Destiny 2

PC, PS4, Xbox One

EDGE - - GAMES - De­vel­oper Bungie Pub­lisher Ac­tivi­sion For­mat PC, PS4 (tested), Xbox One Re­lease Out now (PS4, Xbox One), Oc­to­ber 24 (PC)

We think a lot about what hap­pened when you reached level 20 in Destiny. A sin­gle popup screen told you that, hey, you know that game you’ve been play­ing? Well, you’re play­ing an­other one now. Go and gather Light, it said, to in­crease your power. And that was pretty much it. That screen is a sum­mary of all that was wrong with Destiny in 2014: it was two games in one, the first a deeply dis­ap­point­ing, mis­er­ably plot­ted cam­paign, the sec­ond an in­tox­i­cat­ing, yet baf­flingly un­der­ex­plained loot grind. Bridg­ing the gap between them was that sin­gle screen. An endgame needs an on-ramp. Destiny had a huge, sheer wall.

Destiny 2 is, like its pre­de­ces­sor, two games in one. Yet its story cam­paign is a sig­nif­i­cant step for­ward. It’s ac­tu­ally co­her­ent, for a start, telling a tale that is easy to fol­low, the mo­ti­va­tions of its cast mem­bers, and the stakes for hu­man­ity at large, made clear from the out­set. It is not with­out its dis­ap­point­ments – ve­hi­cle sec­tions, while nice sur­prises and fine pace break­ers, drag out a lit­tle too long and turn Destiny, a game about killing alien mon­sters with mad guns and bril­liant space magic, into very slow driv­ing games in which things also die. And it’s a lit­tle eas­ier than it was dur­ing our trip to Bungie for the cover of E310, par­tic­u­larly in a three-player fireteam. But it is, at least, good, and in the con­text of its pre­de­ces­sor, that will do nicely.

Yet Destiny 2’ s early magic lies in the struc­ture be­neath that cam­paign. Through­out the eight or so hours it’ll take you to run through the story, Bungie is qui­etly train­ing you up for the endgame, in­tro­duc­ing you to pow­er­ful gear and the meth­ods through which you can ac­quire it. Two ex­otic items are given out for free as you go, show­ing you the kinds of re­wards that are on of­fer if you stick with the game af­ter the cred­its. Once you fin­ish the cam­paign, you re­turn to the so­cial hub and fol­low quest mark­ers to visit each of your vic­to­ri­ous al­lies one by one. At the end of the line is Zavala, the Van­guard’s lead­ing Ti­tan. If you’re not al­ready at level 20, the point at which Destiny 2’ s gear game be­gins in earnest, he’ll boost you to it. Then he gives you a high-level ex­otic engram, a re­ward for cam­paign com­ple­tion that knocks any cutscene into a cocked hat.

Im­me­di­ately, you re­alise what you need to do next in or­der to in­crease your Power, the re­place­ment for the first game’s rather ob­tuse Light stat. And you know be­cause you’ve al­ready done a lot of it through­out the cam­paign. Plan­et­side ac­tiv­i­ties may not im­me­di­ately yield leg­endary or ex­otic gear – though many have a chance to – but each will at least net you rep­u­ta­tion to­kens which can be re­deemed at a lo­cal vendor for pow­er­ful new toys. Ex­tra quests ap­pear on each planet which lead di­rectly to ex­otic weaponry. And if you’re ever un­sure about just where to head next, the new Mile­stone sys­tem will show you, in plain terms, which tasks you should fo­cus on to reap the best re­wards. Where Destiny put up its wall when you reached level 20 and sim­ply walked away, here you’re silently told what to do in the early hours, then led by the hand into the endgame. It is mas­ter­fully han­dled.

Af­ter that comes the fa­mil­iar Destiny rou­tine: shoot­ing things, in or­der to get new things, that make shoot­ing things eas­ier and more fun. You’ll hop down to a planet, call up the Di­rec­tor menu (pre­vi­ously a plan­e­tary map from which you picked mis­sions, it now shows mis­sions and events in your cur­rent lo­ca­tion) and see what’s around, tick­ing off ac­tiv­i­ties, hoover­ing up loot drops and to­kens. It flows nicely, progress is steady, and re­wards are im­me­di­ate: un­like in Destiny, gear doesn’t need to be lev­elled be­fore it can be used. Get some­thing new, and you can try it out straight away.

Yet through­out the midgame, there’s a nig­gling feel­ing. This is Destiny, af­ter all. It is a credit to Bungie that it takes dozens of hours of play, and en­try deep into the endgame, be­fore things even hint at be­gin­ning to fall apart. And when they do, it is by no means ru­inous, but merely dis­ap­point­ing in the con­text of what has come be­fore.

Flash­points are a new ad­di­tion to the Destiny tem­plate. You’re sent to a cer­tain planet to com­plete a num­ber of Pub­lic Events, which are com­pli­cated by souped-up mon­sters turn­ing up. Cayde-6, the af­fa­ble Hunter voiced by Nathan Fil­lion, also sells a set of maps each week, hid­den about a given world and of­fer­ing a ran­domised shot at unique weapons and ar­mour. You’ll get pow­er­ful gear for clear­ing the weekly Night­fall Strike. Sim­i­lar re­wards are on of­fer for emerg­ing vic­to­ri­ous from Tri­als Of The Nine, a high-level PvP tour­na­ment that runs each week­end, or the Leviathan raid.

Yet for all that there are now more ways to inch up your Power stat each week, much more is left be­hind. Many of the ac­tiv­i­ties that make each place feel busy and com­plete are ren­dered ob­so­lete, since they don’t yield use­ful re­wards. A map that once teemed with life, and which was still busy once the cred­its had rolled on the cam­paign, be­gins to feel oddly empty, de­spite the icons that re­main on it. Those who don’t feel quite ready to push on to the real endgame will be stuck like this for a while, sur­rounded by things to do which, while en­joy­able, aren’t es­pe­cially help­ful.

The ul­ti­mate goal is Leviathan, Destiny’s first raid. While it’s easy on the eye – a colos­sal, op­u­lently gilded space­ship hang­ing high in near-Nes­sus or­bit – it’s a con­cep­tual mess, barely part of the world or story, part health spa, part deadly gameshow, part in­ter­di­men­sional rift. While Bungie’s at­tempt to play with the struc­ture of a Destiny raid pays off – each en­counter spokes off from a cen­tral hub, the or­der of bat­tles changes ev­ery week, and there’s a sprawl­ing maze run­ning through the

It takes dozens of hours, and en­try deep into the endgame, be­fore things even hint at be­gin­ning to fall apart

bow­els of the ship con­tain­ing short­cuts and locked chests – it’s a lit­tle too fa­mil­iar, reusing me­chan­ics from pre­vi­ous Destiny raids. And there’s an homage to the painful early days of the first game: it’s en­tirely pos­si­ble to emerge from the Leviathan with just a sin­gle loot drop, since only the boss is guar­an­teed to give you any­thing. You’ll re­ceive plenty of to­kens, but the vendor only ap­pears once you fin­ish the whole raid. Un­til you beat the fi­nal boss, Destiny’s hard­est en­counter feels like its least re­ward­ing, and as the sup­posed high point of such a gen­er­ous game, that feels a lit­tle off.

It’s a prob­lem, too, in an endgame that quickly be­comes al­most en­tirely about the pur­suit of big­ger num­bers, rather than bet­ter toys. There was cer­tainly frus­tra­tion in the ran­domi­sa­tion of Destiny’s loot: drops would come with a set of perks se­lected at ran­dom from a large pool, lead­ing to dis­ap­point­ment when you got a good gun with bad prop­er­ties. Destiny 2, how­ever, goes too far the other way. While the drop it­self will be ran­dom, ev­ery­thing now has a fixed set of perks; the ver­sion of the gun or ar­mour piece you just got is as good as it can pos­si­bly be. Great early on, cer­tainly, but in the long term it just means get­ting more du­pli­cates, and hav­ing less to hunt for. Com­bined with the re­moval of mean­ing­ful perks from ar­mour – that side of your in­ven­tory is now about aes­thet­ics, rather than playstyle – it means that we are scrap­ping more gear the mo­ment it drops than we ever did in the first game.

One big ad­van­tage of this stream­lin­ing is that it makes bal­ance in the com­pet­i­tive Cru­cible an eas­ier task; Bungie can now look at guns in­di­vid­u­ally, with­out need­ing to make sweep­ing changes to how in­di­vid­ual perks work or, worse, to en­tire classes of weapon. And, de­spite some early wrin­kles, it ap­pears to have worked. Yet for those who like their Destiny to feel im­bal­anced – to be a cel­e­bra­tion of ab­surd guns and abil­i­ties, rather than just an­other com­pet­i­tive shooter – Cru­cible has lost a lit­tle of its magic. The switch from six-player teams to four-a-side has ben­e­fits, sure; the pace is a lit­tle slower now, and the ac­tion eas­ier to read. But that, com­bined with the ton­ing down of abil­i­ties (grenades and melees are no longer one-hit-kills; su­pers are eas­ier to counter) mean that the most ef­fec­tive strat­egy is to bunch up and roam the map to­gether, win­ning en­coun­ters against smaller groups us­ing brute nu­mer­i­cal force. Team­work should be im­por­tant, cer­tainly. But for too much of Destiny 2’ s PvP com­po­nent, it feels like your only op­tion.

There’s noth­ing here that can’t be fixed, of course – and the Destiny jour­ney to date has shown that, while it might take Bungie a while, it will get there even­tu­ally. As such, it’s prob­a­bly best to take your time with Destiny 2. Those of us who mer­rily tear through 100 hours of videogame in­side a fort­night will al­ways come up short even­tu­ally; no de­vel­oper on the planet can keep up with that pace. For the more ca­sual – OK, more sane – player, how­ever, Destiny 2 is al­most a tri­umph. It is a game much bet­ter at ex­plain­ing it­self, that wants to be en­joyed and un­der­stood, and is happy to re­ward play­ers for sim­ply be­ing there. If Bungie’s main goal was to have this most in­tox­i­cat­ing of games ap­peal to more peo­ple then, well, mile­stone com­plete. Those that were al­ready on the hook, how­ever, may find that, while the jour­ney is bet­ter than ever, the des­ti­na­tion leaves a lit­tle to be de­sired.

While it’s built on the same engine, this is a much pret­tier game than its pre­de­ces­sor. A new area, un­locked af­ter you fin­ish the cam­paign, is ideal Share-but­ton ma­te­rial, though there is beauty to be found through­out

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