I’ve written a lot about Destiny 2 in the week since it’s release, and it’s fully deserving of a lot of the praise that it has been lavished with by critics and the game’s vast community. Where the expansions to the first game saw Bungie reworking everything from planetary materials to how punishing Nightfall strikes were, Destiny 2 shows just how much further scope there was for improvement. While it still fundamentally feels like the same game, practically everything has been rethought and rebalanced in a way that makes the game feel more cohesive and rewarding. When players will sink hundreds if not thousands of hours into this game, that’s so very important.
At the heart of the first ten hours with the game is your time with the new story. Dominus Ghaul and his Red Legion fleet launch a devastating surprise attack on the Tower and the Last City, nullifying and imprisoning the Traveller and the Light that it shares with Guardians.
The Cabal were the most underused enemy in the first game, but as Bungie bring them to the fore, they’re also the most human and consequently most relatable foes, with the regular cutaway cinematics featuring Ghaul showing his motivations, as he seeks self worth and validation. These are the exact same things that the now powerless Vanguard leaders – Zavala, Ikora Rey and Cayde-6 – struggle with as you reunite them through the story and fight to stop the latest threat to humanity.
It’s an epic campaign with a huge scale and some stunning moments, and that scale filters through to the rest of the game. The environments feel huge, with Bungie’s skyboxes as glorious as ever, and they’re now much broader and deeper in their design. They’re full of new and more engaging activities, so that they’re worth spending time in and exploring, as opposed to simply having them as a place to pass though during a mission or a strike.
The tiresome Patrols are still there, but they’ve been pushed to one side in favour of more frequent public events which are better highlighted for players: High Value Targets, Lost Sectors that can lead to surprisingly large battles in hidden away locations, Adventure missions that simply play out within the open worlds, and more. Even starting story missions has you travel to the planet to trigger the mission itself.
It’s all more seamless, with you able to simply head straight to a different location without first returning to orbit, and in area fast travel that makes flitting from one activity to another a breeze. You’re also actively encouraged to keep doing so, with the way that the game now more evenly and clearly hands out rewards, letting you find progress at every turn, whether through regular drops from enemies or from completing the Milestone challenges that guide you.
Destiny 2 is a new starting point for players, stripping returning Guardians of their abilities and gear and asking you to start from scratch. In the story, it’s a single shard of the Traveller that calls out to you and restores your powers, and it’s from this point that Bungie reinvent your powers and gear. Many old favourites return, such as the Golden Gun super for the Hunter class and shooting lightning from your fingertips as a Warlock, but others have been tweaked or replaced, removing the self reviving Warlock ability in favour of a flaming sword, for example. The upgrade and ability trees here have been simplified, so that there’s two prescribed builds for each subclass, alongside a choice of weapon and the effect of the new class abilities that look to engender even closer team play.
The weapons have been also rebalanced so that you now have a Kinetic, Energy and Power weapon, as opposed to Primary, Secondary and Heavy. Kinetic and Energy weapons are now a single elemental damage mod apart, including Scout Rifles, Assault Rifles, Sidearms and more, while Snipers, Shotguns, Rocket Launchers and others are now bundled together as Power weapons. It certainly helps to rebalance some parts of the game – sniping from afar is now out of the window with the dearth of Power ammo – but it also devalues the existence of certain weapon types. Sidearms and SMGs suffer in particular, with not enough range, accuracy or power for any serious activities.
Either way, the core gunplay is as fun as ever. You can run and gun to your hearts content, getting up close and personal with the regular enemies, but tougher foes need you to be whittle down their health bars and drop shields using elemental attacks. No, the enemies still aren’t particularly smart, and you’ll know how to tackle these returning races, but there are a handful of new additions to their ranks and new behaviours. Seeing Vandals scuttle around on four of their six limbs is one such new twist.
Curiously, it’s only after you’ve completed the bulk of the story that the strike playlist is opened up to you, meaning that these group missions that were a cornerstone of the original game have almost been pushed to one side, which is a shame when you consider how far Bungie’s level and boss design have come in the last few years.
The Nightfall strikes have also been reinvigorated, recapturing that feeling of challenge, without the ultra-punishing nature of their original form and kicking you out of the activity should all the guardians die. Instead of letting you cower in doorways, it keeps you on the front foot by cycling the burn ever 30 seconds to boost Solar, Arc and Void damage in turn, while also putting a time limit for completion. You’re forced to race through while grabbing extra time in various ways, whether through killing enemies as it was last week, or leaping through Vex hoops this week.
Playing the game cooperatively – where it is still at its best by far – you’re in fireteams of three, but head into the Crucible and you can add a fourth to your team. The competitive multiplayer in Destiny 2 is now uniformly for teams of four, as opposed to different game modes for six, three and even two player teams in the original. It scales the multiplayer back to a more tightly knit battle, where you really have to stick with your team and focus fire to succeed.
There’s a clear play for the competitive esports market in that regard, with the Competitive playlist featuring Survivor mode, where the teams have a very limited number of respawns, and Countdown, which is Destiny’s first attack and defence mode. Naturally, Control returns as part of Quickplay, alongside the Team Deathmatch of Clash and the kill confirming Supremacy.
However, it’s also just that little bit less… fun. Matches almost uniformly last too long and have too high score limits, you practically have to stick together as a team because playing as a lone wolf is now a recipe for failure, and the strict limits on Power ammo and the time it takes for your super to charge up leave you with using your main weapon for 95% of the match. That’s great for competitive and skilful play, but the first game’s crucible was a lot more freeing, bombastic, and even came to have Mayhem, a mode where your super recharged at a frightening rate and you could spam enemies.
And so we come to the raid. A frantic week of power levelling, learning the best activities to complete and then carefully redeeming the rewards so that they boost your character have led to this point, as Emperor Calus – the former leader of the Cabal deposed by Dominus Ghaul – brings his huge and decadent Leviathan to our solar system. It’s a raid that can feel dramatically different to the early raids in the original Destiny as a consequence of all the gold statues and cavernous halls – look up after completing an objective and you’ll see fireworks blossoming in the darkness of space – and it’s structured differently as well, with a central hub area that splinters off to different parts of the ship.
Once again, this is the ultimate challenge for a group of six players to take on, and deeply rewarding as you test yourself against not just the enemies, but the group puzzles of each area. There’s always a joy to exploring a place, putting out ideas for what needs to happen, hypothesising around the enemies, and then the game tests you as it splits the group up and throws tough enemies and particular time limits your way.
Admittedly, there is some common ground with previous Destiny events. You’ll have to hold your ground against enemies, use buffs and debuffs, deal damage during certain windows of opportunity, and so there can be a feeling in places that the actual puzzling isn’t all that new. That doesn’t diminish how special the raids are in Destiny, and repeatedly running The Leviathan until it’s been mastered and all its rewards and secrets laid bare will be a huge part of the game’s lasting appeal.
A lingering problem with these end game activities is that, as Bungie have made the game more rewarding as a whole, existing activities haven’t quite kept up. As simply running around the open world and completing public events now offers more regular legendary drops and rare gear that can help to boost your character, all of which are scaled to your best possible power level, it feels less rewarding to spend your time in the game’s strike playlist and crucible, unless you’re completing a weekly Milestone challenge.
Similarly, this more open approach has meant that many players have gone into the raid well over its recommended light level, and so while the raid gear is still desirable, it’s not the only or even best way to reach the highest light. On the one hand it’s great for all players and getting ready for the raid is easier and more fun than ever, but on the other it could make grinding your way through the raid feel a little less rewarding than it has done in the past. These are things that Bungie can tweak over time, but as a whole, Destiny 2 is a large step in the right direction.
Bungie have grasped the opportunity that Destiny 2 gave them with both hands. Every part of the game has been reconsidered to create a more uniformly rewarding and engaging experience, from the main story and planetary activities to the Nightfall strike and beyond. It has left some of the returning activities feel less rewarding for time spent, and the smaller scale Crucible multiplayer scratches a different, more competitive itch than in the original game, but these are things that Bungie can and will address over time. Destiny 2 is a fantastic new beginning for one of the most popular online shooters out there, and I can’t wait to see how it grows and evolves over the coming months and years.
Version tested: PlayStation 4 Pro