When I first sat down to write this review, I had just finished the Campaign the day after release, but of course a review for a game like Destiny needs more time to gestate. I am a huge fan of the first Destiny, and all of its subsequent expansions, so I knew that the bulk of what would determine whether Destiny 2 was a good game would be the grind, the endgame content, and whether Bungie made well on their promises of a better, fuller game. And now, over 220 hours into Destiny 2 since launch, I think it’s safe to say that Bungie delivered.
Tell Me Something I Don’t Know
Destiny 2 introduces many changes to it’s sandbox and it’s progression. First and foremost, players lose their light at the beginning of the game. That means all their gear and light levels reset or are replaced. The new level cap is reduced back down to 20 like the original game, and the Power level, now replacing Light Level, is maxed out at 300… Kind of. Gone are Primary, Special and Heavy weapons, instead we have Kinetic which are primary weapons from Destiny 1, Energy which are elemental primaries from Destiny 1, and Power which are most heavy weapons from Destiny 1 with all of the Special weapon class weapons (except sidearms) being brought into this category. These all have their unique and specific places in the Destiny 2 sandbox. For example, energy weapons do more damage to shielded enemies until the shield is popped, and if you match the element to the shield type, it does an AOE damage burst to anything around it, including the enemy it was on, whereas kinetic does more damage than elemental for straight on damage and critical hits.
Also new to Destiny 2 is the Mod system. Gone are the days of random rolls on weapons and gear. Now players can attack rare and legendary mods to their equipment on the fly to mild change their attributes. Adjusting the elemental damage of Power and Elemental weapons, giving you better handling of weapon types and other small changes to gameplay are all present here, and it’s negligible unless you’re gunning for the absolutely max Power Level you can obtain. You see, legendary mods at 5 attack or 5 defense depending on whether the item is a weapon or armor. This brings the max Power up from a typical 300 to 305. But again, I did say it was negligible. I’d like to see more done with the Mod system in future updates, but for now, it’s more of an inconvenience than being beneficial.
Destiny Has A Story?
Destiny 2’s biggest success lies is in its storytelling. Destiny 2 has a robust 10-12 hour long story campaign with a satisfying beginning, middle, and end that make sense, unlike Destiny 1’s rushed and muddled story that suffered from the game’s reshuffling less than a year before launch. Dominus Ghaul is an inspired villain with his own motives separate from even that of the Red Legion, which he controls with an iron fist. His motivations for seeking out the Traveler, the floating white orb from which all Guardians draw their power, is relatable, making him one of the best bad guys we’ve seen in Destiny yet. Unfortunately, the final boss fight in the game is one of the weakest that Bungie has ever created. I had more fun fighting Brutus in Halo 2 14 years ago than I did with this one, and it’s really hard to believe that the same guys who created Kings Fall, the Vault of Glass, and even Destiny 2’s The Leviathan created this boss. While it’s not a raid boss, it still could’ve been better, and left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth to close out an otherwise outstanding campaign.
But the story content doesn’t end when the campaign does. Adventures litter the 4 explorable destinations, 4 world quests for each of the planets, lore tabs on all exotic and some legendary gear and weapons, and scannable objects all replace the frustratingly absent Grimoire from Destiny 1 that was locked on Bungie’s website and never in game. If there’s anyone out there that gave Destiny 1 a hard time for not having enough story content, they will be overloaded by the amount now on display in Destiny 2.
These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things
Destiny 1 was plagued by it’s small amount of content at launch. This is not the case with Destiny 2. Lost Sectors, which are small, MMO style Dungeon, and the aforementioned Adventures and World Quests along with all the returning Destiny 1 activities like Patrol Beacons and Public Events make the worlds of Destiny 2 feel alive. Public Events are now significantly improved, with the ability to complete a specific task for each one to make it Heroic wherein a large boss appears and you have to kill him to earn better loot. The European Dead Zone (EDZ), Io, TItan, and Nessus are all fun to explore and have their own vendors to turn in tokens that are earned through completing activities on their respective destinations and offer a wealth of armor and weapons via Engrams once you turn in enough of them. The destinations are larger, better fleshed out, and even after spending about half of my 200 hours in them, I’m still having an incredible time exploring. That’s not to say that every activity in Destiny 2 is perfect, however.
One of my favorite activities in Destiny 1 were the strikes. Destiny 2 offers a great selection of these, 5 on Xbox and 6 on Playstation, but i’ve only played through them a couple of times each at the most. Unfortunately, regardless of how great they are, as it stands the Strikes in Destiny 2 are just not rewarding to play. When you can spend 12-15 minutes on a Strike and earn the same or less rewards as you can in Heroic Public Events that take 2-3 minutes to complete, there’s little reason to run them. Strikes eventually had scoring added to them in Rise of Iron, however, and I’m sure we’ll eventually see something similar added to Destiny 2, maybe even after its first expansion that is planned for December of this year.
Of course, the Crucible, Destiny’s PvP mode makes a return with several changes. Players now face off in 4v4 modes rather than the 3v3 and 6v6 games that were in Destiny 1. Control, Supremacy and Clash all return with minor changes to scoring and sit in one playlist known as Quickplay, a playlist dedicated to fun and social gameplay. The two new modes are in a Competitive playlist dedicated to teamwork and are a test of true PvP skill, though it is not a ranked playlist like you’d see in a Halo title. The two new modes, Countdown – an attack and defend a planted bomb, first to 6 rounds wins – and Survival – a new twist on elimination, both teams have a pool of 8 lives, first to 4 rounds wins – are both fun and unique enough compared to typical FPS game modes to feel fresh. These two modes make up the new Trials of the Nine, a replacement to the Trials of Osiris endgame PvP mode first introduced in the House Of Wolves expansion in may of 2015, which I’ll come back to later. PvP is fun and fast paced in Destiny 2. A lot of balancing changes have been made. The new weapon system of Kinetic, Energy, and Power feel like they were built from the ground up for PvP specifically and it’s hard to argue that after spending a total of 30 hours in the Crucible myself. It feels as close to Halo as it could possibly be with a rush to power ammo that spawns much more often than Destiny 1’s Heavy ammo. Overall, PvP feels fun, although a bit too competitive at times.
Teamwork Makes The Dream Work
Destiny 2 has gone full circle back to the Halo 2 days of social gaming. In the second week of Destiny 2, Bungie fully implemented the Clans into the game. Clans in Destiny 2 are social groups of friends that help each other without even trying to. Every week, a player can contribute 5,000 Clan Experience Points per character toward the weekly cap of 100,000 to advance the clan level and obtain new perks for the clan. More loot drops from cabal kills, better chances at higher level gear in the crucible when playing with at least one other clan mate, and more make joining a clan an easy choice. Along with these perks, so too come the clan rewards. If your clanmates play more than you every week and complete activities such as Trials of the Nine or the Raid, you earn endgame tier rewards just for being in the clan. Destiny 2 is a far more social game, players don’t need to go to Bungie.net to join the clan anymore, now you can send, receive and accept an invitation all in game. I’ve seen many fans have issue with the clan system offering the level of rewards it does, but Bungie has been loud and clear: Destiny is a social experience, and it’s better with friends.
Also new to the Destiny 2 formula is Guided Games. This feature is Bungie’s answer to endgame matchmacking, bringing clan Guides to players who maybe haven’t found one yet, and Seekers to clans looking to fill up their 100 person rosters. Raids and Nightfalls offer the ability for a group of 2 clan members to search for a Seeker looking to complete the Nightfall, or 4-5 looking to run a raid and introduce those Seekers to content they otherwise might not see. There are some issues with Guided Games; players are experiencing a horribly long wait time – reportedly up to and over an hour at times – and players who haven’t completed the activities themselves are allow to load in as Seekers. The latter doesn’t sit well with me, as I’ve LFG’s with plenty of people through Destiny 1 raids, and nothing is worse than someone who says they know the encounters when they really just don’t have any idea.
Endgame Is Best Game
Okay, so you’ve completed the campaign, done a handful of public events, lost sectors, adventures, strikes, Quickplay and Competitive matches, joined a clan to earn that sweet, sweet loot, and now you’re level 20 and you’ve hit the soft ceiling of 265 power level. What do you do? Endgame. Anyone who’s ever played an MMO or even some RPGs will know what endgame is. These are the activities you do to reach the upper echelon of the game. This is where the grind really kicks in and you start managing your time to get the most out of D2. If people come for the campaign, the stay for the Raid and other endgame activities. But the question still remains: What do I do now? Destiny 2 answers that question for you in a way that Destiny 1 couldn’t. Thankfully, you now have Milestones which track your endgame activities for you and reset every week on Tuesday. Endgame consists of the Nightfall – a weekly randomly selected Strike that is turned up to 11 and challenges players to complete it within a set time limit – Trials of the Nine – the aforementioned PvP mode that rotates between Countdown and Survival every week – and the Leviathan raid – Destiny 2’s first and only raid as of right now. All 3 of these modes require teamwork and dedication, and while the Endgame is fun and challenging, it leaves a bit to be desired.
The weekly Nightfall has changed since it’s inception back at the launch of Destiny 1. Originally, the Nightfall would place modifiers and buffs on a Strike and a fireteam of 3 players would cut their teeth on the extreme challenges they put forth. At that time, the Nightfall was considered one of the hardest activities in Destiny. Why? Because you had to be resurrected by a teammate if you died, and if you and all your teammates died before that could happen, the game would kick you out of the activity and reset your progress. Bungie changed this in the Taken King, making it so that it would just bring you back to the last checkpoint in the Strike if your team wiped, opening it up to more players to get a go at it. In Destiny 2, the approach has changed again. So far there have been 4 Nightfalls, so not all modifiers may have been on display, but so far everything is dependant on time. Normal mode Nightfalls give you around 20-25 minutes depending on the Strike while Prestige mode gives around 12-15, and most of the modifiers we’ve seen so far are things the player can do to increase that time limit, making Nightfalls about running them as fast as possible, rather than killing every enemy they come across. It’s a tonal change and it’s disappointing to see it go that way.
Trials of the Nine is the weekend PvP endgame activity that runs Friday until the weekly reset on Tuesday. The spiritual successor to the fan favorite Trials of Osiris, it is also approached with a more forgiving air than that of Destiny 1’s endgame equivalent. In the Trials of Osiris, players played a 3v3 game of elimination, first to 3 round won the game. Players would have to win 9 of these games, without losing a single match, to make it to the Lighthouse; A mystically lore charged location on Mercury where the fabled Warlock himself, Osiris, once lived before mysteriously disappearing. It was this intense pressure to not lose and go “flawless” that made making it so coveted. Eventually Bungie introduced boons to aid players along the journey; things like forgiving your first loss, automatically giving you a win and giving you two wins upon your first game win were all added to better the experience for the less skilled or driven player. Destiny 2 changed much of this, giving access to the new social space, The Third Spire, upon the first win, and not beginning a team’s card until they get their first win, as well as lowering the flawless requirement to only 7 wins in a row, as opposed to 9 live before.
That’s not to say the mode is any less fun. Trials hypercompetitive blanket is fun and refreshing, and a great way to figure out if you’re actually as good at the game as you thought. That, combined with the rotating game mode, keeps Trials fresh and has me craving that flawless victory.
The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth
Last but not least, we have the flagship experience, the Leviathan raid, which is the most unique experience Bungie has ever created. Instead of the typical boss run like the previous raids before it. The final boss encounter, Emperor Calus, is the only boss fight in the raid. Everything else – The Gauntlet, The Royal Pools, and the Pleasure Gardens, as well as the Castellum which acts as the central hub for the raid encounters – are all just that: Encounters.
As your ship flies over the Embarkment and drops your Guardian off, along with your 6-man fireteam’s ships and their respective Guardians, you are in awe of the scale of this ship, modeled after a roaming species on the Cabal home world with which the Leviathan also shares it’s namesake. Your fireteam approaches cautiously and comes across Legionnaire guards who stand at attention and even salute you as you make your way to the Castellum – a large area that leads the way to four challenges set forth by the same Emperor who invited you, and you’re directed to the entrance of the Royal Pools.
You hear his voice rumble over the comms, welcoming you to his Leviathan and invites you to bath with his royal subjects. In reality, he wants you to pass the test, so you kill everything that stands in your way as you’re introduced to the Counselors – floating Psions who have the ability to destroy your mind from the inside out if you don’t take care of them in time. You do, of course, and make your way back to the Castellum.
Upon reentering, you’re invited to drink the sweet nectar of the Pleasure Gardens, and you oblige. You are brought to a room with a puzzle similar to that of the Gorgon maze from Destiny’s Vault of Glass. There you encounter prowling War Beasts, each named after Cabal leaders that you have thus far slain in the previous game. After completing the puzzle, and putting the dog-like beasts out of their misery, we head back to the Castellum once more.
This time, we head the The Gauntlet, which is easily described as a game of cat and mouse, only your Guardian is the mouse, and the cat is the sphere of energy you have to carry through timed gates to keep from exploding. (Side note – this is one of my favorite experiences in the entirety of the last 4 years of Destiny)
You’ve made it back to the Castellum one last time – Calus is pleased with your skill and calls to you once again. Go to his throne room and drink with him. For the last time, you accept this challenge and make your way to the Emperor (or so you think) and take up arms in battle with one of the most fun raid bosses there is in Destiny. Emperor Calus claps his hands after you knock his chalice from grip and sends you into a void. You see a long tiled walkway and at the end of it, the 10 story tall head of Calus. You travel back and forth between this realm and your own. Finally, after what feels like hours, you defeat him. However, this can’t possibly be the real Emperor Calus. No.. This one is a machine? As you approach the slumped over remains of this android, you hear his voice one more time, offering you the same power he possess, warning you of the Traveler and asking you to join his cause in ruling the universe. You ignore his offer and make your way to the chest. Down a long and open corridor. As you crest the inner walls to the catwalk, you notice it’s a storage room, full of hundreds if not thousands of the same machine you’ve just defeated, waiting to be activated and used against other potential candidates. You make our way to the end and dance about – you’ve won, and scored some pretty badass loot along the way.
The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly
Destiny 2 doesn’t suffer any of the shortcomings that it’s predecessor had, but it does introduce its own, though often less, frustrating ones. Things like typical launch hiccups, like a delayed introduction of the clan system and the new Guided Games feature were unfortunately present during the first two weeks after launch when most players were wanting to utilize them the most. The game is a built from the ground up for anyone willing to try it, however and reaches heights it’s predecessor could not. There’s something for everyone from couch casual to elite hardcore, and Bungie promises even more with the season pass, included within is the first two expansions. While Destiny 2 isn’t perfect, it’s certain worth the investment, and if the last 200 hours are any indication, it’s something I plan to stick with for a long time to come.