Part 1 - Near Launch
Since this morning, I've been hammering away at Destiny 2, Bungie's second shot at its intriguing science-fiction fantasy universe. I'm the massively multiplayer online (MMO) guy at USgamer and for all of the ways Destiny departed from the formula, it was still an MMO. For me, Destiny felt like two halves that never coalesced into a full whole. On one side, an excellent shooter on a moment-to-moment basis, on the other, a barely passable MMO.
More importantly, Destiny was bereft of the story context that is showcased in other MMO titles like Final Fantasy XIV or World of Warcraft. My return to this universe comes after a lengthy lapse from Destiny as a whole: I played the game in its original beta and purchased The Taken King expansion, but I never jumped back into the game on a regular basis. For me, a strong story context was the frosting that was needed to bring together two layers of cake. Bungie in its earlier incarnation made Halo, an excellent mix of first-person shooting action and storytelling, so missing that in Destiny was saddening.
Destiny 2 doesn't necessarily feel like a whole cloth sequel to Destiny, but Bungie has definitely done its work at improving on areas where the first game and its expansions faltered.
Right from the beginning, you're treated to "Homecoming", the story campaign mission that stands as the bridge from Destiny to Destiny 2. Your Guardian returns to The Last City just in time to see an invasion by the Red Legion. After the community's wins against raid-level threats like Crota, Aksis, and Oryx, you'd think we'd put up a fight. Spoiler alert: you'd be wrong. The Red Legion and their leader Ghaul utterly stomp the collective might of the Guardians, sack the city, and take control of The Traveler, the source of the Guardians' powers.
So, you're left with no powers, no Last City, and no Traveler. It's up to you to pick up the pieces, find new powers, and grind out some new gear.
Destiny always occupied this weird space between science fiction and fantasy. While the base game featured a gleaming city populated by aliens, robots, and soldiers in power armor with guns, many of the expansions dipped hard into fantasy with swords, axes, medieval-themed armor and grand battles against space elves and orcs.
Destiny 2 leans hard into the fantasy, with the Guardians going on a vision quest to touch a new source of power. The early moments have you wandering through what another character notes as a haunted forest, seeking the juice that'll make you hero again. It's a far more straightforward tale. It's a bit weird, yes, but compared to the Hives, Thrones, Axis Minds of the previous Destiny, it's a remarkably simple adventure, one that feels more like a movie.
It helps that Bungie has gotten much better at having the story happening around the player. The supporting cast is always talking in your head, telling you where to go, or providing context to most of your actions. Your adventures aren't always backed up by a huge, meaningful set piece or cutscene, but there's more of that in Destiny 2 and even the smaller stuff has more to help you understand its place in the world.
Leaving behind the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 this time around has paid off handsomely. The new worlds and maps that Bungie has crafted here are big and beautiful. The use of color and attention to detail is top-notch, making you feel like you're wandering through the ruined remnants of Earth or exotic alien worlds. You'll still run into those vistas that you wish you could explore, only to run into an endless cliff or huge body of water, but the studio has done a great job of giving you a bigger space to play in.
You navigate this space with your new map, which is one of the new additions. Surprisingly, Destiny lacked an actual map in-game. Destiny 2 instead offers a helpful map with travel points and other missions you can undertake.This is basic-level stuff that was missing in Destiny, so I'm glad to see it here.
In terms of play, Bungie has rejiggered things a bit. Campaign missions still occupy the top of the food chain, offering the overarching story I previously mentioned, full of new sights to see, some great fights, and cutscenes. Destiny's missions - go here, kill stuff - have been somewhat replaced with with Adventures, Lost Sectors, and Public Events. Adventures send you off to a place to kill some folks or defend regions against other folks, with some in-game audio to give you a bit of background for your actions.
Lost Sectors were billed as secret dungeons littering the world of Destiny 2. In practice they're tangents to what you'd experience in Campaign Missions and Adventures. These diversions are denoted by specific graffiti on walls and other structures. Think of them as waypoints saying, "Turn left here instead of going straight towards your next objective." Doing so offers some additional combat encounters and some loot at the end.
Finally, there are Public Events, shared encounters that anyone can join just by walking by. Public Events are marked clearly on your map and if you're near one, there will be an icon with a timer to let you know. Walk into the area of influence and you'll join in the encounter. Bungie is smart here, in that some of the ideas normally found in Strikes will find their way into the open world maps.
One Public Event had a few other players and I fighting giant walkers together. Upon damaging the walkers to a certain point, they'd cough up Arc Reactor Cores. You take the cores to specific areas to unlock launchers that would do big damage against the walkers. You could just shoot the walkers down in the time limit, but paying attention to the battlefield highlights new mechanics. It essentially teaches battlefield awareness to neophyte players. Furthermore, every Public Event has a Heroic mode that unlocks if you complete hidden objectives.
With all these actions and activities, you'll find that Destiny 2 offers up a quicker sense of progression. There's a constant stream of new gear flowing into your character if you take the time to do Missions, Adventures, Lost Sectors, and Public Events. It helps you stay up to date and you're always finding something new. In addition, you're finding and unlocking tokens that you can trade in with factions. In Destiny, I always felt a little behind the progressive curve; in Destiny 2, I always feel a little ahead.
That's where I am on Destiny 2 at the moment. Bungie has patched up a number of the areas where I felt the original game had faltered. This is still a great shooting experience, though I do dislike the putting all the cool, interesting weapons in the Power Weapons slot, where you'll rarely have a ton of ammo. But on top of that shooting experience, there's always something to do and there's more context given as to why you're doing it beyond just getting more loot. The return of some actual storytelling is the return of the Bungie of old, the Bungie I expected to see when I first played Destiny.
Destiny 2 doesn't necessarily feel like full sequel to Destiny, but it doesn't need to. So far, what's here is fun and engaging. As I polish off the Story Campaign, partake in the current elder game, and await the unlocking of the Raid next week, I'm having fun. I don't know if it stands up to the best MMOs yet, but I'm liking what I'm seeing so far.
Part 2 - Post Raid
I acknowledge that it's a bit of a folly to review a massively-multiplayer online game, or really most service games. What I'm reviewing now may not be what you play three or six months from now. The foundation will likely be the same, but in some cases, even that can change. Regardless, I think it's worth giving a solid "state of the game" look at any service title.
In the case of Destiny 2, the game I first wrote about above didn't include the Nightfall Strikes or the raid, Leviathan. I've since completed that first type of content and we're chugging away on the latter part. I've finished so many Milestones, destroyed so many public quests, decrypted so many engrams, and shot scores upon scores of enemies.
Destiny 2 has a lot of stuff to do. It's strength and weakness is that overall, most of that stuff is really the same thing over and over: shoot the small enemies of various types to get to the bigger enemies of various types. It works because Bungie has tuned Destiny's shooting so well; it feels great and meaty. The satisfying boom of a shotgun, or the quick pops of an auto rifle. Just playing Destiny 2 feels great.
The whole edifice does start to fall apart for the player who's not progression-focused though. Destiny 2 is a loot-based action RPG. It's the end point of a line that began with Diablo, added first-person shooter play to become Borderlands, and added massively-multiplayer features to become Destiny. You travel to all these planets to shoot things, to gain loot, to get stronger, to shoot stronger things.
That Diablo/Borderlands heritage is what differentiates Destiny 2 from games like Final Fantasy XIV and World of Warcraft. Once you reach endgame, Bungie is still throwing gear your way at high speed, but your actual progression is pretty small. It becomes a mindless shuffle of gear. Looks vary depending on the planet you're on, but the stats always scale to your current level. You're not aiming for anything in particular, except for Raid Gear.
Past a certain point, the Infusion mechanic means that every additional bit of gear you have doesn't even really change. I personally just infused the new stuff into the older gear I liked. This is good; I keep the looks and perks I like, but it also falters because the new stuff feels less meaningful. It's chum that you're feeding to the stuff you actually like, stuff you acquired way before. It'd probably be better if Destiny 2 had a glamour system of some type: allowing you to keep the looks you enjoy, while still allowing new gear to feel more useful.
This focus on gear also undercuts most of the additional content that Bungie has made. All the Adventures, Patrols, and Public Quests don't give you much worthwhile gear once your Power Level coasts beyond 265-270. At that point, only Nightfalls, Raids, Trials, and Milestones becomes worthwhile. The latter requires you to do Adventures, Patrols, and Public Quests, but it lowers them to just things on a checklist, whereas prior to cap, it was just fun to sit on a planet, running around, and shooting things. Worse, Nightfalls, Raids, Trials, and Milestones are timed affairs. You can only get the rewards once a week.
As such, Destiny 2 isn't really built to be played every evening. I'm already slotting into a place where I jump on one night, burn through everything I need to do, and then don't see the game again for a week. And perhaps that's as intended, meaning it's really not a problem. It just feels like there's a middle ground in the tuning that was missed.
Despite all of this, Destiny 2 is still very good in that moment-to-moment aspect. Shooting mans with your friends is still a blast. The environmental art design is top notch, and Bungie even stepped it up when it came time for the raid, making a golden city of forgotten opulence. The characters are fun, the soundtrack has that old-school Bungie feel despite sporting different composers from the Halo titles.
It's a better game than the first was. It's still that gateway MMO, missing features that current MMOs have. A Raid Finder would be keen, as the Guided Games feature is merely a half-step. Being able to see your friends and Fireteam on the map is an odd omission. The shader implementation is such an odd step back for a game that doesn't have a glamour system. And I still think the mismatch between PVE and PVP team sizes is a problem.
But Destiny 2 is a damned good time. I don't see myself leaving it behind as quickly as I left the first game. If you're up for this unique mix of first-person shooter and MMO, I'd say now is the time to give Destiny a try.
Destiny 2 is a vast improvement over the original Destiny. The shooting is still top-notch, Bungie has crafted grand worlds to explore, the environments are simply beautiful, and the delivery of the game's story is much better. The game still falters in when it comes to satisfying endgame progression and it's missing some standard MMO features. All in all though, Destiny 2 is a damned good MMO time, no subscription fee required.