The Tower has fallen. Everything you once knew, owned, and cherished has been torn asunder and left behind, as the Red Legion manage to launch a surprise assault on the Last City and shackle the Traveller. Dominus Ghaul has won and for you there is just the tiniest glimmer of light. It’s time to start over. What Destiny 2’s opening hours present is both refreshingly new, realising much more of the potential of the original game’s setting, yet comfortably familiar at the same time.
If you’re a returning player, there’s a poignance to the game’s opening. Picking a character that you fostered through the first game sees you treated to a lovely reminder of the things that you and your friends accomplished, as the game recalls the first time you emerged victorious from the Black Garden, your first Vault of Glass triumph, your defeat of Crota, and on through the other expansions and major story points from the original game.
Then it’s torn apart. The opening level is effectively the same as we saw in the beta test, but it starts you off with a lowly pistol and acts as a tutorial to the game – if there’s one complaint here, it’s that I feel like I should have been equipped with my best gear from the first game during this section, to make me feel like a true, all conquering badass. Left on the brink of death following this first mission, your first hour in the game is one of simple survival, as you stagger through the Last City – actually, my second complaint is the lack of true peril during this slow trudge – before you venture forth and the game skips days at a time on your journey out into the wasteland. Stripped of your Light, your Ghost can’t simply revive you in the middle of battle, as you fend off the occasional packs of Cabal hounds that hunt you.
However, it’s not long before a semblance of normality is restored, with the founding of The Farm as a new safe haven and social space for players. It starts small, with a new character, the decidedly normal human being Suraya Hawthorne as the new figurehead, but as you manage to regain the glowing embers of your Light, it is soon populated by a number of new and returning NPCs, as well as the herds of fellow Guardians running back and forth, getting on top of the farm buildings, or kicking the football back and forth.
It’s a wonderfully open feeling area, that would be serene, if it weren’t for the decaying or shattered remains of humanity in the typically gorgeous skybox. It contrasts starkly with the first time you venture into the European Dead Zone, finding cramped city streets teeming with the Fallen to battle, public events to join in on and the much improved way that gameplay and story are woven together.
It’s here that you meet Devrim Kay, a sniper who keeps watch from the upper floors of a church and with the voice and demeanour of Game of Thrones’ Jorah Mormont – it isn’t Iain Glen, but rather Gideon Emery doing a damn close impression – who hands out a few early pointers and sends you off on missions. It’s a much more organic and fluid system than featured in the original game, with loot caches and public events (which are now highlighted in the map and triggered by players, as opposed to on an obscure rota) joined by side missions and even the beacons that load you straight into a main mission starting at that point.
The game’s navigation and map system – yes, there’s now a map of the local area to view and track objectives on – has been thought out much better to minimise unnecessary loading time. You don’t have to head back to orbit to pick your next activity, but you can bring up the Director wherever you are, load up the map and simply fast travel across the area, fly off to a new location or pick the next thing you want to do.
No sooner have you got used to this area and battling the Fallen, you’ll be drawn to venture off to the spectacular new setting on Titan with a golden age city that’s slowly crumbled into the raging seas. It’s here that Zavala has ended up, but without the Light that you’ve found to allow him to fight on the front lines against the forces of darkness. You can, of course, stay for longer on Earth or flit back and forth between various activities, take a diversion into The Crucible, and so on.
There is, however, the main path of the story driving you forward and, much as Bungie did with Halo 2, they’re trying to do more to, for want of a better term, humanise the Cabal and Dominus Ghaul. Completing a mission sees a small interlude and cutscene that cuts to where he is in the Last City, as he tries to tear into the secrets and motivations of the Traveller, so that he can exploit them for himself. It’s effective in that regard and, while he’s clearly still the bad guy, it’s fascinating to have him be more than the nebulous and overly simplistic villains of the first game and its expansions.
We’re just getting started with our time with Destiny 2, but first impressions are already very positive from those among us who are playing. Jake, for example, earned himself an exotic engram for a simple public event, discovering that they’re no longer restricted to use by having a high level. There’s a lot that will be familiar to those who are coming from the first game, but with a new story driving it forward and a new beginning in terms of building your character, it should be equally inviting to those unfamiliar with the first game. On a simple level, it’s easy to say that Destiny 2 at launch is leaps and bounds beyond where Destiny was back in 2014.