To say that I enjoyed the original Destiny would be a massive understatement. It would easily be the game I have put the most hours into. While I often criticised it for the abhorrent state in which it launched, I couldn’t help but be addicted to the game. Something about the strong sense of belonging with a strong community and the cool raid activities which the game offered managed to forge a special place for Destiny in my cold, dead heart. My only review for anything involving Destiny was for The Taken King and that was definitely one of Destiny’s best additions. But we aren’t here to talk about the original Destiny, we are to talk about Destiny 2. I’ve easily put in way over 100 hours into the game and while I thoroughly enjoyed it and it is largely an improvement on its predecessor, not everything about it was peachy.
The One About The Story
Destiny 2 is the direct sequel to Destiny and its expansions. The Cabal Red Legion have launched a mass invasion of Earth and the Tower in search of the Traveler and its Light. This results in the Tower being torn to shreds by the Cabal armada. The opening sequence definitely lends itself to be one of the more narratively powerful moments in the entirety of Destiny. It shows a side of your Guardian that you’ve never been able to see before. For once, you get to see your Guardian get the absolute bollocks kicked out of them. Previously, there has never ever been any signs of weakness shown in the Guardians. So much so that the enemies you came up almost felt…unthreatening…in a narrative sense. I mean, in the original, you fought the heart of darkness and at no point did it feel like it was really going to end with anything of value. It’s been an issue that Destiny and all of its expansions have always had. The story felt as if death served no purpose with its lack of permanence. The opening section of Destiny 2 makes it feel like you aren’t some immortal being that defies all logic and reason, and for that, the story here immediately starts off with more depth and clarity than the previous game. You immediately understand who exactly you are fighting rather than some ambiguous conglomerate of foes, and there is a properly defined antagonist who you are tasked with taking down. That antagonist is Dominus Ghaul. I’m not going to go into incredible detail about the story behind this character, however he is definitely a step up from Destiny’s previous one attempt at a singular antagonist (Oryx).
Throughout the entirety of Destiny 2’s short campaign, there are cutscenes which revolve around Ghaul and the Speaker (who was captured by the Red Legion). During these cutscenes, you learn about The Traveler and Ghaul, and more specifically you learn about Ghaul’s motivations and his ideals which feed his self-righteousness. You come to learn who he is as a character and while he is completely okay with destroying humanity, he isn’t about stealing The Traveler’s light, he’s more about being recognised by The Traveler and receiving its blessing. It’s intricacies like this that make the character itself feel a little nuanced, even if the story itself can be predictable and incredibly linear.
SPF 50+: check
However, even though the writing for Destiny 2 is much improved compared to the poor excuse for writing that the first game touted, the story and campaign still suffer from pacing issues. When you first start the campaign, and are introduced to some of its more influential characters, you are given a slow but well thought out pace. The game makes you feel like your climb to retake the Tower and save the Traveler from Ghaul’s grasp won’t be an easy one, nor will it be a short one. It gives you the idea that you will really have to work hard in order to accomplish your tasks, but the pace quickly shifts from a slow and positively laborious state to a pace that chews through the story faster than you can properly digest it. The best destination for pacing is Nessus as it feels like it’s more than just completing a task for the Vanguard who are without their Light. However, once Nessus is completed, the pace quickly shifts back into high gear and nothing is going to slow it down. I suppose that’s to be expected when the campaign only consists of about 16 missions (which is less than the vanilla Destiny campaign had).
The One About The Gameplay
In terms of gameplay, Destiny 2 is more or less the same, however with minor improvements being made in the areas that needed some refreshing. Things like fast travel, being able to switch from planet to planet without going to orbit, an interactive world map with markers and waypoints, the removal of weapon levelling, more meaningful Public Events and improved loot drops all make for a nicer experience. The Public Events overhaul has to be one of my favourite changes to the Destiny formula. Public Events have been reworked in a couple of ways. Firstly, they ALWAYS have the chance to reward participants with good drops (exotics included), regardless of level of participation. This makes Public Events feel like they’re worth doing, instead of just something you would only sometimes do when it randomly occurred without any form of heads-up beforehand. Another improvement made to Public Events is the Heroic Event system. Every Public Event has some form of way to turn them into a Heroic Event. Heroic Events often bypass the main objective of the standard Public Event and instead give players a different and often more difficult task to complete. Doing so will give participants a higher chance at a decent reward, however RNG does not guarantee good drops every time. I must note that when I say ‘more difficult’, I mean in comparison to the standard Public Event, and by no means are they overtly difficult. More often than not, the Heroic variant involves killing a big enemy within the given time limit.
Even though the general gameplay for the game is rock solid, there was one change that I could not just follow due to how…bad it was. Throughout the campaign which Destiny 2 offers, you often have to traverse across the large landscapes that each destination planet offers. While this isn’t inherently an issue, the fact that you are forced to do it entirely by foot or pay money for the chance of getting a sparrow (floating speeders that remind me of WipEout) to reduce the artificially extended travel time before the campaign is finished is where the campaign started to lose me. I don’t think that forcing players to run such extended distances in an effort to increase the length of the campaign is an incredibly smart one. Now I am aware that upon reaching level 20 players are able to receive a sparrow as well as Bright Engrams which have the chance to drop sparrows for use, but that doesn’t really make it any better.
Thanks, man. It means a lot
Regardless of the crappy design which forces players to walk or run across such vast landscapes to get from point A to point B, the actual level design which is employed within the enjoyable-but-short campaign is phenomenal. Bungie have realised that one of Destiny’s best assets is the jumping abilities of the characters themselves, resulting in well thought out levels which have a fair amount of verticality to them. I believe that one of the best ways to test a player’s skill is to test their ability to control a movement feature which they use almost unconsciously. I’ve had friends who are not so good with their jumping tell me how they thoroughly enjoyed the platforming the game had to offer through its campaign, and even when just exploring all the nooks and crannies of each destination. That in itself is a testament to how well thought out a majority of the level and world design feels.
Working alongside the excellent world design, there has been a myriad of depth added to each destination. Most notably, Lost Sectors. Lost Sectors behave almost like mini dungeons for player to quickly explore and loot. They are pretty cool and the fact that most regions within a destination feature more than one Lost Sector means that there are quite a few for players to delve into. Lost Sectors definitely feel like they’re designed more for the players who may be playing by themselves as they give you a little something extra to do to kill time whilst also not being incredibly hard. As a fireteam it is very easy to clear Lost Sectors in a minute or less.
The One About The Audiovisual Design/Performance
As is expected with almost any sequel that isn’t a part of some annualised release schedule, Destiny 2 features upgraded visuals from its predecessor. Now I’m going to be honest, after playing the PC beta, the visuals felt very similar to that of the original, but there are some noticeable improvements. For starters, actual texture quality is improved. Textures felt like a step up from what I’m used to seeing in Destiny. Weapons and armour felt more fleshed out in terms of their visual design without feeling like the main priority for the game was to have the best graphics possible. The most noticeable upgrade however is with the lighting. Bungie have really discovered their love for Crepuscular Rays (otherwise known as God Rays or Sun Beams) in Destiny 2. Now lighting effects as a whole are massively improved, and the use of Crepuscular Rays surprisingly helps makes the worlds feel believable. Couple this with this bright colours that were used for each destination and you have a game that, while often going for a darker and more serious tone, can be quite inviting and visually pleasing to look at. Bungie have once again shown that you don’t need the most powerful engine created by man to have a beautiful game. The aforementioned Nessus features my favourite set of visuals as it is by far the brightest destination there is. The visually striking colours that contrast one another help make the world feel alive and stop it from feeling stale. There’s enough variety in the visuals that each world feels distinct from one another.
A nade should do it
Now to the sound design. To put it bluntly, the sound design is phenomenal. There are some weapons that feature a suppressor on them. Shooting them makes a believable suppressed gunshot sound and as someone who adores stealth of any kind, I love it. Even if the suppressed sound does nothing more than sound cool, the fact that I can feel like I’m being stealthy when I sit as a distance is great. But suppressed weapons aren’t the only way the game’s sound design is fantastic. Other weapons like the Graviton Lance and the Nameless Midnight provide a meaty and bassy sound which truly let the player feel as if the weapon they are wielding could do some serious damage. Hell, the Nameless Midnight seriously sounds like you’re punching someone as you shoot, it’s great. To go along the sounds of the game, we have a superb soundtrack. I’ve always admired Bungie for coming out with some of my favourite soundtracks ever (Halo 2 having one of my highest-rated soundtracks to date), and Destiny 2 is no different. Destiny 2 features an excellent soundtrack which is filled with tension, sombre melodies and bright tones. There are even tracks from the original Destiny that have been remixed and placed into the game, which certainly fits especially when you think about how the foes you fight are similar to the originals but still different enough to feel distinct.
The part where Destiny 2 really let me down was in the performance and optimisation side of things. One of my favourite things about the original Destiny was that it was such a well optimised game and it ran so smoothly. Until DOOM came out, it was what I considered to be one of the most well optimised games this generation. The only time I ever had a frame drop was in the very last raid they released for the game, Wrath of the Machine, at the Siege Engine (framerate destroyer engine more like it). Destiny 2 is very different however, and unfortunately the optimisation isn’t anywhere near as good. Throughout my time playing Destiny 2 I encountered multiple frame drops, some even going as low as the 15fps mark. The most notable offender is during the Hive Public Event on Titan, where the framerate for a majority of the event is abysmally low and inconsistent. What was probably even more jarring were the audio glitches that I encountered however. In The Arms Dealer strike, right after the first checkpoint you receive a ball of Cabal fuel which you are to transport to a plate. During this transportation, the audio often distorts or delays which really pulls the immersion away from the player. It got to the point where during that part of the strike I’d mute the audio just so I wouldn’t have to hear it, which is something I have never done before.
The One About Shady Pay-To-Win Microtransactions
It wouldn’t be AAA gaming without three things: Loot Boxes, a season pass and microtransactions, though I think at this point they’re anything but ‘micro’. (Un)Fortunately Destiny 2 features all these things, but I’m leaving the season pass out of this. If you’ve played any of Destiny before, you’d know that shaders are a big part of the experience. Guardians all over the world adored the idea of making yourself look as flashy and/or as fabulous as possible. Destiny 2 is no different, there’s even a Watermelon shader to deck out your Guardian with. The shaders system in general has been expanded. Players can now apply shaders to individual pieces of armour, weapons, ghosts, ships and sparrows. This is great. It allows players to mix and match to their heart’s content, or so it seems. Once you equip a shader to an item, you can never get that shader back. If you wish to put another one on the item in question you will lose the shader that was already equipped. Now this is not inherently bad, I’m all for teaching the players to think more about their choices even if it’s something as small as a shader. However, where it gets bad is the way they’ve built that very system around microtransactions.
Once you level up past 20 you begin to receive Bright Engrams as a reward instead of increasing your power for levelling up. Now I’m sure it comes as a surprise to no one to learn that you can pay for an in-game currency called silver with your hard-earned money. You can actually spend up to $75.95AUD in a single ‘micro’ transaction. This currency only has one use, buying Bright Engrams. Bright Engrams can give you a selection of *mostly* cosmetic items which are picked at random by the game – essentially a loot box with a different name. Where it gets shady is that these drops include various shaders, sparrows and gear mods. I’ll start with the shaders thing. It isn’t until you realise how many shaders drop from Bright Engrams that you see just how much the shaders system is built around microtransactions. To increase your odds of getting decent shaders instead of crap ones just pump some more money into the game. What better way to milk more money out of your playerbase than by showing them they can have more of something which is already built into the game if they spend money to gamble on loot boxes? If it weren’t for the shoehorning of microtransactions into the shaders system, I wouldn’t have a problem with the consequential application of shaders.
Because who doesn’t love to pay more for content that’s already finished and working in-game?
Now here’s where it begins to delve into the pay-to-win territory. As previously mentioned, you may also receive sparrows and gear mods from these loot boxes. I’ll start with the sparrows. They’re not immediately pay-to-win, however later down the line Destiny 2 will feature the Sparrow Racing League which was also featured late into Destiny’s lifecycle. This event is essentially competitive racing on your equipped sparrow. Every sparrow has its own speed stat, and the fastest ones are the exotic sparrows that drop from the Bright Engrams (though pretty much ALL sparrows drop from these). Now when SRL becomes active, people who have paid for these Bright Engrams have a much higher chance to have any of these faster, exotic sparrows than someone who hasn’t and because of this, those who paid have an edge against those who didn’t. Now to gear mods. A new feature in Destiny 2 is gear mods. These allow you to modify the bonuses on your armour, the elemental damage on an energy or power weapon and finally, the attack or defence value of a piece of gear. Most legendary mods increase these values marginally (about 5 light/power). Now you can’t get legendary mods from Bright Engrams, only rare mods which don’t offer as large a benefit. However, once you have three of the same rare mod, you may craft them into one legendary mod. Rare mods can be bought with glimmer earned in game, but of course the fact they’re tied to Bright Engrams means you can gamble with real money too. In a full-priced AAA game this is reprehensible.
The One About The Endgame
Now to the part everyone is waiting for. How are the Nightfalls? The Crucible? THE RAID?!?!?!? I’ll start with The Crucible. Balance is finally something that exists within The Crucible. Every weapon feels like it fits within the PVP banner. In saying that, there are a few weapons that players currently tend to stick with. The Mida Multi-Tool, the Vigilance Wing, Nameless Midnight, Uriel’s Gift and the Prosecutor are definitely crowd favourites due to their powerful set of stats to solidify their PVP-based potency. However, it is still quite possible to combat these guns with other guns that aren’t within that weapon meta. I am choosing to not comment on Trials of the Nine (the pinnacle of competitive PVP within Destiny 2) as my lack of skills would have something to do with why I hated it. My only real issues with The Crucible are the lack of private matchmaking (something which Destiny fans cried out for over years until it was delivered in Rise of Iron) and how you can’t select the type of game mode you wish to play. It goes through a pool and randomly selects the game modes you play. I would rather have just played the game mode that took my fancy and not be forced into others that weren’t quite as enjoyable.
Now to the raid… boy was this a fun raid. You know a raid is well designed when I find the final encounter, the only real boss encounter, to be the weakest of all the four main encounters. Every encounter has well thought out mechanics and the atmosphere of each environment as the raid progresses feels completely distinct from one another. The Gauntlet has to be my favourite encounter as it has select players running through a small track (or gauntlet) in order to get the relic and place it in the middle of the encounter room. This is an incredibly hectic encounter and each mechanic implemented into it forces the team to have good communication and be snappy with their responses. The Royal Gardens encounter is also quite distinct, as it completely breaks that fast-paced nature of the game and instead opts for a slow and stealthy pace. It’s absolutely fantastic. I am very impressed with the way Bungie have continued to offer content that not many other games have offered.
Axes or Chalice? Such a tough choice
The one and only gripe I have with the raid revolves around the death mechanics. The Leviathan raid implements two new mechanics centered around player death. The first one is the revive tokens. When a player dies, they can be resurrected by another player at the cost of a revive token. Each player has only one revive token so as you can imagine, death can be quite the inconvenience. Now, I actually like this mechanic. It allows teams to factor in for mistakes because not everyone is perfect while also adding permanence and weight to player death. However, the implementation of the revive timer is where things get a bit… hectic. Once a player dies, the team only has 30 seconds to revive said player before the entire team wipes and the encounter has to be restarted. I would 100% be on board with this… for Hard Mode. The problem is that currently only Normal Mode is available which means that these mechanics are both implemented for Normal Mode. Personally, I believe the revive tokens without the timer would be good for Normal Mode and this is for a couple of reasons. For starters, Destiny 2 is a game aimed at casuals that also features some hardcore content in the form of the raid and its hard mode more specifically. Not everyone is going to be able to play the Hard Mode raids for whatever reason, I know a few people that didn’t like to go into the previous Hard Mode raids because they felt that the permanence of death in every encounter made them a liability to the team and that’s fair enough. They would love doing the Normal Mode raids though because it allowed them to do the hardcore activity but with a lot less pressure. With the implementation of the revive tokens AND the revive timer, it means that players such as these would feel deterred from this content because they wouldn’t want to be the cause of a wipe.
Destiny 2 is largely a much more fine-tuned and improved experience than its predecessor. It features a decent story that is enjoyable, regardless of its pacing issues, and has some nuance to its storytelling. The audiovisuals of the game are incredible and help make the game stand out in an oversaturated market. The endgame activities including the Crucible and the Nightfall have enough weight to be worth doing and the raid is one of the most fun experiences I have had in a long time. It’s a shame that optimisation took a step back with some serious framerate issues at some points as well as audio glitches. What I cannot forgive is the unscrupulous implementation of pay-to-win microtransactions (however slight they may be) and the shaders system that is built around them. I would still recommend this game regardless, however I would completely understand if those not keen on this trend were to vote with their wallet on this one.
Reviewed on PS4. This review will be updated once the game is released on PC. PC-exclusive notes will be added.