I am not a vanilla year one Destiny player. I played the beta and really liked the feel of it but never got around to diving in until the price dropped to 40 bucks for the complete collection on a holiday sale. I took the plunge some time that January, loading it up in earnest for the first time. Destiny would go on to consume the next two years of my gaming life. It was a wonderful journey, and throughout the process my friends list grew exponentially as our clan very organically came together over a sports blog and a few raids to be over 50 strong. It was with these folks that we endlessly debated the sequel, speculated on the changes, and waited in anticipation to take the next step in the Destiny "10 year journey."
I'm not going to review this game in the strict context of a clan, but I will offer this caveat at the start: to get the most out of this game it is essential you find a group of like-minded players to enjoy it with. Sites like the100.io are a great stepping off point as an outside resource and guided games within the game itself are a welcome addition, but Destiny is not meant to be a solo journey and unlocking the most rewarding experiences can only be done in a fireteam. Teams that are only made better when those casual experiences become genuine friendships over time. Find a clan and make some new friends, there's no better place for that than Destiny.
The opening scenes of Destiny 2, for returning players, is a fantastic homage to past exploits and the partners with which you reached those milestones. A tableau paints it way across the screen showing raid clears and major plot points with the fireteams that tackled the challenges with you. The memories flood back as the music slowly crossfades into the next scene (That's Oryx's music!) which introduces you to the game's magnificent score. Destiny 2 is a game of triumphs and the first one that presents itself is just how good the music is. There are visual tweaks that will follow and gameplay changes that redefine the game itself, but for me it was the soundtrack that first got me to stand up and take notice.
With the tableau finished, your experience in the first campaign properly memorialized, the time comes to press X to pay your respects "start a new adventure." With that the homage to D1 ends and you are thrust into the world of D2. But not all is new. If you had characters from D1 you will find them there, waiting for your entry into D2. They have the same faces with the same races and genders, but their gear has been stripped down to the opening stock set and all your loot from the first gone. The only thing that really carries over is your face. Which was, funnily enough, probably the single weakest option in D1. Face creation was, and is, so bad as essentially, there are no improvements in D2. It's back to helmets on all the time for your silent protagonist. And yeah, that remains true as well; since the vanilla campaign we haven't heard our Guardians (Destiny term for your main character) speak. Two major complaints often voiced on the various fan forums from the first Destiny with no movement at all in D2: terrible face creation options and mute main characters. Sigh. Guess the team was too busy working on the stuff that matters.
Bungie never really billed Destiny as an MMO to my knowledge, it was the community that picked up the idea and ran with it; but many of the aspects were there in Destiny 1. And, for me, that's where Destiny 2 see its most radical departure from the original: gone are variable weapon stats, weapon classes for loadouts have been completely upended, and the timers on super abilities have been dialed down to a trickle among other things. Every change seems to push this game further and further towards an FPS and away from an MMO/RPG type hybrid. That's not a bad thing, because at its heart Destiny is an FPS with, in my opinion, the best gunplay on the market. It combines excellent movement options that stretches the battlefield horizontally and vertically with some of the sweetest firing weapons you'll find anywhere and enough space magic to make you go supernova when things get sticky. It is a step slower than a twitch shooter but that allows for more strategic engagements with more variance in outcomes. In Destiny you gun fight whereas in many other FPS games you strike first or get gunned down.
Those gunfights are another triumph of Destiny 2 but one not unique to this version over the original. What this version does is remove so many of the barriers to getting in the fight in the first place. Because of the removal of weapon and armor stats and randomized rolls, now every version of a given gun or helmet is exactly the same. Once it has dropped for you that first time, every other drop will be exactly the same to that and everyone else's. What has gone from D1 is the grind. The grind for slightly better and better versions of existing gear. Destiny 1 was heavy with the grind. Certain top tier weapons only dropped a specific locations and rarely at that. Rarer still to get the perfect roll. For so many the endgame became hunting for these unicorns, these "god rolls" on their favorite guns. But to a lesser extent, even without the hunt, in Destiny 1 every time anything dropped there was an anticipation to the shiny new thing before you could match it up your existing roll and compare which is best. Maybe the new is better, has a better perk or slightly higher armor stats. Maybe they are both unique to the point you'll keep two, but there was always a bit of excitement and something to check. Now, those dupes are instantly deleted. There is no quickening of the pulse and hope for an incremental boost because it's guaranteed to be what you already have. That little thrill is gone. So it ends up a double edged sword, it's easier to catch 'em all when it comes to weapons and armor but once you have caught them you have no reason to keep catching.
One of the original's most painful points of contention was just how thin, veiled, or missing was the plot. Destiny 1 was a game to run around and shoot space bugs and not question why. There was a treasure trove of answers locked away outside of the game on obscure online snippets, but the game itself, except for one brief beacon of stroytelling showing what could have been in the Taken King expansion, always disappointed on the plot end. In Destiny 2, the plot, storytelling, pacing are all triumphs of the highest order. I'll go so far as to wager Destiny 2 will have the best story you will find in an FPS this year. There are even a few set pieces with vehicles in it that really drive home the point (get it? vehicles... drive...) that Destiny is the true spiritual successor to Halo.
The whole thing kicks off with the devastation of your home and from there tells a very human story of retribution and teamwork. The only criticism I would have is that the backstory isn't very well fleshed out. I guess if you never told it much in the first place why go back and tell it now... But there are multiple major characters all on collision courses with their varying fates and, had I not known of these people intimately from all of the hours spent in Destiny 1, I'm not sure a new player would really be driven to care as much. It's still a great story unfolding but many of the details from the past will have to have been experienced or otherwise might just get missed. Also, the final boss battle wasn't near difficult enough. Just didn't feel like I took down this bogeyman that had been getting built up for so long across the campaign when he fell so easily. He was just a speedbump on the way to the endgame, not the culmination of an otherwise epic campaign.
Which brings us to the PvE endgame, but I'm not sure what that's meant to be. First of all, for all the emotional build up throughout the campaign, by its conclusion I felt slightly let down by everything changing yet basically saying the same. The tower is destroyed, that's a big deal, but (MINOR SPOILER ALERT) by the end of the game the threat is thwarted and humanity is busy rebuilding, meet the new tower same as the old tower. Even the factions and hangar are located in the same spaces as Destiny 1's tower. After taking down the piddling end boss, you can spend a beat raising your power level enough to tackle the end game activities of the weekly rotating Nightfall Strike and 6 player Raid. After that, there really isn't anything much to chase. There is an arbitrary number for max power set at 300 which makes other events easier, but I can log in for a few hours a week and do everything for that week there is to do, hitting that 300 milestone with relative ease. As a matter of fact, it's easier to hit by only playing a few hours a week than grinding out in the same week, as the highest boosting gear is given away freely but largely time-gated by weekly dole outs. The grind is gone. So why keep playing?
I guess this is the Destiny that gives me back my gaming life. Because for all there is to do, and there is a lot initially between the campaign, strikes, raid, lost sectors, patrols, side quests, public events; you can't even actually choose much of it. Strikes are locked in a random rotation, story missions can't be selected or replayed, even PvP is locked behind a "Quickplay" or "Competitive" playlist and you can't individually select your game mode. I've been playing avidly since release and this week loaded into a strike for the first time only because it came up as the weekly Nightfall. The RNG of the random strike playlist failed to ever choose it for me. There might be enough planned content to slowly roll out in the coming weeks and months to surprise me, but I doubt I'll get any more than 100 hours or so out of this game. Now that's still a lot of playtime and excellent bang for your buck, an impressive number by any means; but it pales to D1's 700+ hours that I happily put in. Destiny 1 seems like it didn't really get good until the endgame. Destiny 2, for an avid D1 player, seems like it just kinda ends with the endgame.
Speaking of that raid for a moment, another triumph. This raid is pretty mechanics heavy but not so difficult with specific timed jumps or memorized pathing of previous iterations. It's more the one where you need everyone in the party of six to take up a role and communicate. It's a very team-centric raid as opposed to shooter-centric. There are also some lovely little bits at the end that communicate artfully the rationale behind being able to play it over and again and remain logically consistent, as well as wonderful little puzzles hidden away in the underbelly of the location set to claim a few loot chests. It's such a nice, fleshed out encounter that comes to life. Shame about the story though, because for all the leaps and bounds taken in the single player campaign, the Leviathan Raid gets no real set up or explanation as to why we're even there in the first place. Thankfully it's not two steps forward one step back with respect to the plot, more like ten forward to start but the set up for the Raid (or lack thereof) is still one step back.
For all the triumphs and tweaks to PvE, it's the multiplayer PvP, called Crucible, that sees the most drastic change in the sequel. Across the board matches are now 4v4 and the weapon classing changes have essentially opened up the ability to swap freely between two primaries throughout the encounter. Destiny's gunplay in PvP was always meant to be played out by distance. Your scout rifles dominate from afar as pulse rifles cover the space between scouts and auto rifles which are better as the distance closes, now submachine guns enter the short range market once dominated by sidearms and the other weapons (fusions, shotguns) that have been consigned to the ammo-starved power weapon category. Loadouts can now take these distances into account for a great effective balance. Rather than get stuck with one primary and be able to stand out at only one distance, players can combine complimentary weapons and swap between them as the situation dictates. From a pure loadout perspective, and with the early meta still largely undefined, this makes for what I believe is the most balanced Crucible I've ever seen. Also, there have been active measures to try and combat much of the toxicity that plagues online PvP. The individual scoreboard has been largely removed until the end and k/d has been replaced by an efficiency that tallies all kills and assists vs. deaths. Those are very good things.
On the other hand however, the final scores of most of the matches I've seen is the most lopsided stomp-fests of any Crucible as well. The triumph is in the weapon balancing, the failure was in changing the format to 4v4. There is now one winning strategy regardless of load out: stick together as a a team and team shot your opponents to victory. Now, it's easy to argue this was alway the wining strategy, but in 6v6 Destiny 1 you could get away with going lone wolf or split the whole in two and still remain competitive end even generally just have a bit of fun messing about. Now you can't hardly ever find another lone wolf to go 1v1 and the gameplay itself feels de-volved into either a fire team vs disjointed team pub-stomping, or fire team vs fire team first-one-to-get-the-first-kill-will-roll-the-opponent-on-the-advantage. The team that loses 25% of their stopping power on that first kill in a team v team cat and mouse usually gets rolled. There also used to be a great leveler in supers, overcharged abilities that could take out an entire team. Those too have been heavily nerfed, taking longer to build up to use, and once popped it seems much easier to team shot the one man wrecking ball before they can close the gap, just become a wrecked ball. I do expect some balancing changes to happen soon: burst sidearms will probably get nerfed as will the range on auto rifles a hair; but for the most part I don't see the 4v4 changing and I think, on the whole, Crucible is worse off for it.
There has long been an argument amongst the Destiny community on how to best separate PvE from PvP. As it stands changes to one environment (usually PvP) can often lead to drastic side effects in the other. Destiny 2's changes to the weapon classing, specifically moving secondary weapons like snipers, fusion rifles, and shotguns in the power weapon slot does has a stark detrimental effect on your ability to do massive damage per second (DPS). For the vast majority of enemy encounters this is negligible, as a few rounds of primary ammo will take them down, but when facing up against strike and raid bosses this was a huge concern as, in the past, many were just bullet sponges that needed extended bouts of DPS to whittle down. This feels like another example of PvP balancing effecting PvE in a very tangible way. Thankfully, Destiny 2 sees it's final triumph in that most of these boss encounters are set around a certain mechanic or buff that precludes the need for that DPS. The mechanic serves as the challenge more than the needed DPS over time on a bullet sponge. There are a few instances where I do lament not having a sniper and a rocket launcher at the ready in tandem, but most of my fears here have been allayed.
There are a few other newsworthy points of interest that should be mentioned. Bungie (probably at the behest of Activision) continue to push their online marketplace to nickel and dime purchasers of a AAA title for cosmetic micro-transactions. There was a bit of furor over the movement of some boosts into this shady realm but I don't find there to be any real competitive advantage behind this micro-transactional paywall. However, bit by bit other pieces of the first game are migrating to the storefront. Collections and shaders are now just another thing that is shifted slightly to the dark alley of the micro-transactions. It's crap, but for the most part I don't care about those cosmetic things anyway, so I'm not bothered. However, if it's a particular pain point for you, be warned.
Also there are still some very frustrating bugs out there, some of which are expected to be patched with this Tuesday's weekly reset: but exotics (the highest level of gear in the game) are consistently decrypting to be weapons and armor that you already own. I'm personally at somewhere above a 60% rate of duplicate exotics over new gear. It's very frustrating to see that gold engram drop and go to collect your loot only to get yet another of the same thing while the vast majority of the loot pool remains out of reach. I haven't personally had a new exotic drop for me in 2 weeks and am not alone either, with horror stories like a clanmate who has gotten the "worst gun in the game" from exotics 6 or 7 times now. There are also certain chests that aren't giving any loot at all and some max gear drops from clan activities that should be boosting people towards 300 power that are only coming in at the minimum 10 power.
At the end of the day, though, Bungie have made an excellent game that offers so much in terms of gameplay, story, and entertainment and have removed many of the barriers to entry the first one put up. The question really shifts from, is this a good game (it is a great game) to is this the game you were looking for? For new initiates who never experienced or casuals who never fell for the grind of the first this could be the best FPS game you play all year. But for hardcore fans of the first one, the changes are pretty stark and can be jarring. At its core, it is the same Destiny we fell in love with, but on the surface the rules for engagement have changed. This isn't the epic that will demand so much grindy effort to eke out every last drop of loot and accomplishment. This is the one where you can hop on, shoot space bugs, and go away for a while not really having missed much. It demands so much less, but to some effect the rewards seem just a bit cheaper because of it.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
First picked up a game controller when my mother bought an Atari 2600 for my brother and I one fateful Christmas.
Now I'm a Software Developer in my day job who is happy to be a part of the Gaming Nexus team so I can have at least a flimsy excuse for my wife as to why I need to get those 15 more minutes of game time in...