The story of the original Destiny is of a series of expansions that made up for deficiencies as Bungie took its lessons from a passionate fan community. It is clear that the studio took criticism to heart and wove those lesssons into the core of Destiny 2. Almost every problem suffered by the original Destiny at release has been addressed by Destiny 2 save the franchise’s continuing social challenges.
Our early impressions of Destiny 2 originally published on Sept. 7 were based on 20 hours of play at an Activision event held several weeks before the release of the game and 10 hours with the live servers. Our final review published on Sept. 15 is based on playing Destiny 2 for around 50 hours on the Xbox One with another 20 hours invested on the PlayStation 4.
What you’ll like
The pure craft of Destiny 2
If you look at Destiny 2 holistically as a piece of game design you have to marvel at the quality of its construction. The art design, sound design, detail in level construction, and musical score are all fantastic. Destiny 2 is beautiful to look at. It’s wonderful to see what Bungie could do when the studio wasn’t tied to the need to develop for the less-powerful Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, like the studio had to for the original Destiny. Destiny 2 on PC is going to look amazing for anyone with a powerful gaming rig.
Bungie also develops some of the smoothest and most responsive first-person shooters in the industry and the depth of Bungie’s expertise is on full display in Destiny 2. Combat is enjoyable purely for its own sake. Weapons provide real variety and encourage experimentation. The new character subclasses are awesome. Destiny 2 sets a high bar for how good a first person shooter can be purely in terms of design.
Real characters and narrative development
Cayde-6, voiced by Nathan Fillion of Firefly and Castle fame, might be called the only developed character in the original Destiny, that otherwise mostly featured a large cast that were empty vessels handing out quests or doling out rewards.
Destiny 2 has a smaller ensemble than the first game. Interacting with the same characters more often gives the player more opportunities to get to know them. And when players approach them to receive quest assignments, the characters deliver unique dialogue specific to that quest intro. This is not throwaway dialogue. It conveys interesting lore about the world of Destiny 2. You will want to listen to these characters if you care about the story and denizens of Destiny 2, and that means you will get to know them better over time as compared to the original Destiny.
Even after finishing the story in Destiny 2, Cayde-6 still feels like the flagship character of the Destiny universe. Hawthorne, a “normal” human who works with the immortal Guardians is a nice addition to the cast, however. We still have not encountered characters who feel like throwaways and look forward to future Destiny 2 story expansions to see how Bungie enlarges the narrative.
The lore is in the game
In the original Destiny, players had to go to Bungie.net or use the Destiny companion app to read the Grimoire, a series of cards that players unlocked by achieving feats and completing milestones, in order to read the game’s lore. Having to step outside the game to learn about its world was a shame.
In The Taken King expansion for the original Destiny, Bungie added a mechanic in which your AI companion Ghost would scan objects of interest in the world and deliver a report on the significance of the object, thus delivering small pieces of lore. Destiny 2 makes liberal use of this mechanic. This time, the lore is in the game.
There’s plenty to do
The lack of post-story content was a chief complaint from players of the original Destiny. Destiny 2 does not have this problem. We have discussed the almost overwhelming amount of content in Destiny 2’s open maps: Adventures, Lost Sectors, Patrols, Public Events, and wandering high-value targets, and Challenges show up automatically for you to finish as you wander the maps.
This fantastic amount of open-world content joins Strikes, 15 to 20 minute missions that end with a boss, the player-versus-player Crucible, six-player Raids that combine gymnastics, puzzle-solving, and precision shooting, and the punishing Trial of the Nine weekly PvP tournament as endgame, post-story content.
Loot and gear systems that make sense
Light measured the combat potential of your character in the first Destiny. Weapons and armor had a Light rating, and your total Light was the average of those numbers. The loot algorithms would look at your character’s Light and, if you were lucky, rewards would be of slightly higher Light value than the gear you had equipped. This is how you leveled up.
Players of the original Destiny might have two “outfits” on them at all times, the selection of weapons and gear they actually fought with and the ones that had the highest Light values, this second outfit being donned just before the player cashed in quest rewards.
Destiny 2 replaces “Light” with “Power.” The systems are identical for all intents and purposes. You don’t, however, need to wear your highest Power gear in Destiny 2 to get loot with higher Power values. Destiny 2 will read your best potential equipment loadout and your loot drops will then reflect those numbers, meaning you ought to always be getting loot with higher Power no matter what gear you have equipped.
Less garbage loot
In the first Destiny, weapons and armor not worth keeping could be broken down into weapon parts and armor materials respectively that would be worthless once you had huge stacks of both. Destiny 2’s weapons and armor of Rare or higher quality break down into parts you can turn over to the Gunsmith to earn gear.
Rarely did a piece of gear in Destiny 2 feel like outright garbage, either because it was almost always a few Power points higher than other gear in our inventory or because it broke down into gunsmith parts. This made the game feel less like a grind than the original Destiny did at release. This may change by the endgame when you’ve maxed out your Power rating and are looking for specific weapons and armor. Every piece of gear we received in the early and mid-game however had some sort of value.
No more random attribute rolls for weapons
Weapons in the original Destiny had randomized attributes that could make some versions of a gun better or worse than others by same name. You couldn’t get excited when you found a weapon you were looking for because the randomized attributes or “roll” of that version of the weapon might render it awful.
Destiny 2 has no weapon rolls. Every gun is the same as every other one of the same name. The chase to earn that weapon feels less like a grind because you don’t need to worry about having to find the same gun over and over again to land a version with the perk rolls you need.
Standardized versions of weapons also make inventory management easier. If you receive a new version of a weapon you already own and the new version has a higher Power rating, you don’t need to compare the perk rolls to decide which version to keep. You can immediately break down the lower Power version of the weapon and not worry about it.
Weapon and armor mods make for stickier gear
Matching damage types to enemy shield types is important in Destiny’s most challenging content. If a bad guy has a Solar shield and you don’t have a Solar weapon to break it quickly, then the chances of your dying are much higher as you pound away against those Solar shields. In Destiny 2, matching damage types can make an enemy’s shields explode, which does area of effect damage.
Players of the original Destiny therefore had to swap out weapons in order to do the type of damage they needed when facing specific types of enemies. That often meant abandoning a favorite gun. Destiny 2 players can use weapon mods to change damage types, so rather than having to stop using that Void shotgun because you need a weapon that does Arc damage, you can attach an Arc damage mod to the shotgun and you’re good to go.
Armor in the first Destiny had attribute rolls that determined whether the piece of armor made your Guardian faster, tougher, or recover from damage more quickly. Destiny 2 players can mod armor to control the benefits it lends to your character which, again, makes sticking with favorite gear more tenable rather than having to get rid of something you like just because it doesn’t do precisely what you need it do to.
Improved enemy design
The undead-like Hive and robot Vex enemies we encountered so far seemed mostly identical to their counterparts in the original Destiny. The Fallen and Cabal enemy factions, on the other hand, feature some new variety.
Shanks, robotic gun turrets used by the Fallen, would float in the air and maybe change elevation slightly in the first Destiny. Shanks in Destiny 2 sink and dodge, attack in swarms, and can attack from very high elevations. Some types of Fallen will use their four arms and two legs to scuttle like crabs up walls or across the ground at the player, which is unnerving.
Cabal Psions used to be standard infantry units that attacked from close or medium range. They are snipers in Destiny 2. Cabal Incendiors have flamethrowers with area of effect fire attacks that can herd you into a corner. Cabal Centurions now have jet packs and can make your cover meaningless. Cabal Gladiators are powerful melee-based enemies you do not want to get close to. Changes to the Hive are mostly aesthetic and the Vex seem mostly the same as in the original Destiny, however.
Vehicles have a higher profile
Bungie’s Halo series made great use of vehicles like Warthog jeeps and Scorpion tanks. The way the first Destiny almost ignored vehicles was one of that game’s biggest letdowns.
Destiny 2 on the European Dead Zone map provides many opportunities to use vehicles like Fallen Pikes and Cabal Interceptors. We could expect to run into players piloting either vehicle on a regular basis. Vehicles don’t play as large a part on the other three planets Io, Nessus, and Titan, but hopefully the prevalence of vehicles in the European Dead Zone speaks to future intent for Destiny 2’s expansions.
No more returning to orbit
In the original Destiny you had to take an intermediary step before traveling from place to place, cutting from whatever planet or social space you were in to a shot of your spacecraft in orbit. Then you could select and enter your next activity. Constantly having to return to orbit in the first Destiny wasted time you could have spent actually playing the game.
Destiny 2 eliminates the need to return to orbit. You can travel from one location to another without the intermediary “return to orbit” sequence getting in the way. It speeds things up appreciably.
What you won’t like
Crucible limits teams to four players
The average Crucible team size in the original Destiny maxed out at 6. Four players are always make up a Crucible team in Destiny 2. This has the effect of making Crucible play faster and more decisive because when two teams run into each other there are fewer people to kill in order to wipe out the other team.
The first Destiny’s Crucible had more of a deliberate, Halo-like pace. Destiny 2 feels like it’s moving closer to faster first-person-shooters like Call of Duty and Overwatch. It’s a change that not everyone will meet kingly.
The Crucible is running more smoothly than ever and this improved performance may have everything to do with dropping the maximum team size and thus the number of players attempting to simultaneously connect to a Crucible lobby. It also feels easier to try and sync up with 3 random players rather than with 5. While the benefits of dropping maximum Crucible team size to 4 seem clear, players of the original Destiny may still have a problem with this change.
No transportation early in the game
In the original Destiny you received your Sparrow hoverbike early on. In Destiny 2 you have to traverse huge, open maps on foot while you run through long stretches of map with no enemies or anything else of interest. These long stretches are spaces that feel clearly intended to allow players to have some fun with Sparrows and instead feel like artificial bloating of the map space, forcing players to remain on foot, which slowed down travel and made the maps feel larger than they actually were. Even with the ability to fast travel between different points on the open-world maps there was still plenty of running around to be done and it was frustrating.
Destiny 2 players are finally granted their personal Sparrow vehicle after the story ends, so no worries about running across huge stretches of landscape devoid of any content ad infinitum. The total Destiny 2 package is so good that quibbling about lack of Sparrow access for six to eight hours almost feels trite. The lack of a Sparrow in the early game is just as annoying while leveling a second or third character as it was when we leveled our first character, however.
One benefit of not having a Sparrow in the early game is more opportunities to find and scan lore objects. We would guess that we’ll be finding new lore objects in the world for a while to come. For veterans of the original Destiny, or anyone that doesn’t care about finding secrets on the maps, be prepared to be very frustrated at the lack of a Sparrow early on.
The story plays it very safe
The story in Destiny 2 reminded us of the story in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Disney realized it couldn’t afford to screw up its first Star Wars movie after taking over the franchise, so The Force Awakens played it safe. Perhaps Bungie similarly realized that after the fracas over the original Destiny’s weak story the studio could not afford to make the same mistake with Destiny 2, and that’s why the plot about Cabal invaders didn’t feel like it was taking any risks.
There is also a storyline about Guardians losing the Light, and thus the ability to return to life once “killed.” The idea that Guardians are all persons returned from the dead was not mentioned often in the original Destiny, even though this is a very important aspect of the lore. Including this facet of the universe outside of a Grimoire and into the game itself was a good idea.
As safe as the overall plot may feel and as uninteresting as the villain Ghaul may be for some players, the story in Destiny 2 ends with a conclusion so satisfying that it might for some players make up for whatever other shortcomings the story may present. It did for us. We can only hope that the ending to Destiny 2 remains unspoiled for a while. The post-credits sequence in Destiny 2 is to Destiny fans what the post-credits scene of a Marvel movie is to Marvel Cinematic Universe junkies.
What we can’t know (yet)
The guided games question
Destiny is part first-person shooter and part massively multiplayer online game. There is a quintessential conflict created by this hybrid design. MMO players are used to organizing on websites and message boards for endgame play. FPS players on console don’t have to do anything like this to enjoy multiplayer gaming for the long term.
To try and address the issue, Destiny 2 includes a feature called “Guided Games” meant to help players find Clans to tackle content with. The Guided Games feature entered a beta phase the week after Destiny 2 was launched. Any Destiny 2 player may volunteer as a Guide, but only players with a special ticket have been invited to try Guided Games as a Seeker.
Guided Games so far have been frustrating. We’ve had luck finding groups but no one in those groups has had a microphone activated. The Weekly Nightfall we tried Guided Games with had a time limit, and grouping up with Guides who didn’t know when we’d fallen too far behind the clock such that it was time to quit out of the activity was irritating. It made us question why these players were Guides in the first place.
It’s too early to judge the Guided Games system definitively as it is in a beta state, but right now our impression is that Guided Games will likely solve none of Destiny’s social issues, and Destiny 2 players will still need to go to outside sources like DestinyLFG and The100 to find other players to tackle Destiny 2’s most challenging content with.
Whether the Raid is any good
The original Destiny launched with a six-player Raid called the Vault of Glass. It was a mind-bending experience unlike anything Destiny players had previously experienced in the game. The following three Raids added via game expansions were of varying quality.
Destiny 2 is shipping with a Raid named Leviathan. We’ve only been able to step into the first few stages of the new Raid. What we’ve seen so far hasn’t been groundbreaking and it doesn’t feel so far like the new Raid would sway our overall opinion of Destiny 2 in either direction.
Destiny 2 is everything you could ask for in a sequel. The systems of the original Destiny have been tweaked and tuned. The graphics quality is superlative. Destiny 2 feels less like a grind, is easier to get into, and is a superior project to the original Destiny in almost every way.
For casual players Destiny 2 is a pure win. It is very easy to log on to Destiny 2 for 60 to 90 minutes, run a few activities, and feel like you’ve accomplished something meaningful while being appropriately rewarded.
For hardcore players it’s more complicated. The vast majority of Destiny 2’s content can begin to feel irrelevant once you hit Power level 265 out of a maximum 300 because almost all the gear you earn through open-world activities, Strikes, Crucible matches, Challenges, etc. drops at too low a Power level to allow your character to advance. Unless your character advances you cannot attempt the Weekly Nightfall Strike or the Leviathan Raid. Thus describes the mid-game grind in any massively multiplayer online game.
You can achieve two Milestones (read: quests) per week that will grant powerful gear. It might only take a single day to achieve them, and you ought to be able to complete them solo. Every other opportunity to earn gear worth your time requires a Clan, or just a group of people to play with. This is where Destiny 2 continues to suffer the same social issues as Destiny 1, because Destiny 2 doesn’t adequately help you find a group of people to play with either.
Bungie’s idea of blending MMO games and first-person shooters is ambitious, and Destiny 2 finally makes it clear that this hybrid design mostly works. Once Bungie figures out how to jump the social hurdle Destiny 2 will shine even brighter.
If you were a fan of the original Destiny and you haven’t jumped on board yet with Destiny 2 get yourself in the game. You’re already behind on the Power grind!
If you avoided the original Destiny because of its launch issues have no such fears with Destiny 2. And if you’re just curious about Destiny 2 and want to play casually you can find plenty of quick, satisfying things to do while enjoying some of the best art, sound design, music scoring, and shooting mechanics in the video game industry.
Destiny 2 is out now for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. GamesBeat received PS4 and Xbox One codes from Activision for the purposes of this review. This score is now final.