It's been three whole years since Bungie first unleashed Destiny onto the console audience in what was perhaps one of the most underwhelming launches of a new IP for some time. It's not that Destiny was a bad game, it was rather not quite the game any of us had hoped it would be. After many cycles around the sun, Bungie has returned with their sequel in tow. Will it be a siren song for the Guardians of yore? Luring them back to become legends once more?
Destiny 2 is a blast of fresh air for the now stale series from the moment you jump in. Some may classify it as a "soft reboot", which in many ways it is, but in reality, Bungie has built onto its existing structure, shaping and moulding it with feedback from the community, to produce what is undoubtedly one of the finest shooters of this console generation. I use the term "shooter" loosely, as it is so much more than an FPS. The world of Destiny is an ambitious one with many elements to it; an amalgamation of genres including role-playing, massively multiplayer and looter-shooter that make it such a unique and unforgettable experience. Where the original stumbled, its sequel has perfected and honed its offering like the sharp end of a Hunter's blade.
A core component of Destiny 2's success is the attention to detail Bungie have taken to refine the story, bring it back on track, and give us the space saga stretching across the solar system we have all waited for. There was a glimmer of light two years ago when The Taken King expansion provided a small taste of the potential of Bungie's storytelling capability. In a return to form, the studio have laid down what is one of the most enjoyable campaigns of recent memory. Key to this is the simplification of the story, a cataclysmic, overarching narrative that gives the us a reason to care, driving us forward. In short, Destiny 2 has time to explain.
A surprise attack on the Last City by Ghaul (Ed - who looks suspiciously like a Strogg from Quake IV) and his unrelenting Red Legion have left the Vanguard and Guardians in tatters, stripped of their light, and lacking leadership. It is up to you to hold fast, gather your allies and take back what belongs to you. We'll leave the rest of this this review spoiler-free but rest assured, the ambitious 8-hour campaign will have your soaring across four exotic new locations, meeting colourful new characters, and bringing the light back into a solar system stripped of it. For the first time since its inception, Destiny tells a truly gripping tale, peppered with just the right amount of emotion and comedy, along with healthy doses of frantic combat.
In the moments between missions, a brief refrain gives us insight into the hulking Dominus Ghaul and his war against the light in beautifully realized cinematics that further support the narrative. The interaction between members of the Vanguard is a fans dream come true, bringing to life these once one-dimensional personalities. There were many moments throughout the story where I almost felt as if I was playing Halo 6, strong narrative threads and exceptional mission sequences abound, this is Bungie at their finest and every moment shines. Unfortunately for Destiny veterans, and even newcomers, the lack of voice on your Guardians part is a misadventure from Bungie. Your silent presence in each scene is very noticeable, despite your Ghost's chirpy stand in personality. Nevertheless, the story alone is a reason to own this title.
For many players, the game really only begins once you have wrapped up the story, at which point the grind to the light level cap begins. This grind was historically mundane as Destiny suffered from a serious case of repetition in its first year, which, while improving over time, never quite gave us the expansive experience we had hoped for. Destiny 2 rectifies this; gone are the mundane hours spent patrolling and grinding, instead a series of adventures and sub-quests await. Each of these side operations are loaded with narrative and lore to bolster the story and add substantial longevity to the experience. Patrols still exist, but are far more rewarding and, when combined with a map of the region and loot caves to boot, present a compelling reason to explore. Bungie have clearly taken a leaf from the Souls series in their level design for Destiny 2, the worlds are indeed substantially bigger, but the clever looping of secret routes and corridors back into each other and connecting sectors are a brilliant illusion.
Everything feels bigger, better and more detailed too. The European Dead Zone (EDZ) is arguably the largest of the lot and presents itself with multiple biomes, all beautifully cultured with decaying machinery, housing settlements or vast open forests. Titan too is a prime example of this level design and, in contrast, is the smallest of the four new locations. The tight gantries stretching between platforms lead into mazes of vast subterranean dens, highlighting some of the golden age's most prolific endeavours. The lore, which previously featured in the out-of-game grimoire card system, is now built into the game cleverly. Scanning objects or exploring undiscovered locations will reveal reams of new information about the rich universe Bungie continue to build upon and for fans of the saga this is a welcome change.
The new Strike playlist is rather hefty, with five available for Xbox One and PC, and an additional one for PlayStation 4 players. Each strike is well-built, lengthy and rewarding. Of particular note is the Pyramidion on Io, a vast underground Vex stronghold that shows off some of the game's most jaw-dropping vistas and level-design. More than ever, Strikes feel like micro-raids, with puzzles to solve and platforming to boot. The Fallen, Hive, Vex and even the Taken make a return across the board, with a few updates to their combat capabilities and appearances, diversifying the experience but not to the point we might have hoped.
Raids have always formed the solid backbone of the co-op experience and the Leviathan does not disappoint. A grand and complex raid that I still have not completed in its entirety, it does feel a bit long in the tooth. With many fireteams reporting up to and over eight hours to complete this beast it can be an exhausting endeavour. Taking on the Cabal emperor himself in his 'World-Eater' ship, we gain a great insight into the Cabal seat of power and visually it's a very impressive feat, but I can see only the most hardcore players crushing out a completion on a weekly basis going forward.
The updated public events are a big draw card and lend to the more chaotic side of random player encounters. With the assistance of the map, these events are easy to keep up with and there is potential for each event to turn 'Heroic', once certain prerequisites are met, greatly increasing difficulty and the reward. Each new location also houses an NPC who will play a part in the adventures and sub-quests but will also stand by to reward you with unique location-themed gear for your endeavours. Bungie have definitely erred on the side of generosity with their RNG drops; legendary and exotic engrams drop far more frequently than ever before and have perhaps overcompensated on this part. In one day alone, I amassed a total of seven exotic engrams, which kind of stifles the excitement of getting one of these once rare items.
I cannot let the soundtrack of Destiny 2 go by unmentioned. It is absolutely superb, with over two and a half hours of beautifully pieced riffs and anthems it carries every moment you will experience perfectly. The orchestral structure of the entire experience is emotional and even worth owning separately if you appreciate music in games.
There are a number of in-house changes to both the UI and currency systems in the game; Bungie have simplified and streamlined almost everything. The ability to fast travel between trans-mat zones in a location make exploring incredibly easy. Additionally, you can jump to any location in the game without ever having to return to orbit! Praise the Traveller!
The simplified economy of the game means less time scrounging for planet-specific resources. Motes of light, strange coins and materials have been scrapped in favour of legendary shards that now serves as the base currency for upgrades. Glimmer is back with a cap of 99999, along with Bright Dust that can be used to purchase cosmetic items. A major critique lies within this system however. The once infinite use of shaders (once unlocked) from the original game are now finite, a clear push towards getting players to fork up for a new look. This is frankly unacceptable and I think I echo many Guardians thoughts when I say Bungie need to resolve it sooner rather than later. Exotics abound with lengthy quests for a select few, however, despite some really eye-catching new additions, I am a bit concerned that a rather large number of Destiny 1 exotics return for the sequel. It seems a bit lazy on Bungies part.
Is it possible to improve upon the excellent gameplay from the original game? Believe it or not, yes. Gunplay feels even tighter and more responsive than it did in the original, which is saying something because for many, that factor alone was what kept so many of us invested. The major switch up has been the demotion of sniper rifles, shotguns and fusion rifles into the 'power' ammo slot, essentially limiting their use for times of high DPS. This fundamental change is something I am still getting used to but it doesn't detract from the PVE experience. It is felt more so in the Crucible, which has also seen some changes. A standardised 4v4 format across all modes in the fiery multiplayer arena and the aforementioned changes to weapon usage make for a vastly different experience from the original.
The Crucible is divided up into two options: "Quickplay", for a more relaxed tempo in classic modes, and "Competitive" for a far more sweaty experience in one of two new modes, Survival or Countdown. Combat takes place in close quarters and feels substantially more frantic with a focus on team coordination and team shots. Players who tried the beta will be happy to hear that the slow recharge rate of grenades and supers has been improved, yet still not quite at the same speed we have become accustomed to. Hitboxes are far superior and any sense of lag has been a non-entity in my experience thus far.
The Trials of Osiris have been scrapped in favour of Trials of the Nine, the new ultra-competitive mode which pits two teams of four together in an elimination mode. Unlike the original Trials, players will now compete on new maps exclusive to this mode in one of the two competitive modes. A new lighthouse, the Spire awaits consistently successful fireteams with some mysterious and interesting new characters to interact with.
Destiny 2 is a step in the right direction, with an exceptional story finally bringing this once dead universe to life in a fresh and vibrant way. Major changes to the fundamental way the game plays have drastically improved the experience and set a solid foundation for the next two years of expansions. It's not without fault and Bungie will need to act quickly in the upcoming months to limit the damage but for the most part, it is a solid second entry into their ten-year roadmap for the series.
One tablespoon Star Wars, a dollop of motorsport, a splash of Metal Gear. And a pinch of space magic. Mix and blend. Smashing! Is also running for congress.
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PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
6 September 2017
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