Review: 'Destiny 2' (PS4)

Review: 'Destiny 2' (PS4) ACTIVISION/BLIZZARD

I had plenty of misgivings with the original Destiny, but that didn't stop me from playing it for over 800 hours over two different consoles. The mechanics of the game were solid, but there were so many details done wrong; it ended up being a tedious grind a huge amount of the time. Thankfully, after three years and plenty of tweaks and expansions, Bungie has had time to hammer out most of the flaws, listening carefully to player feedback. Destiny 2 feels like it is fulfilling the promise of the original Destiny, marrying excellent FPS combat with addictive MMO mechanics that will probably keep me playing for another several years.

Destiny 2 has an actual story to speak of, unlike the complete mess that was the original Destiny's story. Dominus Ghaul, the ruthless conquerer leading the Cabal's Red Legion, has conquered the Last City and stolen the Light from all of the Guardians, leaving them powerless and without all the gear they acquired in the original game. You then have to traverse the solar system, finding new friends and fighting old foes, in order to bring the leaders of the Vanguard back together, reclaim your Light and take back your home. The story isn't exactly revolutionary, but it's enough to keep you invested, and it no longer takes itself so seriously. While Destiny was far too serious, trying to force an epic vibe it couldn't support, the story of Destiny 2 is liberally punctuated with lightness and comedy (or attempted comedy, at least). This not only makes the game more fun, but it makes the moments of actual seriousness have that much more impact.

There are several other basic things the story does that caused me to actually care about it, which the original game completely failed to do, even in expansions. You get to meet characters who are well-written that you actually care about, and these characters have story arcs and meaningful interactions with each other and you; Suraya Hawthorne is easily my favorite of these. Bungie also employs set pieces to great effect in order to enhance the story. The second mission, immediately after your Light is stolen, is surprisingly powerful and really makes you feel how hopeless your situation is, and how weak you've suddenly become. The last few missions of the game have some incredibly epic moments to them that are really fun and exciting to play; the final battle of the main story had elements in it that I was hoping to see, but did not think I would, which was a pleasant surprise. Bungie definitely delivers in this regard.

Not everything is perfect, however. Some of the dialogue is really rough in this game, especially with the characters on the worlds of Nessus and Io. Bungie unfortunately can't write jokes to save their lives, and if jokes aren't delivered by Nathan Fillion as Cayde-6, they're usually cringeworthy. One character in particular, named Failsafe, appears to be Bungie's attempt at creating a hilarious and wacky GLaDOS-esque character, but she's honestly terrible. Her character's jokes are awful, and the writers didn't really know how to make people interact with her, making them seem inconsistent. I'm also not the biggest fan of Asher Mir, but I didn't mind him as much. Other characters, such as Devrim Kay and Suraya, are much better written, though again the jokes don't always land.

This is an MMO, though, so the story is just the beginning. Really, it's not until you've finished the main single-player campaign that the game really opens up, when you've hit level 20 and you start getting solidly wrapped up in the cycle of running events and incrementally upgrading your character. All of the game's best elements require multiple players to get through, most notably the game's new raid - but more on that later. The main focus of the game is on acquiring better loot in order to increase your Power (formerly known as Light), which lets you tackle harder challenges, which gives you yet better loot, and so on. It's a highly addictive cycle even when it's not done that well, but thankfully Bungie got it right, at least so far.

The thing that kept me coming back to Destiny was the superb combat, and I'm glad to say that it's just as good in the sequel, if not better. The developers of the original Halo games are industry leaders at FPS gameplay, and it really shines here. The controls are solid and well thought-out, and the shooting is extremely responsive and satisfying. There are a number of combat options at your disposal - shooting, throwing grenades, switching guns, using super attacks, or using new class abilities - but with a bit of practice, you'll be able to instinctively do any of them without a second thought. Taking down an enemy with a powerful super attack, or a sniper bullet right at their weak spot, is as satisfying as it's ever been.

By the way, those class abilities I mentioned are the biggest addition to combat mechanics in this game, and they work great. Titans can conjure barriers to deflect enemy attacks, hunters get quick dodges, and warlocks can create rifts to heal or strengthen Guardians. Each one is useful to you and your teammates in the right situations, and they help make each class feel useful and important, which is something the original Destiny struggled with at times. Subclass customization is much better and easier, as well; instead of sorting through a large menu of subclass options to perfectly optimize yourself for a given situation, you can choose between one of two attunements that provide preset subclass options, which is both easier and more balanced.

Weapon types have been shuffled around, and it's unquestionably for the better. Instead of having Primary, Secondary and Heavy Weapons, you now have Kinetic, Energy and Power weapons. Kinetic and Energy weapons share the same weapon types (auto rifle, scout rifle, sidearm, etc.), but Energy weapons all have elemental types, while Kinetic weapons do not. Power weapons all have elements to them, but now many more weapon types have been moved to the Power class (shotguns, sniper rifles and fusion rifles, for example). This means that not only are there more than three kinds of Heavy weapons, but the hard-hitting Secondary weapons from the first game now hit even harder and are even more fun to wield, especially shotguns and fusion rifles. This hopefully also means that they won't constantly be tweaked and nerfed for PvP, because ammo for them is more scarce.

You can now apply mods to your weapons and armor, which come in a number of useful varieties. Some of them grant different elements to your weapons, while others provide things like mobility for your character, and the best ones increase the Power of that item. These are useful things to have around when you need to quickly bump up your Power level or acquire a certain element, and you're showered with more than you're going to need. It's a lot better than having to collect materials to level up your weapons, which is a concept that's now been completely eliminated. Every weapon you pick up is at its maximum level, with no need to max it out.

Far more frustrating, however, are shaders. Instead of being multiple-use items that completely recolor your character, they're now single-use items that are applied to a single weapon or armor piece. That means if you want to achieve a certain all-over look, you have to grind until you get enough shaders for it - unless you'd like to spend real-world money on a Bright Engram (loot box) for a better chance at getting it. Yes, microtransactions are back, and they're more annoying than the first game, but thankfully you can skip them entirely if you want. People who care more about aesthetics will probably be bothered by this change to shaders, though, which is 100% a cash grab and very disappointing to see.

Leveling up is no longer the rough slog that it used to be. When you first start the game, basically every piece of loot that drops is all but guaranteed to be an improvement to what you're currently carrying, so you gain Power very quickly; as your actual level increases, you're allowed to put on stronger pieces of equipment, until you reach the level cap of 20. However, almost every activity has a Power ceiling for the loot that drops; once you're strong enough, you won't be growing stronger based on loot from things like Public Events, and you'll have to start taking on more difficult challenges if you want to keep improving. This is a great way of gradually introducing players to progressively harder activities, and it makes the middlegame feel much less like a grind. Sure, it still is a grind, but it doesn't feel like it as much.

Leveling up is made much easier by the new systems of Challenges and Milestones, which replace Bounties and Quests respectively. Instead of having to go to a bounty vendor to pick up the mini-challenges that you have to undergo in exchange for loot, each planet will have three new Challenges every day, and you don't have to do anything special to start them; just hop onto a world and start blasting. Milestones are also added automatically, much like Quests from the original game; these are larger tasks that may require multiple steps to complete, taking you to different worlds or into different game modes, but they offer better gear, and like Challenges you don't have to go somewhere to activate them. The one thing that got worse here, unfortunately, are Exotic Weapon bounties. Instead of taking up a Bounty slot, they occupy a space in your inventory, allowing you to carry one less weapon or armor piece until you complete the quest. This is really annoying, but I'm not entirely sure what they could have done better under their current system, to be frank.

One of the best changes to the game is the fact that you no longer have to leave your current activity and go to orbit if you want to find a new activity. Thanks to the new Director, you can go directly from one world to the next; this is an enormous time-saver, and by itself makes the gameplay experience far more bearable. Similarly, what used to be optional story missions are now Adventures. They can be found while exploring a world on patrol, and you can start and end them without any additional loading screens, which is wonderful; major story missions for the main campaign still require loads when starting and ending them, but you don't have to go to orbit each time.

Exploring the world is now easier than it was before, too. You still run around the map looking for things to do, but you can pick one of several locations on a world to land, and you can warp between them to save time. Adventures, missions, vendors and public events are all marked on your map, and you can select one of them to have an arrow point you in the right direction. Your map is also marked up with the locations of gold treasure chests or Lost Sectors, which are small caves filled with enemies and guarded by a small boss, which protects a decent cache of loot. Patrols, which give you short and easy missions like killing a certain number of enemies, return from the first game more or less completely unchanged. They're much less important now, though, and you won't be made to.

As you gather loot from patrols, Lost Sectors and Public Events, you'll also pick up reputation tokens, as well as reputation materials from random points on the world. When you collect enough of these, you can bring them back to the world's main vendor in order to increase your reputation, which gets you a bit of loot that will power you up; this provides a much more immediate and tangible reward for all of your exploring. You'll also find treasure chests at random points while exploring, giving you more reputation materials, as well as the occasional piece of loot. Chests and materials aren't marked on your map, as before, so you'll need to keep an eye out.

Public Events are vastly improved from the original game. First off, you can actually see them on your map not only when they're happening, but up to five minutes before they begin, which means that finding one isn't an exercise in tedium and luck. Each one requires multiple players (strangers, generally) to work together in order to accomplish a task or take down a powerful enemy, in exchange for solid rewards. However, each kind of event has a hidden task for you to complete, whether it's attacking some side thing you didn't notice, or unlocking certain locks with certain keys. If you complete this task, the event changes to a Heroic Public Event, becoming even more difficult but offering greater rewards in exchange. The addition of these extra challenges turns what used to be a tedious chore into something much more engaging and exciting. I now look forward to completing Public Events - so long as there are other players around to help, at least. If you're by yourself, they can be really rough.

Strikes also make a return in this game. These are longer and more difficult missions designed for three people, having you complete more interesting tasks in more interesting scenarios and fighting more interesting bosses. The improvement to bosses really is noteworthy here; instead of the frustrating bullet sponges from the first game, each strike boss is a multi-stage affair, with their attacks and the stage around you changing from one phase to the next. You also have to keep stage hazards in mind, as they're more prominent this time around, and it keeps you on your toes. The far more dangerous Nightfall strikes have also been revamped for the better. Instead of a ludicrously hard strike that kicks you out if your entire group dies, you're presented with a harder version of a standard strike that has a time limit. You can do things to increase the time limit, like killing enemies, but it definitely increases the difficulty and the pressure, and in a way that feels more manageable but challenging at the same time.

The shining jewel of the game, however, is the new Leviathan raid. Raids were not only the best part of Destiny, but some of the best gaming events of the past three years, and Destiny 2's raid takes it to the next level. Bungie has steadily moving away from the World of Warcraft style of raid that features numerous bosses, but this new raid is a major departure in basically every way. It's thematically and mechanically different from anything we've seen before, focusing more heavily on solving puzzles and communicating heavily as a team than on really difficult combat. You can expect a detailed review of the raid later in the week, which will go into more detail and possible spoiler territory. For now, though, it's enough to say that this raid blew my expectations out of the water, and even if one of the challenges is really frustrating and the final fight is littered with bugs, this is still the most fun part of Destiny 2, and one of the most intense gaming experiences you can find anywhere.

I didn't put as much time into PvP as I did PvE, but I still enjoyed what I did play a good amount. You can choose to play in the Quickplay setlist or the Competitive setlist, which is greatly appreciated by me, being someone who is generally quite bad at PvP. Instead of 3v3 or 6v6 game modes, you now have 4v4 battles, which I am perfectly fine with and frankly I barely noticed the difference; you don't have to find as many players, at least. As of right now you can't choose your specific game type, which will be upsetting to some people, but I like the idea of the game forcing variety onto me in order to keep my experience interesting. I'm sure my opinion will change when I find a game mode I really hate, but for now it's a good experience. I also appreciate how heavy ammo appears more often, because the heavy weapons are really fun to use in PvP, especially the fusion rifle. I'll be exploring more of this as time goes on, but most of my gameplay will be in PvE.

Destiny 2 has thrown off the shackles of the last generation of consoles, and we get a really strikingly beautiful game as a result. There is color absolutely everywhere you look, which is something I had only really seen from Nintendo as of late, and it's a great change from the solid, washed-out colors of the original Destiny. Nessus in particular is beautifully designed, with white architecture and red foliage contrasting against a bright green sky. The raid is exceptionally well-designed and fun to look at, with gold and purple and white everywhere you look. I didn't expect this game to be a visual stunner, but that's what we got, and it's a great bonus.

The game's music is also great, though much better in some places than others; again, Nessus is a standout. There's a bit less ambience this time around, with more actual musical cues appearing as you explore, and of course the battle music is present. I have a hard time remembering any songs in particular, but there are a handful I really appreciate whenever they show up. The game has good voice acting as well, with Nathan Fillion as Cayde-6 being the standout once again, and nobody really turns in a bad performance. Some of the characters are more annoying than others, but I would blame that more on bad direction than the actual performances of the characters.

For $60, you're getting a lot of content for your money. The story itself is a bit short, but the meat of the game is in the cycle of leveling up and completing strikes, events and raids. In just the couple of weeks since release I've clocked in dozens of hours of play, and I can already tell I'm just getting started; I've already spent more than a dozen hours on a couple runs of the raid alone. If you can, find a group of friends to play with as much as you can, because having other people there makes the experience that much more fun. I sank 800 hours into the original Destiny, and with the foundation of Destiny 2 even more solid, I don't see why I won't be playing this game even longer over the next few years. Bungie has set the stage for a really solid, all-consuming MMO.

After three years of developing the original Destiny and watching it evolve, Bungie has poured all of their experience and knowledge into Destiny 2, and it shows. This sequel is better designed, better refined, and just so much more fun than before. If you liked the original Destiny, you'll love this game; if you were turned off by the grind of the original game, the sequel has fixed most of those problems, so you should give this game a look. As for me, Destiny 2 is pretty much what I wanted it to be, and I can already tell I'm going to get lost in this game for who knows how long; even after playing it for almost two weeks without stopping, I want to go back and play more as soon as I get the chance. Bungie listened to us, and they cared, and this game shows the fruits of their labor and their passion.

Eyes up, Guardian; it's time to become legend once again.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

A copy of this game was privately acquired and used for this review.

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