Bungie’s Destiny 2 might be best described as the most expensive patch in history. Depending on how you feel about the core elements of the franchise itself, this is either criticism or hopeful praise. It’s inevitable that a Destiny sequel will be polarizing as far as overall reception. It made improvements, yet somehow managed to remain stagnant at the same time. Where exactly do you hold the bar when measuring Destiny 2, based purely on its own merits? Should it be compared to other games in this nascent trend toward “shared world” environments which is currently establishing a foothold on consoles? Tough questions, to be sure.
Setting aside all other considerations, ask yourself this: “What keeps me playing a game?” Are you addicted to the little shot of dopamine that explodes in your brain each time rare loot drops? Do you strive to create build after build in hopes of creating something truly devastating to make you king/queen of the online world? Or do you simply revel in the immersion of a world so massive and filled with secrets that you never want to see the same area twice?
Title: Destiny 2
Genre: Online-only First-Person Shooter – Action Role-Playing Game
Developed By: Bungie
Published By: Activision
Release Date: September 5, 2017
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
Price at time of review: $59.99 USD
Destiny 2 Features
- STORY – Embark on a massive action-adventure journey to fight back against the Red Legion determined to destroy us all, and to reclaim out home, the last safe city on Earth.
- ADVENTURES – Take on rewarding side-missions and quests to level, up earn loot, and learn more about the world of Destiny 2.
- SOCIAL SPACE – Connect with other Guardians, visit Faction vendors, and gear up for your next adventure.
- ARMOR – With nearly endless armor configurations, your Guardian will be fully prepped for every battle. Customize your Guardian’s look and upgrade your gear as you progress through the game.
- SUPERS & ABILITIES – All Guardians are able to channel and wield an incredibly potent power, know as Light, to devastating effect in combat, The ultimate expression of this power is embodied by a Guardian’s Super Ability.
- STRIKES – Infiltrate an enemy stronghold with up to 3 players and takedown all active threats. Fight alongside your friends, or matchmake with other Guardians
- RAIDS – Gather your fireteam of 6 and take on Destiny 2‘s ultimate cooperative challenge. Earn prestigious weapons, games and accomplishments as you fight your way through.
- CLANS & GUIDED GAMES – Clans offer rewards and experience for completing activities with members of the team. Join up with your friends, or discover new ones. With Guided Games, solo players can enlist Clans to play a Raid, a Nightfall Strike, or a competitive match in Trials.
- CRUCIBLE – Put your competitive skills to the test in 4v4 matches against the most dangerous enemy of all – other players.
- COUNTDOWN – Life-fire Crucible training with captured Cabal explosives. Plant or defuse the bomb. Teams switch sides after each round. First team to six points wins the match.
Destiny 2 Review: Gameplay
When any sequel launches, most players expect a raft of changes, or at least additions to the overall gameplay structure. Destiny 2 certainly didn’t need many changes to the gun combat, and if the Call of Duty franchise proved anything, it’s that sticking with a formula can be a virtue. Yet, what struck me about Destiny 2 is just how little had been added to the game world in general. Tweaks which improve the inventory system, and a more forgiving loot grind don’t really count as content. This is an expensive game to play, potentially costing upwards of $175 – $200 for a year, depending on the pricing for the third DLC. Yet no new character class was introduced, giving players only a third “subclass”, and no new enemies play a role in the game.
And while new game environments are introduced, populating them with so much “been there, done that” has a way of eroding the fresh paint in a hurry. Much praise has been heaped on Destiny 2 for it’s larger game world, but if you spend enough time repeating activities (yes, this is still a thing), it slowly becomes apparent that in terms of pixel-space, the size is an illusion created by an in-world map. Earth (EDZ) is indeed bigger than Old Russia, but the other areas are very comparable in size.
While many people are grumbling about changes to the Crucible PvP, notably Bungie’s decision to move to a “4 v 4” format, my initial reaction has been positive overall. I’m not the greatest player, usually running at the bottom of the pack in terms of pure shooter score. But I’ve always thrived in games which give me a support role, and the new PvP makes it clear: “You coordinate with teammates, or you die.” Every time I spawn, I find a couple of teammates and stick to them like a lost dog. I’m able to strengthen the team just be staying with them when things get rough. And the fact that Bungie at least now gives you credit for assists in combat, allowing you to take shared credit for a kill if you do damage, is a great way of making players feel like they’re contributing even if they end up face down in the dirt much of the time. As with all things Bungie, we’ll see if they’re commitment to this new format sticks in the long run.
One thing I must also give Bungie credit for this time around is clan support. Belonging to a clan and contributing to group XP not only makes you feel like you’re part of a group even though you may not enjoy raids (or be good enough to complete them). Rewards for group milestones, such as going flawless in Trials or finishing a raid, are shared among members, so everyone benefits from a sampling of swag from high end content. Not to mention, if your clan is synced with a third party LFG site, you certainly have more access to people who might sherpa you through an activity. The new “guided games” form of matchmaking is still in flux, and may or may not work out in the future, but does provide options for people wishing to meet other clans. And this notion of clan sharing is probably a good thing, since endgame content like Nightfalls and raids has been made exponentially harder with the implementation of timers for completion. Being carried is less of an option now.
Destiny 2 Review: Content
Destiny‘s biggest flaw has always been a lack of content and a tendency to rely on repetitive activities instead. Destiny 2 makes marginal improvements, yet still falls into a familiar rhythm. Within a span of 20 hours of gameplay, I had explored everything even remotely “quest” related, and had only raiding and Trials as endgame content. The speed at which I reached a respectable power level is testament to just how much Bungie streamlined the looting process, as well as proving that they want to ensure everyone has a way to grind out gear which will allow them access to raid-level content even if they still can’t find people to play it with
This at least means that if they find a group later down the road, they’ll have a high enough power to get them through. But the downside is, this also puts the focus squarely on low little content there is compared to other online “shared world” games. I can’t help thinking about Elder Scrolls Online when I try to make sense of Destiny as a franchise. It takes players approximately 200+ hours to play through all the main and side quests if they experience the story from the perspective of all three factions. During that time, you needn’t see the same environments twice. While Zenimax may not have designed the greatest combat in the world, there’s no second guessing their ability to design a world and shovel dump trucks full of content into the laps of players. If Bungie could offer even a quarter of that amount of content, Destiny 2 would be closer to the masterpiece everyone expected three years ago.
Bungie simply needs to create more environments and fill them with more NPCs if they have any desire hook players who seek immersion. The problem is, a large segment of their player base only cares about being in a clan and repeating comfortable activities. And I suspect the developers realize this. I tempered my expectations with Destiny 2, and now that I’ve reached a pinnacle of sorts, I set it aside and keep it as a game to fire up when I want to join a few friends for social gaming. It doesn’t have the sense of immersion you might find in a Bethesda or Bioware title, which is fine. Just be aware of this if you’re still curious about the Destiny 2 changes.
And what about the story elements of the game? Long derided for giving the original Destiny a “rich, cinematic story” which was anything but, Bungie has an opportunity change this perception of their flagship franchise with Destiny 2. In case there is any doubt they are throwing down the gauntlet for both critics and fans, consider this: the new game has been structured in such a way that players must engage the story right away, and complete large chunks of it before moving on to more exploratory fare. Unlike many RPG games, which allow players to follow a main quest and complete side quests simultaneously, Bungie drops you right into the action and doesn’t let up on the gas. You don’t even get full access to both social hubs until completing it, at which time many more activities, challenges, and milestones become available.
The main campaign takes around 12 hours to complete, but also requires a few pauses along the way to level up by visiting the EDZ and doing public events (thus far, the best way to power level) or partaking in “Adventures” for rare gear rewards. Adventures fill in a bit of back story along the way, but amount to little more than excuses to explore less apparent environments and defend your ghost. I was around level 8 when I finished one particular main mission, and needed to be level 11 for the next one. So I went with a couple of friends to grind some XP , and when I hit level 11 I moved on. Same thing happened a short time later, forcing me to grind to level 15, at which point you can complete the game. For those who enjoy the Crucible, you also have the option to push your levels up by doing PvP, though I’m not sure this would be as time-efficient as Public Events.
Destiny 2 Review: Story & Setting
The story this time is a more straight-forward one, using many dependable, albeit cliched, tropes to hold the narrative together. A dramatic opening has clearly been crafted as an attention grabber, but loses steam fast. A tangible villain (Ghaul) is always a good way to create a focused story, since it presents a a central enemy for your hero. But make no mistake, the writing here isn’t going to win any Pulitzer Prizes, and I still maintain that storytelling will always be an ancillary part of Destiny. Much of Ghaul’s banter comes off sounding like he’s a retro villain from the Scooby-Doo cartoons, and most of what unfolds is so predictable that spoiler alerts are likely unnecessary for anyone with half a brain.
It’s also important to recognize that Bungie uses post-game content to flesh out story threads with more expansive side stories (although, from a narrative perspective, this is what they call “anti-climactic”). Players are forced to complete the main story right away, then come to find more of the game world open to exploration, and more importantly, discovery of numerous truncated side quests leading to discovery of deeper back stories about people you meet. Knowing the history of Destiny‘s overall structure, I can only assume this new structure is Bungie’s way of giving players a way of “grinding”, while at the same time masking the repetition. It’s certainly an improvement over the previous iteration, but over the long term I’m sure some degree of fatigue will set in for many players.
Keep in mind also that plot is not always the defining aspect of a good story – characters are. For a movie-based example, look at Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. This brisk, sparse story can be summed up in a few words: “Heist goes bad; criminal bicker.” But from the opening frames, dialogue-driven banter defines many of these characters in ways no plot could ever accomplish. In Destiny 2, characters are finally elevated from cardboard cut-outs to three dimensional people. The first game brought in a dream team of voice talent, including ‘Nathan Fillion’ and ‘Gina Torres’ from Firefly, as well as ‘Lance Reddick’ and ‘Bill Nighy’, just to name the major players. I couldn’t believe how they squandered all that skill with empty dialogue. Destiny 2 attempts to right the ship by humanizing (I use the term loosely, since not all characters are actually human) many of them through their vulnerabilities and hubris.
One disappointing aspect of the campaign is how completely barren the game world is as you traverse it. Not barren in the sense of it being bland or lifeless, but rather in terms of discovery. I gave up exploring little nooks and crannies after a few chapters, when it became obvious there is nothing to find. No chests or hidden points of interest, and no loot. It really is a linear amusement park ride, not necessarily on rails, but one that constantly pushes you forward.
While some players will doubtless enjoy the simplicity of it, I was really hoping to find more reasons to explore. And the baffling part is, this is so counterproductive when you see how stunning the world is. I give full credit to the artistic team for creating a sublime palette of eye candy; there’s a reason you keep reading comments about excellent art design…it really is that mind blowing. Yet the campaign plays like a strike, giving players no reason to stop at look around. As a long time RPG player I can attest to just how much more detail you notice in a game world when you are compelled to look in every corner for loot.
There are signs that Bungie has some sense of what motivates an RPG player, evidenced by the fact that Cayde sells treasure maps to special caches which, while marked on the game map, still require you to search without using waypoints as a guide. This ensures you will see hidden spots you might have otherwise missed. Closer examination of objects in each world also prompts you to investigate, and your ghost will offer snippets of background on things as insignificant as a Fallen staff. And while some may look at it as little more than a distraction between shooting stuff, personally I enjoy those quiet moments in a game, discovering hidden lore and back stories.