Destiny 2 Review
If you took part in the Destiny 2 beta and played the game's opening mission, you'll know that Destiny 2 is a clean break from Destiny. The core gameplay remains intact - Destiny 2 is still a socially-focused online shooter/RPG - but the Destiny universe suffers a complete and final break from its past when the Earth's final city falls to a Cabal assault and the Traveler, the moon-like entity that protects it, is shattered. The Guardians, the player characters that defend the Earth from the alien forces invading the Solar System, lose the "light" that gives them their powers and makes them immortal, the consequences of which are that everyone who plays Destiny 2, veteran or newbie, will begin the game with a level one character. Destiny 2 will know if you're new to the series or not, though, and will customize the game's dialog to your status. New players will receive some background information as they encounter the game's alien races or returning characters from the first game, while Destiny players will instead hear references to events and accomplishments from the original game.
The locations you'll visit are all new as well. The destruction of the city has driven humanity to a new hub location, The Farm, somewhere on Earth hidden from the invaders. Earth is also home to the first zone you'll visit in the game, the EDZ or European Dead Zone, which despite its name is a heavily wooded zone surrounding a small town in an area that looks like it might have once been Bavaria. The other new zones are located on Titan, Io, and Nessus. Titan's zone is set on a massive set of rigs rising above the moon's oceans, Io is a moon orbiting Saturn (if you look up at the planet in the sky you'll see the Taken King's Dreadnaught sitting in the hole it punched in Saturn's rings) that looks like it was once filled with an abundance of giant plants and creatures, and lastly Nessus is a centaur planetoid that was terraformed by the machine-like Vexx race. Destiny 2 makes it easy to navigate these worlds thanks to its new map system. Each world features fast travel points to get you around the map quickly, and you can even select a fast travel point on another world without the need to first go into orbit above the world that you're currently on. That won't mean much to new players, but returning players will appreciate the reduction in the number of hops required to get from one place to another.
The revamped maps do more than give you a means to save travel time, though. Public events, short but challenging objective-based encounters designed to be completed by several players working together, are now marked on the map along with countdown timers that let you know when each one will be starting again. If players manage to meet additional objectives while completing an event, it will transform into a "heroic" event, ratcheting up the challenge for a chance at greater rewards. And in addition to the marker that indicates the location of your next story-based mission you'll see new markers for "adventures" which are optional side missions that help expand the narrative of Destiny 2's universe. These missions tend to run a little shorter than the story missions, but still feature multiple objectives and narrative elements that would make them fit perfectly well into the campaign as required missions. The maps also contain markers for lost zones and regional chests, the former lead to hidden areas that feature a boss battle once you fight your way through them to the end and the latter contain loot once you find their exact location.
In addition to all of these map locations you'll still find patrols to complete and enemies to battle as well, so there's plenty to do on your way to your next story mission or after you make your way through the campaign. There are level gates on some of the story missions, but I only ran into a level gate once while playing through Destiny 2's campaign. At times it felt like a grind getting though the original Destiny's campaign as I ran into level gates constantly and had to level up by grinding through patrols and multiplayer matches. With the side missions and other activities available between Destiny 2's story missions my character leveled-up at a constant rate and this helped to make the story feel more contiguous and less disjointed than Destiny's campaign. If you try to power your way through the main story missions, then you can probably complete it in ten hours or so, but you can extend that time by probably as much as double by playing the adventure missions in each zone, as well as the special missions in which you earn your character's subclass powers, as you make your way through the campaign. I found the campaign in Destiny 2 to be more enjoyable than in the original game, probably because the objectives were more varied than in previous games and it felt like there was more story content in them. Boss battles still tend to be bullet-sponge affairs that feel like they test your stamina more than your skills, though.
In addition to the campaign missions and zone activities, Destiny 2 includes competitive multiplayer play in its Crucible mode, three-player challenge missions called Strikes, and, a few weeks after launch, a raid. The Crucible game modes are all team-based, 4-on-4 modes in Destiny 2, and include returning modes Clash, Control, and Supremacy along with the new modes Countdown and Survival. Countdown is an attack and defend style mode, with teams alternating between trying to place and detonate a bomb and trying to prevent the other team from doing the same. Dead players can be revived by teammates, but don't respawn otherwise, so eliminating the other team provides for an alternate victory condition. The Survival mode is an elimination match in which each team is given a limited number of respawns. Once they're used up all deaths are final and the team with the last players standing wins the match. Control is a capture and hold mode with three capture points designated on the map. A change has been made to this mode in Destiny 2 in that each team begins with one point in their possession and only the middle point initially up for grabs. Clash is the deathmatch mode, as is Supremacy, except that in the latter mode kills only count towards your team's score if you capture the crests of the downed players. All of the modes and maps in Destiny 2 are designed to keep the action tighter and more focused. Since all modes are four versus four, the maps are optimized to that number of players. I have to admit, tough, that at least initially I'll miss the free-for-all and larger number of player modes from Destiny.
Another change in store for multiplayer matches is in the way heavy ammo is distributed. The chests that would appear at periodic intervals and dole out ammo to all players in the vicinity are gone. Wall stations have taken their place that give out heavy ammo to a single player on a first-come-first-served basis, after which they are no longer usable and reset a countdown timer to the time the next ammo pack will be available. This new system deemphasizes the role of the heavy weapons, naturally restricting the frequency of their use and preventing a team of four from being given an overwhelming advantage by arming them all with heavy weapons simultaneously.
Strikes are challenging three player co-op missions. Each one tells a story and eventually leads to an intense multi-stage boss fight. I don't want to spoil any of the surprises that are in store for you in the strikes, but I will say that I was impressed with Destiny 2's strikes in comparison to those in Destiny. First, it's obvious a lot of work went into designing the strikes' environments - they're not recycled from other parts of the game or simply throwaway environments. There were times when we took short breaks just to soak in the view around us. There are also environmental hazards to contend with that will test your maneuvering skills in addition to your combat skills. A raid will also be added to Destiny 2 post-launch which we'll look at in a separate article after its release.
As in the original Destiny, there are three available classes to play, Titan, Hunter, and Warlock, each of which can be furthered specialized by enabling one of each class' three available subclasses. The subclass screens have been significantly simplified from the original Destiny, and it's easy to see which skills you are progressing towards next. Some skills are tied together in sets, which lets you customize your subclass skills a little further to fit your current activity. The level cap is set to 20, but the strength of the weapons and armor that you equip contribute to your power level (formerly light level) which is used to determine if you have high enough level equipment to take on a strike or raid.
Destiny 2 adds an additional ability for each class that can be activated by holding down on the B button. For example, the Titan Striker can create an energy wall to use as cover, the Warlock Dawnblade can generate a sphere of light that boosts healing for allies, and the Hunter Gunslinger can perform a dodge move that will automatically reload all weapons. These abilities have a recharge rate similar to that used for grenades and special abilities. And now that I've mentioned recharge rates, I should note that the recharge rates for everything in Destiny 2 take longer than in Destiny. Destiny 2 puts more of an emphasis on primary weapons gunplay while making the use of grenades, special attacks, etc. something that you hold in reserve for when you really need it. I quickly found that I frequently tried to use a grenade when I didn't have one available, so you may find that you'll have to make adjustments as well if you've played Destiny before.
Destiny 2 allows you to equip three weapons as in the previous game, but the weapon classes have been changed. Gone are the primary, secondary, and heavy slots, replaced with kinetic, energy, and power weapons slots in Destiny 2. The primary difference between the kinetic and energy slots is that energy weapons have an elemental alignment, so if you like, say, auto rifles, you can have one in each of the two slots, switching to the energy auto rifle to save time reloading your primary weapon or when you need the elemental effect to deal with enemy shielding. Destiny 2 also moves sniper rifles from the secondary weapon slot to the power weapon slot. This means that your use of sniper rifles will be significantly curtailed compared to Destiny. In the previous game you could stand off against bosses by alternating between your sniper rifle and rocket launcher, but in Destiny 2 you'll only have a few shots to take from long range before you need to get more up close and personal. I found that it was a bit of an adjustment for me to get used to this and develop some new tactics, and at this point I'm not entirely sure that I like this particular change. For those of you looking for something new to play with, the power weapon slot is home to Destiny 2's new class of weapons, grenade launchers. These don't pack quite the same punch as a rocket launcher, but they're faster to use and work better in tighter quarters.
One thing Destiny 2 doesn't share with Destiny is the need to support the last generation of consoles and it shows. The graphics are dramatically improved - sharper, more detailed, and filled with special effects that bring the exotic locations of the game to life. There are some stunning vistas in the game that will have you pausing to take them all in, and the look of everything in space, from the ships to the planets they orbit. The soundtrack deserves special mention as well, the full orchestral score really adds emotional weight to the story and gives the worlds that you visit more atmosphere.
There was one change in Destiny 2 that I found disappointing, and that's the change to the gear shader system. It used to be that you could change the color of your gear as a complete set and at will. I enjoyed the ability to do a bright orange ensemble for a strike and then instantly swap to all black for a Crucible match. I always had plenty of shaders on-hand to suit my mood and I could always go back to an old one if I didn't like a new one I decided to try out. Now shaders are one-time use items that are applied to pieces of gear individually, and they require you to spend the "glimmer" currency you earn from defeating enemies to apply each one. If you find a new piece of gear that you want to use, then unless you happen to have extra shaders of the same type as that applied to your other gear on-hand you'll ruin your look when you equip it. It's also a pain to preview the appearance of a shader on each piece of equipment individually while trying to imagine what the entire ensemble will look like if you commit to it. While shaders are among the awards you earn when reaching new power or faction levels, you can purchase more for real-world currency through in-game transactions. Since you can earn them through gameplay they aren't really forced micro-transaction items, but I can't help but feel that the overall player population is being forced to deal with a clunky shader system so that the developers can earn extra cash from the portion of the players who are both vain and impatient.
Overall, Destiny 2 is an evolutionary step forward for the franchise. The game is filled with more content than its predecessor, but you won't find the gameplay behind that content to be radically different from that in Destiny. The campaign is a big improvement over the one in its predecessor, providing far more content in more cohesive missions with a better overall feeling of continuity. It's good to see that the various enemy factions in the game have been given new unit types, but I think that a full sequel should have probably introduced a new faction to the Destiny universe. Those who tried playing Destiny but didn't stick with it should probably give Destiny 2 a try as it has addressed a number of issues that were present in the original game. Regular Destiny players will undoubtedly have their own personal list of complaints about the sequel, but none of them should be a deal-breaker and after an adjustment period of getting used to the changes they should find themselves playing Destiny 2 as much as they played the original. As for new players, Destiny 2 provides enough content through its campaign and related mission that you'll get more gameplay out of it than you will a standard shooter even if you don't continue playing much beyond the campaign. And after that, many of you will find yourself getting hooked on the drive to push for better gear so that you can take on the top challenges the game has to offer.
Final Rating: 88% - Destiny is a constantly evolving franchise, and Destiny 2 continues that evolution.