Destiny 2 is already a huge success, as evidenced by Bungie tweeting last night that the game had 1.2 million concurrent players already – take that PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds! – and one or two minor faux-pas aside that have riled up some parts of the community, there’s an almost overwhelming positivity surrounding the game. It deserves it, with Bungie making a clean break from the original, in a way that the expansions never could, and using that opportunity to redefine what Destiny is.
It all starts with the central story to the game, as it shatters the Tower, shackles the Traveller’s power and subjugates the Last City. Everything is gone and you have to start from scratch, but you’re special, and earn back your power, letting you lead the way as humanity fights for survival without the almost all-powerful Guardians to defend them.
There’s a wonderful parallel between the loss that returning Guardians will feel and that which the three Vanguard leaders are dealing with. Zavala, Ikora Rey and Cayde-6 each deal with the loss of their abilities in different and equally destructive ways, and if you simply follow the game’s string of story missions, it will whisk you from one planet to the next, showing each in turn that all is not lost and reuniting them to face down an all encompassing apocalyptic event. The final charge to salvation and victory is an epic multi-part mission against all the odds, and well worth the price of admission.
While some might be disappointed that Destiny 2 doesn’t feature any new races and even leans on familiar-looking settings despite the new planets and moons that you visit – Titan being the real standout here. With only a smattering of new enemies and behaviours for each race, Bungie do deserve credit for taking the most underused enemies from the original, the Cabal, and turning them into the most interesting and engaging foes. A large part of that is down to Dominus Ghaul, their leader, and the handful of cutscenes where he searches for meaning for why he has not been blessed with the Light are fascinating and humanising.
That’s the real strength of the Cabal, that they can be relatively human and relatable, where the Vex are single-minded robots, the Hive a chittering horde, and the Fallen are mere scavengers. Those can be interesting races in terms of lore and the threat they provide, but the Cabal are perhaps the biggest reason why Destiny 2’s story has been so well received.
As we race through the endgame after the story’s conclusion, like so many other seasoned Destiny players are currently doing, trying to prepare themselves for the Raid that arrives this coming Wednesday, we find a relatively familiar grind. There is an inherent repetition to Destiny 2, just as there was to the original, but what must be said is that Bungie do a much better job of spreading out the possible methods of advancement.
It’s still an incremental system, as you have to complete various activities to earn engrams and gear pieces to boost you average light level bit by bit. Thankfully, Bungie have taken a lot of the mystery out of this, so you know the minimum threshold of the engrams you decrypt, and they’ve stated that rare engrams will only ever drop a maximum of five light points higher than your best possible average – thankfully, there’s no more need to equip your best gear when decrypting.
To earn these rewards, you can engage in the Strike playlist or play the Crucible and cross your fingers as each match ends, just as in the original. Alternatively, and this is surely the method that Bungie would prefer you to take, you head out into the open areas, take on the multi-part Adventure missions and local Quests in these sprawling open world areas, hunt for loot caches and the lost sectors, tackle the range of new public events, each of which has a harder Heroic version you can trigger, kill high value targets, and more. Naturally, many will veer toward the path of least resistance to upgrading quickly, but there’s plenty of activities to choose between.
Where the original game’s open world often felt empty and too sparse, limited to performing dull patrol missions or being a familiar place that you pass through when you take on a Strike, there’s a lot more depth to the world design with dozens of nooks and crannies to explore. Lost Sectors are an interesting addition, as their rough location is marked on the map and you try to spot an icon in-world in order to find them, but whether they shift from week to week or are simply restocked with new enemies to defeat is yet to be seen. It feels as though there is enough depth for the former to be possible.
As broad as Destiny 2’s design now is, it’s still fundamentally Destiny and sometimes bumbles its way into the same kind of dull monotony. Each planet now has daily challenges to complete and you’ll be tasked by Ikora Rey and other characters to complete a number of challenges in exchange for powerful rewards. Those challenges, however, can be just as mind numbing such as trying to find ten of a particularly innocuous looking crystal on Earth or finding three loot chests from the Cabal.
I’m also not entirely sold on some of the revisions made to the weapons and subclass abilities, or at least feel a degree of cynicism toward the reasoning. The shift away from primary, secondary and heavy weapons toward kinetic, energy and power often leaves me feeling like I’m hitting the tougher enemies with pebbles. Power weapons now encompassing everything from shotguns to rocket launchers, merging secondary and heavy groups from before, you’re often starved of ammunition. Kinetic and Energy weapons, meanwhile, cover the same weapon types, merely with elemental effects on the latter.
Similarly, where Bungie seemed to promise that you’d rediscover each subclass with brand new abilities, showing off the Captain America-like Titan shield and the Warlock’s new flame flinging sword ultimate, it turns out that other subclasses have been almost untouched.
Naturally, this has been done with balance in mind, both in co-op and competitive play. Things like being able to self-revive during Strikes and Raids, camp out in a corner and snipe at Nightfall bosses, and other slightly crummy player tactics have been removed. Of course, these tactics came to the fore, because of the weaknesses in level and boss design in the original game, which Bungie worked hard to improve upon for the expansions.
As Bungie start over with Destiny 2, they’re finally living up to the real potential of the original game and its setting. The worlds you visit have more depth and activities, the overall experience of levelling up your character has been streamlined further, and it’s accompanied by a much better paced story that feels epic. We’ll reserve our final judgement for once we’ve played the Leviathan Raid on Wednesday, but this is a clear step forward for returning fans and newcomers alike.