Destiny 2 review - Two steps forwards, one step back

Destiny 2 is the game Destiny should have been from the start.

Telling people you play a lot of Destiny doesn’t really mean much these days, because everyone tends to pour dozens of hours a week into Bungie’s latest success story. And now with Destiny 2 out the door, those of us who did play a lot of Destiny are slipping back into that addiction once more, but this time it feels a little different, as if some guiding hand is making things a little bit too simple and that a little too much is missing from what we had at the end of the first game.

Destiny 2 has been out for 14 days as of this writing, and so far, my Xbox tells me I’ve put in 148 hours’ worth of play time. It’s safe to say that I’m back at it, feeding the addiction, farming for resources and searching for Exotics – which is to say that some of the fundamental elements that make Destiny so enjoyable remain in Destiny 2. But let’s start at the beginning, with the story.

The Story: Top dog, underdog, repeat.

The joke of the last three years was that Destiny didn’t have a story. The narrative in the first game was bare to the point that, unless you were addicted to the grind, there was no reason to replay anything. Destiny 2 takes a different approach, and builds – not a ground breaking sci-fi story – but an actual story worth playing and investing time in.

Ghaul, while a bit too dramatic, has a believable motive.

The premise is simple: your Guardian loses their Light, the thing powering them, the thing that makes them special, that gives them space-magic abilities and allows them to come back to life. All of this is gone thanks to one pesky Cabal called Dominus Ghaul. From the moment you lose your power, until the very end, Ghaul is the villain and the story arc is obvious: you are now the underdog, fighting to reclaim what you lost.

You will experience some truly emotional moments as you and your Ghost come to grips with losing the power of the Traveler (the big white ball that hasn’t been mentioned since September 2014), but it’s all too short lived, because not 30 minutes later, you’ll be back to where you started, abilities ready and totally immortal once more.

You'll only be without your abilities for a short while, so don't fret.
You'll only be without your abilities for a short while, so don't fret.

From there, the story takes you across four different locations as you try to help the rest of the Vanguard come to terms with losing their own Light. You act as a beacon of hope, as they look on in awe they think: if you can get your Light back, then so can they. And so you rally the forces and work toward kicking Ghaul down a few pegs.

It would have been easy for Bungie to make Ghaul bad for the sake of it. Just another bad dude in a roster of bad dudes looking to do bad things. Instead, Bungie has given his actions purpose, he’s not trying to steal your power because he’s bad, he’s doing it because he thinks he’s more deserving of the power, that the Traveler overlooked him. We can immediately sympathize with this sense of missing out. We’ve all experienced that moment when someone else earned something we thought we should have received. Ghaul’s plight feels real, so it makes the scenes with him feel believable, and as such, they were the few cutscenes I was hoping would appear more often during the campaign.

The overall narrative might be predictable, but it’s the little pieces in between that make the world of Destiny 2 come alive. Every mission tasks you with tackling some obstacle that reveals a little more information about the enemies you’ve been fighting for the past three years. Even the Adventures, Destiny 2’s version of a side quest, offer some of the richest tales ever included in a Destiny game, which is a double-edged sword.

The raid is setup in a single-time Adventure, a great side quest, but that's where it ends. Grimoire cards would have closed the gap and brought the two instances closer.
The raid is setup in a single-time Adventure, a great side quest, but that's where it ends. Grimoire cards would have closed the gap and brought the two instances closer.

On the planet Nessus, the Adventure, “Invitation From The Emperor”, takes you around the planet in preparation for the arrival of the raid. This is an excellent Adventure, and a miraculous story – but you’ll only experience it through the Adventure. That is to say, you won’t read about Emperor Calus in any Grimoire card, because they’re gone.

For all the flak Destiny received for lacking a story, it made up for this through its Grimoire cards – little snippets of lore that you earned upon unlocking weapons, killing enemies, and finishing missions. While only accessible through Bungie.net, they offered players who wanted more story and to read about the universe, an avenue to do so. But that’s gone, replaced by a “lore tab”, but only on select items.

When you inspect an item and hold Left-Trigger, a tab will appear and give a brief blurb about the weapon as well as some lore. So far, these Lore Tabs only appear on Exotic weapons, Trials of the Nine weapons, and Leviathan Raid weapons and armor. There are no longer 10 page stories about Dredgen Yor or Shin Malphur and the weapons they carried and the events they went through, instead, fans of lore are treated with the likes of this:

Gone are the Grimoire cards, replaced by these lore tabs that offer very little actual lore.

Anyone who’s played a lot of Destiny will know how important the Grimoire cards were for the original, and while Destiny 2’s story is superior in every way, it’s difficult to say goodbye to such an integral part of the narrative. Really, for everything Destiny's story got wrong, the Grimoire cards were a safe haven for lore enthusiasts, but now they're gone and nothing has replaced them.

Quality of Life

To say the original Destiny was difficult to digest is an understatement. Whether it was the obscure leveling system after reaching Level 20, the Public Events that seemed to spawn randomly, the dozens of upgrade materials needed to improve your weapons, or figuring out exactly what “Impact” meant as a weapon stat, unless you had access to more information, these systems were never going to make sense.

Planet maps are no longer exclusive to the Director, you can look at them at any time while Patroling. Chests are shown on the map, as are Public Events, Lost Sectors, Quests and more.
Planet maps are no longer exclusive to the Director, you can look at them at any time while Patroling. Chests are shown on the map, as are Public Events, Lost Sectors, Quests and more.

Bungie has thrown away these complicated mechanics, opting to give the player all the information they need. Public Events now appear on the planet maps with a timer (yes, an actual map of the planet), weapons stats offer explanations when moused-over, and “Light Level” is no longer a thing – it’s all about your Power now. Oh, and there’s no longer a sprint cooldown.

And yet, despite these well-placed steps, Destiny 2 stumbles when it should be sprinting. Shaders can no longer be swapped in and out an unlimited amount of times, they’re now single-use consumables that are destroyed. You won’t be changing your armor’s paintjob every week, unless of course you don’t mind farming for these Shaders that drop in packs of three.

Then there is the needlessly expensive weapon and armor mods that can increase your Power by 5 points or help reduce ability cooldown or even improve weapon handling. It’s luck of the draw whether you receive a mod you actually want, as the only way to acquire them is from a lucky dip. In the event you have three of a kind, you can trade them in for a Legendary version, which again, is a single use consumable.

Weapon and armor mods sound like a good idea, until you have to gamble for the one you really need.
Weapon and armor mods sound like a good idea, until you have to gamble for the one you really need.

All of this creates an unsavory economy and inhibits armor changes. You will spend precious Glimmer inserting a mod into a piece of armor to help bump up your Power, only to receive another piece of armor you really like the look of, but tough luck, because there’s no way to transfer your expensive and rare mod – or your Shader – to your new gear. Instead of fostering customization, players end up wearing armor they don’t like the look of, just so they don’t have to go through the pointless grind of collecting another armor mod.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the grind in Destiny, provided it’s fair. Grinding for the perfect Imago Loop roll in Destiny was, while tedious, fair because I knew where I could get one. In Destiny 2, if I want a +5 Kinetic mod for my Kinect weapon (what was once known as your Primary), I need to essentially gamble. It’s an unfair process that doesn’t respect the time I’ve put into the game.

Players enjoyed the grind of Destiny because there were set ways you could earn specific items. You could purchase weapons from Vendors, something you can’t do in Destiny 2, and if you didn’t like the rolls, you knew what Factor to spend your materials upgrading. It's unfortunate, because among so many excellent improvements, there are still glaring oversights.

But there is another change, aside from the sprint cooldown removal, that will go down as the greatest quality of life change in Destiny 2: mantling. It’s such a relief to see your Guardian grab a ledge you only just missed, and watching them pull themselves up.

Player versus Environment

There are two main camps in Destiny, those who prefer PvE and those who prefer PvP, with a little bit of bleeding between the two. Those who enjoyed the PvE content in Destiny will be pleased with what’s on offer in Destiny 2. Patrols return, as do Strikes, Nightfalls, Public Events, and now Adventures (as we mentioned above, these are side quests) and Lost Sectors.

No matter your Power level, Heroic Public Events are chaotic moments that offer incredible rewards. They've been vastly improved over Destiny 1's Events.
No matter your Power level, Heroic Public Events are chaotic moments that offer incredible rewards. They've been vastly improved over Destiny 1's Events.

While Patrols and Strikes remain unchanged, Public Events and Nightfalls have received some slight updates. Public Events can now be turned into Heroic Events, rewarding better loot and more experience, while Nightfalls are now significantly more challenging, coming with their own time limit and modifiers.

So far, the opinion is heavily divided on whether this time limit is good. I’m of the mindset that the Prestige Nightfall should contain the timer but the regular Nightfall should drop it. This allows the casual player to work through the Nightfall, while the average-to-elite players can throw themselves at the Prestige version for greater glory and rewards.

As it stands, the Nightfalls are approaching Lost to Light levels of commitment – an excellent point for a player like myself who enjoys those sorts of things, but a nightmare for someone who just wants to check their weekly activities off the list.

The Prestige Nightfall is brutally difficult, excellent for players who enjoy a challenge, but a daunting and otherwise impossible task for a casual player.
The Prestige Nightfall is brutally difficult, excellent for players who enjoy a challenge, but a daunting and otherwise impossible task for a casual player.

In the first game, an average player could work through the Nightfall, but now with the timer, it seems like a fantastical dream. Meanwhile, one impressive change is the new gear lockout system that is included in the Prestige version of the Nightfall and in Trials of the Nine. This prevents you from being able to change your gear or your subclass once in the game, making the pre-game planning vital to your success.

Nightfalls are in an awkward place, and thankfully Bungie aren’t beyond changing how it plays – they’ve done it previously. Right now though, unless you’ve got a Fireteam of proficient players, Nightfalls might be out of reach.

Then there’s the problem with the Strikes and the rewards they drop: tokens, which are used to level up a member of the Vanguard for an Engram – Destiny’s own slot machine. Gone are the days of Strike-specific loot, one of the greatest additions to Destiny through its numerous DLC releases. Weapons used to roll with different perks, and part of the appeal – and frustration – was farming for the perfect roll on a weapon like the Grasp of Malok.

Each of the Strike is distinct, offering varied gameplay moments, but no Strike-specific loot.
Each of the Strike is distinct, offering varied gameplay moments, but no Strike-specific loot.

Though this is unfortunate, it also means no holding onto several different iterations of the same weapon in case it becomes vogue. While Strikes might have lost their loot, they make up for it with their beautiful environments and varied combat encounters, except for Exodus Crash. And yet there’s another problem, you can no longer select a specific Strike from the Director, you have to make do with random Strikes – I hope you enjoy playing Savathun’s Song four times in a row.

Then there’s the Leviathan raid. With the incredible launch of Vault of Glass, the retrospectively enjoyable Crota’s End, the mechanic heavy King’s Fall, and the all-round challenging Wrath of the Machine, Destiny 2’s first raid has a lot to live up to. I’m pleased to report that it delivers in spades.

The Leviathan Raid is a strong first raid for Destiny 2, and if it's any indication of what's to follow, the next few raids should be fantastic.
The Leviathan Raid is a strong first raid for Destiny 2, and if it's any indication of what's to follow, the next few raids should be fantastic.

Challenges are mechanic-heavy fights that require teamwork and communication, where dying isn’t because you were overrun by enemies, but because your team wasn’t able to work together. It means that players who aren’t proficient at combat can flex their strategy muscles. Meanwhile, each challenge is broken up by a horde-mode like encounter where the door to the next challenge must be open, giving those players who like a good fight an opportunity to flex their run-n-gun muscles.

Without spoiling it, this is also the first raid where the boss speaks to you throughout each challenge, goading and luring you with the promise of reward, cackling for his own amusement. When the cards are on the table, and you’re facing down the Big Bad, it all comes together with beautiful harmony that the Destiny raids have become known for.

Player versus Player

Destiny’s PVP will always be a point of contention, with people blasting Bungie for making a weapon to powerful. The current meta sees the use of the MIDA Multi-Tool, an Exotic that has returned from the original, and literally any high rate of fire Auto Rifle in the Energy weapon slot. But there’s a damn good reason why the MIDA is all the rage – it keeps the radar up when you aim-down-sights.

Players used to be able to ADS (aim-down-sights), then pop out and have their radar immediately appear, letting them essentially semi-release the ADS and get a read of the radar. However in Destiny 2, the radar takes a good few seconds to fade back in, making it a risky decision to sit with your eye to the scope.

The radar takes a few moments to appear after ADSing, penalizing hardscopers and encouraging alternate strategies.
The radar takes a few moments to appear after ADSing, penalizing hardscopers and encouraging alternate strategies.

The effect this has on gameplay has translated to a faster paced experience, despite the time-to-kill being increased. It’s an odd scenario, but it allows engagements to occur more often while allowing players to counterattack or flee. With the new Kinetic, Energy, and Power weapon setup, Sniper rifles no longer dominate the Crucible, which has in turn reduced stagnate matches. This is most prominent in Trials of the Nine.

Like a lot of things in Destiny 2, Trials of Osiris is gone, replaced with Trials of the Nine, a 4-vs-4 competitive mode where teams swap sides. Instead of the gamemode being Elimination, rewarding passive play (leading to lots of snipers), players are treated to Countdown – a bomb-planting mode where aggressive behavior leads to victory.

The victory area for a successful Trials run is The Third Spire, an eerie and otherworldly location populated by someone called the Emissary of the Nine.
The victory area for a successful Trials run is The Third Spire, an eerie and otherworldly location populated by someone called the Emissary of the Nine.

I managed to earn a Flawless victory in the most recent Trials of the Nine weekend, and compared to Destiny, this competitive mode is an improvement. It will be interesting to see how it fairs when Survival is the gamemode, as that could very well see a shift toward passivity. At present, when someone was taken out of the fight, there generally wasn’t enough time for a revive, as players needed to push the objective to win. The importance of team-shooting was evident, if you stumbled across two enemies while by yourself, and weren’t able to get into cover, you were immediately punished.

Even the use of Supers, in Trials or standard PVP, feels balanced. It used to be the case where, upon hearing a specific Super, you could just expect to be staring at the revive timer – but now there’s actually a chance to fight back. Match the Super’s element type with your gun, and your weapon will deal more damage – this creates another strategy where every element type should be account for in your team.

Unfortunately, Destiny 2 has removed the choice of what gametype you want to play, instead stuffing everything into two boxes: Casual or Competitive. Players who only wanted to play Control will have to roll the dice and hope that they don’t get Supremacy while playing in the Casual playlist. It’s a frustrating change, and if Bungie wanted to have people play different modes, they should make it more rewarding to do so.

The Short of It

There’s a lot to love about Destiny 2. If you were a fan of the original Destiny, in any capacity, you will enjoy the time you spend with Destiny 2. But if you were looking for an evolution of a franchise on a scale of Assassin’s Creed 1 to Assassin’s Creed 2, then you will want to give Destiny 2 a miss, because it doesn’t add anything ground-breaking to the formula.

It might have flaws and there's still time to improve, but Destiny 2 is significantly better than Destiny 1 was when it first launched, and it's just a damn enjoyable game.
It might have flaws and there's still time to improve, but Destiny 2 is significantly better than Destiny 1 was when it first launched, and it's just a damn enjoyable game.

Destiny 2 is in an odd place at the moment, it improves so much about Destiny 1, and yet it feels like it’s stuck somewhere between the original Destiny base game and The Taken King expansion. It’s too bare bones, and too much of what made Destiny good towards the end has been stripped away. The experience is still quality, the gunplay is still superb, but the end-game is lacking.

It’s also worth mentioning that Destiny 2 shouldn’t be played alone. Sure, you can play it solo; up to a point and up to a certain skill level. Destiny 2 relies more heavily on having a team that’s addicted than its predecessor ever did, and it also loses some of the magic we all originally had for the series. Destiny was lucky in that it was unique, no one knew anything about it, how its mechanics worked or what to expect – we were all going in blind. Destiny 2 has no surprises up its sleeve, and yet, I still want to play it.

Sam Chandler is the Australian piece of the AllGamers puzzle. Out of all his gaming-related passions, collecting N64 games, speedrunning, and Souls games rank among the most important. You can reach Sam through Twitter, @SamuelChandler, or through his email, sam.chandler@allgamers.com, at any time of the day or night on either side of the globe.

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