Popzara’s managing editor is a pretty anti-hype kind of guy. He nailed me once for saying that I was excited to play Metal Gear Solid V since many others said it looked good and previews for it were looking great. Naturally, MGSV was a fantastic game so he’s just an old fuddy-duddy, but sometimes he’s right about the dangers of hype. Look at No Man’s Sky, for instance, which is a pretty decent explore-’em-up now but at launch was one of the worst games ever released, or at Mighty No. 9, which hopefully shook the resolve of those few people who still believe that crowdfunding is an issue-free answer to the problem of publishers.
Even before those games, though, we had Destiny, which was set to be the next big shooter extravaganza and which turned out to be a pretty tepid experience. Through the years we’ve gotten several expansions like The Taken King and Rise of Iron to flesh out the experience. Now we’ve got a true sequel in Destiny 2, and it’s actually…worth the hype?
When the Last City comes under attack by a faction of the rhino-like Cabal race called the Red Legion, the superpowered Guardians step in to keep the peace. Unfortunately, the Red Legion is a little bit better at dealing with Guardians than the usual aliens; by capturing the Traveller, the totemic sphere that empowers Guardians and all of humanity in Destiny’s world, the signature powers of Earth’s protectors are stripped away. That means no double jumps, no magic…and perhaps most importantly, no immortality. Playing as either your character from the original Destiny or a newcomer, you’ll need to find out how to get your powers back before taking the fight to Ghaul, the leader of the Red Legion.
Suffice to say, you don’t stay depowered forever, and once you get a little of your juice back the game ends up playing much like the original title. This is an open-world looter-shooter where you blast baddies to get better guns, use those to blast more baddies and repeat. You can choose from one of three classes – Titan, Hunter or Warlock – separated into three color-coded subclasses each to add a little flavor to the gameplay; these affect your jumping style, your grenades, your melee attacks and your ultra-powerful Super attacks. Basic gunplay is largely the same between the three though, and any character can use any weapon.
It’s a decent foundation upon which to build a game, but the first Destiny showed us that this alone isn’t enough to sustain a full experience. The original game tended to feel desolate and empty; normally that’s fine, but the intention was clearly to create an expansive living world where players would drop in and out of adventure with each other, forming a unified front against the enemies of Earth. Instead, many players spent hours shooting into a cave when the game launched, serving as an example of what the experience tended to be like. It was an unnecessarily punishing experience full of bizarre design decisions and backwards thinking.
By contrast, while Destiny 2 isn’t an entirely new experience – much impotent gamer outrage has been spent about how the game feels more like an expansion than a sequel – some lessons were clearly learned in the years between the two games. The world tends to feel a little more compact and there’s certainly much more going on at any given time; this feeds into a greater sense of presence when it comes to other players, as you’ll often find other Guardians roaming around blasting away and you’re encouraged to help out. Public events, essentially timed boss fights, are commonplace, encouraging players to get together to conquer more difficult tasks. Lost Sectors, mini-dungeons found throughout the game world, offer a reliable source of loot and gear rather than players being forced to rely on cave-shooting. Perhaps the best way of putting it all together is that Destiny 2, on the whole, feels more like a game than the idea of a game.
The other big issue with the original game was the vacuous excuse for a plot. Characters spoke in riddles, referring to Important Things which were Important because they had Proper Nouns For Names. What lore existed was, in one of the worst design decisions I’ve seen in a video game, relegated to a website where players had to log in to view collectible cards containing blurbs to read. Said cards are gone, and while everyone still loves their Proper Nouns, the plot of Destiny 2 is at least intelligible; there are real characters now, for instance, and an actual sense of the stakes of the conflict against the Red Legion upon which the game hinges. Attempting to disguise a lack of story via obscurity is only barely acceptable from a $10 indie game; from a $60 AAA title it’s a little absurd, so it’s good that, again, some lessons were learned here.
There are a few other significant changes here; weapons are separated into kinetic and energy weapons rather than primary and secondary, for instance, and (barring microtransactions) vehicles aren’t readily available until the end of the game as they’re largely not needed as much thanks to the game’s maps being smaller. Loot in general feels much more generous; you may recall that in the original game it was possible for unidentified items to become worse upon identification because I guess someone thought that was a good idea, and nothing like that exists in Destiny 2. Playing the game at all feels more rewarding.
Said microtransactions are worth noting as well, as they’ve been the source of yet more gamer outrage; basically, your cosmetic options are largely locked behind Bright Engrams, which are purchasable via Silver which is itself purchasable via real-world money. Once you reach the level cap, which takes around five to ten hours, you’ll also receive a free Bright Engram each time you fill your XP bar; this takes an hour or two each time, so Brights aren’t the hardest things to get ahold of and therefore I found the dreaded microtransactions to be less than terrible here. Oh, and color-changing Shaders are now consumable items. That’s awful, sure, except you can find them in readily available amounts throughout chests in the game, so unless you’re really stuck on a particular color you’ll have some options available.
Speaking of aesthetics, Destiny remains one of the premier experiences when it comes to graphical performance on consoles. It’s a very, very pretty game and the new environments in the sequel tend to be a little more memorable than those from the first entry in the series; I was especially fond of the watery moon Titan, where you battle on rickety rigs above a roiling ocean. Having played the beta of Destiny 2 on PC, I admit that it appears to be an entirely superior experience and I’m very eager to replay the game there…but if you prefer console gaming, then it’s hard to argue with how good Destiny 2 looks on those platforms.
Long story short: if you come into Destiny 2 expecting a completely new experience, you’re going to be disappointed as this is clearly still Destiny. On the other hand, it’s a more refined, welcoming and pleasant version of the formula. That the primary complaints about the game tend to be that it’s too easy (read: less grindy with fewer bullet-sponge enemies and less cowering behind cover), that there are microtransactions and that…well, that it’s still Destiny should be telling about the overall quality of the game: it’s not bad. In fact, it’s pretty good. I’m actually going to recommend a Destiny game after the last one was the poster child for questionable game launches pre-No Man’s Sky and Mighty No. 9. How times change.