Let me start by telling you that I’m a Destiny Beta player. That’s right, I’ve been fighting the darkness for a number of years, over 2000 hours worth in fact, according to the stats. I’ve seen it all and I’ve been through it all, the good, the bad, and the freakin’ ugly. I was there when the Cryptarch was an even bigger asshole than he ever was, seeing fit to exchange my legendary engrams for common loot. I was there when loot caves were alive and helped to counter the Cryptarch’s odd nature. I was the guy that watched everyone else get the Gjallarhorn whilst I sat pretty with my tenth No Land Beyond. I was there when Bungie couldn’t find a solid currency and stick with it. I watched Bungie constantly change the flow of the game through feedback. More importantly however, I was there having fun. Yes, despite the many downsides, Destiny is an alluring experience that I was hopelessly attached to, or at least up until the crappy Rise of Iron expansion. Now here I stand with Destiny 2, but is it a step up from the first outing?
One promotional tunnel that Bungie have used to hype-up Destiny 2 is to slag off Destiny 1, going so far as to say that they “never knew what the hell they were doing”. With all of the above taken into account, you can imagine my disappointment to see Bungie treating the predecessor this way, but after even just an hour with Destiny 2, I can clearly see what they mean. Many describe Destiny 2 as a mere expansion of Destiny 1, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. The sequel is superior in almost every way, and although it does indeed fall short of perfection, it’s an excellent shooter that deserves the acclaim I have no doubt it will receive. First things first, kiss goodbye to everything you earned from the first game. Outside of being able to keep your character (stats reset) alongside the option of creating a new character, you’ll lose all of that hard earned loot.
The story opens with an immediate assault on the Tower that’s lead by the evil tyrant Ghaul. Ghaul and his seemingly endless legion of Cabal grunts have fashioned themselves under the name of The Red Legion, and they clearly mean business. Ghaul isn’t just here to mess shit up, no no no, he’s here to steal the light from the Guardians by taking it from the Traveller. It would appear as though he is instantly successful, but the opening mission only shows you that he manages to sever the connection that Guardians have with the light. This ultimately means that you’re powerless and can no longer rely on the gift of Resurrection. As for Ghaul and his attempt at taking the light for himself, this is the meat and bones of the story throughout the entirety of the campaign, if you want to avoid story-point spoilers, look away now.
Destiny 2 makes it abundantly clear that Ghaul is a force that you really don’t want to mess with. Your first confrontation with him sees you being face booted off the top of his ship soon after being shown that the Traveller has been restrained by Cabal technology, which strips you of your light. Getting to this point in the story is served to you as a tutorial that gives you the basics of play. It’s a solid opening and an informative mission that’s jam-packed with explosive scenes that portray the dire situation at hand. It’s not long before you (and you alone) are able to retrieve your light from a Shard of the Traveller, instantly making you the go-to Guardian for deadly missions that are dished out by Cayde-6, Ikora, Zavala, and other like-minded individuals that need your aid. As you climb through the story, you’ll learn that Ghaul has the Speaker held captive and is questioning him in regards to the Traveller. On top of this, Ghaul has a huge star destroying weapon pointed at our Sun, this tool is known as The Almighty, something that he uses to destroy entire systems upon his departure from them. Safe to say, the story in Destiny 2 is full of sequences that will drop your jaw.
The problem however is that the story feels quite crammed, and due to Guardians no longer housing a voice, there’s a layer of depth shaven off as a result. Watching my Guardian stand there and just nod or shake his head when being spoken to, felt a little bit disconnected. Instead your Ghost will do all of your talking for you, and although this does the trick quite nicely, it’s a shame that we can no longer hear our Guardians speak. Destiny 2 houses less story missions than that of the predecessor, but they’re much more fleshed out and better structured. Still, the whole story arc does leave a lot to be desired. Most of your time in the story will revolve around finding the Vanguard. Zavala is situated on the planet Titan, Cayde-6 is up to his usual shenanigans on Nessus, and Ikora has gone off for some soul searching on IO. You’ll also go back and forth to Earth to visit the Farm, your new social space, as well as return here to conclude the story during your attempt to take back your turf.
The issue I have with the story is that whilst the pace of play is excellent during the missions in which you’re seeking out the vanguard, from the moment you reunite Cayde-6, Ikora and Zavala, the pace goes downhill into rush-ville. In fact there’s barely a handful of missions before the story concludes from that point onward, which is disheartening seeing as Destiny 2’s campaign was so well setup. Of course when you compare this game to the first one, there’s easily more story and narrative in one single mission, than that of the entire adventure beforehand, silver lining and all. In any case I thoroughly enjoyed the campaign, warts and all. The solid blend of humour, emotion and catastrophe, collectively pitch forward a story that will stay with you long after the epic final battle comes to a close. This is all held together by an intriguing and diverse cast of characters that are voiced by a wide range of talents, if indeed Nathan Fillion once again shines brightest in the spotlight.
When you’re done with the story, you’re by no means done with the game. Why? Because it’s grind time! The first game offered very little in terms of what you could do and what you could earn post completion, but in Destiny 2, you’re simply stuck for choice. Much like the first title, Destiny 2 has you seeking out loot to heighten your power level. Running alongside this is a base level that you climb through via simple XP gains, which caps at level 20. I managed to hit level 20 in sync with the conclusion of the story, which is something I suspect was intended seeing as many of the latter missions are level-gated. So, how do you earn loot to increase your power level? Where to begin…
Each of the four new locations that you can travel to and across, are littered with missions, quests from NPCs, adventures, treasures, gear that’s specific to that location and more. Unlike Destiny, the sequel gifts you adequately for everything you do, big or small. You never feel like you’ve wasted your time in any singular piece of content or activity. Public Events and Patrol Missions make a return, but are more varied and better structured than those found in Destiny. The same can be said about opposing foes and factions that will take to the fields of play to fiercely combat one another, as well as high valued targets and stray pike-packs that will give you a run for your money. Lost Sectors are hidden areas that can only be located via seeking out clues in whatever world you’re situated in, and once found, you’ll be greeted with a multi-tiered cave or system that’s overrun by enemies guarding precious loot.
Adventures on the other hand are much more lengthier and are triggered in the same way that a story campaign is, being that you’ll find a beacon, activate it, and then set off to work your way through the task at hand. On top of all of that you have challenges that you can work towards in exchange for more loot, and these challenges will vary based on where you are. Once you make it far enough through the game, you can speak with Cayde-6 at the social space and receive treasure maps. You are only given a rough idea as to where to locate these loot crates, but if you pitch in the effort and work hard to seek them out, the payoff (for me at least) was more than worth the invested time. If it’s not clear enough by now, let me tell you straight up, there’s more than enough to sink your teeth into and equally as many reasons to do exactly that. The gear pool is by far much vaster than what we’ve had to deal with for these last few years, regardless as to what gear-tier you’re obtaining. I was constantly treated to new and exciting drops, all of which seems to drop at a very generous rate, yes, even exotics.
It helps that each of the locations are so enticing, well designed, and absolutely gorgeous to observe. Earth, or the EDZ to be precise, falls more inline with the Widow’s Court (PvP) map from the first Destiny, which is in direct contrast with the snowy regions of Old Russia. Titan offers up a huge oil rig-like structure that sits on top of a methane ocean. IO is a sulfar wasteland that has a large significance to Guardians, being that it was the last place that the Traveller terraformed before the collapse. Nessus is a centaur minor planet that’s almost been completely converted into a machine world by the Vex. Regardless as to which location you gravitate towards the most, each has been wonderfully designed to cater for all of the activities within, as well as dishing up exploration opportunities. One chief complaint about exploration in Destiny was that you only had one landing zone during patrol, but in Destiny 2, you’re able to select from several zones, and can even fast travel between them. You can also retrieve lore from each location via scanning objects, so get ready to kiss goodbye to Grimoire cards.
Moving back to the gear, there’s a couple of new additions that have been added into the mix. Shaders for example, can now be applied to anything that you want. Ships, weapons, individual pieces of gear, and more. The trade-off however is that they’re now consumable, meaning that once you apply them to your item of choice, it’s gone. Mercifully, shaders drop like there’s no tomorrow, so you shouldn’t be short of them at any point post credits. Weapons and armor can again be powered up by infusing stronger equipment, meaning you can hold onto your much loved setup throughout the entirety of play. Rounding this system off is the inclusion of Mods, which can be applied to your gear to boost stats and add interesting functionalities. Furthermore, you’ll have the ability to earn back your Subclass from The Taken King, as well as one Subclass from the first Destiny, which comes on top of the new Subclass you begin Destiny 2 with. This collectively makes customisation an absolute pleasure, and when you take into account that the game has a vast pool of gear, it’s going to be very interesting seeing how fans will aim for the best setup.
Strikes are no longer directly tied to the story, instead they’re more of a side offering. This design choice has allowed Bungie to tell more stories (often) based on whatever world the Strike is tied to. Whereas Strikes in the first game felt like padded missions, Strikes in Destiny 2 feel much more like mini-Raids. They’re full of intriguing and massively challenging mechanics that require equal amounts of firepower and strategy. Nightfall Strikes are available at launch and like before, these are much harder variants of the standard Strikes, but yield much better rewards for those that have the skill to tackle them. There is more content that’s yet to arrive, such as the Raid (September 13th) Trials of the Nine (September 15th) and Faction Rally (September 26th). Xur will also be making a comeback with his weekly inventory starting on September 15th, and every week from then on.
One fantastic addition that’s yet to leave Beta within the game is known as Guided Games. This feature will function in a way that makes it easier for solo players to experience the hard endgame content. It’s unclear as to how this feature will play out in the long run, but it’s a great way to work around the lack of matchmaking for certain activities, such as the Raids, Trials and Nightfall. Running alongside this is the new Clan feature, in which you can setup or join a Clan and grow your very own community. You’ll earn Clan XP for many of the activities that you complete, and even if you don’t, you’ll be rewarded for other members of your clan doing the same thing. It’s a great way to level up, earn XP, and obtain rewards. You’ll also be able to level up your Clan and earn special perks and benefits as you progress, but you’ll need to ensure that you grab your Clan Banner from Hawthorne beforehand. Bungie have ensured that this system wont be abused by adding in a reset of Clan Perks and Clan Levels for each Destiny 2 Season.
I cant say I have ever been a fan of PvP when it comes to Destiny. In Destiny 2, that may just change. The Crucible in Destiny 2 now sees four Guardians against four Guardians, instead of six vs six. This makes the gameplay instantly less chaotic and adds emphasis on team play and strategy, irrespective of what mode you’re playing on. When I group this with the refined gameplay, the allure of playing the Crucible is stronger here than it ever has been. I say refined gameplay loosely, because although the nature of the game remains the same, being that you’re constantly climbing the loot ladder, the controls and combat systems are a hell of a lot better than the predecessor. You can feel the difference with each and every weapon you pick up, and the affects that each has on the several enemy variants in the game. Movement is tighter, combat is more robust, and everything in between just feels sharper and better developed.
It’s a shame however that Bungie haven’t thrown in at least one new enemy race. It’s still the Fallen, the Hive, the Cabal, the Vex, and the Taken. Sure, we have new variants for each of those races, but we don’t have a new race to point our weapons at. There is a post-credit cutscene that hints at the possibility of a new enemy type on the horizon, but everything within Destiny 2 at the moment is the same as what we witnessed throughout the first game and its expansions. Don’t get me wrong, the enemies within have also had an upgrade in the design department, such as their movements and capabilities, but only having extended variations of the enemies we’ve been killing for three years already is somewhat of a let down. Hopefully the first expansion will remedy this, but as it stands, it’s pretty unforgivable.
As expected, microtransactions have made a return. Yes, our favourite money hogging Tess Everis has shockingly survived the Tower assault. She sits there gladly awaiting your real money in exchange for emotes, ships, sparrows, weapon mods (ugh), shaders (double ugh), and more. To get in on her wares you’ll need to spend real money on Silver, which can in-turn be used to purchase items from her store. However there’s a balance in place to ensure that Guardians who don’t want to fork out additional money can still get in on the action. This comes in the form of Bright Engrams, which will drop as you gain a level (post level 20) as well as dropping throughout completion of activities such as Public Events. Tess will take your Bright Engram and decode it, which will give you a chance at getting her store-specific loot. You can also break down said items to receive Bright Dust, which is another currency that Tess will exchange her wares for. On the whole it’s a solid system that walks a fine line between pay-to-win and play-to-win, but a system that clearly isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
It has to be said that Destiny 2 is a step up from the predecessor in every way imaginable, but that’s not to say that it gets everything right. The story, despite being excellently setup and perfectly voiced by a diverse cast of characters, feels extremely rushed towards the end of the plot. On top of this, another chief gripe of mine is the lack of a new enemy race. We only have extended variations of the same enemy type we’ve been fighting for the last three years, which is disheartening to say the least. With these issues to the side, there’s very little that I can complain about. The amount of content on offer in Destiny 2 is through the roof, with plenty more planned events and fresh content yet to come. The refined gameplay mechanics and loot systems are brilliantly executed, tether this to the generous loot pool and drop rate, and this is everything Destiny should have been to begin with, and then some. The gorgeous visuals play well with the wonderful level design, all of which goes hand in hand to offer up an excessive amount of exploration and secret searching. If you enjoyed Destiny, you’ll love Destiny 2. Hell, if you hated Destiny, there’s a good chance you’ll love Destiny 2. It takes the core formula and improves it to a great extent. Bungie needs to learn from past mistakes and ensure that they release a steady flow of content and post-launch support to encourage and grow the user-base, that goes without saying. Bottom line? Destiny 2 is without a shadow of a doubt, Game of the Year material, and I don’t say that carelessly.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.