has a surplus of experience (the aforementioned Halo) when it comes to gunplay so it should come as no surprise that the Destiny franchise expands well upon that foundation. Still, it cannot be understated: the first person shooting in Destiny 2 feels damn good. The guns kick and recoil, enemies sputter and are knocked back violently when shot, your guardian sprints around quickly, jumps, floats and teleports all in an extremely satisfying way. Destiny 2 has what is now the most crisp and snappy gunplay available on console (not even Titanfall 2 comes close) – which is great, because you’ll be doing an obscene amount of it.
Player vs Environment (PvE) is Destiny 2’s cornerstone and returning players will find much here to enjoy. The grind in Destiny 2 mostly appears to respect the player’s time and integrity. Continuous gameplay loops such as strikes, patrols, and public events make a return here but are much less repetitive than their forebearers. You’ll enjoy the slice-of-life stories embedded in these segments and the look into the character’s involved in them. Destiny came under fire for the uninspired missions that it forced you to loop into over and again, but these new strikes and even story missions are filled with lore and and ultimately just feel more involved than they once were.
Player vs Player (PvP) is Crucible – 4 v 4 competitive shooting spread across a selection of different modes.
Control – in which you hold a point and attempt to take the opposing team’s point.
Countdown – a “search and destroy” vclass=”collapse” ariant in which you plant and defend explosives while the opposing teams looks to defuse them
Clash – traditional team deathmatch where you aim to kill the opposing team more than you and your team are killed in return
Competition has a greater focus in D2 and with it a lessening of team numbers resulting in 4 v 4’s down from the first Destiny’s chaotic 6 v 6. The Crucible plays well enough but one has to wonder why the selection of locales in the gametype are so uninspired and how truly competitive PvP is when luck factors so heavily into the weapons that drop for you.
Micro-transactions make a rather unwelcome return in Destiny 2 and plenty of discussion has taken place regarding what they mean for the future of the game and Bungie’s design choices moving forward. We won’t spend too much time on that here, but it’s worth mentioning that much of the outrage is (for now) unfounded. Destiny 2 is almost suspiciously generous with its fancy Bright Engrams – loot caches that drop Sparrows, emotes, weapon ornaments and other odds and ends that have little to no effect on actual gameplay. Egregiously, the shaders to recolor your Guardian that were permanent in Destiny 1 return in consumable form here. Your first time coming across them is alarming. After all, customizing your character is important in a shared world game – the idea of having to consume a shader every time you want to change colors is ridiculous… until you realize that these shaders have an obnoxious drop rate. At the time of this review I’ve looted close to 35 different color schemes and that number will only continue to rise as I churn slowly towards end-game content.
Not much could be said to detract from the original Destiny’s presentation and the same rings just as true here. That’s not to suggest that Destiny 2 launched perfectly; I’ve been kicked from sessions, I’ve spawned literally inside of maps, I’ve looked down at my phone for a brief moment only to be greeted with my Xbox dashboard – removed from the game entirely. These small hiccups didn’t feel great, but can guiltlessly be attributed to launching a game of this magnitude. The glitches don’t leave near as much an impression as the neon-blue sprawling oceans of Titan, the breathtaking mixture of futuristic construct and nature on Nessus, or the muted and ravaged wasteland that is the European Deadzone. Graphics here aren’t top of the line by any means and yet I was taken aback by how stylized the game could be at times. Menu screens are clean and significantly less cluttered than in Destiny 1. The skill tree menu was overhauled as to be less confusing and the Director (despite having much more content than vanilla D1) makes it a very simple task to figure out where to go next.
While much improved, Destiny’s second coming will have a difficult time changing minds that have already been made. Very little here exists to capture the attention of new players. Haters of the original will find perhaps just as much here to hate, if not more. After all, the spirit of the game has changed very little… but what of those who loved Destiny? A year after the original game’s release Activision proudly claimed that the space shooter boasted twenty million active players – players who, ostensibly, played an unfinished game and despite criticism were enthralled by its promise. Those gamers are almost certain to love everything this second Destiny has to offer. For them, Destiny is back, and it’s here to stay.
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