Destiny 2 Review - Short Change Heroes
Short Change Heroes
Played on: PlayStation 4
What I’ve Played:
- Finished campaign twice, each playthrough averaging 11 hours
- Completed multiple instances of PvE side content: several adventures, dozens of public events and several strikes.
- Completed four instances of PvP content in the form of The Crucible.
- Brought 2 character classes to maximum level 20 and 1 class to level 10.
When Bungie launched Destiny back in 2014, there was a sense that praise was begrudging. Sure, the core fundamentals of shooting and looting were sound. But the initial dearth of gameplay content and its austere narrative campaign left many cold. It took three years worth of updates to transform the game into a more welcoming experience, and cement an ultra passionate player base. Destiny 2 holds the promise of taking all the lessons that Bungie learned and applying them to a clean slate.
Wiped clean that slate is, as the game opens with an attack upon The Tower, the line of defense that stands between the untamed wilds of Earth and the last city of humanity, by the Red Legion. This warmongering faction is led by a villain named Ghaul who has designs of seizing the Light – the mysterious power that fuels Destiny’s Guardians – for himself.
It’s an acceptable enough excuse to upturn the tables of Destiny’s status quo, maybe not permanently, but long enough to re-establish the story bits that make up Bungie’s dense, sprawling mythology, which was previously glimpsed solely via a companion app. That’s because Destiny 2 is resolutely committed to ensuring that players are never at a loss for where they are, what they’re doing and why they’re doing it.
The campaign is a bit of a hoot and a holler, clocking in just short of a dozen hours. It goes a long way to redressing the austere nature of Destiny’s universe, now infamous for not having time to explain why it doesn’t have time to explain. As you bounce from planet to planet to reassemble the Vanguard and take back the city, you’ll be accompanied by several allies whose banter alternates between gravely serious and humorously glib.
While the performance of Nathan Fillion (Castle) as Cayde-6 – a robotic ranger reminiscent of his character from Firefly – grabs the most attention, it’s the work of Lance Reddick (Fringe) as Zavala, the de facto leader of the Vanguard that shines the most. Humbled by the loss of the Light and plagued by self doubt, Zavala is the one who brings the most pathos to the heroes’ defeat at the hands of the Red Legion.
If Destiny 2’s campaign has a flaw it’s that it is never fully prepared to wrestle with the themes it puts forward. It attempts to interrogate the relationship between humanity, the Guardians and the Traveler which gifts them with immortality and power. Those questions pose great meaning for a universe that has always been written with an aspirational almost mythopoetic bent. But by the end of Destiny 2, these questions get swept aside by a return to order.
For a few hot chapters, Destiny 2 takes a good long look at bravery and heroism, at the way might – or The Light, rather – makes right and at how the Vanguard’s protection of mankind breeds a stifling paternalism. But once your Guardian picks herself back up and finds her way back to power, Destiny 2 flinches.
With regards to gameplay content, Destiny 2 refocuses by trading its predecessor’s breadth for detail. Untethered by the technical limitations of last generation consoles, Bungie is free to create environments with an abundance of detail, as well as some majestic looking skyboxes. Simply put, Destiny 2’s higher technological ceiling allows it to better capture the blend of post-utopian desolation and mystical grandeur implied by its lore.
The cost in breadth is in the limited scope of Destiny 2’s locales. While it’s true that it’s predecessor launched with a similarly modest number of maps, which subsequently grew over four expansions, it isn’t unreasonable to expect a bigger, bolder scale for the sequel. That being said, superior art direction does much to elevate Io and Nessus, while the abandoned oil rig on Titan and the fallen cities of Earth benefit from meticulous attention to detail.
Still for experienced players of its predecessor, Destiny 2 can be a disappointment in this regard. Nothing stands in for exotic maps like the research collective on Venus or the subterranean cathedrals of the Moon, and the outlines of the setting’s now distant Golden Age are faded. Also, many of the hostile factions you shoot are peripheral to the core narrative. Destiny 1 never did a grand job at conveying its setting, but Destiny 2’s blockbuster approach sidelines it.
Fortunately, Destiny 2 alleviates this somewhat with ‘Adventures.’ These side missions flesh out some of the mysteries unique to each planet. They’re not particularly impressive in design, but they go a long way towards sketching out NPCs by establishing their goals on each planet and the hostile forces that impede them. They can give players a better understanding of the situation on European Dead Zone or deeper comprehend the motivations of Asher Mir on Io.
NEW ANGELS OF PROMISE
Outside a drastic reconsideration of the game’s writing and tone, there’s little, if any, reinvention in Destiny 2. As mentioned, Destiny’s core mechanics of shooting and looting have always been sound. The most notable change is your loadout which emphasizes a split between untyped kinetic firearms and elemental ones with heavy or ‘power’ weapons taking up a lone slot. Meanwhile, secondary abilities like the Titan’s barrier shield, the Hunter’s dodge roll and the Warlock’s healing circle are some welcome additions.
That being said, I found myself hoping for broader mechanical space in Destiny 2. While each level up grants you skill points to buff up your grenades, melee attacks and class abilities, it never really feels like you’re adding much in the way of depth to your build. They say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, but just because Destiny’s fundamentals weren’t broke doesn’t mean Bungie couldn’t build on it.
Where Destiny 2 has changed is in the distribution of loot and rewards. The first Destiny was happy to drip feed you gear and coin and for some that meant rewards felt earned. It’s an approach that left players feeling the game was rather miserly. Destiny 2 on the other hand, has a kinder, gentler RNG Jesus. No activity goes unrewarded and that makes the sequel a more satisfying experience for players with less time on their hands.
That’s not a thinly veiled criticism, mind you. For all the hand wringing to be made about games that hold players’ hands and shower them in endless rewards, Bungie’s decision to alter the balance between rewards and activities is, overall, a democratizing one. And that’s important for a game whose ultra passionate fans struggle to explain why they played so much Destiny, and adds appeal to anyone interested in a long term commitment with Destiny 2.
THE END IS THE BEGINNING
While the conclusion of Destiny 2’s campaign does set up potential for interesting new stories – and by that, we mean expansion packs/DLC – life and level 20 after it is spent drinking from a bottomless mug of patrols, public events, strikes and of course, the raids.
Public events give the worlds of Destiny 2 life and dynamism. They’re available from the moment you set foot on the game’s first area, spontaneously appearing and giving players a chance to cooperate and take down hostile alien forces for better rewards. Tougher, meaner forces can be triggered to spawn for a ‘Heroic’ level public event, meaning better rewards.
The group-based dungeons known as Strikes seem perfunctory at best. While they feature some light puzzles – none more complex than your average platformer – the rewards don’t really feel worth the effort. Weekly Nightfalls are where the real challenge is, applying modifiers that put more pressure on you and your fireteam, and the sense of accomplishment is deeper.
The Crucible is the source of PvP action for Destiny 2 players. Teams have been pared down from 6v6 to 4v4. Having played a good share of Crucible action on the original Destiny I can tell you that this is ultimately for the better. Smaller teams allow for a more focused experience not just in geography but in combat. That means matches feel more like tactical sorties than hyperkinetic chaos.
But for the most dedicated of players, the Raid is what they’re keeping their eye on. Six players are put to the test against challenging puzzles and overwhelming foes. The current raid available, The Leviathan places you aboard a world-eating flagship orbiting Nessus. As of this writing, I was unable to assemble a team to try out the Raid, but will definitely try to coordinate with my clan for a schedule.
Ultimately, Bungie’s greatest triumph in Destiny 2 is that it has transformed the polarizing, alienating experience of the first Destiny into an infinitely more rewarding one. While some of the improvements to storytelling are undermined by the lack of conviction in its writing, there’s a player friendliness to the end game content supported by rewards that finally acknowledge your efforts. There’s still a lot of room to grow from here, but Destiny 2’s future looks filled with light.
8 / 10
- Shooting and looting still feels great, and made better by subtle refinements to UI.
- Great variety of midgame and endgame diversions to keep you coming back
- The grind is kinder, with better drop rates and better loot
- Though entertainingly told, the story can’t cover up lack of depth and meaning