The Destiny fanbase is a loyal one, that much is true. Over the last year, however, I got the feeling that patience was being tested. The issues with the first game were well known and the slow drip feed of new content to keep players engaged had begun to take its toll. Destiny 2 needed to come out swinging, making it evident that Bungie recognized the issues with the first game and had a long-term plan to fix them. The veteran players were always going to buy the game, but to keep the new blood coming in Destiny 2 needed the polish and long term thinking that the first game seemed to lack. The big question is, did it manage to pull this off?
One of the big knocks against the first game was the seemingly disjointed and awkward story. Destiny 2 takes a much better stab at this, delivering a story that is at times engaging and at others funny. Characters are no longer bound to their desk as the player has all the fun. The loss suffered by the people in the world of Destiny 2 is palpable as the Cabal, led by Ghaul, launch an assault against the Tower and the Traveller. Driven from their home, forced to watch as the Light is taken from them, Zavala, Cayde-6 and Ikora take on new roles beyond just handing out quests. They are wounded and stripped of their power, forced to evaluate the universe and their place in it. Over the course of the campaign you help to bring them all together again in a massive assault against Ghaul’s forces.
Now, the story is by no means amazing, but it is both meatier and more engaging than the first game, which is exactly what people wanted. New characters are introduced and you learn that the paradise of the protected Tower wasn’t the only thing that people valued. They also take the time to poke some fun at the more awkward moments of the first game’s story, which is a welcome nod to the criticism that game received. All in all the story is still a space opera, and if you are willing to treat it as such you should be reasonably entertained.
The main purpose of the campaign, like so many other games these days, is to introduce players to all the mechanics and enemies they will be interacting with as they set out on what most consider to be the real journey of Destiny 2.
The Search for Power
The idea of Destiny 2 as an MMO sits awkwardly in my head, but MMO-esque is really the only way to describe what the first game was trying to do. Destiny 2 wants you to play the campaign and then engage with the world outside of that story. Players are invited to do Patrols, Public Events, Strikes, Raids, The Crucible in its many forms, and more. The four regions in the game are covered in Lost Sectors and Region Chests to find, things to kill and mission to complete. All in the name of Power.
Power levels in Destiny 2 are what Light levels were in the original. Acting as an indicator of your ability to take on challenges, the system revolves around loot. Kill enemies and loot may drop, complete missions or events and rewards take the form of guns and armor. You can farm tokens in the various regions to trade them in for Engrams.
This is the meat of the game for the truly invested. You want all the armour pieces, the Exotics and everything else the game has to offer. You want to finish all the challenges, both official and those invented by the community. People will put hundreds of hours into finding the perfect armour and Shader combinations. The Raid, Nightfall and Strikes are all there to prop up the end game challenge. But, sadly, the Strikes have suffered a mild reset, being consigned to a single playlist right now. Strike specific loot is also a thing of the past. Rewards now take the form of Vanguard tokens which can be handed in for Vanguard Gear.
I do have to say, though, Destiny 2 feels like it has taken a step closer to shooter and away from MMO. There really is no major end game grind anymore and, if you are upwards of 300 Power, there is not much to keep you coming back. Not a major issue for the average player, but for that small community of the dedicated Destiny 2, once the dust settles, it may feel like a very empty experience compared to the original after Rise of Iron. No books to keep track of achievements, and no vendors selling special Class Items for odd currencies.
There seems to be a bit of a schism in design between Destiny 1 and Destiny 2. The first had its issues but also had about 3 years of additional development to prop up the in-game activities. Destiny 2 has been cleaned up and made a smoother experience in many ways, but it can also feel a bit emptier. Despite the talk of 10-year plans, this is quite clearly the first step on a new road, not a continuation of the old one.
This Unholy Crucible
The Crucible once again returns for players who want some PvP fun. It has also seen some changes, from small to large, and those result in a dramatically different type of game. It’s now four players a team across a range of modes. Map design is tweaked to better accommodate these numbers and both combine to give players an interesting team shooter experience. One on one gunfights are rare, or at least should be. The idea seems to be that players engage in groups, using smart pushes and flanks to get the advantage and wipe out the enemy, with grouped respawns then resetting the map for a new encounter. Honestly, when it works well I really enjoy it. Playing with clued in teammates is a very enjoyable experience. Sadly, matches with less interested players can feel very rough.
The traditional Crucible problems of connectivity and lag also return. This time, though, Bungie have seen fit to remove the connection strength indicators from the game, something I strongly disagree with. No other experience in FPS gaming lives and dies as much by lag as the Crucible. It is a staggeringly frustrating experience to flank a player, put three Scout Rifle shots right into his dome and see him take no damage while you seem to get burst down by return fire you didn’t even see. The issues really rear their ugly head when it comes to melee mutual kills, though, as you melee down an opponent only to fall over dead yourself a second later.
At this point the lag issues will always hold back Destiny from being a top tier PvP experience, and the removal of connection indicators seem to imply that Bungie are taking the tactic of trying to hide a problem that they cannot seem to fix. It is a shame, as Crucible play in Destiny 2 is the best iteration of the PvP element of the game to date.
Matchmaking also desperately needs some work. At least eighty percent of my games in the Crucible will be me and three randoms against four members of a Clan. Many will be against people on the opposite side of the world.
The Crucible is also one of the main areas of focus for the game with regard to longevity. The Iron Banner and Trials of the Nine are always used to keep players coming back for more. The combination of issues that multiplayer experiences sadly undermines this. The Crucible is, in many ways, a whole lot of fun. It simply does not provide a consistent experience to the player and as such is difficult to take seriously.
The Eververse shops makes a return, a place where players can risk real money for virtual reward. Bright Engrams can be bought, which will decrypt into random items. Combined with the fact that Shaders are now one-use items and can be bought from the shop, this originally looked like a bad move for the game. However, after a player reaches level twenty they will earn a Bright Engram every time they rank up and it has been my experience that game is quite generous with these Engrams. I was all set up to really despise this element of the game but all in all it is about as fair as you can expect microtransactions to be. Nothing with a combat stat is hidden behind the paywall and it is very easy to pick up those items through the natural course of playing the game.
Light and Darkness
Destiny 2 is a game that seems to be trying to build a solid foundation for what is to come and, for the most part, it achieves this. The devs have done a lot to open all content to all players and this is something I have no issue with. Unfortunately, everything in the game seems so within reach, so achievable, and it all seems to arrive so fast. A couple of weeks after release I have three Guardians that are all just one armor piece away from the max Power. Changes to how gear and weapons work mean no more random rolls.
An unintended consequence of this is the establishment of a hard meta within the game, some weapons are worth having and others are not. An interesting combination of perks can no longer give new life to old loot and once you have those top tier weapons in your arsenal the truth is that nothing else is worth having. Tokens just start building up in your inventory. Even Xur day feels somewhat limited as he only shows up with a weapon and an armour piece for each class. All his other stuff is no longer in the game.
In short, as an MMO, Destiny feels smooth but very shallow. As a shooter it feels great. Truthfully, I had hoped for a bit more meat on the bones of a skeleton I will more than likely be picking at for the next couple of years. Realistically, though, I must also ask myself exactly how much content and entertainment I can reasonable expect for the asking price. I have already sunk hundreds of hours into the game but sadly there is little reason to put any more time in until more content arrives.