- October 24th, 2017
- Platform: Playstation 4
- Playtime: 82hrs
I’ve played for 82hrs so far….
In the USA, Destiny 2 was released at 12:00 AM EST on Wednesday, September 6th. Somehow, it felt much more like a grand opening than a launch, as though Bungie was officially opening the gates to a walled city that had been under careful construction since plans for a sequel were first developed. Without deviating from the carefully thought out world and concept of Destiny, the sequel’s graphics, story, navigation, and gameplay all improve on the original’s blueprint enough to feel like a true evolution. The greatest credit to Destiny 2 may be that Destiny, which, for all its flaws, had been the grandest sci-fi epic of current-gen consoles, now feels like a prelude. In fairness, Destiny 2 is still dwarfed by the mountain of content that has been developed and released for its predecessor over three years, but if forthcoming expansions uphold the quality established on day one, gamers have plenty to look forward to – especially considering the vastness of the new territories and worlds where Destiny 2 is set.
Although Destiny 2 consists of myriad activities across a series of open worlds, the main story campaign is the centerpiece, and its completion is required to access most game content. The actual narrative is nothing groundbreaking – an existential threat known as the Cabal Empire invade Earth. Unfortunately, Earth is where you, a supernatural warrior known as a Guardian, keep all your stuff. It’s also where people who need your protection keep all their stuff. Worse, the Cabal are after the source of those special powers that make you who you are. In short order, all that is righteous and good in the universe is nearly extinguished, and it is up to you to keep the fires of hope burning and find a way to overthrow the evil empire. A familiar story, but told well here.
The game absolutely feels like a singular cohesive experience from start to finish, even after it fully opens up to the social, multiplayer features that truly set it apart from the FPS crowd. The story campaign helps to ground the player’s perspective, giving each Guardian a real sense of place among the obscure, alien landscapes of Io, Titan, Nessus, and Earth. The joke that sums up Destiny 1 is that for such an epic title, the overarching story had so little to do with your Guardian’s day-to-day activities that your real “destiny” was figuring out how to acquire better loot. In Destiny 2, the rewards scale with the challenge and scope of the activity. Patrols are back, but new mechanics make room for skilled, higher-effort gameplay so that even drop-in boss fights that occur randomly in public areas can be played (and rewarded) at different levels of intensity. The first raid, representing the game’s ultimate in cooperative, player-vs-enemy gameplay, is massive, weird, and hugely rewarding.
In all activities, the mechanics underpinning movement and gunplay feel thoroughly worked out – predictable and controllable, but not repetitive or machinelike. Jumping is much the same as in the original – that is to say very floaty and very precise at once. Bungie, playing to their strengths, has carefully tuned the physics engine so that movement and momentum feel scaled to the large and topographically varied game areas. Whether you’re descending a mine or climbing alien megaliths, platforming never feels tedious or unfair. Guardians automatically grab and climb ledges when close enough, saving the player from needless falls. As with Destiny 1, jumping perks are available to each subclass, offering styles that tend to emphasize traversal and exploration, or friskier combat and dodging. The guns feel physically grounded, too. Peppering a Fallen vandal with an auto rifle like Sweet Business feels and plays very differently than pumping a heavyweight Cabal legionary with the Coldheart’s continuous fusion energy blast. A wide mix of graphical and sound effects for guns underlines their variability, ranging from fiery pops and sizzles to burbling streams of energy-goo.
Overall, the game looks great. Visuals aren’t always cinematically stunning, but the variety of landscapes is incredible, and they are vividly out-of-this-world. Turn a corner on one of Saturn’s moons, only to see that planet sweep into view in massive, ringed glory. Swivel to your left to see the techno-organic ruins of Pyramidion, composed of countless massive, crumbling, and intricate stone blocks, looking like the burial place of some mythical robot god.
It’s tricky to evaluate the success of the changes Bungie has made to Destiny’s player-vs-player formats. With new 4-person teams replacing 6-person squads, team cohesion is certainly prioritized. Teams that shoot together win together, and moving as a unit is often enough to turn the tide of battle even if your fireteam finds itself down early. While powerful, area-clearing super attacks can punish teams that are tightly clustered, players can now see when their opponents’ supers are charged, giving a boost to smart, tactical play. Clans and small parties with experience playing together may enjoy an increasingly large advantage over casual drop-in players, but it’s not entirely clear if the matchmaking system will compensate for imbalance at this point.
In their efforts to make a fantasy/sci-fi universe out of scratch for Destiny 1, Bungie seems to have gained a critical insight into what it really means to build a virtual world. When a player begins a new game and creates their character, that avatar is an incomplete projection. We all need a reason to play, and a reason to care about the world we play in. The original Destiny failed to provide a compelling narrative – it’s not enough for an NPC to simply tell us that their world needs us, needs our guns, needs our fists, needs our resolve and determination so that these unseen and unheard citizens can live safely and peacefully. Games like this are virtual worlds, environments, and events into which we build little micro-lives and routines. The better they are built, the more time we want to spend there. But for better or worse, it’s the imposition of a narrative that gives us a reason to be there. In Destiny 2, Bungie has again built a flawless machine with just enough logic and order to facilitate challenge and mastery, and an aura of mystery to keep you engaged. All of this has been done before, of course, although rarely with such precision and sparkle on display in Destiny 2. What makes it special this time is a sincere insistence that you, the player, really belong here.