Destiny 2 review code provided by Activision
For all its accomplishments, the original Destiny was the quintessential example of a videogame falling prey to insurmountable hype. As Bungie’s first major IP since leaving Halo behind, Destiny stumbled in key areas, notably suffering severe content droughts and failing to deliver an intriguing, cohesive narrative to draw players into its sprawling, shared-world universe.
That’s not to say it didn’t deliver at all, though. Bungie’s pedigree speaks for itself when it comes to nailing the satisfying shooting mechanics, and the cooperative nature of the game and varied mission structure oozed potential. Sadly, it took nearly two years’ worth of expansion to really deliver the game we were promised back in 2014, and that’s where Destiny 2 has managed to step up to the plate.
It’s clear that Bungie’s design philosophy for its science-fiction shooter is to polish rather than evolve the brand, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Like Destiny 1, the core gameplay experience is bifurcated by PvE and PvP activities, though both areas come equipped with more than their fair share of improvements.
Crucially, the storyline is much improved this time around. Characters who were largely in the background before are now major players, and there’s a concerted effort to inject some much-needed personality into the mix. Cayde-6 in particular is a major highlight, with his light-hearted banter and comical timing juxtaposing effortlessly with the seriousness of the game’s tone, which sees Guardians forced out of the Tower following a Cabal-lead attack that initially robs you of your powers.
Given the fact your Guardian is mute (an odd choice considering he/she spoke in the original), Nolan North’s Ghost is left to carry much of the exposition, but somehow manages to pull it off, punctuating the action appropriately while never feeling intrusive. The same goes for everyone else, and thanks to the lack of Grimoire Cards, everything feels in one place as it should be. That said, the primary villain, Ghaul, is disappointingly one-dimensional and can’t really hold a candle to some of the more complex villains that Bungie is known for in the past, and his motives remain painfully uninspired.
Destiny 2 soon settles into the familiar grind after you discover the new social hub, the Farm, and begin your fight against the Cabal. The satisfying blend of gun battles and superpowers complement each other just as well as they did before, whether you’re popping out of cover for headshots or landing a meaty Titan power bomb to dispatch groups of foes. Weapons feel suitably punchy, and there’s a lot more uniqueness to their design and sound effects.
The best shakeup is the levelling up system. While the original Destiny’s upgrade system was obfuscated by unnecessary clutter (Raid-specific gear, light level boosting, multiple currencies etc), Destiny 2’s is refreshingly streamlined. You level up by accumulating XP by performing just about anything from completing missions to killing foes, while your power/defense is boosted by upgrade armor and weapons; the higher their number, the more powerful you become. It’s great system and takes a lot of the monotony out of the original’s grinding efforts. Each planet also has a dedicated vendor, and completing tasks for them increases your reputation, rewarding you with new loot when you level up your rep.
Bungie has also vastly improved the activities for its alien shooter sequel. The main campaign is a pretty meaty, 12-hour affair that bobs and weaves across numerous planets and does an admirable job of keeping things fresh, whether it’s by throwing new enemies at you, putting you against powerful bosses, or varying objectives. However, the new Adventures are a major highlight. Essentially replacing the Patrols from Destiny 1, Adventures are self-contained, narrative-driven affairs that reward with ample loot and precious XP, and drip-feed you some tasty lore or backstory in the process.
Another new feature are Lost Sectors, which are essentially Destiny 2’s versions of dungeons. You can pinpoint them by their telltale marker on the mini-map, and once entered, provide some challenging firefights that culminate in a boss battle, who coughs up some valuable loot in the process. These offer more incentive to explore each planet, and it’s great to see Bungie filling its expansive universe with some much-needed lore to soak up, rather than it being just a backdrop for blasting aliens in the face.
The Crucible, Destiny’s dedicated PvP section, has also seen some overhauls. Now focusing on 4v4 matches, the multiplayer arena is a far more tightly-packed experience, and the fewer players mean team-based tactics and strategizing is more paramount than ever before, making for some satisfying, tactical gameplay. The new modes are a blast, and really play into the idea of working together. In fact, if you’re teaming up with other players, then Destiny 2 has even more incentive for you to keep plugging away, thanks to the new Clan system giving you perks for your team as you earn XP, providing even more reason to dive into tough challenges such as the weekly Nightfall and Flashpoint missions.
Destiny 2 is an emphatic improvement over its predecessor in almost every avenue, though it isn’t without some quibbles. Enemy design can get overly repetitive despite the new faces on offer, and firefights sometimes devolve into an endless barrage of auto-rifle/submachine-gun clashes thanks to the revamped weapons system. This regulates old bread-and-butter firearms such as Shotgun and Sniper Rifles into the power slot, meaning ammo is extremely rare; as such, you’ll often fall back on the same weapons a lot more than usual, although it isn’t too noticeably given just how bloody solid the shooting is.
Level design is especially solid, with enough architectural diversity to ensure you are never bored of traversing the same areas in either PvE or PvP. It’s clear that eschewing a last-generation release has benefited Destiny 2’s visuals, with Bungie able to really push the bar on PS4 and Xbox One. Lighting effects and character models are sumptuously realised, while the game’s bombastic sound effects and rousing score help to complement the action-packed gameplay in ways that surpass the original’s already solid aural presentation.
Overall, Destiny 2 is off to a brilliant start. It’s obvious Bungie has taken a long, hard look at the original game in an effort to avoid the same flaws at launch, and the result has more than paid off. With huge amounts of content from day-one, streamlined mechanics, and a fantastic PvP experience, Destiny 2 is a remarkably solid first-person shooter that is only set to grow in the coming months.