Destiny 2 is one of those games that really doesn't need any introduction. Its predecessor, Destiny, challenged the shooter genre by infusing aspects of RPG (Role Playing Game), MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online), and FPS (First Person Shooter) games into a singular title. The first Destiny game was a runaway success sales-wise, making Destiny 2 a must-win effort from developer Bungie. The studio has a great track record with AAA shooters, and given how smooth the first Destiny was, I expected the studio to answer fan requests and broaden the worlds within Destiny 2 and deliver an epic sci-fi shooter. Did they? If I'm being honest, not really.
Destiny 2 follows the events of the first Destiny game. Life is going about normally for humanity on Earth until a Cabal (large, heavy-armored race opposing humanity) war party shows up suddenly in Earth's orbit, taking out much of the planet's defenses and assaulting the Tower, Destiny's version of an Empire State Building within the last major human city. Humanity is caught off-guard and has to surrender both their city and The Traveler, the source of humanity's rapid progression in technology and supernatural power that flows through the heroic Guardians that protect Earth. The campaign in Destiny 2 centers around the story of humanity following the Cabal takeover.
Destiny 2 serves up a fantastic cinematic experience. Stars from the first game are back, including Cayde-6 (voiced by Nathan Fillion), Zavala (voiced by Lance Reddick), and Ikora Rey (voiced by Gina Torres), as well as the controversial Ghost (Nolan North), who succeeded Peter Dinklage in Destiny to variable community reaction. With quality actors comes quality dialogue, but never with you, because in Destiny 2 your Guardian never speaks. While this isn't really a problem, it's sometimes weird for a Ghost to speak for at every turn.
Destiny 2 is a step forward for the series as a whole, with a few significant missed opportunities in the story-telling department. Despite all the star talent carried over to Destiny 2, one thing Destiny fans really wanted was a coherent narrative - one that wasn't buried in digital cards that were unlocked by playing the game and only viewable online. Bungie learned from that criticism and improved on it with this second full entry into the franchise, but to be honest, it's not really all that great. For me, Destiny 2 is a step forward for the series as a whole, with a few significant missed opportunities in the story-telling department.
For starters, it showcases one of its best villains in Ghaul, the leader of the invading Cabal army that has a deep-seated desire to harvest the power of the Traveler and its "Light" (the power source for supernatural abilities given to you and other Guardians). When Ghaul finds a way to sap Guardians of their Light, things get interesting - humans are finally vulnerable and your death would be the end. Yet, despite this intriguing opportunity to deviate from the norm for an extended period of time, Bungie undercuts this dire situation by remedying it pretty quickly.
Players could really want a Destiny where they always have their supernatural powers, but there is something to be gained in being offered a chance to break the mold for a bit. I wish Destiny 2 had taken that chance. Instead, the disparity of humanity and the that "desperate times" feel is quickly played out. I would have enjoyed staying in that moment a lot longer, just to drive home the scale and severity of what's happened.
Throughout the campaign, interesting story elements meet variable levels of execution. Gamers will be treated to lengthier cinematic moments between key characters to help focus the story you're playing out and develop the plot in ways the core of Destiny did not. For instance, there are repeated moments where Ghaul interacts with the prisoner of war Speaker character (voiced by Bill Nighy), which reveals Ghaul's thirst for the Light and to be "chosen" by the Traveler. The moment offers an interesting look into a key character, though it fails to unpack any of that in practice. We merely see and hear Ghaul say things that sound virtuous, but never see them on display anywhere in the campaign. For much of Destiny 2, it seems like Bungie was content with letting characters talk about themselves, while rarely making an appearance. Ghaul could have been an excellent screen-grabber. Instead, he's mostly an intriguing yapper.
There is plenty to dive into in regards to the narrative and fictional universe of Destiny 2 because it really is massive, and that often doesn't feel like the case if you just focus on the campaign story. Perhaps some of the most interesting story moments come at the end of the campaign as well as outside of it entirely. One of the things I'm most excited for in Destiny 2 has zero influence on the core game itself. In fact, I'm more interested in the story of Destiny 2's DLC than the run-of-the-mill story you'll play through to start (and you have to play through it all before advancing to the end-game content).
Never did I think of how sluggish any of the controls felt or how slow the game played out because of its design. It's fast and streamlined.So how does it play? It plays as good as any shooter. This has never been a problem with Destiny at any point in time. Movement, shooting, and ability controls are all very well thought out and executed. Never did I think of how sluggish any of the controls felt or how slow the game played out because of its design. It's fast and streamlined. This can be tough to land with an FPS because everything is up-front and personal compared to a typical MMORPG that favors 3rd person perspective, where several visual details can be glossed over simply due to perspective shifts. Your double jumps, triple jumps, grenade tossing, dodging and such all feel right, and make it easy to enjoy playing the game.
Speaking of double and triple jumps, there is a hint of expansive thinking when it comes to class abilities in Destiny 2. In Destiny, the character customization was fairly limited, with jumping abilities and a few perks being the extent to which you could customize your character. With Destiny, Bungie learned that players would appreciate more diversity among the character classes, making them more unique from one another. As a result, Destiny 2 takes the three classes of Titan, Warlock, Hunter, and attempts to build out distinguishing abilities so you play a certain way with each class. Now there are now two independent skill trees that offer different perks and benefits to using that sub-class as opposed to a group of abilities which behaved like a variant of Call of Duty's "Pick 10" system. What we have in Destiny 2 is still well short of being considered deep class customization but it's also a small step in the right direction.
As much as I appreciate the attention given to sub-classes, it's not enough.As much as I appreciate the attention given to sub-classes, it's not enough. In fact, much of what Bungie does in Destiny 2 is not enough. I constantly have to stop and wonder "why can't Bungie build an interesting narrative that helps me understand the fictional universe of Destiny better?". I think of Mass Effect, which consistently does a marvelous job in unfolding a massive and complex narrative while offering a comprehensive offering of playstyles depending on your character's class. Bungie is doing the right thing by making a campaign with intentional story progression and scripted cutscenes - they help guide us through the events that are taking place and try to center the player's attention at key moments. Yet, much of Destiny 2 is about shooting stuff a lot until you get the desired results. It's so simplistic when it could be so much more. Like the gameplay, the campaign and narrative are predictable and rarely varied.
Something that carries on from Destiny is the light level system, which has been converted to a "power level" system. The game's leveling system takes you from level 1 to 20, just like before, then uses your gear to calculate your total power level, which determines offensive and defensive effectiveness. This bucks the trendy level-progression system made popular by RPG games like World of Warcraft, where character level determines your base stats and capabilities among other players, with your equipment enhancing your capabilities in meaningful ways. Destiny 2 uses levels to progress an ability unlock system but that seems to be the extent that level matters in this game. You have to beat the campaign to unlock end-game activities, not reach a certain level. Your power level directly influences your offensive and defensive capabilities, not your level. This begs an obvious question: why did Bungie bother to put in a level system if the power level of your gear is the only thing making you stronger/weaker?
Competitive/casual matchmaking in the game's PVP (player vs player) mode, called the Crucible, still puts all players on roughly the same level, meaning every weapon and piece of armor you equip is basically as good as another - only weapon capabilities really come into play (range, stability, things like that). On one hand, it's a genius move that favors skill over equipment. On the other hand, all that hard work you'll put into acquiring great equipment is nullified by the balancing act to keep the game extra fair. If you're a hardcore player, this might irritate you a bit. If you're a casual player that lags far behind the competition for gathered equipment, it plays in your favor.
The only spaces where your power level comes into play in a significant way is in the game's Strikes and raid encounters. Strikes are still the equivalent of a "dungeon" or "instance" in Destiny 2, where a fireteam (3 players) will go up against a set of challenges in the hopes of acquiring better gear toward the end. As before, there are chances to pick up "engrams", which are tokens that can be turned in for a random item to the Cryptarch. This is mostly unchanged from Destiny, however, it's worth noting that legendary-quality gear will always come as engrams in Destiny 2 unless it's acquired during a raid boss/activity completion, so most of your gear drops are random. I still can't believe Bungie is forcing this on its community.
One of the most hated aspects of the first Destiny was the over-use of the RNG system (random number generator). This is basically a dice roll that occurs when you go to turn in your engrams (little geometric tokens that can fall on the ground when enemies are killed) to the Cryptarch, which leads to a random item acquisition. The RNG system takes the place of crafting, questing (with a few exceptions), really any intentional activity in general, that will surely land you that rifle or chest piece you've been after. About 99% of Destiny 2's loot system is random and it pisses off a significant portion of the community because as you narrow down the kinds of equipment you want, your chances of getting your final pieces of gear plummet, hurting your chances of acquiring your completing your gear set. Why would Bungie bother to keep this in the game?
Then there's the lack of a crafting system or marketplace in the game. A staple of online RPG games is that they come with the ability to gather materials to build good or excellent items in-game, with which you can use yourself or give/sell to another player. There is nothing like this in Destiny or Destiny 2, and I really wish they existed, because it would help give something for players to work toward that was within their control, instead of relying on a dice roll when receiving gear. Speaking of receiving gear, most of your gear is acquired via saved tokens that are earned from completing activities on planets. You'll earn planet-specific tokens which can be used to gain reputation with a high-ranking NPC on that planet. It helps push you along your way by offering random legendary gear that improves in power level as you improve your overall power level. It's a streamlined system that's very convenient, but simultaneously threatens the need to go into the raid encounters for gear, because the raid gear you'll earn from the Leviathan is rarely better than anything you'll find from a reputation vendor. This led me to question another decision Bungie made in this game because the loot system almost negates the major benefits to beating the raid.
Bungie may have hired some experienced RPG talent heading into Destiny 2, but hardly any of that experience shows up in the game.One thing I thought for sure would be addressed between Destiny and Destiny 2 was the activity repetition problem and leveling process. Bungie may have hired some experienced RPG talent heading into Destiny 2, but hardly any of that experience shows up in the game. We're still stuck running a few Strikes and one raid to acquire gear and progress the "story", which is basically gone after the initial campaign's completion. Instead of creating a vast public play-land for numerous players to interact in, Destiny 2 keeps the more confined spaces of Destiny and limits the number of players that can be a part of an activity. Fireteams are still three-player, Crucible fireteams are four-player (six-player versions are completely gone), raid fireteams are six-players. All of this feels a bit small given how large the Destiny community is on each platform (yes, it's coming to PC).
I have to stop and try and balance the negativity that I'm clearly oozing throughout this review. Not everything is pointless or broken in Destiny 2. I, like many other Destiny fans, had high expectations for this game coming in, but the experience has been both rewarding and frustrating. There's plenty of fun to be had here. The game's first raid, the Leviathan, is easily the most fun and challenge you'll have in this game. Good team-play wins out most of the encounters as opposed to high power levels, and that's where this game's balancing act operates the best. The blend of combat effectiveness and team-based strategy means that most people can eventually beat the hardest content the game has to offer as long as a six-player team is willing to communicate. However, it's unfortunate that the most clever gameplay moments and fight mechanics in the game are saved for the raid and not used more often elsewhere. This means that Strikes are fairly boring and are not worth doing at all once you hit level 20 and have progressed your power level beyond 220.
Unless Bungie has some unannounced content that is meant to extend the base game, Destiny 2 is nothing more than a fun flash in the pan.Unless Bungie has some unannounced content that is meant to extend the base game - before its first full DLC -, Destiny 2 is nothing more than a fun flash in the pan. It's fun to play because it executes on its gameplay so well. The RPG and MMO sides of the game are still very lacking. Character customization hardly makes its way into the game, so you have to play it more toward the way Bungie wants you to play it, instead of the other way around. I would have thought we were passed that, but it seems that Bungie isn't willing to, or ready to, take Destiny in that direction.
Then there's the progression problem. If you expect a lot of end-game content, get ready to pay and wait for it. The Leviathan raid is the only announced and available raid for the launch version of Destiny 2. There could be other special events or content unlocks before the planned DLC release coming by the end of 2017, but that isn't certain and those special events may be gimmicky, like the holiday events of Destiny. If that is the case, a lack of extension content would end up being devastating to the player population, as players will have beaten the game numerous times over before the month's end. This was a significant problem in Destiny and it could continue in Destiny 2.
Bungie has said they're planning one DLC expansion per season to start, the first of which is called Curse of Osiris. While we can assume some things about the direction of that DLC, nothing can be certain when figuring out Destiny DLC. For the first game, which received four DLC packs in total over three years, the community got three raids, new Crucible maps, some new narratives to follow and one odd Prison of Elders instance that was basically a partitioned Horde mode from Gears of War. The DLC itself varied heavily in quality, but it was the release gaps that really killed off much of the community.
Whatever is on the horizon for Destiny 2 is unclear. The studio is better off keeping things under wraps for the time being and watching the fans react to the game. They've clearly got a winning franchise on their hands, though I can't help but think there's something wrong internally with Bungie. I'm reminded of the Xbox brand under Don Mattrick and the release of the Xbox One, where poor direction and leadership ended up costing Microsoft valuable console sales, months after launch. Like the Xbox One launch, Destiny 2 seems like it's in need of rescuing to realize its full potential. It's a great platform with tons of promise but its success has been largely due to the lack of competition in the same space (FPS/RPG/Online). That will change when the heavily-hyped Anthem is released next year.
Bungie can make a comfortable-feeling game that looks beautiful and crisp on my game console. Looking at just about any screenshot of the game you'll see the talented artistry that is on display in a living, breathing world. I know I haven't spent much time on the graphics here and that's for good reason: they're plenty good to speak for themselves. The dev team did manage to make the game look a little bit better and smooth its performance out a bit over the first release. But graphics and crisp gameplay aren't everything. Being an RPG veteran, I constantly feel like I'm pressed against a glass ceiling and left with such a small universe to explore. I shouldn't feel that way, not yet.
I'll be rooting for Bungie to make the necessary improvements to this game through its planned DLC, but consider me irritated that the team couldn't get some of these complaints righted at launch. I didn't put in significant hours into Destiny 2 because I hate it, I just have higher expectations from a veteran studio and an intriguing fictional universe. Speaking of which, the most interesting story piece in the Destiny cannon might be what is teased at the end of the game's credits.
Destiny 2 was purchased privately and reviewed using an Xbox One console. The game is available for purchase now on the following platforms:
- Playstation 4/Playstation 4 Pro
- Xbox One/Xbox One X (One X version available after One X launch on November 7, 2017)
- PC (available October 24, 2017 from major game retailers)
PC and Xbox One X versions will support better-than-HD resolutions, with 4K possible depending on your gaming hardware. While the PC version is said to support 60 FPS, the One X is currently said to be capped at 30 FPS.
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