Whether you’re a veteran bearer of Light or a longtime naysayer, one thing everyone understands is that Destiny is a polarising monster.

From rabid excitement to fervent anger, gamers have had plenty to say about this game. With Destiny 2 looming, let’s look at how we got here and decide if the sequel looks capable of rising from the ashes of its scrutinised predecessor.

Way back in 2013, we got our first glimpse of Destiny. All we knew then was the folks behind the beloved Halo series were cooking up an ambitious shooter. I’ll admit, I’ve never been a Halo fan, but at that time I was itching for a new shooter to get into.

What unfolded over the next three years and four expansions was a rollercoaster of emotions. Letdowns, excitement, happiness, disappointment, memories both good and bad; Destiny held all that for so many players.

Destiny: From Vanilla to Iron

Say what you want, but Bungie makes a damn good trailer. The gameplay demos, trailers, and teases did ample work in getting everyone ready for the release. When the First Look Alpha test came around, everyone finally had a chance to sink their teeth into what was the game at the time. It looked good, played smooth, and was a great experience for friends. The general consensus, at that time, was that the community wanted more.

When the beta dropped, we all wanted more content. Impress us. Make our pre-order worth it. It wasn’t necessarily revolutionary, but it was a great FPS. Tight multiplayer, varied enemies, and expansive environments shined through. The Alpha closed its doors, and after waiting with bated breath, the beta was unleashed upon the starving public.

Beta experiences ranged from enthusiastic approval to bitter disappointment. With the opportunity to digest a bit more of the Destiny world, players began to feel it might not be the beast we hoped for. But, nonetheless, players crawled through the expanded PvP and PvE offerings, trying out new weapons, abilities, and armour sets.

On a personal level, I was in. Imagining I’d have all these things to do plus all the full game content made me think I was getting what I asked for. September crept closer, as more and more teases for the game surfaced. Murmurings of internal problems at Bungie, writing fiascos, and redesigns muddled the waters. Just what was the finished product going to be? Will we finally get a AAA title that delivers on its promises? Destiny was going to be big, but it was yet to be seen if that was good or bad.

About a month after the launch of Destiny, there was a collective, “Wait, did I miss something?”. After a couple of weeks, most people had blitzed through the campaign. Completing the strikes added another few days maybe. But in less than a month, the well had ran dry. Where did you put my dreams, Bungie? Where?! Were we all just starstruck from the initial tests? Maybe those worlds weren’t glistening beacons of exploration and discovery.

The gameplay… it’s there. It’s really really good. The mechanics are solid. But where the hell is the world? The story? My character’s purpose? We had, as a community, lifted Destiny on our shoulders, only to think maybe we should set it back down. Strikes were exciting but brief, story missions had intense fights but no narrative. The PvP was fantastic but a little off balance.

Bungie was ready to quench our thirst with three words: Vault of Glass. The Raid. Endgame. Challenge, teamwork, puzzles, and loot. Amid the ever-present balancing and shifting of character and weapon abilities, the community rallied around Vault of Glass. This is what Destiny was in our minds. It was an absolutely exhilarating experience. Relentlessly difficult, perfectly paced, and insanely fun. Part puzzle, part teamwork, VoG was the culmination of your hard work since launch.

Critics and gamers alike showered this endgame activity with well-deserved praise. Friends were made, clans assembled, and memories that would last through the three years of Destiny were etched on those excursions. Hard Mode came along and pushed us beyond our limits. Ideas shared, war stories told around the forums. It was brilliant watching this game bring people together. The dust from VoG settled, and Bungie spoke the cursed letters: DLC.

Destiny had four expansions. The Dark Below, House of Wolves, The Taken King, and Rise of Iron. Hundreds of new items, missions, armour sets, and three new raids peppered the slew of DLC. Unfortunately, Bungie lost a lot of players due to how the expansions were handled, as even season pass holders had to pay for the latter two instalments. The Dark Below and House of Wolves gave us a good amount to do, but they were not content rich. Crota’s End kept players busy for a while, especially with the very challenging Hard Mode. But the campaign was brutally short.

The foundation of Destiny was crumbling, and the community wasn’t trying to fix it anymore. House of Wolves brought Trials of Osiris, which was a welcome addition. This competitive twist on PvP revamped player interest and shifted the course of Guardian and weapon balancing over the next months.

The time between House of Wolves and The Taken King, I feel, was when the community was most divided. Half of us were shouting for a boycott of Destiny, while the rest were trying to band together to get Bungie to right this ship. The round-based survival of the Prison of Elders was fun, but the absence of a Raid was felt throughout the lands. Players bashed House of Wolves merely for its lack of a Raid.

Excitement from the early days of Destiny was being swapped for disappointment, and even a feeling of betrayal. Our heart, souls, and time, were in this game. It was beginning to feel like we’d been left. Beyond a pay wall, however, Oryx was watching. And on 15 September 2015, The Taken King was unchained. A brand new campaign, new Raid, new subclasses, armour, weapons, enemies, PvP, and locations. Finally, a respite, however brief.

It didn’t take long for everyone to realise that the Taken were just re-skins of the base enemies. The new Strikes felt longer and more complex. King’s Fall was the most puzzle-heavy Raid yet, and actually required six players to complete it. The new subclasses brought forth a massive rift in the community about character balance. Exploits and glitches were numerous, and PvP was starting to become a hellscape void of any fun.

The Taken King felt like where Destiny should have been, back at launch. At least, it’s where the players wanted it to be back then. It had taken a year for us to reach the point where we felt like the amount of content we had was acceptable. But even then, you reach a point where it becomes repetitive and recycled. No game is free of that. Destiny was just under everyone’s microscope.

The Taken King was all we got for the next year. In September of 2016, the final expansion came out. Rise of Iron, a heavily PvE focused addition, was the last gasp of Destiny. One more Raid and one more bevy of weapons/armour. At this point, the game had shifted so much that it was hard to remember what vanilla Destiny was even like.

Wrath of the Machine, the final Raid, was arguably the most cinematic. Great setpieces, epic battles, and fun puzzles made it a fair send off. But elsewhere, in the Plaguelands, we found more PvE survival, new patrol missions, and the Splicer enemy variant (another re-skin). Rise of Iron was the last true addition to the game, and would become one of the more well-received ones. But before everything shifted to anticipation once more, Bungie had one last surprise for us. A true farewell.

Vault of Glass, Crota’s End, and King’s Fall. They were back, and harder than ever. Veteran players leaped at the opportunity to go back to where it all started. Back to those pads on Venus. Vault of Glass will always be, in some small way, Destiny. It holds the excitement, the camaraderie, and the discovery we all hoped for. Over three years, Destiny had gone through so much. Nerfs, buffs, ban-hammers, glitches, cheeses, laughs, cheers, boos, and everything in between. For those who stuck around, Destiny became a place for them to run to. A place for friendships to be made, memories to be shared, and experiences to be had. Say what you will, but the waves this game made were seen and felt throughout the gaming world. Bungie created something special with Destiny, we just had to fight to see it. Now, though, our attention shifts.

Something to Prove: The Destiny 2 Beta

Usually, a sequel has something to live up to. A benchmark set by its predecessor that most people assume it should surpass. With Destiny 2, however, it seems the sequel has something to prove more than anything else. I, unashamedly, pre-ordered Destiny 2 after watching the whole reveal stream. Every element that I had always wanted in the original, appears to be on its way. A more narrative-driven experience, more RPG elements, more customisation, and more exploration.

From the beta, and the demos we’ve seen, it looks like Destiny 2 does indeed have those pieces in place. So a little while back, I gave myself over to the beta and made sure to try out everything it had to offer. I tried to remind myself not to over-hype myself, but damn it was hard. Three years of Destiny taught me to always have a grain of salt on hand.

Even on a standard PS4, Destiny 2 looks sharper, cleaner, and more colourful. The animations are smoother, and the gunplay is as sleek and sexy as ever. The environments, especially on Nessus, look gorgeous. Just by playing through the opening mission and the Strike, the presence of a powerful narrative of struggle and survival is present. Ghaul, the Red Legion leader and main antagonist, embodies a true villain. Although the Red Legion are just Cabal, fighting them and the Vex displayed a healthy amount of changes in their abilities and movements. I found myself dying by using old tactics, and surviving by adapting new ones. The game overall felt more difficult, and that is a HUGE plus. One thing about Destiny, is that it was just so easy. Granted, a lot of enemies were a little bullet spongy, but Bungie has made it clear that they will address that.

Guardians each have a new subclass, and new class abilities. Warlocks have the fiery Dawnblade, Titans have the Sentinel Captain America-esque shield, and Hunters have the Arcstrider. I’ll say outright, that as a Hunter main, I am a bit upset with Arcstrider. It’s an improvement over Bladedancer, but it isn’t really different. The new Warlock and Titan classes substantially alter how you play with that elemental class, but Hunters remained pretty stagnant. Even in class abilities, the Hunter’s dodge seems weak compared to Warlock’s healing/buff pools and Titan’s shields. It fits the characteristic trait of the Hunter, but side-by-side it seems useless and underpowered.

As a group though, I think the new subclasses are fun all-around, with a few negatives. Dawnblade is pretty weak in PvP, and Titans have two supers in one, as they can create Ward of Dawn or use Sentinel. At this point, though, nothing feels overpowered.

Both the story mission and the Strike felt longer, harder, and thus more fun to play. Just be being on Nessus, you get the sense for the amount of exploration you’ll have on patrols in Destiny 2. The new approach to bosses, with the stages, is a welcome addition I think. Bosses in Destiny were a bit repetitive and didn’t alter the fight enough. If all the Strike and Raid bosses will be like this, I think you’ll have a lot of happy campers in a few months. The story is wonderfully set up through the intro mission, and it is made very clear what your purpose in this game is. There will be no doubting this time around, as to who is who and what is important about a given person or place. Bungie listened to the feedback about everything, and it shows.

The new 4v4 PvP is electric, hectic, and blisteringly fast. After everyone gets adjusted, it feels better this way. Having to separate fireteams to play PvP is a bummer but, especially given the new modes, the smaller groups make for a tighter experience. Countdown is a blast, and Survival looks like it’ll be a great change of pace over standard Clash. The new weapon set up is a welcome change, but the ammo displacement is a bit upsetting, in PvE especially. The drop rates for Power ammo are staggeringly low during Strikes, making the Power weapons almost like Supers. Speaking of Supers, and I know Bungie has addressed this already, but man those charge times are unbearable. Even if you play an insanely good PvP match, you’ll probably only get two Supers. There’s a lot that needs tweaking from the beta, but it’s good to see Bungie already responding.

The beta for Destiny 2 has me hopeful. We all remember how we felt back in 2014, but I like what I played this time around much more than before. It might be a fresh coat over the ageing Destiny, but it’s one hell of a nice coat. I don’t think Bungie will let Destiny 2 fall into the same hole as the original. At least I hope. General consensus around the community is ripe with excitement, praise, and hopefulness. We’re back in the same place we where three years ago, but hopefully this time we’ve learned our lesson. Get excited, get ready. Just don’t place it on the pedestal just yet. Clean the pedestal, polish it, dust it off a bit. You can get it ready. Be cautious, be optimistic, but be ready. Destiny 2 will be different, but it will, at some point, become repetitive. It’s unavoidable.

(Un)Charted Territory: Gazing back at the Future

Having given over 30 days worth of playtime to Destiny, and going through so many disappointments over the three years, my brain is telling me to approach Destiny 2 with extreme caution. I’m sure I’m not the only veteran Destiny player that is trembling over the potential letdown that this sequel could be.

Bungie created a monster, and that monster is about to give birth. What will the spawn of one of the most criticised and critiqued games in recent memory do? Rise from the ashes, or simply stir them? Time will tell whether we should repent or give more glory to the game. Three years from now, what will the story of Destiny 2 be? Bitter disappointment with a few happy memories, or a time of consistent enjoyment and discovery?

Like Call of Duty, Destiny rests in a place where the foundation is so secure, that you cannot shift it. To expand and evolve, you must rework what lies around that foundation. Destiny 2, from the developer interviews, gameplay demos, and beta experience, appears to be anchoring the foundation while building a new set of walls. It’s a difficult task to create something new and exciting, without removing the good parts of the source material. Each and every move the developers make throughout the lifespan of Destiny 2 will be watched and meticulously scanned for pros and cons. The life of the original game has created an environment in which its predecessor must simultaneously change, better itself, and keep hold of the foundational pieces. It will not come out of this unscathed.

Destiny moved and altered its being throughout its existence, to the point where it probably wouldn’t recognise itself at launch. The ground on which it stood was forcefully removed and replanted several times over. But even then, it was never universally appreciated. Nor will Destiny 2 be universally accepted. It will shift, morph, and change as weapons, abilities, armour, and Guardians are nerfed and buffed into oblivion. One meta will step aside for another, equally ridiculed meta. The game, no matter how bad you wish for it, will not ever sit in a place of perfect balance and harmony. It is not possible. Actions and reactions. One change has many ripples. But, in a weird way, that’s the beauty of an ever changing game.

We sit and wait, and we’ll hold on for dear life when it finally comes. Thinking you won’t be disappointed by Destiny 2 at all is, while heartwarming, wrong. Games change. We live in the age now where the life of a game has many stages. Community feedback, developer data, and gameplay videos all play a role in how a game evolves or devolves over time. We learned from Destiny that sometimes it really is the journey, and not the destination, because sometimes the destination has changed by the time you arrive. Whatever Destiny 2 becomes, just remember where it came from. Not just Bungie. Not just Destiny. But from all of us. Our time, our experiences, our joys, and our sorrows. All these things make the walls around the foundation that we all came to love.