Version Reviewed: PlayStation 4
Three years after the release of the original Destiny Bungie sends us into a far future version of our own solar system with the release of Destiny 2 on Xbox One and PS4. While the development of the original Destiny has become somewhat of a cautionary tale about the perils of AAA development – Bungie, Activision and new partner Vicarious Visions have had quite a bit of extra time to polish and improve the loot focused FPS formula that made the first Destiny should a standout title. Can Destiny 2 live up to the expectations & hype for this franchise’s sophomore effort?
Stepping foot into the boots of a Guardian will be familiar to anyone who played Destiny or any of its expansions. Moment to moment gameplay is, for the most part, almost identical in D2 to its predecessor. As an armor-clad un-killable warrior of The Tower, Guardians control very similar to the protagonist from Bungie’s entries in the Halo franchise – if not just a bit faster. Overall movement speed will feel slower when compared to a Call of Duty, Quake title but this de-emphasis on fast-paced action leaves room for strategy, planning, and careful aim.
Speaking of strategically using weapons: each Guardian has three weapon slots, just like the first game –Kinetic (formally primary), Elemental (formally named Secondary) and Power (formally heavy). Elemental weapons will have a given element assigned to them – for example, void, arc etc. – and their damage is aligned with this specific element. Primary weapon damage is un-aspected meaning it has no strengths or weakness when compared to elemental weapons. Just like in the first Destiny ammunition for the Elemental and Power slots is much rarer than primary ammo. The game still does provide you with enough ammunition to shoot enemies in the face – this a series all about killing aliens after all.
Interestingly I went back and read my review of Destiny 1 from three years ago to see how my thoughts on the series have changed since then. I described the gear progression as: “Gear progression exists [in Destiny] but the repetition of the story mission or strikes makes gear hunting much less appealing.” This is actually the opposite of how I feel about D2’s gear progression. Finding a Scout Rifle that does more damage than my currently equipped Auto Rifle made me consider a different playstyle than the all guns blazing route that I went with at the beginning of my journey. Destiny 2 tosses brand new gear at you so often that it becomes an adventure just to see what you’ll find next. By the end of my 20-level journey I was favoring scoped Scout Rifles over louder firearms simply because their accuracy lead to some pretty epic headshots. One of the core tenants for any Destiny 2 player should be “don’t get too attached to your gear” because even when you reach the level cap and finish the story you’ll still be chasing slightly more powerful versions of your favorite weapon type.
Another contrast to the original Destiny is just how alive Destiny 2’s open worlds feel in comparison. I can remember roaming around the worlds of the first title and they felt very baron and lifeless places with a few enemies and bases placed about. Perhaps it is the removal of last generation consoles that gave Bungie the technical freedom to make their worlds much larger or perhaps it was the extra development time but one thing is for sure – there is a lot more to do in Destiny 2’s sandbox when compared to the first. Public events – self-contained 3 to 5-minute objectives – return from the first game now with hidden Heroic variants. Each zone now also has its own Faction leader who will trade hidden tokens found throughout each world in exchange for legendary engrams (post level 20) – giving experienced Guardians a reason to return to the first worlds. In addition to these activities each zone also has a system of hidden passages and spaces that the campaign won’t show you and they are greyed out in the overworld map. Destiny 2’s revamped open worlds feel refreshing and compelling.
Destiny 2‘s single player story is what the original game should have offered: a narrative driven experience that tours the game’s four large worlds, introduces the core activities and mechanics that will keep you coming back after the campaign ends and manages to earn quite a few chuckles as well due to some creative writing. Destiny 2’s campaign (probably) won’t win many awards on its own – if this was all the game had to offer there’d be some issues – but when added with the amount of content already present, the campaign provides an excellent gateway to the larger Destiny experience. Characters that were merely reputation vendors or representatives in the first game are more fleshed out in the sequel – with the witty banter between Peter Dinklage’s Ghost and Nathan Fillion’s Cayade-6 providing the most levity & humor. What narrative is present is told in broad strokes and would have benefited from a bit more characterization, especially for the new menacing villains who feel rather two dimensional and since the player doesn’t know much about them other than “they are the bad guys with a super weapon” – taking down Ghoul’s lieutenants for example doesn’t carry as much weight as it probably should.
Bungie has done a commendable job fleshing out the parts of the Destiny formula that felt under developed when the IP debuted three years ago – especially when it comes to the presentation & coherence of the campaign and the re-designed open world segments. Destiny 2 offers so much for players to do, even solo minded Guardians like myself that it is easy to recommend at full price. If you have friends to run the strikes & public events with, then you are bound to have an even more enjoyable time taking down the baddies found within IO, Titan, Earth and Nessus. Multiplayer PVP or the Leviathan Raid haven’t been mentioned in this review because, in all honesty, the removal of larger teams / streamlining of playlists has removed any drive I had to play it beyond the required 2 matches for an in-game mission. In regards to the Raid – I simply did not have an organized fireteam to try it out before reviewing Destiny 2.