Earlier this month, Bungie (the house that Halo built), flew me into a two-and-a-half-day preview event for Destiny 2. Both Bungie and Activision staff were on hand at all times, but the staff and us guests interacted very little. We were given gaming stations and little more instruction than to "Get some, Guardians." Which we did. We definitely got some. While we pushed through an XP-accelerated version of the main story arc, I'm allowed to reveal only specific bits and pieces of the first big region of Destiny 2, the European Dead Zone.
EUROPEAN DEAD ZONE
The Tower is destroyed. The Speaker is gone. And The Traveler is basically shackled in planetoid-sized handcuffs. Things are looking bad. Real bad. During the opening Homecoming mission, featured in the Destiny 2 open beta, the Guardians lose the entire war within the span of a three-and-a-half minute opening cinematic. That’s all the longer it takes for the Red Legion, an elite faction of the Cabal—led by a charmer named Dominus Ghaul—to turn the world upside down. Ghaul is a military emperor, a megalomaniacal ruler on a sociopathic winning streak, and he’s apparently very good at orchestrating war-ending surprise attacks.
Well, except for the fact that the war ain’t over. Not after you lose The Traveler’s light, not after your Ghost is sent sailing over the edge of The Tower, and not even after Ghaul personally pushes your face off that same ledge with his big Warhammer 40K-sized boots. No, the war ain’t over. Even though the Guardians experience the biggest setback since the formation of the Guardians, those little lovers of the Light won’t quit.
And that’s what brings us to the European Dead Zone. The EDZ is a new region on Earth, away from the Last City, outside the wall, and removed from everything you’ve known about The Tower.
Maybe not everything. Some familiar faces escaped The Tower’s wreckage and made their way to The Farm. This is your new (rustic, distressed, free-range-chicken-infested) social hub. In Destiny 2, The Farm is your new home. This is where you pick up the pieces. This is where you fully assume the role of the scrappy rebels versus an unassailable empire. This is your Star Wars: Episode IV. The Farm is A New Hope.
Yes, while some NPCs survived the trek from the now-fallen Tower to The Farm, it quickly becomes apparent that you aren’t in Kansas anymore, Toto. Or perhaps now you are in Kansas. If Kansas was located in a place called the European Dead Zone. Either way, stuff just got rural.
The moment you squeeze through a gap in a remnant wall and shimmy into the EDZ proper, you can see immediately why it’s a dead zone. Simultaneously overgrown and devoid of life. It’s a desert, if you were to find a forested desert.
But only at first. So much of the EDZ is gorgeous, with tall stands of pine trees, long draw distances to the horizons, and wonderfully pastoral settings. Like nature reclaiming a Michael Kincaid painting. It’s all pre-Golden Age architecture, staging Destiny 2 like it’s in a World War II scenario. Old World Western European buildings look properly bombed out. A church spire serves as a central waypoint. And the streets are littered with bad guys like you wouldn’t believe. The EDZ is the largest area ever created in the Destiny series. When it opens up, it really opens up. But when it cinches down, it really cinches down. Starting here, get ready for more verticality than you’re used to. I die more from falling off cliffs than from enemy action.
The Farm is less rustic and more rusty than I’d imagined. But it’s a working farm now. Instead of tractors, it’s ordnance trailers. Instead of weather vanes, it’s radar dishes. And where you’d expect to pick up a basket of farm-fresh eggs, you see crates of ammunition. It’s a beautiful location on the outskirts of the EDZ, and judging from the nearby peaks, tile rooftops, and vineyard-ready rolling hills, I’m somewhere in Tuscany, Italy, but I, of course, have no real idea in Destiny 2’s version of an apocalyptic Earth.
The Postmaster, Darbi 55-30, made its way to the front of the main farmhouse. Blue tarps and numbered mail crates line up in orderly fashion behind. Comms equipment strings cables up through the living room ceiling to the roof. There’s a Last of Us amount of ivy covering everything, and broken brick walls form ramps up into structures. Former Tower residents take stock of what’s left, though there isn’t much.
A couple vaults are posted up by the lily pad-covered fountain, where you can start storing your good stuff. All your previous gear from Destiny 1 is gone, remember. But vault functionality is restored on The Farm, even if you’re starting from scratch. A rooster clucks out of my way as I head into the garage. Two civilians have set up a Sparrow repair shop. A ship repair shop is set up in the main barn. I can hear the workers acclimating to country life. “Is it chicken or duck for dinner tonight? Your choice, bird brain.” And “Has something been chewing on these?”
It’s a picturesque portrait of how far the mighty have fallen. The Guardians’ literal white tower is no more. The constant reminder of the Traveler’s plight is a cracked shell from The Traveler, off in the far hills, sparking and smoking continuously.
The Farm is a small, intimate location. Where the bunnies skitter off into the underbrush, and somebody has placed a sleeping bag, a pile of books, and a bottle of wine up by the natural spring. One where a fire pit burns at all hours of the day next to a dock on the lake.
And even though detailed gear inspection is embargoed as of this writing, I can tell you that the low-level equipment you scrape for look like reminders of your newly earned status as a refugee. My gloves look like oven mitts. Boots made of hide wraps. I have a warlock arm band that’s a literal piece of rope tied around my bicep. The glamour and glitz lifestyle I’ve come to know in the first Destiny is far and away. But even as my vault gear has been incinerated, and my current gear has become damaged beyond repair in the initial attack and in my subsequent travels, even these haggard replacements are better, and begin the crawl upwards in Light.
But all hope is not lost. At first, my ship hovered over a makeshift soccer field. With this being the social area, pick-up matches of Rocket League will no doubt pop off from time to time. See? Hope floats.
The music is sorrowful and hopeful on The Farm. Flutes and strings bring out an intimacy with nature. The piano comes in lower than the brass to invest gravity into your circumstances, or comes tinkling with high, heart-strung notes to instill a stay-frosty notion to your movement. But wait until you hear the plucky string arrangements. This isn’t some wishy washy soundtrack you're meant to ignore for hundreds of hours. It’s a performance-worthy set of over 100 orchestral pieces that are heart racing, even as it goes silent for the birds and peaceful setting between times.
During major firefights, however, I feel as beat up by the soundtrack as I do by the gunplay. The ear assault gets industrial, and pounds like it should. The Vivaldi-like moments take a hard backseat once the music gets all Nine Inch Nails in my combat-fatigued ears.
The Cabal fulfill an alien space marine need. I don’t find them particularly intimidating, despite their turtle-like appearance and Incredible Hulk size. But the Cabal, like every enemy type in Destiny 2, uses unique tactics, firing from around their shields, or somehow getting their massive bulk up in the air with jump jets. Seeing them toss their head and stumble around from your gunshots feels good, regardless.
The enemy AI is slick and well-trained. They display combative intuition, but are still pretty easy to flank, thank goodness. Most know when to run for cover, and the best of them know how to run for their lives, using the field like a 3D chessboard, dropping out of sight, heading around blind corners, or staying behind cover for longer than I’m comfortable. Some enemies sprint, skitter, and slide across the ground like you're trying to squash a spider. Some use wonderfully evasive maneuvers both on land or in the sky. Most can be put down with little problem. That is, until they are a problem. They keep me on my toes and only a thumb-click away from my sprint button.
Destiny combat is as good as it ever was.
Enemy encounters (as opposed to environmental traversal) is heavily punctuated with action, action, action. The running around between flashpoints is pregnant with thoughtful sights to take in. But then you come upon a crashed ship, or a section of The Traveler’s shard, and then things escalate into challenging but empowering little fights. And even as the game breaks you down to your lowest levels—you gear is toast, you've lost the Light—the gameplay is still shot through with adrenaline. Each major encounter, even those not riddled with boss-level enemies, are great. My neck and my fingers are sore from the intensity. I’ve been smiling during a first-person shooter, which is largely unheard of for me.
Devrim Kay is a civilian sniper, aiding the Guardians in recovering the EDZ. He’s out there in the thick of it, posted up in a church tower, packing the oldest rifle still in service anywhere in the Destiny universe. He provides missions for the Guardians to undertake across the EDZ. He’s a good guy, a great shot, and an even more handsome Sean Connery.
The first thing Devrim tells me is that these are dark times indeed: because he has no tea to serve. Ah, the British. He’s not afraid to tell you himself that he’s a great shot, but he’s also having “a devil of a time” stemming the enemy tide as he slowly sets up a comms network through the EDZ.
He’s dressed more like an Airborne Ranger with a trimmed beard and a solid head on his shoulders. He’s a gentleman, he’s happy to get your help, and his old school appearance, by Destiny standards, anyway,makes him a man out of his time. Or perhaps this is simply what war has always looked like for the civilians fighting the good fight without the benefit of the Guardians’ high-tech weaponry. Devrim looks like a poster boy for Call of Duty more than Destiny. But his whole shtick contributes to the World War II-ness of the EDZ as a whole.
Adventures start off like patrols, by finding a banner and clicking on it. But Adventures exhibit a greater penchant for storytelling in general. It’s not just “stand here for a few seconds while your Ghost scans the room,” or “fend off waves of enemies for five minutes while your Ghost pilfers some old cache of computer files.” The adventures are out there in the world, marked on your map by NPCs or by you (intentionally) stumbling across them. They’re meant to be meaty, but shorter and sweeter than, say, a strike. The intention is that you can simply complete them on your way from A to B. Folks like Devrim Kay will be talking you through different aspects of the adventures, fleshing out Grimoire cards’ worth of information about this and that as you meet and greet different objectives during your adventures.
With Devrim Kay chatting into my earpiece, I felt more connected to the EDZ’s seemingly random assortments of pipe-laden tunnels and European charm. Again, it wasn’t just Nolan North's voice saying, “Hey, look at this,” and “Hey, I wonder what this is,” anymore. It was more lore-laden knowledge fleshing out the bones of Destiny 2’s world. Even if, yes, it was to merely acknowledge that these endless pipe-laden tunnels might be an endless set of catacombs.
During these adventures, I even went into some areas, particularly those that take you down steep, fast, leg-breaking drops, that reminded me of Thatgamecompany's Journey, if you can believe it. But even if adventures are just gussied-up ways of making me press Square to advance, it’s done with enough variety to keep my mind on the task at hand, rather than on the banality of the button presses. I’ll admit that on more than one occasion, I spent entirely too long spinning in circles, or juking back and forth, trying to find the exact right place on the mini map to trigger certain mission objectives. They’ll work that out, though.
The Public Events are great when others attend, and far less entertaining if you’re tackling one solo, as you can imagine. I was a bit confused as I rallied around one public event banner. The clock ticked down from a full three minutes until the next one started. I waited. And as soon as the clock hit 0:00, the banner disappeared and we had to run to some other location for the actual event. Not sure if that worked as intended.
When we got there, there was an unusually large wave of enemies, also as you might imagine. We pounded the bad guys soundly, and grabbed a loot crate afterwards. A message of affirmation came through my earpiece. Public events are perhaps a little too familiar in setup, though. There's a Fallen Walker you have to take out. Sometimes it’s two Fallen Walkers. Or it’s the Cabal setting up drill sites that you have to reclaim. The drill sites move to three locations. You’ve done this many times before in Destiny 1. I moved on.
When you’re out and about in the world, you’ll sometimes see a mysterious symbol conspicuously painted on a wall, or on a rock, or something like that. When you see that symbol, it’s an indication that a Lost Sector is nearby. These often have entrances you’ll need to track down, some more obvious or obscure than others. But you dive into those areas knowing that they can start to get rather involved. They're entire chunks of the map that you never have to interact with, but your time in Destiny 2 will be lesser for it if you ignore them. Again, like adventures, Lost Sectors aren't meant to be quite the time sink of a strike, and certainly nothing like a raid.
These are parts of the landscape in the EDZ, or parts of the old town in particular, that are largely invisible on the map, until you’re actually working your way through them. They feel somewhat like Skyrim, for instance, where you can let yourself be distracted for a little bit because you saw a Lost Sector symbol painted on the wall over there. You say, Ooh look. And they end with a boss battle and a loot chest, invariably. So there’s always a carrot at the end of that stick in a Lost Sector. You're not just sightseeing for the sake of sightseeing.
The first treasure chest I opened scared the crap out of me. It had such an explosive audio punch that I thought I’d suddenly taken a headshot. But they’re less hidden. They’re brightly lit and along well-trodden paths. I’m sure there are some that are harder to find than others. But enough of them were simply there for the taking.
It’s satisfying when they open with a pop and a hiss, with the blue glow of Glimmer rising up over the hood of the chest, and little loot icons popping up in your screens’ right-hand margin. It’s not as overblown as it’s become in some shooters, with a separate screen and enough chest-opening animations to pay for someone’s college tuition. But they’re the digital equivalent of cracking open a cold beer after a long day at work.
THE DESTINATION MAP
The Destination Map is the stylized view of the solar system. Seven circles symmetrically fill the screen. Just after the opening Homecoming mission, the circles are empty except for The Farm, which has taken the place of The Traveler's spot from Destiny 1, front and center, above the largest circle, the European Dead Zone. It’s beyond what I’m allowed to talk about here, but Destiny 2 is full of all new locations. You might recognize some of the brushstrokes in the architecture or the plant life. But these are all new environments to soak in. Some are deceptively dull at first. But all of them eventually get into that big huge science-fantasy art style that makes Destiny irresistible, and Destiny's art team one of the finest collections of painters on the planet.
There’s a lot I’m not allowed to disclose from the preview event I attended. It’s a testament to how thick and rich Destiny 2 is when you consider how full-bodied this write-up is, yet I’ve only been allowed to scratch the surface of the European Dead Zone. But the EDZ is a great new home for Destiny 2. It gives the game hearty roots, and acts as a contrast, making the huge sci-fi parts all the more huge. I went into this preview event curious, but by no means was I a major fan of Destiny. I enjoyed the first one, but not necessarily enough to buy a season pass. So it says something when I, a filthy casual when it comes to Destiny, have been able to think of no other game than Destiny 2 since my preview earlier this month. I'm downright listless, waiting for launch day. Destiny is a special game. But Destiny 2? Even more so.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Randy gravitates toward anything open world, open ended, or open to interpretation. He prefers strategy over shooting, introspection over action, and stealth and survival over looting and grinding. He's been a gamer since 1982 and writing critically about video games for over 15 years. A few of his favorites are Skyrim, Elite Dangerous, and Red Dead Redemption. He lives with his wife and daughter in Oregon.View Profile