Destiny 2 improves on the game’s unique formula in all the ways fans are looking for.
Many games serve as a second, often more successful attempt to realize the initial vision of their creators, but Destiny’s creators have been working on Destiny 2 since the original launched in 2015. Bungie knows what its fans they want because, after nearly three years of patches, seasonal events, and annual expansions, the developer has (mostly) figured that out.
It’s a foregone conclusion that Destiny 2 will be a better version of Destiny. Every announced change to the game has the potential to build on the formula that’s already there, and the ones we saw are all in the sequel’s favor. What the changes don’t do, however, is flip Destiny on its head.
The Campaign — “Homecoming”
Bungie described Destiny 2’s campaign as “cinematic,” and it’s opening mission certainly carries more pomp and circumstance then any mission in the original or its expansions. “Homecoming,” the game’s opening mission, shows the fall of The City, the hub world of the original Destiny, to an army of aliens called the Red Fleet.
As the game’s first trailers told us, “homecoming” is a prologue of sorts, and a tragedy. The game’s plot revolves around the player helping reunite the broken and beaten remnants of Earth’s forces after they’ve been scattered to the wind. This does not stop your Guardian from fighting like a champion. You bound from battleground to battleground, shooting up waves of enemies, just as you would have in Destiny.
Unlike Destiny, though, those waves are filtered through and divided by a steady stream of set pieces, story asides, and platforming. Whether you’re teaming up with Zevala to fight through a missile barrage, or fighting a named sub-boss, each phase of the mission has a distinguishing mark. There’s even a mid-mission cutscene and change of venue.
It also helps that the game’s narrative is one place where the game is a major step forward. There seems to be more dialogue, and maybe even some interplay among the game’s vanguard characters, Zavala (Lance Reddick), Cayde-6 (Nathan Fillion), and Ikora Rey (Gina Torres). Even the mid-mission audio exposition sounds more natural, and adds some sorely needed humanity to a world populated by silent player-controlled Guardians.
On controller, the moment-to-moment fighting felt identical to the game fans have been playing for years. The guns aim and shoot the same way — you press the same buttons to use hero powers and grenades, and your melee attack is still rechargeable. Should you decide to play with a mouse and keyboard on PC, you can expect similarly tight controls. Though we still prefer to use a controller, we’ll admit the act of pointing and shooting felt good, which we credit to Bungie’s attention to detail regarding its gunplay. It’s great that players will finally have the option of playing on PC – even if that version won’t launch at the same time as the console release.
“Homecoming” does not accurately represent the standard Destiny 2 mission. To borrow a phrase from the MMORPGs Destiny evolved from, it’s likely an “instance,” a special event mission that doesn’t exist in any of the game’s open zones. While that means it’s almost certainly more tightly scripted than the average story mission, that does not preclude the rest of the game from using smart level design and more varied mission types to diversify the moment-to-moment campaign. Sprinkle in a few mind-blowing “cinematic” scenes, and Destiny 2 could serve up a roller coaster as thrilling as the best Call of Duty campaigns, but with better shooting and more reasons to keep playing.
The Strike — “The Inverted Spiral”
Though Bungie has emphasized the game’s story and some new exploration-focused mission types as the game’s biggest new features, there’s every indication that Destiny 2 will also feature the same tightly crafted mid- and endgame missions that kept the game alive. Strikes and raids will both return to the game.
Like the campaign, the three-player “The Inverted Spiral” Strike showed an attention to pace and structure that Destiny lacked in most of its content. Though it is still effectively the same structure — a series of large firefights, which lead up to a multi-stage boss fight — the mission takes steps to distract from that repetition with platforming sections, more varied objectives, and a wider variety of combat scenarios. There’s an attention to detail that blends the many phases of the strike into a single winding road.
It doesn’t hurt that the Strike’s scenery is quite…striking. Set on Nessos, one of Destiny 2’s new planets, we explored the geometric structures of the Vex, found a mechanical hive-mind, and fought one Destiny’s three enemy armies, all set against a gorgeous teal sky. As the name implies, we generally descended as the level progressed, which created lots of scenic overlooks, all of which showed incredibly detailed environments that seemed to reach out as far as the eye could see.
Given Bungie’s proposed emphasis on exploration — the game features two new mission types that focus on players finding loot, rather than pulling it off corpses — it’s heartening that the locales we saw were worth looking at.
The Crucible — Countdown
Though the campaign and strikes represent the primary mode of play that people think of when the name “Destiny” comes up, Bungie showed just as much innovation and investment in the Crucible, the game’s competitive multiplayer mode. Of the three sections Bungie showed, the Crucible sports the biggest changes overall.
First, all game modes are based around teams of four, rather than five. In its gameplay reveal broadcast, Bungie described the change as a means of “promoting mastery,” which sounds like a thinly veiled way of saying, “we think the crucible has eSports potential.”
Second, Bungie showed off an entirely new mode, “Countdown,” which adds a new, more strategic option to the game. Countdown is classic an attack-and-defend. One team has plant charges on one of two bombs at key points on the map, and other team must stop them. The match ends if a bomb goes off, the timer counts down, or either team wipes the other out – then the sides switch. The first team to win six rounds wins the match.
The mode feels like a refreshing change of pace compared to the deathmatch-heavy focus of the original’s Crucible. While you can play for kills and win, Countdown’s round-based structure keeps the game feeling quick and snappy.
There are also aspects of Destiny 2 that remain a mystery. Will these features make Destiny’s “patrol” zones more interesting? What about those new mission types? And nobody can guess how clans will impact the game, because that’s contingent on predicting how Destiny fans will respond to the game.
That said, the swaths of Destiny 2 shown so far paint a picture in themselves. Destiny 2 takes everything fans like about Destiny in today and transfers it into a new framework, one that’s made to accommodate those features and facilitate the game’s growth. The sequel doesn’t make radical changes, but it does tweak and re-work the formula in ways that make sense – and we think that’s exactly what most the game’s players are looking for.
- Excellent shooting
- Improved level design
- Looks gorgeous on PS4 Pro and PC
- Plays well on mouse and keyboard
- Fun new multiplayer mode
- Doesn’t drastically alter basic Destiny formula
- PC release will come after console