Today, Bungie and Activision showed off Destiny 2, the next iteration in the online first-person shooter franchise. The Red Legion has razed the Tower to the ground and in the destruction, they've snuffed out the Light that powered every Guardian. Destiny 2 is a game about rebirth and rebuilding, and that extends to the game itself.
Destiny 2 is all about establishing a new foundation for the series, with new worlds, new weapons, and new enemies to fight. That's not to say the first Destiny was a bad game, but it definitely had holes. So how firm is this new foundation?
Home Is Burning
First up was a peek at Destiny's story campaign, starting with the game's first mission, Homecoming. The mission covers the Red Legion's attack on the Tower, as the Guardians seek to turn the tide and save civilians. My demo placed me in the armor of the new Warlock sub-class, the Dawnblade.
The biggest change in Destiny isn't a mechanical one. The core shooting of the first Destiny always felt amazing, but the issue was in what you were doing. There were moments in raids, but for the most part Destiny lacked meaning and to be honest, spectacle.
In contrast, Destiny 2 begins with bombast, as your Guardian wakes up in the rubble of the Red Legion's first attack. The new engine is a stunner and Destiny 2 is colorful game. In the falling Tower, you'll see the bright orange of burning fires mixed with vibrant green vines and the muted blue of artificial lighting. As you fight to survive, the rain whips by in the wind. In the edges of your vision, you see the Legion's effect on the City, as they burn it to the ground and ships fight in mid-air. You feel like you're in the middle of war, something the first Destiny never really delivered.
The campaign takes you across familiar Tower environments, torn to shreds and brimming with invading forces. As you traverse the Tower, named characters grunt orders in your direction and use Guardian powers in ways players rarely get to. Zavala tanks entire artillery volleys using his Titan shield and you fight alongside him to turn back Red Legion soldiers in the ruined Tower Plaza. Ikora Rey uses her Warlock abilities to take down a troop transport by herself. You actually get a chance to see why these are the masters of their respective classes.
A hefty mid-boss fight forced me to use my Dawnblade Super Charge ability, turning my character into an angel of pure burning vengeance. Wreathed in flame, a Warlock can make short work of even the strongest foe, looking badass while doing it.
Towards the end of Homecoming, you're flown to a capital ship to take it out from the inside. At periods during your mission, there will be open parts of the ship, allowing to you to see the war raging outside. Again, what Bungie has re-learned is the setting. The core can be great, but it will still falter if the packaging isn't up to snuff.
Playing this short mission in Destiny 2 reminded me of the company's heyday on the Halo series. Bungie was always good with anchoring the player in settings that evoked specific feelings or themes. The first mission of Halo 2 took place inside the boring corridors of a ship, but it's punctuated by viewpoints of the space conflict, a walk across a giant capital ship railgun as it fires, and that awesome scene of the Chief riding a Covenant mine into their ship. Great shooting isn't enough, we also need context for the action. I don't expect every mission in Destiny 2 to hit me in the gut with scope and scale, but you have to bring the goods occasionally.
Striking The Heart of a Planet
Take the Strike mission we were allowed to play. The Inverted Spire takes place on the alien world of Nessus, in the ruins of an alien civilization. The landscape is full of decaying geometric spires, stone with alien technology inside. The sea glows silver and burns, while blood-red scrub plants grow off the beaten path.
The surprise within Nessus and the Inverted Spire is the layout of the planet. As you move forward, you'll eventually jump between floating platforms, going down into the planet itself. Where you're going stretches out in front of you and it's a sight to see, especially on PC.
The natural look of Nessus gives way to a torn wasteland, where Cabal soldiers are conducting a mining operation. After fighting across the muddy and crater-filled mining area, you'll find yourself activating a massive drill to go even further into the planet. The Cabal is looking for something and you have to get there first.
This culminates in a scene where you're fighting the Cabal as the massive grinders of the drill spin past. If you don't pay attention, they'll grind you up. I saw many a player fall to the grinders, either because they were busy with a firefight or because they were trying to revive another player.
The Strike ends in a multi-level boss. This giant construct stomps about the battlefield, shooting at you and calling smaller foes to its aid. As you damage it, the floor breaks away, until you find yourself on a small island in a sea of deadly silver.
For the most part, this Destiny 2 mission can be boiled down to killing existing camps of enemies, killing waves of enemies in specific areas, hitting buttons, and killing a boss. What makes it work is the wrapper: the layout of Nessus is beautiful and intriguing. As you dive deeper into the planet, things change drastically and it treats you to some magnificient vistas. In addition, the drill sequence is remarkably tense as you keep a mental countdown of the drill's rotations.
Where Destiny had more boring and sterile environments to shoot enemies in, Destiny 2 offers more. Gameplay is the cake, but no one ever said a bit of visual frosting was a problem. Bungie's art and level design team are doing the Lord's work in this game and I can't want to see if the open-world of each planet delivers on the promise of this demo.
Into The Crucible
Bungie also let me take a spin in the Crucible. Destiny's PVP mode returns here with a focus on 4v4 combat. The mode we played was control-point based. The attacking team chooses between two fixed points in the level and sets up a mine. They win when they either kill the entire defending team or the timed mine explodes. The defending team can defuse the mine, but to do so they have to fight their way past the attackers. The defenders win if the round ends with no mine explosion or the entire attacking team dies.
For defenders, the rub is you don't know which point the attacking team will try to mine. Do you split your forces, or take a chance and overcommit towards the wrong point? For the attacking team, the issue is one of choice: once you mine a point, it locks out the other point. You get one shot to choose which point is the one you can actually defend and you have to make sure your entire team is on the same page.
It was an interesting mode of play, even if I'm not normally a PVP player at heart. I find control point and domination modes to be superior to deathmatch if I have to slog through competitive play, which is likely why I enjoy Overwatch so much.
PC vs Console
Straight up, the PC version of Destiny 2 will be my preferred platform. The PlayStation 4 Pro performed admirably, but it can't stand up to the PC version's visual splendor and 60FPS. I actually played the PC versions of each demo first, followed by the PS4 versions, and the latter definitely came out of that comparision worse for wear. I'm not a huge 30FPS vs. 60FPS person - I can go either way depending on the game - but given the option, 60FPS just feels right.
I took a quick look at the graphic options in the PC version and most of what players would expect is there. There's no option to lock or unlock the framerate, so my guess is Destiny 2 currently targets 60FPS. There was also no field-of-view setting, so you have to go with what Bungie set for you.
If I did have an issue with the PC version, it's the default key mapping. It didn't feel on that great on all three demos. I'm sure I'll get used to it, but my gut wasn't feeling the keybinds, as they felt a bit cluttered. Others who played the PC version concurred.
Overall, Destiny 2 is a bit of a mulligan after Destiny. The overall feel of the first is carried over to the point that the sequel almost feels like Destiny 1.5. It's the game that I feel Bungie wanted to make in the first place. You can fault them for what was missing from Destiny, but Destiny 2 feels like it has the building blocks of a real winner. Let's hope the promises meet reality this time around. For more info head on over to our Destiny 2 - Everything we Know hub.