Release Date: 9/6/17 (10/24/17 - PC)
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One and PC
ESRB/PEGI: T/PEGI 16
MSRP: $59.99 USD
By Rick Warren / Gfn2112
When the original Destiny was revealed, I was thrilled. I had been waiting for Bungie to start a new series since finishing their work on Halo, and the original showing for the game was amazing. I constantly searched for new details online and I pre-ordered the game's special ghost edition. When it came, I covered my walls and shelves with the themed items. It looked like a game that would define a generation... but sadly, that did not happen. The great storytelling that Bungie was known for was entirely nonexistent, and so much of the world was left unexplored. Any bit of interesting story in the base game came in the form of collectible cards that could only be viewed outside of the game itself. Destiny was also advertised as a vast universe with four different planets to explore, but ultimately these planets only had one tiny location that could be fully traversed in minutes. This led to the game's biggest issue of all: a lack of content. Every one of the small areas was beaten to death, with strikes and campaign missions often playing out in the same exact place, just in reverse. Further, there was nothing to actually do in these open worlds other than finding collectibles. It made the already grindy process of getting better gear feel even more repetitive. Aside from the first raid, it took Bungie an entire year to deliver content worthy of the great shooting mechanics they had built. For many, it was too little too late.
Due to all of my disappointment with that first entry in the series, I was worried about Destiny 2. As more info came out, though, it began to sound like Bungie had learned from their mistakes and was fixing the flaws of the original. I remained cautiously optimistic all the way until launch day. Since then, I have put 50 hours into my Hunter on Destiny 2 and I've seen everything the game has to offer at least once. With that said, does it continue to disappoint like its predecessor did? Or is it a great game that is truly worthy of the time Bungie is asking you to put in? Read below to find out.
Destiny 2 has a story. Seriously!
Yep, you read that right. Gone are the days of grimoire cards and a character's most memorable quote being "I don't have time to explain why I don't have time to explain". With Destiny 2, Bungie delivers a strong campaign that actually feels like it came from the developers of Halo. There are plenty of well-made cutscenes, with the CGI ones used for important moments really standing out. The fresh restart actually make sense from a story standpoint. The missions are accompanied by a tremendous soundtrack that surpasses the original's. The perfect track was added to every moment in the story (and in the rest of the game, even), always managing to match what was going on. My favorite piece of music from the score is easily "Journey", and it's a perfect example of music adding to big moments. There are multiple memorable missions, particularly at the start and end of the story mode. Many of them take place in completely unique locations, which made me actually want to replay them. An instantly lovable new character, Failsafe, is introduced about halfway through the game as well. She's a malfunctioning AI that essentially has two personalities, and she adds so much hilarious dialogue to her missions. It's great to have another likable character in this universe, since Cayde-6 was all that was offered on that front prior to Destiny 2. The Red War campaign's villain, Dominus Ghaul, is solid. His simple design and common evil traits are acceptable because of how well he's used. I was seeing updates on his quest to steal the Traveler's light every few story missions, and I was legitimately excited for them. His conversations with The Speaker (a character from the original Destiny that just stood around handing out emblems) allowed us to see more of Ghaul's backstory and explained his motivations, which actually made sense in a way. These scenes also gave The Speaker a chance to, well, speak, and he had some pretty awesome replies to Ghaul's monologues. Don't get me wrong, I won't sit here and say that this story was near Naughty Dog or Rockstar levels of quality. It certainly wasn't unique, either. The plot was simple: the bad guy blows up your home and takes your power, you get your power back, you bring your team together and you take down the bad guy. It's a sci-fi story that everyone has seen many times, so it's a testament to the game's presentation, dialogue and mission design that it actually works. A fun campaign with a simple story is a major step up from a bland campaign with no story, after all. Still, it's simplicity presents a couple of minor issues.
First, a lack of character development. In the first Destiny game, the only vanguard that people gravitated toward was Cayde. Zavala was nothing more than the stereotypical bland commander, and Ikora was the stereotypical smart character who thought she was better than everyone. When they had a more minor role in the original game, it was less of an issue. In Destiny 2 though, they are constantly at the forefront, and these flat characters simply don't get the job done. Ghaul and Failsafe are already much more memorable after their limited time in this one game. I'm not suggesting that Bungie should make Zavala and Ikora into Titan and Warlock versions of Cayde-6 (that would ruin both Cayde's role and the overall tone of Destiny). It simply says a lot that their best moments are interacting with each other and feeling like a fireteam. They still don't work on their own like Cayde does, and something needs to change with them going forward.
The other issue is related to Ghaul. Particularly, his boss fight. Again, it's much better than Destiny 1's, but that's not much of a challenge to overcome (Destiny 2 could have given us anything that fought back and it would be a better final battle). The issue is how imposing he's made out to be and all the character building Bungie does for him, only to have him be so damn easy to take down. By the time a player reaches the encounter, they'll likely be stronger than Ghaul already. I was also given an instantly charging super, which I avoided to make the fight at least a little bit interesting. I took him down in 2 minutes on my own. I wish the encounter would have led to a strike, as Ghaul needed a serious health boost and damage buff to be a threat. His abilities looked cool, but did no damage. I could take down one of his three bars of health with a super. He was a walking disappointment. It's a real shame that this fight was such a breeze, as it's my only gameplay-related issue with this otherwise great campaign.
Praise The Traveler, the grinding is gone!
An even larger improvement than the story is Destiny 2's loot system. I no longer had to shoot into a cave of infinitely spawning enemies for hours on end... yay! The annoyingly unfair RNG is out, as is the issue of getting items for other classes that I don't even play. Players no longer need to equip their best gear to get the best quality weapon and armor drops, too. The game does it all on its own, so I was free to use whatever gear I preferred. This is just one of many large quality of life upgrades that makes Destiny 2 a much more enjoyable experience than the original.
Another is that Destiny 2 eliminates most of the seemingly never-ending crafting materials. Each planet has two that are exclusive to their location, while the rest of the game operates on basic currencies like glimmer and gunsmith parts. Cutting out all of the unnecessary items removes a hefty amount of Destiny's more boring aspects. Best of all, though, is one of the recurring planet-exclusive items: tokens. Each planet has a representative that you go to for taking up the planet's missions and getting its gear. They also accept tokens in exchange for legendary engrams, which contain some of their best planet-exclusive weapons and armor. I got tokens for everything that I did (patrols, public events, looting chests and taking out strong enemies in the world to name a few). This made every action I took in the game worthwhile. Even if you're helping a low-level friend climb the ranks, you're still working to unlock high-level gear for yourself just by playing the game.
The best thing I can say about this new loot system is the best thing I can say about any loot system, really: it always felt rewarding. Both the Legendary and Exotic drop rates were consistent and fair. I was constantly getting better armor and weapons with every mission I did or open world task I completed. When I played the crucible (which feels a bit better than the original Destiny thanks to the switch to 4v4 modes), I received the same amount of quality gear as I did playing strikes. This system works because it rewards every type of player. There is no one way to play like in the original, where players were forced to manage three characters and play the same things on repeat to get good gear. Everybody can simply play Destiny in whatever way they find to be the most fun, and they'll end up at the same level as everyone else. By playing the way I wanted to, I naturally reached 288 gear power. I didn't have to replay any missions I didn't like or run through something again with another character. Destiny 2 is how these types of video games should be; not a chore, but an escape from all the mundane tasks of regular life. A place where you can just enjoy yourself. This is a truly fun game, and it's partially because of the consistently satisfying loot.
One minor issue that I will mention, though, is the lack of changes to the character creator. For a game that places so much emphasis on how my gear looks, it's surprising that my character's face isn't nearly as important. It's the same exact barebones system as Destiny 1, with simple things like facial hair being completely left out. Hair styles are extremely limited, and only a handful of faces are available to choose from. Returning players cannot edit their character's appearance, either. With so many improvements, it's surprising that this feature was entirely overlooked. While it's far from a game-changing problem, it is still a problem and I hope it's fixed moving forward.
Open Worlds Done Right!
My favorite part of Destiny 2, though, isn't the improved story or great loot system. Surprisingly, it is the thing I hated most about the original: the open worlds. Aside from the European Dead Zone, they're not that big. A few are even on the smaller side, but what they lack in size they make up for with their great activities. Lost sectors are parts of the map hidden away that the player can explore, and all end with a mini-boss encounter and a loot chest. They took me to places of the map I would never have seen had I not ventured into the marked cave or hole in the ground. They added a whole layer of depth to each location that I wish more open worlds had. It really felt like I was exploring a destroyed part of Europe or a hidden Vex lair that the world had ignored. I explored them all, and loved every one of them. The lost sectors did not have some counter for how many I had completed, or a reward for exploring them all; I did them simply because they were a blast to do.
The other big strength of Destiny 2's open worlds are the adventures (Destiny's nickname for side quests). Counting the exotic quest lines that unlock after the main campaign, I believe there are around 40 sidequests in Destiny 2. If my math is right, that's about... 40 more sidequests than the original Destiny. These adventures were definitely enjoyable, with some of them being as well-made as the main story missions. They're the proper way to tell smaller stories in a game like Destiny, and I'm glad Bungie listened to the fans who asked for these additional quests.
Yet, even a returning open world feature is improved upon for Destiny 2. I'm referring to Public Events, as they're so much deeper than before. The easily recognizable spider tank event now comes with unlockable scorch cannons, making the event faster, doable solo and more exciting in general. If the players unlock all of the cannons, they'll start a more challenging heroic event where a second spider tank drops. There are around ten public events, and most of them have a heroic version which increases the chances of getting exotic quality reward gear. Having so many different events with two versions is terrific, as they're such a great feature of Destiny. Another of those quality of life updates shows you where the events are, how long they've been active or when they're starting. Coupled with the newly-added fast traveling, players can jump between events and keep themselves in the action for hours. Patrols and hidden chests also return, remaining pretty much the same. You can examine many items in the world for added information on them and Destiny's deeper universe. With all of these great features, I found that well over half of my playtime so far has been spent in Destiny 2's open worlds. Bungie has definitely figured out how to make Destiny's locations work, and I can't wait to see more of them in the future.
Strikes and enemies and raids, oh my!
With Destiny 2, you'll be given access to five strikes (six if you play on PS4, but the additional one is really just a re-skin of a side quest). This was the same case for the original Destiny, and the strikes are either on par or superior to what the first game offered. The Pyramidion and The Inverted Spire both focus on the Vex, and they're my favorite strikes yet in Destiny. The only possible downside about the new strikes is the Nightfalls. Specifically, the design choice to give players a time limit for completing them. Personally, I like the change, but I understand why many don't. It's forcing players who don't like to speedrun to do so, and making an already hard difficulty harder. I wish there was a playlist that allowed for the traditional nightfall difficulty, as strikes seem to be the only area of Destiny 2 that don't accommodate every type of player.
Destiny 2's strikes, story and open worlds feature the return of every enemy faction from Destiny 1. Most of these groups get two new types of attackers (like the Cabal's awesome War Dogs), making the encounters feel new... at least for awhile. It's a bit disappointing that, despite new planets and a numbered sequel, we're not given any new factions to deal with. At this point I feel like I've fought every type of Vex, Taken, Cabal, Fallen and Hive creature Bungie can think of. While Destiny still features the smoothest console shooter gameplay on the market (and probably the most satisfying headshots in gaming history), it's only a matter of time before I'm tired of seeing the same obstacles in my way.
Now, it's time to close out this in-depth review with some spoiler-free thoughts on Destiny's most defining feature: the raid. This game's first, The Leviathan, released a week after launch. I haven't been able to get a full team together to complete it yet (we tried to see as much as we could with four people), so I was only able to see a few sections of the large team-based challenge. That said, the little bit that I have witnessed myself is amazing. The Leviathan is by far the most visually unique slice of gameplay yet, as the white and gold color pallet help it to stand out from anything we have seen in both Destiny games thus far. The early puzzles required the same skill and teamwork as the original raids, and every little step that my group got through was exhilarating. I'm excited to see what puzzles come next, how the final boss works and some of the raid gear given out for completion. I haven't seen a large portion of the raid, that's for sure, but if it keeps the same pace as its opening I can easily see it becoming my favorite.
With this seemingly great raid, the awesome open worlds, a fun campaign and a much-improved loot system, Destiny 2 truly delivers. More than that, though, it accomplishes what sequels are supposed to do but often fall short of: it improved upon the original in nearly every way. It's a game I see myself playing for many months to come, and I'm beyond happy to finally and truthfully say that I love Destiny.
FINAL SCORE: 8.5