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Destiny 2 Review: Improved, But Not Perfected

The beast is risen.

Destiny 2, from the start, accomplishes a much-needed task. It simultaneously eases new players in, while also letting veteran players feel at home. The intro video that veteran players get is, quite simply, spectacular. Equal parts heartwarming and nostalgic, it serves as a reminder that Destiny 2 is merely the next step; that those milestones aren’t lost, they are branded on the road we travelled to get here. No matter how you got here, this world has something for everyone. Although alive with shortcomings, issues, and annoyances, this game does something very simple. Beneath its lore, its mechanic driven raid, and its meta-heavy PvP, Destiny 2 reminds us that video games are just plain fun.

The universe feels more alive. Whether you’re on Titan or Nessus, there’s always enemies wandering around, fighting each other. The environment moves without you. Alongside that, there lies a presence not very well understood in the first game: your Guardian’s purpose. The narrative is stern and apparent, with an obvious villain, a set goal, and a path that must be taken. While it’s infinitely better than Destiny’s, it’s over too quickly and with a whimpered finale. You never lose sight of why the Guardians are doing what they are, but the urgency and seriousness of the opening is forfeited for humour and bullets later on.

The campaign itself, in terms of missions, isn’t anything too new. Basic ‘go here, shoot that’ style FPS missions feature alongside classic Destiny types like ‘hold this position for three waves’ and ‘defend your Ghost until it’s done hacking this thing and the enemies magically despawn’. You know, tradition. Enemies feel a lot less spongy than in the beta, and most of the boss fights are well designed. Later on, there’s even some tank missions straight out of a Halo game. Admittedly they feel a bit out of place, but fun nonetheless. It’s much less monotonous than the campaign in Destiny, but after three playthroughs, obviously, it still loses its lustre. It cannot be understated though, how well Bungie has fun with giving your Guardian a purpose and not letting it slip.

Ghaul is a villain with a face and a mission. The focus on story-driven cutscenes allows players to garner a deeper understanding of what the Red Legion is doing. New characters are properly introduced instead of just showing up, albeit without much information. Bungie took its time to create a more believable, cohesive narrative, but it suffers from the haste of the Destiny campaign. No one explains how much time passes, but the defeat of Ghaul and the Red Legion, who so easily destroy our home, is quick and easy. The stale fight with Ghaul at the end was a let down. An epic setpiece for a boring fight.

In general, the worlds you traverse in Destiny 2 are bigger and better. Forgoing traditional planets and opting for moons and places like Nessus really gives the game a more alien feel to it. Each world is unique in its design and environment, with varying colour palettes and landscapes. Giving homes to every race of enemy, and even us Guardians, makes the universe in Destiny 2 appear more tangible. The fast travel system, and ability to travel anywhere without going to orbit, are both welcome changes. So many little changes, like NPCs on each world, give the game a greater sense of depth and add to the feeling that it is a living, breathing world.

Solo players in Destiny 2 are much more taken care of. Guided Games is a blessing. I have a clan and a group of my closest friends that I play with, but sometimes we’re available at different times. We have (somewhat) of a life outside of Destiny 2, so being able to tackle a nightfall or the Leviathan Raid at my leisure is fantastic. Not only does this mechanic make the game more accessible, it also allows more players to connect and find new friends. On the flipside, you and a buddy can guide a lonely Guardian through an activity as a guide. Bungie did more to connect the community in Destiny 2 and it’s beautiful. It’s good, because there is a lot to do out in the wilds.

When the campaign is over, it’s officially grind time. Luckily, Destiny 2 has a bevy of ways to get to that magical 300 light and above. Unfortunately, there is a lot of crap in the way that makes that grind a bit more artificial, like no cross-class infusion on characters or across weapon types (which is very frustrating), and the soft caps on engrams. But playing Destiny 2 and getting through those walls and inconveniences is part of the deal. This time around, the options you have for light grinding are much more fun, well designed, and more available. With Adventures, Strikes, Crucible, Patrols, Public Events, Heroic Story Missions, Leviathan Raid, Faction Rally, etc., one thing is for sure: Destiny 2 is not short of post-campaign content, however repetitive it might be. That is the nature of this beast.

One thing you should definitely do before venturing off after the story is make sure you have your third subclass with whatever class you are. The missions to gain new a subclass are absolutely perfect. Part lore, part power fantasy, they give you a backstory on the Guardians who wielded the power before you and then let you cut loose and have some fun. It’s a great showcase, and honestly probably the best ever in the series, of the lore being showcased at the forefront. Another instance of connecting the player to the world, and the people that inhabit it. Running the Public Events to unlock those missions is great fun, too.

The standard array of patrol missions are back in Destiny 2, but the new slew of Public Events are the cream of the patrolling crop. From overtaking Cabal mining operations to stopping some Vex mischief, each one is engaging and different. There’s even more though, as each Public Event has a way to trigger its Heroic variant which ups the challenge and raises the rewards. Hordes of major enemies will flood the battlegrounds, and Guardians from all over will swoop in thanks to the new tracking system for Public Events. Like Destiny, these moments are when you see the inherent camaraderie in the community. The design of the new Public Events is spectacular.

Looking away from the freedom of planetary patrol, Strikes and Nightfalls are back and beefier than ever. Much longer and a bit more complex, the new Strikes are actually pretty fun. Boss fights that change as you progress and more meaty midsections of the Strikes make for more hectic missions and more strategy. No Strike in particular sticks out to me (like the Psion Flayers did in Destiny), but I’m not quite bored of them yet. I will say, however, all Nightfall Strikes being timed is a bit frustrating. It adds artificial difficulty that doesn’t feel necessary. A clock doesn’t make it more difficult, it just makes it a hassle. It requires a bit of precision and planning, surely, but the modifiers should instil the true difficulty on the Nightfall. It’s not the worst thing, but it is a blotch on Destiny 2 for me. But hey, speed kills.

But at the end of the tunnel, we’re all here for one purpose: Raid. The Leviathan is the endgame of Destiny 2. From an objective standpoint, it’s great. From a subjective standpoint, I love it. I venture to say it’s the best Raid since Vault of Glass. Challenging and puzzling, it balances both the frenetic and patient pieces of an ideal endgame. The three trials (Bathers, Gauntlet, and Pleasure Gardens) are distinct and exciting. Calus’ fight is a classic example of Destiny fight/puzzle hybrids. Usually, the Raid will be the best content in any iteration or expansion of Destiny, but in particular the Leviathan truly wraps a nice bow around the Destiny 2 PvE experience. Not overly difficult, yet not as simple as Crota’s End, it’s a grand example of game design.

The weapons earned from the Leviathan aren’t all that exciting, however, which brings me to the topic of weapon and character balance. You don’t need to play much Destiny 2 to see which weapons work and which ones don’t. The meta is very clearly in favour of Auto Rifles and Scout Rifles. ‘Team Shot’ is the strategy in Crucible and Trials of the Nine. You’d figure those two archetypes would balance each other out, but most Auto Rifles have absurd range with little recoil, so close combat is basically non-existent. I’ll play through it, and enjoy it, but it seems the consensus is not in favour of it. Hand Cannons are basically worthless except for maybe two or three. Pulse Rifles, while reliable, still don’t feel quite up to par.

The changes made to weapon systems in Destiny 2 brought some unwelcome effects. Power Weapons, while devastating in PvP, feel bleak in PvE, especially in the Nightfall and Leviathan. All guns having intrinsic rolls meaning there’s no excitement to getting the same weapon twice, as it will be identical in every aspect. Very few Exotic weapons feel worthy of that title. The only ones that come to mind are the Vigilance Wing, Merciless, Riskrunner, Borealis, and maybe Rat King. Oh yeah, and obviously the MIDA Multi Tool. In reality, we’re basically where we were with Destiny early on, sitting inside the initial meta, waiting for Bungie to run the numbers and make changes accordingly. I don’t think it’ll be long until we see across the board changes to Auto Rifles and probably Scout Rifles. Class wise, though, I’m not sure.

I enjoy each new subclass, and they all have strengths and weaknesses. Dawnblade is, aesthetically, super sleek. In PvE though, it’s a dud. Arcstrider is a massively superior version of Arc Blade, and my new favourite class across all of Destiny 2. Sentinel is a hell of a lot of fun, and extremely versatile given that it contains the old Ward of Dawn, but it’s a bit much in relation to other classes. Essentially, Titans have four Supers. There’s also the Hunter’s dodge ability, which fits the character but feels useless in many situations. But, the Hunter is about adaptability, and that ability lends well to that fact. In Destiny, the classes were designed to have at least one defensive/support subclass alongside offensive ones. Now, in Destiny 2, we seem to be away from that.

Titans now have three roaming Supers, Warlocks lost their defensive-minded Subclass, and the Hunter’s Nightstalker has lost its amazing crowd control/orb generation capabilities. Changing the stat system to Resilience, Mobility, and Recovery brought upon changes to Subclass systems — we no longer have tree points focused on stat manipulation; instead that exists in the armour. I think that system is much more efficient, just that the Subclass construction could have been a bit better. Support Supers aren’t as strong as they were in Destiny, and everything seems to be about destruction now, even though orb generation across all classes is still quite weak. The true barometer of class and weapon balancing, however, is Lord Shaxx’s domain: The Crucible.

I want to like 4v4. It’s more chaotic and fast paced, but especially in Trials and the soon to be released Iron Banner, it feels unnatural. At least add a classic playlist for 6v6. After we begged for years for Private Matches, they get taken away? Why? They did no harm. Crucible is stuck in a very rigid meta right now, but the PvP of Destiny 2 is still solid. The maps this time around aren’t all that great, and most of them promote long range battles. Trials of the Nine and Iron Banner seem much less important without light level advantage. I don’t know if it’s the 4v4, the current meta, or the maps, but Crucible isn’t calling my name like it used to.

The last thing I’ll mention is Factions and Reputation. I don’t like the token system. Going out in the world and just earning rep was much better in Destiny. Granted, you had to return to a specific vendor to get your rewards, but the token system is monotonous and not really necessary. Overall though, the planet specific armour sets, Faction weapons/armour/shaders and all that are all pretty great in terms of design and utility.

Destiny 2 is… broad. It is a showcase of improvement and compromise. It is a time vacuum. It’s hard to not enjoy playing Destiny 2, yet still possible to dislike a fair portion of it. This game is a resurgence of excitement and enjoyment that began to fade late into the life of Destiny. It is, through and through, a better, more refined experience. Your Guardian’s journey will continue to grow through expansions and the inevitable third instalment. The community will keep sharing their stories and ideas. Weapons will rise and fall, classes will be reborn and destroyed. But, much like the original, Destiny 2 will be a second home for me and my friends. A place we can share laughs, hardships, defeat, and joy. That, in part, is what makes the Destiny 2 universe worth visiting: the brilliance of quality game design bringing people together.

Destiny 2 is available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. We reviewed the PS4 version.
Matt has been an avid gamer since he first ventured to Zebes in Super Metroid. If he's not there, he's probably racking his mind over a puzzler, running through a JRPG, or grinding Dark Souls again. You can find him at your local bookstore, disc golf course, or friendly Smash Bros. tournament otherwise. With a background in Linguistics and Creative Writing, he loves writing about anything from gaming to semiotics.