If you didn’t catch PSU’s first Destiny 2 preview during Gamescom, then be sure to check it out before diving into this one. A lot of the mechanics, feel, and content in the game was already covered, so we won’t be repeating much of what was discussed in the previous preview.
Destiny 2 is being built up as the game to deliver what the original could not, and more. There are some definite improvements, but is it the game fans have been waiting for? The short answer is no, but it gets a lot of things right. The production turmoil of the first game rendered it virtually storyless, so it’s obvious that having a Destiny game with a dedicated campaign and cinematics is an improvement by default. That said, after having spent 15 hours with it and completing over half it, Destiny 2’s campaign feels far more constructed than crafted. It lends itself being much more a method to join Point A to Point B than a gripping tale that engrosses.
So how does our story begin? With a Cabal invasion headed by the merciless Ghaul, a galactic tyrant with self-esteem issues. Alright, that’s a bit belittling towards a legitimately cool character. In all seriousness, Ghaul is intimidating and a great antagonist that is given life by convincing performances. It’s just a shame that he’s only scarcely seen during the campaign. Over halfway through the story and I think he showed up three or four times at most, and never face to face with your character except at the very beginning. His scarceness is really a what prevents him from being scary.
Anyway, Ghaul shows up and destroys the guardian’s Tower – aka the main player hangout location in the original Destiny. Why? To take the light of The Traveler. He’s fought tooth-and-nail for everything he’s achieved. He’s conquered (and destroyed) thousands of planets, but the secret to the Guardians’ powers is something he’s yet to obtain. Ghaul enslaves The Traveler, severing its Light from all guardians and making them effectively powerless. He’s not so vain as to think he can make The Traveler submit to his will, so instead he captures The Speaker – key interpreter of The Traveler’s wishes – in hopes of discovering the means to make The Traveler acknowledge him as being worthy of its Light.
After being thrown off The Tower and regaining consciousness, you manage to get your Light back through a Shard of The Traveler you find on Earth. As the sole Guardian that’s back in full form you’re the only one who can complete life-threatening missions, thus becoming a gopher for the Vanguards – Cayde-6, Ikora, and Zavala. There never was any point in the campaign where you felt like you had to see what happened next or felt truly invested in it, and this is the biggest reason why. Your character no longer can speak, or really even contributes to the story in Destiny 2. You’re always in the back drop or being talked at, and executing everyone else’s plans and directives like a lap dog. There’s no investment. Even after quickly discovering that Ghaul has a giant star-destroying weapon called The Almighty that’s currently pointed at the sun, there’s no feeling of urgency. More like, “well, we’ll get to it when we get to it.”
None of this is to say that the story thus far in Destiny 2 was bad by any stretch. Merely that it’s frustrating that a studio with Bungie’s pedigree can’t bring back the spark it had with Halo, and with an arguably even more compelling universe at its disposal. However, we may never get that with Destiny. Halo existed at a time where story had to come first. Multiplayer wasn’t really even a thing until Bungie released Halo 2 and essentially led the charge in revolutionizing the way games are played. But Destiny has always been driven with the mindset of “multiplayer first.”
What’s additionally frustrating is that The Taken King expansion from the original game showed that Halo spark of Bungie storytelling and engagement, but was set aside for a completely new storyline. While it was slightly disheartening hearing early news of Destiny 2 taking a different route, it shows that promise of environmental and gameplay storytelling as you fight through The Tower while it burns, frantically fend off Cabal hounds with crappy weapons as you struggle to survive, and come upon an entirely new settlement. All of this is what we had been waiting for, but then it’s just over. That first hour is easily the most engaging, and it never happens again. It settles right back into the safety of the first Destiny. Still an incredibly satisfying shooter, but the same old song and dance of “run here, shoot these things, now run here, fight waves of enemies, repeat.”
I would have loved it if Bungie had taken cues from series like Mass Effect, Deus Ex, The Witcher, or Final Fantasy. Give your worlds life apart from things to kill. Give us settlements to explore, NPCs to talk to (not just single vendors on each world you just exchange resources to), or secrets that trigger events or side missions we get lost in. Let us feel like we’re making progress on planets when we complete missions. Don’t just constantly spawn the same exact enemies in the same exact spots in the same exact environments from level 1 to level 20. Just throw some more RPG into your online RPG shooter. Instead, we get basically the same game as before. Still a great game, don’t get me wrong, but it’s erring on the side of misleading to call Destiny 2 an “evolution” of Destiny.
Possibly the most surprising thing we were told at the preview event was that although we completed over have the campaign we barely scratched the surface of Destiny 2’s full story experience, according to the game’s Narrative, Cinematic, and World Art leads. It was a fairly bizarre statement for them to make with such conviction. The only feasible way for that to be true would have to be referring to the “story” or minor episodes of lore building found in Adventures and other small side content. The Grimoire Cards for the first game no longer exist (thankfully), but Destiny 2 does have its own Grimoire database that can be found inside the game menus. Hopefully that wasn’t what they were referring to. Maybe future expansions? Who knows? We weren’t given any more clarification than that, so until people start finishing the campaign it’s hard to say.
So what has changed from Destiny to Destiny 2 outside of a more dedicated campaign? Honestly, not much. Again, the original Destiny was great, but Destiny 2 does little to innovate. The Taken King subclasses (Sunbreaker – Titan, Nightstalker – Hunter, and Stormcaller – Warlock) all make an appearance in Destiny 2, including three new subclasses. Titan gets Sentinal – “conjure a shield to deflect enemy fire and take down opponents at range.” Warlock gets Dawnblade – “rises like a phoenix from the ashes and rains down flaming swords.” Hunter gets Arcstrider – “summons an electric bow staff to devastate multiple enemies at close range.” Playing as a Hunter, Arcstrider was the only new subclass we were able to try. It felt very satisfying spinning around with an electrified staff knocking fallen in the face, but ultimately felt extremely similar to the Bladedancer subclass in the first game.
A very, very welcome edition found in Destiny 2’s campaign is vehicle combat. There are a couple instances where you get to plow through enemies and blow stuff up in full-size tanks. It honestly felt like it must have been a homecoming for Bungie when making those sections, because they absolutely nailed it. Everything from the sound of the cannon and shell impact, to controls, to vehicle design; you can tell they had fun getting down and dirty with some wholesome tank combat again. These sections also greatly help in breaking up the monotony of the linear campaign gameplay, plus making you just feel like a badass.
Of course, there are also new locations. Potentially the most talked about location in the news is called The Farm. An Earth settlement you discover very early on, The Farm replaces the Tower as the new hang out spot for Guardians. The gameplay area on Earth (covered in the last preview) is called the European Dead Zone (EDZ), and the remaining playable areas we got to try out are Titan – one of Saturn’s moons, the planetoid Nessus, and Io – one of Jupiter’s moons.
I’m happy to say that the environments in each playable area are wildly different from each other and are executed beautifully. Titan’s area is essentially a giant oil rig in a massive, tumultuous sea. Nessus is a colorfully forested world with ancient Vex ruins. Io is a multilayered sulfur wasteland with long dead, gargantuan tree trunks littered throughout the area. Each environment creates its own unique footnote in the Destiny universe, which was saddening to see it largely be ignored from a gameplay aspect and instead chose to stick closely to the basic game interactions described above. As you navigated these environments, I don’t know that I could say the soundtrack of Destiny 2 will be as lasting and memorable as other iconic games, largely because I can’t even remember a single note of it. I will say, though, that it never once felt out of place. It served extremely well in absorbing you in the moment and conveying the moods of all the environments and situations you encountered.
Some of the biggest changes made for Destiny 2 are the customization options. Weapons and armor can be modified more extensively than before, and Legendary and Exotic gear now has the ability to be powered up by consuming stronger equipment of the same type along with Legendary Shards and Glimmer – a rare resource and the game’s currency, respectively. This is definitely a nice edition, especially since you get two low level Exotics fairly in the game that would only be useful for a few levels otherwise.
Furthering the customization options, in a way that I think many original Destiny fans will either love or hate, is that Shaders are no longer permanent items in your inventory that can be equipped whenever you want. Instead, they are now consumables. What’s even more interesting is that each piece of equipment, including weapons, can now be shaded separately. The rate that Shaders drop or how easily you can get copies of your favorites is not something we managed to discover during the event, but at the rate you change gear and weapons from better drops makes consumable Shaders a questionable choice. Again, it’s hard to say what the response will be until players get a chance to dive in and test it for themselves.
Perhaps the subject that we wanted to learn most about during our hands on time with the game was how Clans would work and the extent of their function, particularly related to PvP content in the Crucible. Strangely, Clans weren’t mentioned even once during the three days we were there, which again seemed odd since this is one of Destiny 2’s biggest system changes that many are eager to learn more about. We’ll all just have to wait until release to find out.
On the matter of PvP, the Crucible is back and seems as solid as ever. We played a few different maps and modes. All the new maps seemed well balanced for the most part. No one-sided spawns or cheap camping spots for people to consistently hide in. Crucible game modes were entirely randomized at the event and during our time with the game we only saw familiar game modes Clash – a 4v4 team deathmatch, Control – defending zones for points, and Supremacy – kill enemies and pick up their crests to earn points and pick up the crests of downed teammates before the other team can. All played exceptionally well, and it never felt like you got cheated from lag input or an unbalanced system. The only cause for frustration in the Crucible is if you or your teammates aren’t up for the challenge. A nice option with the Crucible is that you can select to jump into casual online matchmaking or more competitive games with high level players – basically picking to play in Ranked or Unranked.
While we didn’t see it in action ourselves, there is a new Crucible game mode coming called Countdown. For those familiar with Counter-Strike, this mode is almost exactly like Bomb Defusal. One side is offense and one is defense. Offense wants to plant a bomb in the enemy team’s base and defend it until it explodes. Defense tries to defuse or stop the bomb from being planted in the first place. The teams swap each round and each round is worth one point. The game mode ends when one team reaches six points.
The only things we really haven’t covered so far are Strikes and Vaults. Destiny 2’s raid won’t go live until Sept. 13th, so there’s nothing to say about that just yet. As for Strikes, again like the Crucible modes, selecting which Strike you wanted to play wasn’t an option, so queues during the event weren’t optimal because people didn’t want to keep repeating the same Strikes over and over again with the limited time we had there. For detailed a detailed opinion of Destiny 2’s Strikes you’ll have to wait until PSU’s full review of the game.
As was said in the previous preview, Destiny 2 is not the long-awaited mythical game that fans wanted the original Destiny to be. It improves upon some basic functionality issues the first game had and throws in a little bit of extra spice for good measure, but does not make nearly the jump we hoped would be made in a sequel. If you got burned out playing the original Destiny, Destiny 2 is almost guaranteed to do the same. If you didn’t get burned out and are still playing the original, or haven’t played Destiny but love shooters, you should buy Destiny 2 without giving it a second thought.
Be sure to stay tuned to PSU for our full review of Destiny 2 in the coming weeks. Destiny 2 hits stores on September 6 for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and will be available on PC on October 24, 2017.