Destiny 2 — A Disappointing Step in the Right Direction

Ah, Destiny.

Long have I awaited this moment — this second chance where Bungie tries to salvage the franchise’s narrative potential after the catastrophic failure that was the original Destiny story. This second chance where Bungie takes their amazing gunplay and applies it to levels that aren’t repetitive and cookie-cutter in design.

Going into Destiny 2, my expectations were that Bungie was going to go crazy with this universe and blow our minds by utilizing its fullest potential. Surely after how terrible the first game was in the writing department, as well as the dull monotony of the PvE experience, they would come back swinging for the fences…right?

Wrong. 

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Instead of trying to bat a thousand, Destiny 2 seems content to hit a single and stay at first base. And while it’s a step in the right direction compared to the original game’s strikeout, it still leaves so much more to be desired.

But, because almost all of my past reflections on this franchise have been negative, I think I’ll start this review off with the positives. There’s a lot more substance here than there was in Destiny, and I’d be lying to myself if I said that I didn’t overall enjoy my time with this game.

Keep in mind, this isn’t a spoiler free review. Don’t read if you haven’t played the game!

Also keep in mind, this review is strictly PvE focused. We’re talking about the base game’s campaign here. I’m not really a fan of the Crucible, and it isn’t what I want to write about.

With that out of the way, let’s get right at it.

Presentation: Detailed, Beautiful, and Undeniably Science Fantasy

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One of my favorite things about Destiny 2 is the way that it makes a strong effort to build a universe around you. Whereas the original game put minimal thought into the formulation of a setting, Destiny 2 makes it clear that it wants you to be a part of it.

Whether it’s the desperate attempt to limp out of the rubble of the Last City as you see Cabal marching through the streets, or traversing the tall, winding trees of Nessus to hunt down the Vex, this game, through it’s visuals, music, and sound, pulls you into the experience.

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I think what stands out to me the most is the fact that Bungie is finally picking a style for the Destiny universe and rolling with it. Where the original never really seemed to want to decide if it was either serious or wacky in tone (which resulted in it feeling like a disorganized mess of themes and ideas) Destiny 2 is built from the ground up to embrace the wacky style a la Borderlands and sticks with that decision throughout the game, barring the introduction where Ghaul invades.

Artistically, I’ve noticed that Bungie has adopted a much more vibrant, colorful and stylized style for the game, and I think that fits perfectly with the science fantasy style of sci-fi that Destiny 2 is aiming for. It’s a pleasing game to look at, and the fact that it’s as beautiful as it is definitely helps to make it more immersive.

Musically, Destiny 2’s official soundtrack is leagues ahead of what most games these days put out, and it really makes its mark during gameplay sequences or important cutscenes. I really don’t have much to say on this front — mostly because excellent scores typically leave me speechless. Nevertheless, I didn’t want to leave out my love for the music of the game in my review.

On a final note, I discovered that, unlike Destiny, each weapon in Destiny 2 has its own, unique sound. And, man, the sounds of the guns in this game are satisfying as fuck. Kudos to Bungie’s sound designers.

Now, onto the gameplay.

Gameplay: Improved…Slightly

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Where Bungie’s alterations to the game’s presentation are universally major improvements, Destiny 2, overall, feels nearly as monotonous as the original.

While the levels have, for the most part, gotten rid of the repetitive “defend your Ghost while he hacks something” style of the first game, it’s been replaced with the pattern of mindless enemy hordes continuously throwing themselves at you.

This is actually pretty damn fun for the first few hours — mowing down several groups of Red Legion, Fallen, Hive or Vex like they’re nothing makes you feel like a demigod, and the gunplay is awesome as usual — but after awhile, the ease in which you move throughout the game begins to really take away the fun factor.

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For me, encounter designs that include AI who actively try to outsmart me and challenge my skills offer the most satisfying experiences. What Destiny 2 does, however, is forego all strategic enemy placement, choosing to spam as many enemies at me as possible to overwhelm me with numbers. While this can still be challenging, it isn’t for the right reasons.

It’s quite saddening to see how far Bungie has fallen in this regard. My good friend and fellow writer Joseph and I were playing Halo 3: ODST the other night, and both of us were getting a real kick out of how the AI were making attempts to flank us and catch us off guard. Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 2 and Halo: Reach also excel at this, and it’s a major reason why most of Bungie’s Halo games really kept me replaying their campaigns for years.

It doesn’t really help when there’s no significant new foes to combat, either. On top of this brain-dead AI, we don’t even get any new enemies who operate differently. Sure, there’s the odd new creature here or there, but they fall victim to the design choice that I mentioned above. In several ways, it really does feel like I’m playing the original Destiny.

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Thankfully, it’s not all the same. Between the three new subclasses (complete with three badass supers!), new weapons, more expansive level design, and the changes made to patrolling, Destiny 2 does manage to feel like an improvement over the original.

In particular, the new patrol system feels a lot more interesting and entertaining than the old one. The various tasks available to you on patrol are written in a way that makes them feel connected to the universe, more so than the original Destiny. For example, there’s one mission on Nessus where you have to embark on a small adventure to prevent the Vex from acquiring improved shield technology.

This task, clocking in at around standard mission length, has no impact on the story, but it feels like it could — and that’s the difference maker. It feels like there’s a point to what you’re doing.

The public events are also a nice touch. I really enjoy the brief senses of camaraderie you get as you team up with random Guardians to take on an enemy assault. Especially since you’re rewarded with loot afterwards! In addition, it’s also a nice way to meet people to play with. People who I completed the events with often asked if I wanted to team up afterwards, and I think that act of bringing people together was something that Bungie intended.

Overall, though, Destiny 2 fails to really make me feel like I’m playing an evolution of the first game. Rather, it feels like the first game with some minor improvements.

Grimoire’s Replacement: Scannables

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Before tackling my thoughts on the The Farm, I figured I would briefly touch on the replacement for Grimoire cards in Destiny 2: scannable objects hidden in the world.

YES. This is what I wanted! Now, we can use our Ghost to help us seek out lore objects and then have him scan them, giving us nuggets of juicy information that help us understand and get to know the universe of Destiny.

This is a massive step up from the Grimoire cards, which we had to leave the game to view, though I will say it’s disappointing that Destiny 2 doesn’t have a built-in codex system to review what you’ve learned. Maybe this is a feature they can add post-launch.

The Farm: Depressingly Lackluster 

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As beautiful as The Farm is, it is beyond dull. Other than the tiny soccer field present, there is literally nothing to do in this social space.

I find this quite depressing, honestly, especially since the place is surrounded by forests and open areas that practically are begging you to go and explore them. Yet, when you try, the infamous “Turn Back!” boundary timer obnoxiously pops onto your screen. Ignore it, and you’ll likely run face-first into The Farm’s assortment of invisible walls.

I honestly can’t think of why you would spend any time here. Dancing with other Guardians to me gets boring after a minute or two, and using it to find other players practically makes it a manual matchmaker. Add things for us to do with each other. Minigames, dueling tournaments (maybe even let us bet glimmer!), a Sparrow racing course. SOMETHING. It’s incredibly boring when  a social area is devoid of anything that would be fun to be social around.

Do we stare aimlessly at each other in real life with our friends? No!

Then why would I want to do it in a video game?

Microtransactions: Why Were They Hidden? I Know the Answer.

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God damn it, Bungie.

I actually shook my head for a solid ten seconds when I saw that Destiny 2 had microtransactions in it on launch day.

But, here’s the thing. What makes me the angriest about this isn’t the fact they exist. While they are pay-to-win, they’re pay-to-win to a very marginal extent. Once you reach level 20, you can earn Bright Engrams all the time, allowing you to get the same content that people who shell out money can. On top of this, the mods you can get in Bright Engrams offer only minor advantages to players.

No — what upsets me is that this system was hidden from us until launch. People who hate microtransactions were fooled into thinking that the game didn’t have any, and so, they likely preordered the game. Unfortunately, they ended up finding out that the dreaded trend was in this game too.

Why was this hidden? the answer is obvious. Bungie and/or Activision wanted to maximize profit from Destiny 2, and so they chose to not tell us of their highly controversial decision until it was already too late and people’s preordered copies were in their hands.

You could make the argument that preordering is a risk and that it isn’t the developer’s fault you chose to take it, but I personally don’t think it’s right to hide any aspect of your game’s business model until after it comes out. The single-use shaders only prove (in my mind, anyway) that the big, corporate goal here was to tempt players into buying Bright Engrams to get more shaders. It’s a scummy business practice, and I would be remiss not to call Bungie/Activision out on their bullshit.

Story: Adequacy That Could Have Been So Much More

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I wanted to save the story section for last because I think it’s what I feel the most strongly about.

This game’s story is…okay.

Now, we’re already a massive step forward ahead of Destiny, which had a story that was…not okay.

But the issue I have with this narrative, is that it never really develops into anything special. And I would have thought that that would have been a priority for Bungie — to prove to the gaming world that the Destiny writers would be capable of incredible stories.

Before I get into what this narrative should have been, though, I’m going to critique the three major issues I have with the narrative we have.

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My first problem is the sudden shift of Ghaul late in the story. In the writing equivalent of the blink of an eye, he turns into a power hungry, egotistical maniac. “I AM GHAUL!” was a phrase heard nearly ten times during the endgame engagement. In many ways, he’s practically the 2017 version of Halo 3’s Prophet of Truth. The shift from calculated, tactical and cunning villain to rage-crazed psychopath is something that both Truth and Ghaul suffer from.

How ironic. Ten years later, and Bungie does this again. Talk about a Halo 3 Anniversary…

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Secondly, we have the issue of Destiny 2 not earning it’s story of loss and defeat near the beginning.

Don’t get me wrong, Bungie nailed the execution here — as I said before, the presentation of the defeated Guardians and their forces was on point.

But the issue here is that Zavala, Ikora and Cayde-6, as well as the Speaker and Last City, were not portrayed in a way that made people care about them in the first game.

The former trio were nothing but NPCs who handed out quest rewards. Sure, they had brief sections in which we began to really get to see them interact with the universe (think of Cayde-6 and his involvement in The Taken King) but none of it significantly explored their character. So when Ghaul had us on our knees and the threat of these people dying was real, I felt nothing, because there wasn’t a foundation for Destiny 2 to use to start their story off in this way in the first place.

This problem extends to the Last City, which held nothing in it that I cared about either, for the same reasons. And perhaps the worst of it all is the Speaker. A character that remarkably spoke a grand total of less than ten times in the original game suddenly becomes a resilient character that stands up to Ghaul and his cold threats. Yet right as I began to start liking him, he’s found dead. That’s right — he dies offscreen. What a disappointing way to go out. Right after he begins to redeem his character, he’s killed. Unbelievable.

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My final issue with the narrative is the deus ex machina of the Traveler waking up to deliver the finishing blow to Ghaul in his Light-god form.

I don’t mind this nearly as much as the other two problems. But I can’t help but feel like the Traveler awakening will lead to things that are incredibly more exciting than the rather basic, simplistic campaign that we got. And the thought of having to pay even more money (after hundreds spent already on the first game) to finally have access to something truly great rubs me the wrong way — especially when you notice that the post credits scene hints at this new race or faction’s entry into the universe, which was originally planned for the first Destiny but was cut.

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With my main issues out of the way, I’m going to round out the article with how I feel about the rest of the story.

Destiny 2’s story chose to play it incredibly safe. It never took any risks, never introduced crazy new species or factions, never introduced more than a few worlds. The new characters were good, but there were so few of them that it didn’t really end up mattering.

While this is okay — I appreciate the fact that they wrote a story that had a comprehensible plot and setting this time — I can’t help but feel that Bungie really missed out on an opportunity to wow the player.

As I established earlier, Destiny 2 very heavily steels itself as “wacky science fiction”. This game has completely embraced a silly, crazy, imagination-running-wild type of style, and it does this well.

Yet, it seems that Bungie won’t go crazy with their universe, even though it’s begging for it. Imagine a Destiny 2 where we have double, or even triple the amount of worlds we have now, and each one has a new faction, new characters and a different, unique look and feel. Obviously I wouldn’t expect them to design a ton of new species, but introducing one or two new ones would help to expand the Destiny universe outward.

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My whole point is that this type of science fiction is arguably the one where the most creative freedom is available, and, aside from the Vex, they aren’t taking advantage of it. Things don’t have to make sense — they’ve already done this with the Light, why not apply this philosophy elsewhere? Make a Vex planet that has giant metallic trees, because why not? Make a species that has crazy magic abilities, because why not?

And the best part is, each and every one of these crazy new ideas can be connected to the narrative. Imagine if Destiny 2 had a Mass Effect 3-ish story where the Guardians traveled far and wide to bring various species to their cause in order to return to the Traveler and assault the Red Legion? You would have to do tasks to win them over, of course, but these missions would serve a dual purpose — connect yourself with the new additions to the Destiny universe, while also working towards the story’s ultimate goal: taking Ghaul down.

As I said above, it’s entirely possible that they’re going to do this with this new species hinted at in the post credits scene. I just wish that they could have delivered this to us in the regular game.

Conclusion

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Destiny 2 is a game that, while making a big step forward, still fails to achieve greatness. I believe that by hindering their own creative freedom (or maybe Activision gave them heavy time constraints. Who knows?) and choosing to build a PvE experience that feels devoid of much strategy or challenge, Bungie has failed to make a Destiny game that lives up to the franchise’s fullest potential. Thankfully, though, Destiny 2 is a vast improvement over the original, and I sincerely hope that Bungie only goes up from here.

FINAL SCORE: 6.5/10 (Good)


Author’s Notes

Well, there you have it. My full thoughts on Destiny 2.

I was hoping for much, much more, but Bungie has definitely succeeded in pulling this franchise from rock bottom in the writing department. On top of that, the visuals, sound design, music, and gameplay improvements all help to make this game a fun one where the Destiny from 2014 was not.

As I write this, I’m clocking in at over 3,000 words, so I think it’s safe to say that I’ve gone in-depth enough on the subject. Let me know what you personally think of Destiny 2! Do you agree or disagree with me? I want to hear your thoughts.

Thanks for reading! Friendly reminder that my fanfiction Halo: Prodigium is on the way soon, so keep an eye out for that.

That’s all, folks. Stay healthy, eat tasty ramen from the Last City, and remember…

Don’t drink the Vex milk.

Love,

Lor

 

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