Review: Destiny 2 is a fantastic game that goes back to square one
Everything is better, but there sure is a lot less of it
Platform: Xbox One, PlayStation 4 (reviewed), PC (at a later date)
When I reviewed the original Destiny back in 2014, there was one phrase I continued to use throughout its review 'for now at least.' That's because Destiny, in its vanilla form, had the foundation of something great, but never truly succeeded in achieving greatness. The story was bland, the characters were forgettable, the grind was ridiculous, and your character progression wasn't really all that meaningful. A year later, The Taken King completely changed all of that. It gave characters much-needed personality, with dialogue that had humor and purpose. The new location of the Dreadnought was an intricate maze of corridors and grand rooms, filled with secrets and challenges that were waiting to be uncovered. New Strikes meant players always had something to do when not adventuring in the open world and new gear and weapons gave players a new purpose to grind. It was fantastic. And while it also introduced some rather backward systems like account-wide weekly objectives, it was still a step in the right direction.
Destiny 2, largely, is a much better game than the vanilla Destiny we were introduced to in 2014. Comparing those two games side by side gives a clear winner, as now Destiny 2 matches the quality introduced in The Taken King, with even better quality of life enhancements to make the experience better. But when comparing Destiny 2 to Destiny's final form after the Rise of Iron, it's clear that we're back at square one, playing the waiting game until all of the great new content gets added with new DLC packs and bigger expansions.
An MMO or third person shooter?
It's strange to complain about there being less content in a sequel than its predecessor that's had years of DLC added to it, but in the MMO space, it is a little backward. Yes, Destiny 2 isn't an add-on to Destiny, but I sort of wish it was. All of those strikes, all of those Raids, all of those planets we got to explore, all gone, just for the sake of Destiny 2 being its own standalone sequel. If looking at it as a continuation in the MMO space, that's as if Wrath of the Lich King in WoW only allowed you to explore the island of Northrend, and that's it. This is sort of what Destiny 2 feels like. It feels like content was artificially stripped away, only to get new content later, while still needing to pay for it.
But those improvements
Pushing my gripes about sequel content aside, Destiny 2 really is a much better game with a slew of improvements. The story is certainly one of them, now revolving around Ghaul, a Cabal outcast who wants to prove his worth by stealing the Traveler's light and thus taking away ours. Of course, had this been a purely single player game, the story could have gone to great lengths to showcase the hardship of living and trying to survive without Light or our friendly Ghost pal. But given that it's built like an MMO, and the core experience revolves around the good old shoot-n-loot, we get our Ghost and our Light back in subsequent missions after we just lost them.
It feels a bit anticlimactic, but at least the story has a purpose now, and it's easy to follow without the need to dive into the destiny app and read a whole bunch of grimoire cards. Especially since they're now non-existent! All of the story and lore can be accessed within the game, and by the time you beat the final story mission, you'll have a good understanding of what the events were, even though they were far too brief.
But you'll still have plenty to do once the final credits roll, as there are multiple exotic quests that reward you with some pretty awesome exotic weapons, as well as plenty more Adventures to partake in. Over time, we'll undoubtedly see more content added over time like we've seen with Destiny, but what's there right now seems like a pretty good amount.
Quality of life improvements is basically Destiny 2's subtitle. Now players have a map that they can easily access to see what's going on around them, whether it's a public event that's starting in a few minutes or any number of side activities which include Adventures, Lost Sectors or region chests. The former are mini-stories that complement the main story and provide additional characterization for characters that aren't necessarily part of the Vanguard. Lost Sectors are mini-dungeons that contain a mini-boss and a chest with some gear, and are a fun diversion when you're just roaming around the various maps looking for things to do.
Public events got a facelift too, as they now have specific triggers to turn them into Heroic Public Events. These are more difficult as they usually summon a larger and tougher boss, and for the most part, require more players to complete. While I have completed a few heroics by myself, they're not nearly as fun that way. In fact, spawning into a new area to go to a public event, only to realize you're the only one there always feels bad, and I wish the game was better at instancing people together.
Light Level is now called Power Level and it's something that you're working on directly from level 1. As you level, you'll progressively keep getting better gear, with more powerful gear accessible from doing weekly activities, crucible, nightfall strikes and even the raid, which I'll get to eventually. You no longer have to have the best gear equipped to ensure you're getting the highest drops (thank you Bungie!) which makes constantly earning better gear way less of a chore.
Even improving your gear through infusion is extremely simple, though that was already introduced in Destiny much later on. Unlike the original infusion system which was later improved, infusions are 1:1, which means putting a 288 Auto Rifle into a 278 Auto Rifle will bring it up to 288. What's more, you can now increase your gear's power level by an extra 5 points with the help of the mod system, that also provides some extra beneficial perks.
Daily and Weekly challenges are fine and do provide some extra things to do on a daily basis, though the weekly milestones are arguably the better incentive. The frustrating thing is that it's basically the main way to increase your power level past 265, which means once you hit that wall, and you complete all your weekly milestones or at least a majority, you don't have much incentive to keep playing that character. Thankfully, these milestones are character specific, which means there is a big incentive to create two extra characters if you have a lot of time on your hands.
However, there is a big upside to this weekly milestone limit. Some gamers, like myself, who have kids or other responsibilities, might not have time to dedicate leveling three separate characters. There is just enough of those weekly milestones to give those players something to do for their single character, and still feel like they've progressed.
Last up is the Crucible. Not everyone likes the change to 4v4 instead of Destiny's 6v6, but I welcome it with open arms. I find that teams finally play smarter this way, and I'm dying way less than I used to in the original game. Sticking together is much more of a priority now, meaning that teams with good communication or at least the willingness to stay together, can perform really well.
Why these changes Bungie?
As much as I adore a lot of the quality of life changes Bungie has introduced in Destiny 2, there are also a lot of steps back, not only in terms of content, which I've already stated but how some of the content is structured. For example, in the original Destiny, you had the option to choose which Crucible match type you wanted to play. If you felt like Clash, you could queue for that. If you wanted something more involved like Control, you could choose that.
All those options are gone from Destiny 2. Instead, now match types are separated by two modes, Quickplay and Competitive, each one hosting their own modes. I have a feeling Bungie did this so the wait time is kept to a minimum, and you're not queueing up for a mode that's not really all that popular, but having the options taken away from me still feels bad. Not to mention, the original Destiny eventually even had private matchmaking, which meant you and your buddies could just set up a match and duke it out. That feature is absent.
Same goes for Strikes. Gone are the individual icons scattered across planets, and instead it's now a single Strike playlist, which means you're at the mercy of the game, letting it decide which Strike you're going to play next. Oh, you just ran the Inverted Spire and you're hoping to play Arms Dealer? Too bad, look like you're running Inverted Spire again. This could have been negated if there was an incentive to do the playlist, like giving better rewards the longer you ran them, but that doesn't seem to be the case. To this day, I have still yet to see the PS4 exclusive Lake of Shadows strike. If that doesn't showcase what a problem that is, I don't know what will.
Faction leaders also got a strange overhaul. Now, they're treated as an event, culminating in one faction winning the ability to buy their special weapon for a heavy discount, while the rest pay full price. But it seems like after this event is over, the faction leaders leave. In Destiny, they were persistent, always there and ready to receive your donations. I'm just not sure why there is a limited time event on something that would otherwise give players an extra incentive to do activities.
On the topic of shaders, well, I don't quite fall in line with everyone else's opinion. Sure, it does suck that shaders are now a one-time consumable item and that they only paint one single piece of gear. If you wanted to be decked out in a single shader across all your gear pieces, you'd need 10 of the same shaders, provided we're counting your sparrow and Ghost as well. With that said, just as director Luke Smith stated, I am certainly "flush with shaders." I'm at the point where if I really wanted to dye my entire gear in a certain shader, I have enough or nearly enough of it. It's a gripe for sure and a strange change of direction on Bungie's part, but I don't consider it a big deal.
With that said, loot boxes and their ever-expanding presence in all video games, have also invaded the world of Destiny 2 in the form of Eververse rewards. You can spend real money to buy Bright Engrams which will contain cosmetic items, ranging from shaders, sparrows, ships and weapon skins. They do also contain the occasional mod, but I wouldn't personally consider that game-breaking again, but like with shaders, you'll also be absolutely swimming in gear mods.
That Raid though!
I have a love/hate relationship with the Leviathan Raid, which was introduced a week after Destiny 2's launch. On one hand, the challenges are absolutely brilliant. Without spoiling how to actually beat all of them, the various challenges all consist of extremely different activities that will challenge a whole slew of skill sets. There's stealth, running, platforming, relay racing, and of course a whole lot of shooting. Players have different roles in each challenge, that will ask them to do with wildly different things from others, meaning that players will eventually learn to specialize at doing certain parts of each challenge to do it more efficiently.
What's more, there's a completely separate underbelly area that's all interconnected and maze-like, and also hosts challenges of its own. However, going here first would be a waste as you have to collect special treasure keys to unlock the chests hidden below.
However, as much as I praise the Leviathan's design, I'm a bit disappointed with its rewards. Upon completing the first challenge, we got shaders and a few Calus Tokens. Cool, I figured that was just the intro challenge, the real challenges await inside. For completing our first real challenge inside, we were awarded an Armory Key. We were all perplexed until we figured out a secret passageway to the Armor. "Cool!" we all exclaimed as we were pumped to open the secret chest after stealthily dispatching all of the guard robots. We opened the chest and every one of us got a Legendary Engram that was below our max Power Level. It was certainly lowering our morale. Then we found out we had to do the first challenge again to open a second door, and thought we'd at least get rewarded again for completing it in a different place. Nope, nothing. Just a paltry 500 Glimmer. Sure, you can walk out of the Raid with some great gear, but I fear that it asks too much commitment.
What I mean by that is it essentially asks you to run the Raid twice. Once to complete it and collect keys, and a second time to go into the underbelly and seek out chests and hope for an exotic engram, which isn't guaranteed. I barely have enough time to run the Raid once in a single week, let alone coordinate 5 of my buddies to run it with me, and the game is asking me to essentially run it twice or risk losing out on potential rewards?
Since Destiny 2 isn't cross-gen like its predecessor, it benefits from looking even better. Destiny was already quite the looker when it released in 2014, but the improvements are immediately noticeable. Gorgeous particle effects are used liberally, many which can be seen in the game's very first mission, from the fire particles flying into the air above exploded machinery, or the gorgeous rain effect that peppers the entire ship's top deck.
These graphical elements complement the already gorgeous environments, sweet weapons, and awesome gear designs. Everything seems to once again be designed to look as if it should work, and this is even more evident with the game's exotic weapons.
The music is once again comprised of epic scores that range from grand and energetic flourishes to more subdued songs with violins that would almost bring a tear to your eye, had the narrative actually been a bit more emotional.
Many gamers seem to think that Nintendo gets a pass for a lot of its games, simply because it's yet another Mario, Zelda or Metroid game. But I think Bungie gets a pass with Destiny, and likewise with Destiny 2. For all of its faults, many of which were changes for the worse, I still can't help but log on every single day and continue my adventure. It's easy for me to sit here now and complain about a bunch of features that I wish weren't missing from the game, but when I'm actually playing it, those complaints seem trivial, because I'm having so much fun.
I am glad that I no longer have to extensively use the phrase "for now at least," because a lot of the issues I had with the original game were more or less addressed in Taken King, and continue to do so in Destiny 2. However, I still think that Destiny 2 needs more stuff to do, and is lacking content it certainly should have had right there at launch. For now, at least, it has the bare minimum to keep you grinding for a better power level, that's for damn sure, and that bare minimum is at least good enough to keep me interested on a daily basis. But I can't wait to see what a fully powered up Destiny 2 looks like in its final form. It's probably going to be glorious.