Imagine you’re a food critic who has to review a restaurant. You usually go to restaurants by yourself when you’re reviewing them, but this restaurant insists you bring some friends along. The food was excellent, but the service was lousy and you were double charged for the beer. However, you had a good laugh with your mates and went home with a smile on your face. How do you review the restaurant? You had fun, so does that mean it should get a good score? Or do you focus on reviewing the quality of the food and service? I’m opting for the latter, so without further ado, here’s my review of Destiny 2.
For the first five hours, Destiny 2 felt like a sequel three years in the making. After 25 hours it felt like the same game I played back in 2014. In those initial hours, there were fleeting moments where I thought that Bungie had nailed it. There was a coherent story and my guardian had a purpose to push him forward. Loot popped frequently and there was more content than I could keep up with. I thought we were finally going to get the game we were promised all those years ago. How naïve I was.
Destiny 2 starts with a gripping defense of the Tower. The pace is frantic as you fend off an invasion by Ghaul, the leader of a group of Cabal known as the Red Legion. After Ghaul captures the Traveller, your guardian loses the power of the light and plunges down to Earth defenseless. He somehow survives and promptly regains his power by traveling to a shard of the Traveller which makes the preceding section somewhat pointless, but nevermind. It’s a touch slow, but you can tell Bungie is making an effort with its storytelling this time around. You’re now the only guardian with the power of the light and the fate of the world is in your hands… along with all those other guardians running around alongside you. Hmm. Maybe telling the player they’re the sole hero isn’t a good idea in an MMO. It’s a silly disconnect that could have been avoided but the worst is yet to come.
After a vaguely promising start, the story becomes so offensively bad that I almost wish Bungie hadn’t bothered. Ghaul hangs around torturing the Speaker, demanding to know how to get the Traveller to give him his power, and occasionally grunting at his second-in-command. Your character is assigned the task of getting Cayde-6, Zavala, and Ikora together for one big attack on Ghaul. These two parts of the story are entirely separate and never the twain shall meet. What’s the point in setting up a big bad if he doesn’t interact with the protagonist in any way?
After starting out on Earth, your journey takes you to Titan, Io, and Nessus (no, me neither). Nessus bears more than a passing resemblance to Venus from Destiny 1, but it’s not the similarity of the locations that’s the problem. Once on these planets, you’ll fight exactly the same enemy types as before. The Vex, Fallen, Cabal, Hive, and Taken are all back and nearly exactly the same as they were before. There are some dogs and a couple of new character models, but little effort has been made to spice things up from the original.
No story context is provided for fighting the factions this time around, so it ends up feeling like a continuation of the first game. You land on planets and start shooting things just like you did when grinding in Destiny 1. I might as well be playing the same game. Why are the Vex on Nessus? Is there a reason we’re fighting them this time? Or do they just hate us based on memories of what happened previously? These aren’t rhetorical questions. I expect there are answers, but the game does a piss poor job of explaining what’s going on.
In the previous game, you could dive into the grimoire for answers although it was infamously relegated to the website and mobile app. That’s not a problem anymore. Bungie recognized how much people hated the implementation of the grimoire system so they fixed it. You no longer need to go to the website or mobile app to read the grimoire, because it’s been removed entirely. There’s some lore attached to pieces of equipment, but it’s somehow even worse than the grimoire system.
You can bring your character from Destiny 1 forward to Destiny 2, but it makes bugger all difference. Your guardian makes Gordon Freeman sound more talkative than those idiots who’ve just taken a line of cocaine for the first time and want everyone in the room to know how cool they are. Cutscenes often happen without anyone so much as acknowledging the presence of your guardian, let alone interacting with him in any way. You feel like an uninvited guest at a party. Silent protagonists can help with immersion, but it doesn’t work too well in third-person cutscenes. You just look stupid.
So why isn’t Destiny 2 terrible? That part’s easy. The gunplay in Destiny 2 is still some of the best around. The new submachine guns are phenomenal up close and the handcannon still feels strangely and satisfyingly overpowered. Put simply, the moment-to-moment experience of shooting enemies is excellent. Popping off Cabal heads is still a joy. Bungie knows how to make an FPS feel great. I don’t mean to undersell the gunplay, but there’s only so much I can say. It’s phenomenal. That said, I’m not a huge fan of the changes to the three weapon setup. The kinetic and energy weapons are now the same except for the type of damage they do, while shotguns and sniper rifles have been recategorized as heavy weapons. They all feel damn good to use but it’s not uncommon for your best kinetic and energy weapon to be the same. It feels odd to switch from one assault rifle to another assault rifle.
Once you’ve completed the main campaign, it’s time to get stuck into the grind and prepare yourself for the raid and nightfall. You’ll likely end the campaign near the level cap of 20, at which point it’s time to start working on your power level, which has replaced light level. The grind is somehow better and worse than the first game. Progression is relatively quick up to power level 265 (for context, power level 260-280 is the recommended power level for the raid). Until power level 265, I picked up new and improved gear at a steady pace just by doing strikes and adventures. Flashpoints are the best way to get good loot, but they’re also boring as hell. The name sounds exciting, but a flashpoint is simply the name given to doing six public events on one planet. You end up moving between the same two or three events until you’ve finished six. It’s hard to imagine who thought this would be exciting and it’s a shame that this is so clearly the best way to reach power level 265.
After hitting the soft level cap, you’ll be reminiscing fondly about the days when you could complete flashpoints for a decent piece of gear. At power level 265, you’ll need to focus on the raid, nightfall, and competitive multiplayer. This seems like a good time to admit that I didn’t complete the raid. That sentence will invalidate this review in the eyes of some people and that’s fine. Nothing in what I’ve seen of the raid will change my mind about this game. It’s decent content, but nothing game-changing. I don’t particularly enjoy the hassle that comes with setting up raids or the huge time commitment they require. Destiny 2 includes a “guided games” feature for raids that lets one player join up with a team of five for a raid. This resembles matchmaking but falls well short of what I need. If you have a group of two, three, or four (as I do), then you’re still screwed and have to go to external sites to organize a session. Bungie is right when it states that coordination is crucial in raids, however it brought this problem on itself. For whatever reason, Bungie decided to make communication as important as shooting in the raids. It didn’t have to be this way. I’d rather be judged on my skill with a gun than my ability to shout out “DOG BOTTOM” at the appropriate time.
At least we still have the strikes, which for me are the best content in the game. Some of them, anyway. The strikes that resemble mini-raids—without the need to talk to strangers online—are excellent. There are a few duds, but a couple of them have you descending into the depths of a planet while completing light platforming challenges. There were a few deja vu moments that reminded of Vault of Glass and that’s a huge positive in my book.
The rest of the post-game content is a huge misstep. Adventures are a cross between patrols and strikes. They’re interesting enough to do once, but that’s it. You can replay story missions through “meditations” but the rewards are pathetic. Patrols are back and even more pointless than last time. I only ever completed them when I interacted with the starting beacon by mistake.
Thankfully, you’re not expected to play Destiny 2 by yourself. This is where my random paragraph on being a food critic comes into play, in case you were wondering. Everything about Destiny 2 is set up for playing with friends. It’s either encouraged or practically mandatory. When you’re not playing alone, you forget about the lack of story and don’t care so much about the repeated environments and enemies. You just chat shit and shoot everything in sight. It’s hard not to have fun, despite Bungie’s best efforts.
The multiplayer has had a bit of a shakeup. The following is the opinion of someone who is not a huge fan of competitive multiplayer, so take it for what it’s worth. Crucible is now 4v4 instead of 6v6. This leaves maps feeling strangely empty as if the game is already on its last legs and the servers can’t find full games. You can’t choose game modes anymore which again is the sort of thing games do when they find it hard to fill matches. Iron Banner has been changed so that power level is no longer taken into account which to me largely negates the point of that mode. If you really want to test your competitive metal with some friends, then head on over to Trials of the Nine for a challenge and some good loot. I won’t see you there, but best of luck.
I’ll touch on the microtransactions briefly. They don’t affect me because I don’t care about cosmetics, but they offend me nonetheless. It’s not just that you can buy cosmetics; it’s the way in which you buy them. After leveling up, a drug dealer supplies you with a modest freebie of shaders and other pointless stuff like ships. As with all free samples from drug dealers, the idea is to get you hooked so that you spend real money. Despite being largely worthless, the free gear has the most extravagant reveal of all the loot in the game, with noises and bright colors assaulting your senses as if you’ve just won the lottery on rollover week. It targets those with addictive tendencies and it’s disgusting. I hate it.
Microtransactions are a sin, but they’re not the biggest sin a game can make. That’s reserved for being boring and Destiny 2 runs right into this trap the second you reach the soft level cap, if not before. Little changed from the first hour to the last. Enemies scale to your character which means you rarely struggle at all outside of nightfalls and raids, and you never feel overpowered either. If you return to Earth at max level, you’ll notice no difference from when you were there at level one.
There are still no interesting characters to meet. Cayde-6 (as voiced by Nathan Fillion) is bearable in small doses, but the rest are painfully boring. If I told you that the British character kept talking about cups of tea, I’d only be touching the sides of how unoriginal the characters are. And he’s one of the good ones. I would tell you about the rest of them, but I’ve already forgotten them. One woman has a bird on her shoulder and she talked a lot about how special you were as the only guardian in the world with the power of the light… while you were surrounded by other guardians with the power of the light. That’s about all I can remember.
Destiny 1 had plenty of problems, but the shooting mechanics were so spot-on that I had fun until the tedium kicked in after about 100 hours. Destiny 2 still has plenty of problems (the same ones), but the shooting mechanics are still spot-on. Unfortunately, the tedium kicked in much quicker this time. After 15-20 hours, the loot stopped rolling in and I realized how tedious the game was without a regular flow of new shiny things to play with. Destiny 2 will sell by the millions, but I’m going to need some huge changes to go back for Destiny 3.
The gunplay in Destiny 2 is excellent. Unfortunately, Bungie still doesn’t understand how to handle an MMO grind—especially in the late game—and the storytelling is atrocious. Thankfully, the food is excellent and I can eat it with friends.