Field Notes is a series of diaries by Caty McCarthy, exploring the personal stories that emit from the games we play over extended periods of time, and beyond. Currently, Caty’s diving into Destiny 2, a shared world first-person-shooter about aliens destroying all your stuff.
Dear diary, why the heck doesn't Destiny 2 have a photo mode? It feels almost like a crime, honestly. Thanks Bungie for the gorgeous environments, but no thanks to my big-ass gun and HUD obscuring any possible postcards I could send home to the kids.
Anyways, I shot some aliens on Big Shell today. (Also no, I don't have any "actual" kids.) Remember when in Nier: Automata I battled a boss that was basically Big Shell from Metal Gear Solid 2? Well in Destiny 2, Metal Gear Solid 2's iconic location is repurposed once more, but made far more colorful. A jelly-like teal-hued sea sways below it; the structure itself gleams a candy apple red; zombie-like aliens dwell upon it, incubating in yellow sacs to further populate themselves.
My time in this locale—on Titan, the largest moon of Saturn—made me really appreciate the scenery of Destiny 2. In so many multiplayer games, their environments are devoid of any sort of color or personality. My colleague Mike Williams even said recently that whoever copies the PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds formula with a far more playful aesthetic will probably find immense success. Overwatch, Blizzard's team-based shooter, of course exemplifies this particular area of visual design. Every character has their own pertinent identity, just as every map tells a story, usually one tethered to one of its many heroes.
Destiny 2's maps tell a story too. The European Dead Zone on Earth may just be another run-of-the-mill post-apocalyptic mess of a world, but it's one of character, from its crumbling central church to its almost-claustrophobic alleyways (even if it's probably the weakest locale in the game). Elsewhere, instead of just another decrepit world past its prime, on Titan you're crawling across a massive man-made structure: a giant decaying oil rig rooted in the center of an eerie-looking sea.
It's not just one big circumference of a circle like the EDZ, instead it's a linear line of places to glide to. It's a haunting locale overrun by two sorts of foes; the Hive, who infest its darkest crevices, and the Fallen, who are trying to make it their home too. Sometimes you'll even catch the two battling each other. That is, until they notice you lurking around. You get the sense that this oil rig has become lost to time just like the rest of the worlds in the solar system, so it's up to you to blast through it infinitely. To give it purpose again.
Every vista; every landscape. They all have one thing in common: they look picture perfect, almost as if they were hand-painted for a wallpaper. Or better yet, a postcard. In some screenshots, you can almost make out the precise spot make-believe text would read "Wish you were here!" The impeccable world design is Destiny's strongest suit, to be honest.
Its a rare envisioning of a future with space wizards that has a tangible identity to it, an identity of its own that doesn't piggyback on the over-sanitized Star Wars, the space opera of Mass Effect, or the noir-infused grit of Cowboy Bebop. Destiny 2's strong art direction and vision of itself is part of what makes it so absorbing, whether players consciously realize it or not, and even in spite of the actual story and characters feeling quite the opposite. (In all honesty, I miss the self-serious tone of the first game. Now it feels like every character is in a battle of who can exchange the most witticisms. Bleh.)
The worlds as we trot across them show that just because civilization as a land once knew it could be wiped out by an alien invasion or two, it doesn't mean that the world itself necessarily dies. There's still Guardians—hey, like me!—to somewhat protect it, or at least, enable them for endless loot drop zones. Beyond that, the worlds persist in their own ways. The first time I spawned on the planet Io, I marveled at the massive tree trunks lying ahead of me. They were enormous, much bigger than the "look at this big ol' tree trunk" my parents would point out when we'd go camping in redwood forests. On the planet Nessus, neon red flora still grows probably just as much as it ever did before on its fluorescent teal turf, perhaps even more so now. The latter areas look straight out of the iridescent worlds of the beautiful but flawed No Man's Sky.
One of my favorite moments of Destiny 2 so far actually came in the form of one of its story missions. We were on Titan, myself and two friends of mine who had already played this particular beat. We descended down a place, and when we emerged, I found myself in what looked to be a desolate shopping mall. It wasn't though. It was an obsolete arcology, a dense society that had to flee their home. It was a shock. Not because of its vastness, but because in the land of a giant oil rig, it was the last thing I expected.
It was also the polar opposite of the colorful world above it; red was swapped for a dim green. Everything within here was dull, except for the neon lights that lit hallways to remind players that yes, once upon a time folks lived here. Yet like everywhere else, it was infested with supernatural beings.
As with the first Destiny, I'm enjoying the core loop of Destiny 2. Its imaginative worlds are a large reason for that. Even if I'm not as enamored with the social space of The Farm as I was the Tower in the first game, the rest of the environments are so vast and detailed, that I don't mind it as much. I just wish I had a dang photo mode or something, anything.
Part One: Press L2 for Lore
Next Time: (For real this time) Caty brings more friends along for the ride.
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