Review – Destiny 2
I don’t think there’s a more divisive modern game than Destiny. It certainly made its mark in the professional industry and among the players in many ways. While it has inspired some developers to try a persistent online multiplayer world of their own and was a financial success, it created a love/hate scenario for the new series and beloved developer Bungie within the community. Destiny has its die hard fans that stuck through the very rough start of glitches, bugs, terrible RNG issues, lack of content, and lack of quality content with its season pass. Either players stuck with it until the end and got addicted to the loot game and the fantastic FPS mechanics or dumped it immediately after the short, terribly written campaign was over and realized the rest of the game was just doing the same things over and over to get better gear.
The biggest draw of Destiny for the people who got hooked was the end game raid and loot game. Grinding out the raid and strikes to hopefully have RNGesus drop you something sweet, even if it was a duplicate, could grant your same weapon better stats. The grind was real. After a bigger expansion with The Taken King, Bungie seemed to finally work out a lot of the launch kinks and start making their game better. By year 4 Destiny was looking good, it had a lot of fixes, Bungie showed it could write decent missions and stories after The Taken King, so things were hopeful for the announced sequel. In comes Destiny 2 with promises of an expanded story and more than double the content of the entire 4 years of Destiny 1 all the while maintaining everything the die hard fans loved. Can it obtain all of that? Is there any way it can get the people who hated the first and thought it was just a milked, hacked up money grab beta to come back and give it another try? The answer is yes and no, unfortunately.
When Destiny 2 opens up, it’s eager to drum up those early day Destiny memories of you and your buddies’ attempts at all the big events that happened. Depending on how long you stuck with it or how much you did, this opening sequence will either be a great remembrance with a flood of memories or it’s just going to be a shallow scene with just a couple screens of you defeating the story mode that you probably long forgot about anyway. It was nice, though, to have it remember all of my Guardians journey’s, seeing my brothers’ names next to mine and a couple other of the random great people that I’ve befriended through Destiny. It brought back the memories of those very late nights of play and got me pumped to get into the sequel.
Destiny 2 starts out with an invasion on the last safe city for humanity, the city that The Traveler watches over. We open up to see invading forces attacking The Tower, the safe hub from the first game that housed all the Guardians. The invasion force led by Ghaul, the imposing commander of the brutal Red Legion, has stripped the city’s Guardians of their Light, and forced the survivors to flee. With your Light stripped from you, The Traveler captured, the tower destroyed and all of your fellow Guardians scattered around, you must set out to reunite them, gain your Light back and take down Ghaul.
The plot isn’t anything outstanding or new, but it’s presented well enough that you’ll want to keep progressing through it. Ghaul is actually a well done Darth Vader-like villain who gets good screen time to flesh him and his Red Legion army out. His intentions and plans are clear and while it’s a bit cliche it is at least a way better attempt at a villain than the first game. I played 100+ hours of Destiny and have no clue who the villain was. Was it the Darkness? Well regardless, I at least won’t be forgetting Ghaul because he actually had a presence.
Unlike the first game, Destiny 2 actually gives good screen time to the other Vanguard Guardians that went criminally underused in the first by being static characters in The Tower you just turned missions into. They serve a lot more purpose in this game and are actually used in the main missions fighting along with you or helping you out in other ways. Cayde-6, Zavala and Ikora Rey all make their return and are all helping out individually on different planets. Cayde-6 obviously being the standout character because of his humor and the perfect line delivery of Nathan Fillion, and I always enjoy Lance Reddick’s powerful commanding voice as Zavala.
The story missions take you through 4 different planets on your journey to collect your Light and help set up your attack on Ghaul to take back your city. You’ll visit the Earth EDZ (European Dead Zone) which is one of the largest areas in the game and easily double the size of the Earth Zone from the first game. It has a great mix of destroyed forgotten city, new alien structures, and lush forest areas to explore. You’ll get to explore the mostly water covered moon of Saturn, Titan with deserted barges as massive waves roll below you. And there are several more interesting locales that are actually well designed.
The real improvement here isn’t so much just that the story is better and more cohesive and thought out; the mission design is so much better. It feels like you’re actually accomplishing something while it takes you to parts of the map you haven’t explored yet. It gives you something meaningful to do and actually has time to explain what it didn’t have time to explain in the first. You also do get to go back to Earth and finally battle in the last remaining populated Earth city that we have often heard about, but never seen. Unfortunately, there isn’t much to explore since it’s a fairly linear run through to get to the final boss.
One of the main complaints of the original Destiny was that there just wasn’t enough to do on the planets. Once you beat the story all that there was left on the planets to do outside of Strikes were Public Events, Patrols, and farming treasure chests for materials. Luckily this time around we are given quite a bit more reason to head back to each planet after the story is completed. We still have everything from the first plus the inclusion of Adventures, World Quests, Lost Sectors, and Flashpoints.
Adventures are what Bungie is calling their side missions, which offer full voice over dialogue and a meaningful mission that will take you to some new areas of the map. There is also 1 World Quest per map which is a longer mission that takes you all around the map, uncovering secrets, information and history about the planet. Lost Sectors are hidden areas that are marked with a symbol close to their entrance. They will take you through linear areas to fight through enemies and bosses to acquire a treasure chest when complete. Flashpoints task you to complete a set of Public Events on a world to be rewarded with gear and the ability to fight bosses that don’t typically show up in other events. Speaking of Public Events, they’ve gotten a nice upgrade not only in variety but how you can complete them. Each Public event has a “Heroic Event” trigger where if completed will grant you a bigger boss fight and bigger rewards. Patrols have still gone mostly unchanged, they offer little quests or tasks to complete to acquire some planet tokens to turn in for loot and there are still gold and silver chests to find as well as material.
Each planet also has a liaison that will provide gear and the ability turn in planet coins you have earned from doing various activities on that planet. Turn in enough and you will be granted with a level 20 engram to decrypt. While this is helpful in the early stages of the end game leveling up, they eventually become only valuable to dismantle for legendary shards. You’ll visit the liaisons to acquire missions or if you would like to replay any of the Adventure missions on that planet.
The mission variety, quality, design and planets all received a nice upgrade, but unfortunately the player classes and weapons seem to stay pretty safe. Now, there is a nice array of new weapons with a few classics making a return, but only one new type of weapon class, sub-machine gun (SMG), and it’s sort of hit or miss. The SMG certainly has its uses, but once you’re in the higher level activities the flaws of the low impact and bad range start to show when you’ll want to keep a bit more distance from the mobs.
You still have the same 3 classes with the Warlock, Titan, and Hunter, but they all have gotten some tweaks and additions. The biggest addition is the new class abilities, each class gets a class ability that is unique to them and can be modified in their skill tree. Titans can lay down a waist high shield that allows him and his teammates to take cover and have an auto reload perk. Warlock has the ability to drop a Healing Rift that will continually heal anyone inside of it. The Hunter, who kind of gets the shaft as far as getting any abilities that help out your team, gets a dodge move that will reload your weapon or turn you invisible for a short time.
Destiny 2 lets you obtain 3 subclasses. Each class gets a new unique subclass and the other 2 are essentially tweaks to the existing one. Each class comes with its own modifiers and perks that you’ll definitely want to remember so you can swap between them depending on the challenge you’re taking on. This comes in handy for the Nightfall where there are modifiers present that a different subclass might be able to take advantage of. I really enjoyed how they handled unlocking the additional subclasses. As you level up and complete the story you will eventually pick up an item that will start a quest to unlock the class. Usually these involve getting a certain amount of kills or doing enough Public Events. Once you satisfy that requirement you’ll go through a completely unique side mission that will give you some back story of how your class is able to use this unique power. While it doesn’t go into the full lore, it is a good attempt and it at least gives you enough information to understand what’s going on instead of relying on having to go to a separate site to read a Grimoire card. Have I mentioned there are no more Grimoire cards?
The graphics aren’t a massive step up, but they have been upgraded with more particle effects and better lighting. Its the smaller details like this that make it pop more than the first game, which is nice since the scope of the game is larger as well. I’d also like to note that I am playing on the launch Xbox One, but I did play the beta on my PS4 Pro and the Pro does offer the superior visuals on console which will only get better once the HDR update rolls in.
The sound design, much like the first game, is absolutely superb. While Marty O’Donnell is missing from this installment, the soundtrack doesn’t suffer at all. The main theme to the story section build ups to the battle tracks that are all amazing and have that classic Bungie sound. The guns, enemy chatter, vehicles, and ambient sounds are also extremely well done and really help give each fight an epic feel. The voice-over work is also very well done as mentioned previously. Sound design is something that you can always rely on Bungie to get right and they deliver here without question. But if there’s one complaint I have here it’s the lack of voice-over work for the player’s Guardian.
Destiny MP has always been a bit of a miss for me. It never felt very balanced due to the nature of the game with specials and varying gun stats. While gear power is all set to the same level, the various sub specs still remain, which will make certain guns better for online. Destiny 2 does a better job with balance and focuses more on fireteam team work shrinking the team sizes to 4v4 instead of the often hectic frag fest of 6v6 from the first game. While I enjoy a good competitive match, there’s no reason why they couldn’t have added a “Big Team Battle” playlist for the people who enjoyed the hectic big battles and didn’t want to worry about playing in a more competitive smaller squad. All the standard modes are back, as well as a new mode called Countdown which adds an attack/defend game mode to the mix. I will say that the servers have been perfect so far, I haven’t experienced a single game drop, rubber-banding or any serous lag.
If you’re looking to put your fireteam to the ultimate test you’ll want to jump into the Trials of the Nine. Here you will find dedicated clan mates who have strategies and communicate well. They have weapons and subclasses all planned out to complement each other, flanking patterns and communications to put your skills to the limit and to have a real competitive challenge even if gear is still balanced this is a test of skill more than gear advantages. There is a bonus to playing this mode since winning at least one match unlocks a new social space with its own vendors.
In Destiny 1 the real competitive challenge for MP was the Iron Banner, the one mode that actually activates all gear stats and lets you show off that new gear drop you just got by dominating the lower level players. Unfortunately it seems like Bungie wanted to make this a more casual experience and got rid of the gear factor completely, which is honestly a strange choice. They essentially made the Iron Banner into just another crucible mode that offers some unique Iron Banner themed gear and emblems. They already have a competitive Crucible playlist along with Trials of the Nine to test your clan mates, so why they felt the need to take away the one unique game mode that made your grind worth it is beyond me.
The end game content. Well, lets just point out this is where a gamer either dropped Destiny completely or became addicted to the grind. Destiny 2 somehow keeps you on the leash a bit longer by offering a slightly less intense grind, but also somehow ruined what the hardcore fans got addicted to, but i’ll get to my issues with this a little later.
End game starts when you have reached level 20 and have beaten the story missions. I say that because while you can reach level 20 and start earning Power (Light) without even touching a main mission, a lot of the content doesn’t open up until you finish the story. Once you meet both requirements you are granted with your Sparrow (finally), Strikes open up, Nightfall becomes available, and you’re given various milestones to accomplish for “Powerful Gear.”
Strikes have gotten a nice upgrade in terms of design and overall scope. They often feel like smaller raids where it will introduce different gameplay elements and various boss stages, which definitely helps in keeping them fresh and from being just a run through and camp out while you pick off the boss. The change to the Strikes that I don’t care for is that they are on a playlist. While it does offer a matchmaking feature which is nice, no more can you just pick through the Strike you want to grind or practice for Nightfall run through. It’s frustrating to get the same Strike a couple times in a row.
Nightfall is mostly the same to where it’s just a harder version of a Strike with certain modifiers. Bungie then adds another level of challenge on top of this by adding a timer. This timer has been a point of frustration within the community, mostly for the players who do not have a dedicated team who is willing to work together and play through it a couple times. It essentially makes it a speedrun contest instead of content that is more difficult due to additional gameplay modifications. On the flip side, there is always a way to earn more time during the Nightfall and this is where you’ll need to have a team that is willing to work on strategy and possibly play through it a couple times to get used to the modifiers. If that isn’t difficult enough for you there is always the prestige mode that cuts your time in half which will push your fireteam to fully memorize the strike and all its shortcuts.
The Raid, the peak end game content for Destiny, made its return a week after launch, letting players get leveled up and get into some clans. Raids require a fireteam of 6 to work together to accomplish the tasks and the new Leviathan Raid really emphasizes team work. Each player will need to play a role, each player will need to be willing to cooperate and be verbal about what is going on. No longer can you just rely on 3 good players and 3 decent ones. That one weak link in the chain will be your downfall until they understand the raid mechanics. While this is good for making sure all players feel important and needed, I can see it scaring away the people who want to have a more casual experience being supported and guided through. While Vault of Glass holds a special place in my heart, The Leviathan steps it up with the individual challenges and a heavy focus on teamwork and communication.
My first attempt clocked in around 5 and a half hours until we got to the final boss fight, but unfortunately we weren’t able to finish due to a glitch. There is no bigger feeling of defeat after spending almost 6 hours figuring something out to only be defeated by a glitch. We tried to all die, we had teammates leave and come back, we tried to leave the area to reload the section and nothing worked. We were defeated by a glitch and that’s just not acceptable in a mode like this that is the main content of the end game. We naturally called it a night and came back to it another time, which was considerably faster since we had the strategy down, knew where to go and the tricks to complete the challenges, which reduced the retries and made it more enjoyable. One great addition to the raid is a matchmaking feature called “Guided Games.” If you’re a single user you can join a Guided Game as a Seeker and get matched up to a clan who is looking to fill an extra spot. Or if you have at least 2 clan members you can start a Guided Game as a Guider which will match you up with Seekers. In my experience the wait time for a seeker is around 45 minutes and when i did Guider we filled up a fireteam within minutes. The wait may be long for a lone seeker, but it’s a good feature that will allow single player users to at least experience the raid, unlike the first game where you had to do all your matchmaking outside the game.
Let’s get to the grind. The make or break gameplay loop that people either love or hate. As I mentioned before, Bungie has changed the system a bit to favor the early grind, but once you hit 265 there is a massive plateau. While 265 is high enough for all of the activities, going above it obviously has its advantages for prestige modes and making things just a bit easier to run through. The problem people are finding here is that the grind has changed for the worse after 265. Once you start getting into the finer details of upgrading your gear and using mods, you’ll find that engram drops and vendor engrams are all dropping 5 or more levels underneath you. This is because the engrams drop to your base level and not the boosted level due to the mods. The only way to gain gear above your level is by completing milestones that grant you Powerful Gear and these are only available once per week and they reset on Tuesday. This makes Destiny 2 almost feel like a mobile game due to this style of weekly resets.
There is also a problem with how they handled the gear stats. In Destiny 1 you were able to get lucky drops doing any activity and even if it’s a duplicate item there was still a chance it would have better stats like impact, fire rate, stability etc. This is no longer the case in Destiny 2. Duplicates are exactly that, you get the same exact weapon and the only thing that will differ is the power level. This completely ruins the grind, there is no point in playing the game past the Milestones because you can’t gain any power off random drops or hope for that “God role” for your favorite weapon. Destiny 2 essentially becomes a game you will hop on a couple times a week just to do Milestones and then just go play something else.
For all intents and purposes Destiny 2 is absolutely a sequel. It expands on everything from the SP experience and the MP experience, creating a bigger and better game but it is still not perfect and left me with some head scratching design choices. Not only is the grind ruined, but there really isn’t a point to get up to the 350 level cap. Playing the Raid on prestige mode isn’t going to offer you any overly great rewards, Iron Banner isn’t based off stats anymore so it’s essentially just a slightly more competitive crucible match. Somehow Bungie made the early grind a blast and more streamlined, but at the same time ruined the late game grind that all the hardcore fans loved about the first. As seen in recent news this is why some of the player base is leaving. There’s just no reason to keep playing and grinding, which is a shame because it nailed just about everything else. Destiny 2 is already in deep need of extra content. With that being said, in just the vanilla game I have sunk in 60+ hours and while some of the drive to grind is gone I will be back each week for those Milestones.
Reviewed on Xbox One.
Destiny 2 is available now on Xbox One, Ps4 and PC.