PC, PS4, Xbox One
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