The Destiny community has been at this refrain since Bungie finally changed course on the disastrous direction on whcih Destiny 2 was released: "Maybe this will be a good game in the fall?" Winter is coming Fall has arrived. Do we have a good game?
I guess if we're really going to be true to the journey of Destiny 2, it's not so much about whether it is a good or bad game, its about whether it had an audience to play to at all. The original Destiny was a looter shooter where no matter how long you played there was always a better gun, a better piece of armor to chase. Pour hundreds and thousands of hours into the game and there were still reasons to come back between the thrilling payoff of the coordinated precision of a raid or the anything can happen variety of PvP. But it was a game for an audience of hardcore players. You could jump in on the beta and have a bit of fun casually running around enjoying classic Halo mechanics with the added bonus of getting to play space god with the devastating effect of amazing super powers. Primarily though, it was a game catered to the ones who put in those hundreds and thousands of hours. Destiny 2 drastically altered that course.
Destiny 2 has a very good tale, a progression to a coherent story that engaged in some real character building, things Destiny 1 never came close to getting right. Destiny 2 was easy to pick up, easy to progress. You didn't feel like you needed to grind for anything. Put in a few hours a week and it all came to you. It was a casual experience for the casual audience and that's precisely why it was so broken. Weapons were all static rolled to give the same build every time, and except for the chosen few with the best static rolls, the majority became meaningless as a result. PvP was watered down to 4v4 and the entire mode just became a boring, team-shooting slog with little to no room for individual brilliance. The recharge rate of special abilities and supers were so slow you often forget there was anything powerful about your character. And in the name of "balance" the best guns, the exotics, were nerfed so punishingly some of them were rendered absolutely useless. Pour a few dozen hours into it and there was no reason to keep going, no reason to come back. This infuriated the hardcore audience who adored Destiny 1, and provided no substance for the casual audience to stick around past the campaign. As a result the player numbers dropped off dramatically, well ahead of the pace of similar FPS games. Within weeks Destiny 2's participation statistics, if you could get them because some metrics had curiously just stopped getting reported, showed a decline in weeks the original didn't experience in years.
Two expansions were released, neither of which really pushed the needle. Curse of Osiris
was a bomb, light on content and nothing had changed in the stale gameplay loop. Warmind
at least gave us something interesting to explore, and started to implement some depth in masterworks and more powerful exotics. But still, the real changes that needed to be made were a ways off down the roadmap.
Which brings us to the major expansion Forsaken, and the completion of that roadmap. Firstly, let's take a look at just what exactly Forsaken is adding to the experience:
- Two new areas in the Shattered Coast and the Dreaming City, each offering more content and secrets (especially secrets) than the previous two expansions combined.
- A new public event in the blind well to take on waves of foes for fame and loot
- New public events with escapees from the Prison of Elders that need to be recaptured
- A complete bounty system that is interwoven into every area and game mode - not the half baked trial we've seen thus far
- A new game mode, Gambit, which combines elements of PvE with PvP. Fight adds and bosses on your map and occasionally jump into your opponents map to try and take down the guardians there.
- A new raid that ratchets up the difficulty to 11
- New enemies (and unlike re-skinned frozen hive from Warmind these actually feel different with unique abilities and builds)
- New guns and random rolls on weapons and armor
- Exotic exotics, although to be fair the corner had already turned on many of the old exotics in the lead up to Forsaken.
- Bows - yeah this could be grouped in with new weapons but the pull and release of the bow is so insanely satisfying it deserves it's own bullet point. Maybe it's just me but bows are the most fun weapon in Destiny.
This is Destiny 2's Taken King
(TTK) moment. The original Destiny had its own share of issues from launch and it wasn't until a year in and the first major expansion that things really got on track to become the epic it finally exited stage left as. Like TTK, Forsaken brings a ton of content, even more that TTK actually, but mostly what it does is fixes the endgame loop. Random rolls makes every drop meaningful. A complete overhaul of how weapons were classed and ammo distributed has brought certain archetypes back from the dead. Gameplay improvements abound as well. New supers and tweaks to the recharge rates and other bonus to speed up their acquisition has made guardians finally feel powerful again. The power creep of current max levels has finally opened up some of the access mistakes to previous top level content for all players (I'm looking at you Escalation Protocol who's matchmaking mechanics are still so broken but whose current challenge can now easily be tackled by just a 3-4 man group).
Unfortunately, not all fixes are created equal. While the random rolls on weapons is great, the new infusion materials required to level up an old favorite to the power of a new acquisition is broken, in that the cost is much steeper than the resources can be found. Also, in an effort to artificially slow the pace of the power creep to guardians maxing out at 600 light (I know it's called power now but it will always be light to me), the power up economy is locked behind slaving away for specific daily and weekly tasks which results in the longest and slowest crawl toward max light in my Destiny career. Which wouldn't be so bad except for that much of the current endgame is behind suggested light barriers of 560 or even 580 light and it will take those of use who don't eat, breathe, and sleep Destiny months to get there. And don't even get me started on the drop rate of new exotics. In the month I've been playing now I have gotten a total of 1 "new" exotic weapon and that was actually a Destiny 1 gun that was re-released with this expansion. A gun I had already spent a year playing with in that previous life.
Which brings us to the crux of this review. I have been playing this game for a month. My clan has been active for a month as well. It took that long to even get to the point I could safely formulate an opinion because the primary pain of the Destiny 2 experience thus far has been that there is no end game, nothing to do and no reason to do it once the primary campaign was closed. But here we are, plugging away daily, scratching and clawing our light up a few points a week. Rediscovering old content as space gods, amazed at the breadth of the new stuff. Gambit (before it was overrun with Sleeper Simulants) was one of the most fun activities I've done in Destiny, 1 or 2 (and once the promised Sleeper aim assist nerf comes in it should be back to the glory of the first week or two). The bounties and powerful engrams needed to light up are spread throughout the different activities and reset frequently enough you can go hardcore and power through it all or pace yourself and concentrate on the activities you like best. We're back and we're playing and having fun like we haven't had in Destiny 2 yet. The reality is, the issues that still plague the game are really just annoyances, ones that can be tweaked easily enough. The game itself is more or less fixed, finally. It is fixed because just about every change Bungie made from Destiny 1 to Destiny 2 has been either reworked or rolled back. It's time to put the last year behind us and try and move forward with the game we honestly should have been given from the start. At least it is here now.
A review of Forsaken can't be separated from the larger view of where Destiny 2 is at because of it. That being said, what does Forsaken specifically bring to the table? Much was made before release of the primary driver behind the plot, so it's not a spoiler to reveal what was already discussed in just about every bit of media preview for Forsaken, namely that the Cayde-6 dies in the opening mission. The story of Forsaken is one of revenge and it really hits the ground running. As a matter of fact, it probably hits the ground running bit too fast. Your first task is to take down the cohort of Scorn, the new enemy faction, responsible for Cayde's death. For a game that metes out progress so slowly after light 500 and made such a production of Cayde's passing, I think Bungie really missed a trick here. You tackle the first few missions to set up the first new location, the Shattered Coast along the Reef, then are given the options to run through each of the Barons who lead the Scorn. The Barons are leveled out around 20 points of light apart, from 400 to 420, 440, etc. What end's up happening though, is that because progress is so generous to 500, you basically run through each of the Barons in order, without having to really do any leveling up in between, and none pose much of a threat. The actual story of Forsaken, the tale of revenge, is told too easily and too quickly.
So how did this cadre of losers actually take down the Cayde-6? That's what irked me a little. I ran through them solo with no troubles, but they managed to actually kill, not just stop but kill one of the leaders of the Vanguard. In that respect, the plot line of Forsaken unfortunately is another step back. Which is a shame. I still think vanilla Destiny 2 came out of the gate strong with the best bit of exposition and writing we've seen in the series yet but each of Curse of Osiris, Warmind, and Forsaken have all been a disappointment. I think what Bungie should have done is pace the Barons out to actually be 520, 540, etc. Get the players to the endgame grind, present each Barron as out of the player's initial reach and introduce real RPG type elements to actually do a few activities first, build up your strength and arsenal, and then take each one on. They could easily have time gated each boss to only release on weekly reset and let the natural progression of the endgame coincide with the strength building required to tackle the challenge. But that's not what we got. What we got was an underwhelming enemy and a plot that was just a vehicle to get you to the endgame.
And with the endgame comes the power wall. If you want to experience all the endgame has to offer right away, frankly you just can't. The Dreaming City is amazing and filled with secrets. It is a wonderful location and one that is a joy to wander around swinging from encounter to encounter. But it won't take long before you stumble into something bigger than you can chew. The post-500 light is that slog I've mentioned time and again, but when you quickly run into an activity at 560 or 580, you will fall. You will not succeed. For me it was the ascendant challenges. I jumped in at 30 light below the suggested level with the perpetually nerfed Hunter class (Bungie hates Hunters, it's well documented) and just could not progress past the final bosses. The damage penalties for being so under leveled was too much for my skill to overcome, and I spent 2 1/2 hours bashing my head against a wall I finally was timed out of even attempting again.
And then the Raid was released an beaten and everything changed again. 18 people were able to complete the Last Wish raid the weekend it was released. For apples to apples, compare that to the tens of thousands that beat King's Fall from the Taken King on its initial weekend. It is a difficult, mechanic heavy raid; but with that first clear, the world changed. A taken corruption took hold in the Dreaming City that has been building since. The Dreaming City, for all it's wonderful secrets and challenges continues to be a fluid space that is reacting to the game world around it. It's such a neat little aspect that has an even greater impact on the world building Bungie is trying to accomplish. I continue to be excited to see what future secrets the game will reveal, as even this week yet another exotic quest opened up through a special endless in Gambit. This version of Destiny's world feels so much more alive, and with the endgame back in line there is again reason to jump in and celebrate it.