I went in to Destiny 2 almost completely blind; I never played the first installment, and had briefly looked up the general plot shortly before my copy arrived. My first impression after playing the sequel? Man, I wish I had played the first one, because this is amazing.
Admittedly, I was thrown at first. The game was marketed largely as an FPS MMO, and the character creation was not on a level with what I’d expect from that pitch. There’s what, eight faces, about 12 hairstyles, and some colour changes? With the number of people Bungie want playing this game, I’d have thought they’d be more into individuality. But I soldiered on, and my extremely blue Awoken Warlock arrived on Earth during an attack, gets beaten to hell, wanders through Skyrim for a bit, and then starts the game. As openings go, it grabbed my attention, and explained satisfactorily why I’d be grinding to get all my abilities back.
Storywise, Bungie are again being purposely vague; just give us the lore already guys, this isn’t Dark Souls and it was annoying as hell there too. The plot is by no means groundbreaking, featuring your standard baddie and his largely faceless army, although there are some interesting nuances that come out of Ghaul over the course of the game. Actually, there’s a lot of interesting nuance, mostly at the start and mid-game, that is then completely steamrolled in favour of a shooty-bang time. It’s still good, and I never really expected Destiny to go into those deeper waters, but it flirted briefly with being great.
Gameplay varies slightly between the Titan, Hunter, and Warlock classes, which roughly equate to your Fighter, Rogue, and Mage variants in traditional RPGs. You can tank some damage, jump around like a mad thing, or float gracefully and buff your allies, but in the end you’ve got the same guns and the same core gameplay.
The soundtrack, like the original, is truly excellent, and blends seamlessly with the environments and gameplay. I mean, I actually want to buy this soundtrack; it’s that good. Other sound design is passable, but mediocre; enemies grunt and yell, guns go bang and pew and ratatat, explosions go boom. All that said, certain sections of the game seem to view sound as a weapon; one particular dungeon on Nessus had me actively mute my headset because the whining music was all but intolerable. That happened maybe twice though, so it’s a net win.
As you’ll see from any random screenshot, Destiny 2 is drop dead gorgeous. Even though it’s not graphically the best game ever, it uses its impressive setpieces to overcome any graphical shortcomings and, even at the PS4’s 30FPS, looks amazing. The cutscenes are also great, giving insight into the plot and characters that might otherwise have been lacking; the star of the show was always going to be Nathan Fillion’s Cayde-6. The only real NPC irritation is trying to play with your new loadout while near a trader; they will NOT shut up.
Speaking of loadouts, I know the loot system in vanilla Destiny got a lot of heat, but it seems much improved in the new installment; drops are better and more regular, and I’ve got an alright collection of exotics now, even if I have gotten the same stupid gauntlets three times. So it’s better, but you’d still better keep on the good side of RNGesus.
The campaign is lengthy enough, but postgame is where Destiny 2 shines. Repeatable Meditations, random Adventures, extra World Quests, and a ton of patrols, challenges, and lost sectors are provide a wealth of (slightly repetitive) content for solo or team play. If you just want to jam with other humans, then Strikes, Raids, and the Crucible are right up your alley. While the co-op stuff is basically just more Destiny that needs more people, a lot of the Crucible feels generic, aside from the cool Countdown mode, which involves planting and defusing bombs. Many modes go on for what feels like forever, so to be honest I don’t feel that the PvP is Destiny 2’s strong suit.
The Destiny series prides itself on being an FPS MMO hybrid, and the sequel delivers on both halves of the whole. However, while the gunplay is tight and satisfying, many bosses end up feeling like bullet sponges, and the co-operation in my Crucible matches and Strikes consisted entirely of me trying to set up Rifts on team members who wouldn’t revive me when I died saving them. We’ve essentially got another online shooter where it’s only fun playing with your mates, and matchmaking will make you hate everyone. I also strongly question the matchmaking system; I went into my first Crucible match at level 8, and ended up on a team with three 20s, facing three 20s and another 8. My analogue and I were fodder, while the big boys did the work. Just because it’s technically fair doesn’t mean it’s fun, and I feel bad as a max-level player now being the one cutting down the underpowered noobs a week later.
Minor spoilers follow, but they’re necessary to explain one of my biggest issues.
So the Farm is your main base of operations during the main quest, and everything is right beside you; factions, decrypters, gunsmith, all that. Postgame, however, brings you back to an area of the Last City, where everyone is approximately a billion miles away from each other. Sure, Cayde-6 is only about 30 seconds sprint away from where you spawn, but Ikora and Hawthorne are 30 seconds away in the other direction, so if you have to visit everyone you’ll rapidly grow to resent the commute. It’s not like it’s even an especially nice part of the City to see the first time, let alone the 20th.
Decrypting engrams isn’t as much of a chore as it initially feels, even though you’ll rack up a ton post level 20, as each level after that gives you a lootbo- I mean Bright Engram with a couple of cosmetic goodies. You can also purchase these Bright Engrams from Eververse, the same area where you unlock your free ones. Sneaky Bungie is sneaky, but in all honesty they are 110% not worth the real life cash. To test it out, I spent $15 and got some Silver, the premium currency, and grabbed a couple. The instant pang of regret is not something I wish on anyone; sure, they’re only cosmetic MTs, but it’s still not worth the cash when you’ve already bought the game; I didn’t even pay for the game and I STILL regretted buying the damn Engrams.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t address the shader controversy; these are random drop items that colour your gear in a variety of boring/cool/bizarre ways, and are single use. You need six of a kind to have a full set of gear, which means mixing and matching with kinda similar ones is a must. This is frustrating, but not gamebreaking, although a trade system or something would be welcomed, because I’ve got like eight of the Legendary Bumblebee and Watermelon and they’re just ghastly.
But hey, these are your biggest issues, you know it’s a decent game, at least for the first 30 hours or so. Once you’ve hit Level 20 and completed the campaign, that’s when people say the ‘real game’ begins. But for me it didn’t. My Power plateaued at 276, and nothing I can do seems to move it; the game itself is just pushing me towards Nightfalls and Raids, neither of which are really my thing. So despite loving the game, way more than I thought I would, I think I’m done with it – at least until the expansions start to drop.
All else aside, it comes down to whether or not Destiny 2 is fun to play, and it really and truly is. While I feel that the Season Pass is almost a requirement, some areas are too spread out, the Bright Engram economy is awful, and the postgame is geared almost entirely towards multiplayer, these complaints are tempered by good points; I want to play more content, the maps are gorgeous almost to a fault, and at least the microtransactions are cosmetic only.
The flaws are overwhelmingly outweighed by the pros, and Destiny 2 overcomes almost all of its questionable decisions to emerge as one of the best and most engaging shooters this year.