Destiny 2 has a lot to deal with, least of all being the shadow of its interminably young predecessor thanks to the deluge of dramatic overhauls. Expansion after expansion attempted to fix all the fully assailable shit until Year Two began with The Taken King, at which point it only became an above average amount of frustration players had to swallow. To that end in overcoming this immense baggage, this sequel succeeds, but it’s not all roses.
First, though, let’s talk about what the game fixes. The biggest and most notable is that there is now a story. Not to say there wasn’t one before, but it was like following a Möbius strip with a black hole somewhere along the way but somehow still managed to be utterly boring. Destiny 2 begins with a classic depowering tale as Red Legion commander named Dominus Ghaul drains the Traveler of its Light and, thus, every Guardian and Ghost of their light as well.
Granted, it undeniably sucks that everything you earn in the first game is worthless and burned to ash (unless you like automatically generated video montages), but it does establish a simple premise to follow. There’s a problem, a villain that’s causing it, and no Peter Dinklage in sight. In fact, this dramatic change is straightforward and effective storytelling is symbolically represented in the opening sequence of the game where the original game’s social space of the Tower is completely destroyed in Ghaul’s assault (as seen in the beta).
Not much of it pays off, however, as the story sort of fails to find anyway to deliver any narrative impact, sizable set pieces be damned. The writing is plenty of fun as you plow to the end and tries to ask the trite yet weighty question of what the nature of a Guardian even is, but it also reveals that there’s not much going on character-wise. Even Cayde (Nathan Fillion), the most memorable of the stoic and dry bunch, loses his initial charm. (Failsafe, an AI with split personality, might be the exception.)
The world itself, though, is worth stopping and appreciating at nearly every turn. Even as the familiar closed corridors begin to seep into a game that thrives in more open spaces, the trappings of why the world looks the way it does is riveting. The Farm, the new social space what with the fall of the Tower, is especially good at giving broad gestures toward why humanity is in the state it’s in.
Speaking of gameplay, the gunfighting here continues to be the Bungie standard you’d expect. It moves with a propensity that feels both slow enough to digest and strategize but fast enough to remain engrossing on a primal level. It’s almost categorically easy—like, too easy—but that doesn’t stop the combat from being a joy. It moves and shoots like most shooters would want to move and shoot.
That drastically reduced difficulty, though, is severely disappointing. A lot of more advanced tactics were left to the wayside and employed optionally as I could just as easily run up to most enemies and punch them to death. It felt a bit like Doom that way except far less purposeful and strategic. (And exciting.) You’ll encounter hardly any resistance as you breeze your way to the end and to the level cap. Granted, that is where the “real” Destiny traditionally begins, but still, that’s a fairly huge bummer.
That’s even in the face of a litany of improvements that fans (and haters) have been clamoring for since 2014. You don’t have to go up to orbit anymore, for instance, as you can open the Director anywhere you want and fast travel at will. They stopped using the arbitrary Light quantifier for gear, though I suppose Power is just another word for it. But sweet sassy molassy there are also gear mods now, allowing you to do things like change a weapon’s damage type.
But lest we forget this is Destiny, a bunch of old trash has come in with a wave of new. Infusion now requires Legendary Shards, which you can get by breaking down Legendary gear, which means you’ll be grinding out loot drops just to upgrade your helmet. And shaders are now a one-time consumable with no way to preview them, which is a change that seems purposefully aimed at turning into a microtransaction. Oh, and Sparrows are back, yes, but they’re also a loot drop / a reward for beating the story, so get ready for a lot of walking.
At least the single biggest problem from the first game has been addressed: content. There are now enough things to do that you’ll only be repeating stuff half as often. Public Events are now the main thing to do outside of campaign missions, and Patrols have been expanded into Adventures and Lost Sectors. Adventures are neat ways to get lore and gameplay in one while Lost Sectors are hidden mini-dungeons. Not that they’re anything sizable or unique, but they’re better than wandering an open world and shooting the same batch of respawning dudes over and over again.
There are, however, some unique one-off side quests that are expressly for gaining reputation with factions or unlocking new subclasses. These are campaign-level sort of missions, usually ending with some sort of satisfying and somewhat bombastic conclusion.
As it stands, Destiny 2 is pretty much that: sort of satisfying and somewhat bombastic. It carries over a lot of what was good from the first Destiny and fixes a lot of what was wrong, but it continues to be laden with nearly hostile design choices. Fantastic gunplay can only cover for so much.
And there’s the fact that the best and worst of Destiny didn’t reveal itself until a JRPG’s worth of hours into the post-game. That leaves this as half a review. The true merits and gripes of the upgrade system and co-op and PvP framework and microtransactions won’t become clear until we have to deal with it hundreds and hundreds of times later. So take it as you will, but if you are still reading at this point, I’m guessing you’re willing to make that discovery yourself.
+ A story that actually goes places and does things
+ Gameplay continues to be superb
+ No more going to orbit
– Inexplicably easy
– Grinding is still required, as is understanding arcane resource systems
Final Score: 8 out of 10
Game Review: Destiny 2
Release: September 6, 2017
Genre: Action role-playing
Available Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC (on October 24, 2017)
Players: Single-player, multiplayer