Some video games blow you away with beautiful, open-world areas, while others hold your attention with intense, fast-paced gameplay. Some games draw you in with a social experience that you can enjoy with your friends, while others focus on telling a captivating story. There aren’t many games, however, that do all of these things. Destiny 2 is one of them. Gripping, addictive, and a downright massive game, Bungie’s follow-up to Destiny is bigger and better than I could have hoped for and playing it so far has been an unconditional joy.
Destiny 2 begins with the metaphorical and literal destruction of everything we came to know in Destiny 1. The Tower, longtime home to the Guardians and well-known social space from the original Destiny, is overrun by a hostile force. Your powers are taken from you by military Cabal Emperor and albino grunt from Halo lookalike Dominus Ghaul. Stripped of your power, you are cast out of the Last City, and left with nothing. Throughout the course of Destiny 2’s campaign, you’ll reclaim your lost abilities and fight back against the Cabal Empire.
The plot of Destiny 2 is simple. It’s a revenge quest against an overwhelming force in a larger-than-life science fiction Universe — in other words, not something that gamers are unaccustomed to. That said, Destiny 2 pulls from a vast amount of lore and world-building done over the course of three years in Destiny 1, and puts it to good use. By expertly utilizing the foundation set up by Destiny 1, the sequel manages to tell a heroic story of epic scale, while also taking time to slow things down and savor emotional moments. In Destiny 2, not only do we get epic moments culminating in a massive, beautiful explosion, but we also get little moments that are equally enjoyable. We learn about the villain’s history and insecurities. We see a commander brought low. We see the brutality of being invaded by a hostile force.
Throughout the course of Destiny 2’s campaign, you’ll reclaim your lost abilities and fight back against the Cabal Empire. Without going into any spoilers, I’ll say that the second story mission in Destiny 2’s campaign in particular differs starkly from anything that Bungie has ever done, and stirred emotion in me in a way I never expected a normally light-hearted game like Destiny to do. Balancing the over-the-top action that fans have come to expect from Destiny with these little moments is no easy task, but Bungie does it masterfully with Destiny 2, and those who found the narrative in Destiny thus far wanting will be pleasantly surprised by the sequel.
New characters to Destiny, like Dominus Ghaul and Iago, get a surprising amount of time in the spotlight as the game’s villains, while existing characters like Ikora, Cayde-6, and Zavala all undergo their personal story arcs as some of the game’s most dominant personalities. While Bungie created compelling characters with The Taken King and Rise of Iron, Destiny 2 takes it to a new level by having these personalities undergo a massive crisis, and showing them to us out of their element. On the other hand, while we’ve become accustomed to seeing Destiny’s villains portrayed as heartless monsters looking to wipe humanity off the map, Destiny 2 does a lot to humanize its chief antagonist, and presents us with motives that are more complex than wanton destruction. That said, some characters stubbornly remain little more than comic relief, a fact I would be more disappointed with if the comedy weren’t so damned good.
Perhaps the biggest change that Destiny 2 introduces comes in the form of how you spend your time playing. Whereas Destiny 1’s core gameplay mechanic revolved around replaying the same set of activities again and again to grind for rewards, Destiny 2 provides a wide variety of unique activities with a regular flow of rewards, in a system that a Bungie employee described to me as being “more compatible with life.” Instead of a set of activities on the destinations map, players now drop down to a planet and open up their map to find things to do. Players can do story missions, strikes, and crucible, of course, but they can also do “adventures,” a new type of side-quest that tells a story, “lost sectors,” an activity that asks you to discover and explore a hidden area of the world to claim a prize at the end, and “treasure hunts,” which have you hunting for a golden chest filled with loot, hidden in the world. In addition, public events and patrols make a return, with various quality of life improvements. For example, public events can now become heroic public events, when a secret objective is completed during a normal public event. Heroic public events are usually difficult to trigger and harder to overcome, but provide excellent rewards upon completion. Doing any of these activities gives you tokens that can be put towards leveling up with an NPC, which provides loot drops that are guaranteed to make your guardian stronger.
And all of this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of content. Each map is absolutely packed with places to go, things to do, and enemies to slay. Various activities can also be replayed with new dialogue and other changes to renew the experience, and special rewards are granted by doing so. And this is all before PvP, the raid, or any endgame activity is taken into account — the sheer volume of content is jarring. Destiny 2 delivers a world of things to do in a way that Destiny 1 promised, but never quite created. And best of all, Destiny 2 delivers all of this content at a breakneck pace with few wasted moments. Where Destiny 1 had you floating in orbit a lot, Destiny 2 allows you to jump from planet-to-planet without floating around in dark space. Where Destiny 1 had you searching for a group to play with on a “looking for group” website, Destiny 2 provides Guided Games, a service that pairs solo players with existing groups, and encourages everyone to get in on all of the action that the game has to offer.
If there is one thing that Destiny has always nailed as a franchise, it’s the engrossing gameplay the series offers, and Destiny 2 continues that tradition. Combat in Destiny 2 is fast-paced, over-the-top, and awesome in a way that few games are able to achieve. Throughout my time with Destiny 2, I found myself hooting, hollering, cursing, cheering, gasping, laughing, and much more. It’s a game that simply invites you to react to it. One moment you find yourself exploring a mysterious cave, the next you’re surrounded by hordes of dangerous enemies, and a few moments later you’re standing atop a pile of their corpses holding a magical sword covered in flame. It’s every bit as fun as it sounds, and on its own is worth the price of admission, in a game that offers so much more.
Players are no longer expected to level up their equipment (usually through pouring motes of light into them) to unlock all the perks, and instead of relying on random rolls, all unique equipment has predetermined stats designed for the balance and experience that was intended for the player.
The Crucible, Destiny’s PvP content, also returns in Destiny 2, and is better than ever. While Destiny 1 could be a bit chaotic and wild with its 6v6 modes, and one-hit-kill grenades and super abilities, Destiny 2 has tuned the pacing down a bit. Competitive modes are now always 4v4, and time-to-kill has been increased thanks to guardian abilities being nerfed a bit. These adjustments create a PvP experience that is a little more strategic. Instead of rushing in, and hoping to get a few abilities kills before getting stuck with a grenade, you’re encouraged to stick with your team, and use concentrated fire and communication to best the opposing team. As a Destiny player who values a less chaotic PvP experience, and who always has a reliable fireteam at his back, I couldn’t be more excited for the changes to the Destiny PvP meta. For solo players however, this focus on teamwork might be a drawback. Destiny 1 could be a frustrating experience when you found yourself paired with crappy teammates, and I don’t think the situation will be improved in Destiny 1. Hopefully Bungie’s focus on clans and guided games, will aid solo players in enjoying crucible, and other group activities.
There have been a ton of mechanical quality of life changes to Destiny 2 that warrant analyzing for this review, but I’ll try to do so without getting too lost in the weeds (which is easy to do in a game the size of Destiny 2). First up are the loadout changes. The loadout menu may feel very familiar to fans of Destiny 1, but a lot has been reimagined. The primary, special, and heavy weapon slots have been replaced by kinetic, energy, and power weapon slots. The primary effect this has is that weapons like the sniper rifle, the shotgun, and the fusion rifle have been moved to the power weapon slot, which makes them less prominent in the game, especially when it comes to PvP where power ammo is harder to come by. As for the kinetic and energy weapon slots, they both serve as primary weapon slots with distinctly different uses, advantages, and disadvantages. Kinetic weapons tend to do more damage against unshielded enemies and do not possess elemental effects, making them a reliable choice for most of the combat in Destiny. Energy weapons, on the other hand, do less damage to unshielded enemies, but possess elemental properties, and, when used against enemies with shield of that same element, do much more damage and culminate in a massive explosion when an enemy shield is downed.
Meanwhile, power weapons serve as the most powerful option afforded to the player, but whose ammo is harder to come by. That said, in many PvE activities, power ammo is common enough to use almost as your primary weapon of choice, so their role is actually more prominent in Destiny 2 than it was in Destiny 1. My initial analysis of this new loadout system is that it’s far superior to the system Destiny 1 had in place. In competitive modes, kinetic and energy weapons are your bread and butter, with power ammo mixing up gameplay and becoming a major point of contention on the battlefield. This makes the game less about finding ways to one-shot your opponents with snipers and shotguns, and more about working together to achieve victory through concentrated fire. In PvE, power ammo is common enough to not diminish the importance of fan favorites like the sniper rifle, while also creating an interesting relationship between kinetic and energy weapons and when it’s best to use them.
Another major loadout change comes in the form of the way weapons and armor work. Players are no longer expected to level up their equipment (usually through pouring motes of light into them) to unlock all the perks, and instead of relying on random rolls, all unique equipment has predetermined stats designed for the balance and experience that was intended for the player.
Destiny looks better than it ever has, and exploring vast expanses as your guardian is often a breathtaking experience.Both of these are positive changes, as you’re no longer wasting valuable time grinding to get equipment leveled, or trying to get the perfect roll for a weapon you like. Subclasses have also been simplified, by offering pre-selected sets of subclass perks that you equip as a group. This change I am less a fan of, as customizing your subclass in Destiny 1 was one of the more rewarding experiences. That said, the new way is simpler in a way that a lot of people will appreciate, and provides a group of perks that work together in a comprehensive way automatically, instead of asking players to “do the math,” and figure out what works.
Talking about the economy in Destiny is always difficult. It’s complicated and not terribly interesting, but it’s also something that every player cares deeply about. I will do my best to break it all down without boring anyone to tears. Destiny 2 has three currencies: glimmer, legendary shards, and bright dust. Glimmer is used to buy things, and serves as the primary currency for players in most cases. Glimmer is used to purchase new equipment from vendors, equip new shaders and skins to items, and much more. Glimmer also caps out at 100,000, which is a nice boost from the cap of 25,000 in Destiny 1. Legendary shards are used to infuse weaker equipment into stronger equipment. Shards are obtained by dismantling legendary and exotic weapons and armor that the player no longer needs, and the cost of infusing an item depends on its rarity, and the rarity of the item being used for infusion(e.g. infusing an exotic, using a rare item costs more legendary shards). The final currency is bright dust, which is essentially a replacement for silver in Destiny 1. It is used to purchase items from Eververse, and is obtained by dismantling items acquired through the Eververse store.
It’s still unclear how microtransactions will work in Destiny 2, but it looks like bright dust will be the currency used in this regard. The good news, for those who aren’t a fan of microtransactions, is that the economy has been greatly improved in this regard, so that players have ways to earn Eververse items without emptying their wallet. Once the player reaches the max level with a character, every additional level up grants the player a “bright engram,” which contains a package of Eververse items. This means that by playing Destiny, you’ll gain bright dust and other items that you’d normally have to obtain via a microtransaction, which is awesome. That said, there is some time-gating here. Every week, the first three level-ups towards a bright engram happen more quickly than all of the levels following. This means that earning that fourth, fifth, and sixth bright engram will require a significantly longer time investment, essentially time-gating you from getting all of that glorious premium loot that you’ll undoubtedly crave. It’s not my favorite system in the world, but it’s head-and-shoulders above the system in place in Destiny 1, which essentially required a monetary investment if you ever hoped to obtain Eververse items. Absent from Destiny 2’s economy (at least without having played endgame activities yet), are motes of light, strange coins, exotic engrams, and various other currencies that doubtless confused many Destiny players over the years. Instead, Bungie has retooled their economy and made these three currencies manage all of the things you do while playing — a huge improvement in my book.
Destiny 2’s presentation is better than any game in recent memory. Running in 4K/30 fps on PS4 Pro, Destiny looks better than it ever has, and exploring vast expanses as your guardian is often a breathtaking experience. You’ll climb massive trees with cherry blossoms, dive into the depths of a sleek facility overrun with hive forces, and crawl through the mud of a ruined city. Guns are sleek and unique, and the armor you find makes you feel increasingly like a badass. But despite how good the game looks and runs, it’s eclipsed by the absolutely incredible audio presentation. The music in Destiny 2 is varied, emotional when it needs to be, and pulse-quickening more often than not. Each weapon has a unique rhythm to it, enemies scream and roar, and loot pops onscreen with the addictive, satisfying sound imaginable. Destiny 2 easily has one of the best presentations in recent gaming memory.