[Disclosure: A review code was provided for the contents of this article]
I can’t think of another title that is quite as highly anticipated as Destiny 2 has been. With the launch of the original Destiny, Bungie demonstrated that they had talents outside the Halo series, and whilst the game delivered solid shooting mechanics and a decent cooperative multiplayer framework, it also had a crap story, a lot of repetitive missions and a few other teething problems. Fast forward a couple of years and several large DLC packages, and Destiny is a firm favourite in my house, so I’ve certainly been among those waiting with bated breath for an accomplished sequel.
And the good news is, Destiny 2 is accomplished, and it does build upon the original in a number of ways, but it is certainly more evolution than revolution. The campaign is now materially improved, with an enemy that is motivated, deadly, and despite being an autocratic alien race, they are full of personality. The first stage (Homecoming, as players of the beta will recall) filled me with feelings of Deja-Vu, as I fought my way desperately through crumbling corridors and burning rubble, with the whole sequence evoking the same sense of excitement and awe as I felt back in 2001 during the Pillar of Autumn mission in the first Halo game.
Part of this is because of the obvious similarities in both look and feel, with the trademark style that has served Bungie so well for over fifteen years linking both games at a structural and mechanical level. The other, more emotive aspect is that of sheer wow factor. Much as Halo once blew me away with its incredible, next generation graphics, so too does Destiny 2, without the shackles of a last-gen release to hold it back. Whilst these early sequences showcase a full range of incredible textures, models and effects – from flames to particles and drops of water – the game is also filled with incredible scenery. Yes, for the first time in the Destiny universe, I felt a sense of scale that is on par with any other game I’ve played.
The music, which is completely redone, is also exceptional. Despite the new team behind it, it feels both distinctly like Destiny, and at the same time, completely now. Rather than the individual yet fairly safe score that backed the original game, the sequel features a much more adventurous and varied selection of tracks. In particular throughout the campaign, these musical highs and lows underpin the set pieces and combat sequences that are already much improved, and now feel like a cohesive and exciting whole.
And indeed, where the graphics and musical score have been vastly improved, so too has the campaign. Weighing in at just over twelve hours for me (including a fair amount of additional adventuring and a few public events etc) the story in Destiny 2 is far superior to that of the first game, even with some of the better add-on packs that came later. Right off the bat, players are introduced to the new antagonist; Primus Ghaul, the leader of the Red Legion and a powerful member of the Cabal. Ghaul has designs on The Traveler, and is prepared to destroy The Last City to obtain its power. In doing so, he scatters the Guardians and forces them to retreat into various isolated resistance movements across Earth, Titan and beyond.
Broken and stripped of the light following the prologue mission that I previously described, the player awakens among the devastation as a shell of his or her former self. What follows, as you can probably imagine, is a journey to first regain your connection with the light, and then to rebuild your Guardian through level after level of advancement, slowly increasing their arsenal of special powers and overall strength. As in the original Destiny, levelling up is achieved through campaign progress, completing fireteam missions, fighting in the Crucible and so on, whilst overall strength is a combined measure of your armour, weapons and items.
Unlike in the original, Destiny 2 delivers a much greater variety of missions and locations from very early on. The first few missions rapidly introduce players to the new and beautiful Earth map, resplendent with its Gothic church and craggy wilderness, but it isn’t long before you’ll be jetting off to Titan, an ocean moon littered with broken platforms that resemble a huge oil rig, and then Nessus, a supposedly uninhabited lump inhabited by the Vex. Io rounds out the list of new locations, and is by far the most alien addition to the series. There is more to see, of course and one of my favourite things about this sequel is that I can pick and choose both a mission and a location to suit my mood, as there is no shortage of either.
I was also amazed by how engaging I found the story, which is a first for any Bungie game, including those in the Halo series. Ghaul is a terrifying enemy, and his relationship with his closest ally and adoptive father (known as The Consul) is genuinely interesting, as is the lore that brought them to claim The Traveler. On the side of the Guardians, a desperate Zavala seeks to rally his allies, bringing the likes of Ikora Rey and Cayde-6 back into the fight, whilst several partisan forces also support The Guardian, allowing for the inclusion of new and interesting characters like Devrim Kay and Suraya Hawthorne. The cast is much more interesting this time round, and much more human – even the Red Legion, ironically. As a result, Destiny 2 is a far more interesting game to play than its predecessor, especially for solo Guardians.
None of the enhanced window dressing, the much improved music or the more engaging story would help if the gun play that made Destiny such an attractive proposition had somehow been lost, but you have nothing to fear. Whilst I don’t think it is specifically any better than the original (especially following two years of tweaking) it is certainly no worse, and it remains as solid, as tactical and as impactful as any Bungie game ever has. I did detect that it felt a little easier than the previous game (and indeed the Halo games) but this may also have been because in Destiny 2, items now drop at a more frequent rate, so without really doing anything “extra” I often found myself slightly overpowered for missions and adventures.
If you’re new to the Destiny series then, is this the place to start? Well, yes. Probably. I can’t recall anything from the first game that gave me an inherent advantage in the second that couldn’t be quickly learned from a decent fireteam. At the same time, Destiny 2 is an evolution, rather than a revolution. I hate to say it, but the Destiny 1.5 moniker seems kind of deserved, yet at the same time, having spent so long perfecting it – why would Bungie want to go and ruin all their hard work by changing things? For those returning players who have already spent so much time with the original game, Destiny 2 seems like a must buy, and yet it doesn’t feel like enough to justify an iterated version to me. In short, it is much, much too large to be a DLC pack, but too similar to be an outright sequel, in my opinion.
Of course, all of my commentary is based on what is available to play today (great as it is) and doesn’t take into account Destiny 2 as a platform for future upgrades. The Digital Deluxe Edition of the game has already revealed that there will be at least two additions via DLC, whilst it seems inevitable that more and more content will be added to that, of both the free and premium kinds. There are of course still Public Events, Raids and other interesting distractions to get involved with as well, none of which are likely to dry up anytime soon, so it’s not like you’ll ever fail to get value for money from Destiny 2.
On that note, I should comment on the inclusion of micro-transactions in Destiny 2, of which much has already been written. My stance is simple: I don’t accept them, agree with them, or participate in purchasing them. Where the notorious single use shaders are concerned, this is a feature that will simply remain unavailable to me no matter how long I play for. I may be the only Guardian standing around in plain armour, but I’m not going to pay for the privilege of changing it, and I think that it’s a shame that a decision was made somewhere to exclude that kind of individual expression from a whole host of casual players, just to levy a punitive charge on the most fanatical of fans. I’ve also read that some players consider the ability to buy equipment also verges on pay to win territory, but I didn’t find that – there is no shortage of glimmer or rare item drops in Destiny 2, and whilst you may not get exactly the shiny thing you want immediately, good things come to those who wait.
As a solo campaign then, Destiny 2 succeeds in a lot of ways, offering about as much content as a typical modern first person shooter, and delivering a story that is at least as good (if not better than most) and miles better than the previous game. As an online shooter, it seems very much business as usual to me – it’s easier to get into fights because of a new Director feature, and there are new places to fight in (as well as a very small selection of new bad guys to shoot) which is all very welcome. If Destiny was your favourite online shooter before this, then chances are Destiny 2 is now, whilst for those of you who last played the original back in 2014, much has changed for the better. In any case, you should simply:
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