Bungie kind of promised the world when it gave us the original Destiny. The hype was astronomical, and the first preview event didn’t even have a playable build. What we actually ended up getting was a very strong shooter with a weak RPG backbone, a foundation that was slowly built up over the course of several years.
Destiny 2 still isn’t the game that was described to us ages ago when the hype train began, but at this point, it’s good enough if you’re looking for an action shooter.
Destiny 2 (PC, PS4 [reviewed], Xbox One)
Release Date: September 6, 2017 (consoles), October 24, 2017 (PC)
The chief improvement in the sequel is that Bungie went out of its way to make everything less of a chore. General tweaks have been made that place an emphasis on just roaming around and having fun, and are akin to Blizzard’s lauded complete rework of Diablo III with “Loot 2.0.” While doing patrols in the past and happening upon public events that you’d find off of a third-party website felt like a tedious grind in the first game, now it’s desirable (and visible on-screen), both in terms of loot and for showing off where the game nails it the most — combat.
Everything is flashier and more functional in Destiny 2. Instead of sticking with a tried and true subclass, I loved experimenting with all three for Warlock, Titan, and Hunter, trying new combos out with friends and trying to synergize class abilities. The end result is that everyone has more utility, and there’s less room for cookie-cutter builds (though they’ll still exist when the raid rolls around). It took years, but they’re pretty close to getting balance right.
Even the story has more panache, which mostly works in its favor. Sure it might basically be a re-telling of several Star Wars beats, but it’s easy to follow and even easier to get invested in, with the game’s cast coming front and center. Every performance, including Lance Reddick’s Zavala and Nathan Fillion’s Cayde-6, feel less phoned in, and some of the newcomers have already cemented their place in the Destiny universe.
You’re still going to get a few low points just like the first, there’s no escaping that. A few quests are almost exactly the same, the enemies are mostly the same as the original, and there’s a ton of re-used assets and re-used areas even within scenarios unique to Destiny 2 (the Nightfall for the first week is almost entirely re-purposed hub zones). But again, everything just flows so much better here, as you can level up and earn satisfying levels of loot through PVP, dungeons, or open world play. No longer do I feel obligated to stick to one planet to level, as I frequently found myself hopping between all four and joining in on public events just for the hell of it.
Planets, mind, that are vastly improved both from a lore perspective and in terms of personality. There’s a lot more meaningful jaunts to happen upon, and the rolling tides of Titan feel like a legitimate spectacle now that the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions are long gone (even though the last Destiny expansion shirked them, their footprint was still apparent). Everything is more manageable and digestible too. “Meditations” allow you to repeat story missions (gone is the annoying icon-filled map), challenges are linked to activities like Strikes, and patrols are back. Instead of earning useless Motes of Light after you reach the level cap of 20, you’ll now unlock “Bright Engrams,” which provide a heap of cosmetic and gameplay upgrades.
It’s a double-edged sword, because of course, they’re linked to microtransactions. While some of you are going to be pissed that these glorified lore-disguised loot crates exist at all, you’ll probably be even more angry at the fact that you can get weapon and armor mods from Bright Engrams — mods that directly impact gameplay and make your equipment marginally better. Shaders being downgraded to a single-use classification also stings.
Based on my experience it hasn’t ruined the game in a meaningful way, but it uncomfortably flirts with pay-to-win, and feels straight up over the line. I think Bungie needs to go back on it as soon as possible in fact, as they’ve ruined so much good will from the original Destiny, which only dealt in cosmetics. As a premium game with a season pass (and likely more paid content beyond that, as was the case with Destiny), it’s far less excusable.
Destiny 2 commits a lot of the same sins as its father, but it succeeded in doing something the original never did — make roaming around the open world fun and rewarding. It still has a lot of room to evolve with expansions and major updates, but the future is looking brighter than it once was.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher. My Warlock’s Power Level at the time of the review is 270, my Titan and Hunter completed the story, and the Nightfall was completed. For more thoughts, check out our initial review in progress.]