Review: Destiny 2

With Destiny 2, Bungie has clearly taken the time to look at what was inherently good and bad about the original game, and used that as a foundation for a new title in the series, effectively creating a game that perhaps the original Destiny should have been. There are pros and cons to this approach, but I’m still struggling to gather my thoughts, and as the game itself is so polarising – it’s virtually impossible to cover all bases.

I’ll start with a popular criticism – Destiny 2 is really just “Destiny 1.5”. I can certainly appreciate where this is coming from; Destiny 2 is very much just a distillation of the original game, with improvements to certain aspects. It feels very much like Destiny, and the weapon set, enemies, abilities and so on are very familiar (in some cases, mostly unchanged). However, the sheer AMOUNT of change in other areas is what sets Destiny 2 apart – it’s the same game at its core, but is also improved in so many ways. As such, it’s a true sequel – anything else would be a reboot or a different game entirely.

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As a fan of the series (disclaimer: I put 1000 hours into D1), I can say this is very much welcome. There is serious structure to the campaign, and the story itself makes sense from start to finish. The addition of the map and milestones (as well as daily objectives) makes activity progression much more accessible, and the overhauls to the menu systems and NPC interactions makes the game feel far more rewarding and much less confusing. At least at first. There is still depth to character progression, and even with the simplification of subclasses, deciding what is most effective in a given situation is still something that takes time to learn…

But I’m getting ahead of myself. For those new to the series, Destiny 2 is a first-person shooter, set in a shared world. What this means is that you will encounter other players while you run about performing errands. In some cases, they will assist you, in other cases, they will just be there. In further cases, they will actually be part of your “fireteam”, which essentially means they share the same objective, and you are all working together towards achieving that objective. The campaign is composed of story missions, all of which are part of “The Red War” storyline and are symbolised on the map by a red arch. In this way, players will always know the next step in the campaign. In addition, there are Adventures, which are self-contained story missions separate to the main storyline, but related to some ancillary aspect of the larger story arc; and Quests, which open up later in the campaign, and tell a short 3- or 4- mission story related to the world environment on which the quest takes place (there are 4 worlds, by the way – the European Dead Zone on Earth; Titan, a moon of Saturn; Io, a moon of Jupiter; and Nessus, a planetoid in the outer reaches). In addition, there are Lost Sectors, which finalise at a dedicated boss and loot cache that can be discovered within a game world, as well as Planetary Chests to find, patrol missions, public events, and strikes. All of this represents quite a lot of gameplay (playing through everything will take a good 30 or 40 hours on a single character), but – in traditional Destiny fashion – the game does a poor job of explaining what’s what. Freedom and sandbox gameplay is one thing, but progression and development is another thing entirely.

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Unfortunately, this stems from Bungie’s desire to appeal to all players, and it’s a tough thing to criticise. I would recommend hardcore Destiny fans to work their way through the campaign first and foremost, as completing the story and hitting character level 20 is the highest priority. Once this is achieved, the rest of the content can be consumed at the player’s leisure, all the while chasing max power level and quality gear. For newer players, how they play and what they chase is purely up to them, and it’s for these people that Bungie has put so many activities into PvE. This is good, because there’s plenty of content, but on the contrary, it doesn’t really encourage these players to move towards what really makes Destiny fun – co-operative (and competitive) multiplayer in endgame activities. From my perspective, there’s so much that CAN be done at lower levels, that eventually it’s likely to become stale… In reality, there’s nothing wrong with that, and I’m sure people will find enjoyment in the content that Destiny 2 has to offer, but the REAL quality content is in the more difficult, higher-level, endgame content.

Bungie has done what they can to try to encourage players along a set path – achieve a certain level, unlock multiplayer. Shortly thereafter, unlock strikes. A little later, nightfall strikes, and so on  – and all of this is guided by milestones accessible from the map. The goal behind chasing these milestones is in unlocking more powerful gear. In addition, Bungie has added Guided Games, which allows for newer players to match with higher-skill players in clans in order to help them through more difficult content (if they don’t have many friends that play the game). However, while this is all PROVIDED in the game, nothing is explicit, and my fear is that newer players are simply going to make their way through the campaign, play some Adventures, try out some competitive multiplayer in the crucible, and then give up, thinking overall it was satisfying, but never really great.

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Perhaps I shouldn’t have an issue with this, but I’m already seeing it in practice. There are people on my friend’s list who didn’t play Destiny, but have decided to give Destiny 2 a shot, and already, several of them have moved on to other games. Some of them didn’t even finish the campaign. This concerns me because – much like the first game – the real quality experiences are beyond the traditional campaign. Many players are simply going to miss out on what makes Destiny great… But I guess there’s not much I can do about that.

Story-wise, the campaign is satisfying, but never amazing. There are plenty of cut scenes, and both the protagonists and the antagonists are relatable – to a degree. However, later sections feel rushed – right when the real threat is revealed (which takes three quarters of the campaign to discover), you very quickly put an end to it and defeat the primary enemy (in what I felt was a very easy and overall unsatisfying final mission). Overall a giant leap forward compared to Destiny 1, but still not what I was hoping for.

However, the end game really shines in a few key areas: the loot chase, nightfall strikes, competitive multiplayer, and of course, the raid. The loot chase, thankfully, can be done anywhere at any time – as you increase in level, loot drops from anywhere will drop at an “appropriate” level (I say “appropriate” because understanding HOW loot drops is very important… not everything will be at or above your current power level, but it WILL help to progress). Nightfall strikes have been improved – sure, they are still more difficult versions of existing strikes, but the modifiers that are applied now change things significantly. One modifier, Prism, switches the elemental burn every thirty seconds, which means that players need to keep an eye on things in order to deliver the highest amount of damage. Another, Timewarp, changes things in multiple ways – Nightfalls now have a time limit, and certain actions (depending on the specific Timewarp modifier applied, as there are multiple) will put more time on the clock. This makes for manic experience that requires both a level of skill, and preparation.

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Competitive multiplayer has undergone the most change with Destiny 2 – now all modes are 4v4, including the new Trials of the Nine. There are two modes accessible to all players – Quick Play, and Competitive (yes, just like Overwatch). Quick Play is for fun, with a more arcade-like feel – modes include Clash (i.e., Deathmatch), and Control, among other modes, and matchmaking is based more on location and connection than on skill. Competitive, on the other hand, is…. More competitive. Matchmaking is skill-based, and matches are mostly objective-based (currently there are only two modes – Countdown and Survival). The End Game (and weekends) opens up access to Trials of the Nine – a highly competitive game mode, where players compete to win 7 matches on a trials card, in order to grab some highly specific loot and glory. In reality, there have been a number of changes to the Crucible (what Bungie terms their competitive multiplayer in the Destiny series) – far more than I care to write about here – but just to cover off a few, let’s have a quick-fire round: increased time-to-kill, changes to player numbers, decreased map size, specific maps for specific modes, new weapon loadout, restricted access to power weapon ammo; the list goes on. Most of this makes for a more enjoyable, skill-based multiplayer environment, but it’s still frustrating at times, and it’s still less satisfying than something more team-focused, such as Overwatch and Paladins. And Trials of the Nine? It’s not a great deal of fun to lose 10 matches in a row for no clear reason – my team is highly successful in other multiplayer modes, but extremely ineffective in Trials, and I just can’t quite understand why. It’s especially disheartening seeing everyone else making their way to the new “lighthouse” (a location exclusive to players who complete a card in Trials). Perhaps we just need to “git gud, son”…

All of this brings us, finally, to the raid. The raid is the epitome of Destiny PvE gameplay, and is a lengthy mission with several complex encounters. Generally, it takes several to many hours to complete on first attempt, but with practice, can be completed within 1-2 hours on future attempts. The Leviathan raid in Destiny 2 is no slouch in this regard – it took 3 attempts and a good 10-15 hours before I finally managed to beat the final boss. With Destiny 2, Bungie has taken a new approach to the raid: there is a central location, which requires teamwork and problem-solving in order to unlock a series of four doors, each leading to an encounter. The first encounter, the Royal Baths, is a more “traditional” encounter, requiring teamwork, standing on plates, juggling buffs, and team shooting in order to progress. The second, the Pleasure Gardens, requires a hell of a lot of teamwork, and a good measure of stealth and organisation. The Gauntlet – the third encounter – requires a great deal of teamwork and timing in addition to frantic jumping skills (sorry to those that hate jumping puzzles – it’s now a key part of a major encounter). And lastly, the final encounter is with Calus, the Cabal emperor himself. This final battle is complex for more reasons than just the mechanics, and in true Destiny fashion, failure tends toward glitches just as often as it does to player error. It’s frustrating to say the least, but I must say – it’s gorgeous. Raids are an experience worth having, but participants need to be in for the long haul, and just be keen to play with other people – which, to be fair, is not for everyone.

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From here, I don’t know where to go. There’s so much I can say about the game that I just don’t know where to start. In fact, I think the only way I can go about this is to do a kind of “stream of consciousness” and just let it all out. So here goes.

Quick fire positives: When I take all of the content, and look at it through my own lens, there’s a lot that I’m happy with. For example, it takes time and effort to hit max power level now – two weeks in, and I’m still a good way off. In fact, it may take me a couple more weeks to get there, which is great (the main reason to keep playing is the grind). There are plenty of ways to level up, from basic patrols, through public events, though strikes, nightfalls, PvP and the raid, and all of this will keep me very busy for weeks to come. Weapon balance is hugely improved – there are several viable weapons in each archetype, and all weapon types are now fun to use. PvP is no longer ability spam – players need to be good with their weapons and not with their grenades and supers. Nightfalls are fun and relevant again. Trials has a really compelling aesthetic. The raid is gorgeous and fun (particularly once you’ve mastered the mechanics). Guided Games makes it easier to do more difficult content if no friends are online. Clans make rewards more accessible. Bright Engrams (which are awarded on level up after level 20, and contain cosmetic items) make me excited to level up, but aren’t so desirable that I feel the need to spend real money on them. Gear mods make the end game more fun, and provide a deeper level of customisation. Shaders that can be applied to everything makes player flair a thing in Destiny 2 – even more so than it was in Destiny 1. Revival effects, emotes, and auras are also highly desirable, and provide an additional layer of customisation to hunt down. The story at large and the lore behind it all gets me VERY excited for what’s to come – there’s quite a lot to dig into, and it’s all very cool. There is so much cool gear to chase, and many exotics are highly desirable. Exotic weapons are all very useful in specific situations, and it makes choosing which one to take to an encounter very difficult. The music is FANTASTIC, providing a very new approach to Destiny scoring that is very ell orchestrated, and so well implemented with certain sections of the game. And lastly, the graphics themselves have been drastically improved. There are some areas in the game that blew me away, and not just in the raid. Every environment has a certain area that is just mind-blowing, and there’s so much colour. It’s just great to be in such a rich world, and I look forward to future environments. There’s probably a whole lot more I could say about the game, but clearly there’s a lot to like about the changes that Bungie has brought to Destiny 2.

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Quick-fire negatives: While there is a lot that’s great about Destiny 2, I also have plenty of gripes. Mixed team sizes across game modes – 3 players for most of PvE, 4 players for PvP, 6 players for the raid – is confusing and makes rustling up a team more difficult than it should be. No private matches in PvP doesn’t make sense. No ranking system in PvP means there’s no incentive to play beyond the grind. Matchmaking for Trials seems imbalanced (that’s the only excuse I can come up with). The raid is very unfair at times (the “Pleasure Gardens” section will be especially frustrating to replay, and the less I say about the Calus encounter, the better). The levelling system, while improved, is still more complex than it needs to be – as a hardcore player, I can understand how it works, but most people will be stuck at a power level without understanding why. The game STILL doesn’t take the time to explain certain mechanics – the mod system, for example. The campaign ending lacks impact. The campaign itself is very tacky at times, which is frustrating given the lore is so complex. Lots of lore has been added to game, but is now hidden in Adventures – while this isn’t such a bad thing, the point is that there’s not much incentive to play Adventures as there are no great rewards beyond story. There are limited methods to increase power level (artificially keeping levels down week-by-week – this is both good and bad). No Rumble mode in PvP (for silly fun). Sparrows aren’t awarded until WAY too late in the campaign (actually, not until you FINISH the campaign). The raid is (naturally) full of bugs and feels less rewarding than it used to (at the time you’re doing the raid at least – there are plenty of rewards after the fact). Doing Heroic Strikes (i.e., completing the Flashpoint weekly milestone) is tedious and feels like a chore. Total amount of loot feels low (but this will change with the addition of factions next week). Levelling a second and third character takes FOREVER and basic quests/milestones can’t be skipped. And on that note – the start of the campaign requires the player to move a highly injured guardian through the destroyed city. While this is interesting story-wise, it’s not very fun. I’m sure there’s more, but I can’t think of anything else right now… Realistically, there’s probably just as much that annoys me about Destiny 2 as there is that I love; however, the most important negative point that I feel I have to mention: it really doesn’t feel very different to Destiny 1. The grind feels the same – in some ways, I just feel like I’m continuing my 1000 hours from D1 into D2, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

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I started out this review concerned about how to voice my thoughts on this particular game, and I ended up rambling and letting it all just tumble out on its own. Now, I’ve come to a point where I need to gather these thoughts into some sort of conclusion…

I guess it really depends on where you’re coming from. If you enjoyed Destiny the first time round, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy this one more, but just keep in mind that it’s still pretty much the same game. If you hated Destiny 1, well, it depends why you hated it. It’s most likely that the things that you despised have been removed or improved. If you never played Destiny, and this seems like the kind of game you would enjoy, now is DEFINITELY the right time to jump on board. And lastly, if you were never interested before, I’m not sure that enough has changed to suddenly change your mind, but who am I to say? For me, this is the Destiny formula perfected. It’s a vast improvement over the original game, and I’m very likely to spend another 1000 hours in the Destiny universe – gladly, I might add. However, I do feel as if the series really needs a shake-up if they want me back for another 1000 hours after that…

Eyes up, Guardian.

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