Destiny 2: I have played it, and here are my thoughts. This fulfils the contract between us.
Last month, Activision flew me out to Seattle and put me up in a hotel so I could play Destiny 2, eat American pastries and annoy Bungie staff by being both too serious and too irreverent about their stupid universe that I love more than it deserves.
I cannot review Destiny 2 based on what I played, and not just because we weren't playing on live servers. We weren't allowed to finish the campaign. The investment (progression) systems weren't finalised. I couldn't get into Strikes or the Crucible because I was there without the fireteam entourage every other journo seemed to have brought with them.
In the year 2017 we're all fairly reconciled to not being able to review major games before or on release day, because the big money is in games as service and they don't switch on early for press. I can't be bothered having a fight about it. Let's just get on with chewing over what we can, and in a week's time after you've all digested our wonderful Destiny 2 guide and we've all played together I can issue an Official Verdict and you can argue about my conclusions in the comments. Okay? Okay.
I spent something over 15 hours playing Destiny 2 on PS4, during which I encountered zero bugs or issues, felt like my eyeballs were being lovingly massaged by the beautiful visuals, and hit the level cap that was in place at the time - but not the Power cap, as you'd hope given endgame activities like the raid and Trials of Osiris don't drop till next week.
I visited all the advertised Destinations, completed all the Adventures available on three of four of them, unlocked all three Hunter subclasses, populated The Farm with vendors, and spent ages pootling about with open world content like Lost Sectors, Region Chests, Challenges and Patrols.
We’ve already talked about how Destiny 2’s open world content has its hooks in me again, even though it’s not as deep as advertised – and I must say that I found the story content to be overhyped as well, both in terms of length and quality.
For all Bungie’s talk of improvement in that regard, the story is still very much an excuse to visit all the environments and unlock all the content, but this time you’ll occasionally be treated to cutscenes of events your character is not actually witness to, to remind you there’s a capital s Story happening.
Except for these cutscenes, Ghaul is an absent antagonist. You’ll already know whether you’re going to find him sticky or not, based on what you’ve seen in the opening mission in the beta; he continues to make grand declarations about Earth being unworthy of the Traveller’s blessing, and the backstory he offers as justification for his actions does not add much to that.
I estimate I saw perhaps two-thirds of the main story campaign and more than three-quarters of the available side missions. During this time, Ghaul did not even send lieutenants to battle us. Bungie’s explanation for this is that he considers us beneath our notice, but it makes Ghaul less interesting than Oryx was; Oryx at least sent his echoes to remind us he’s trying to kill us. Ghaul’s apparent disdain for the lone Guardian single-handedly gathering a powerful resistance force runs counter to his positioning as a great military leader, but I suppose we can hand wave that as “aliens are different to us”.
The lone Guardian thing really bothers me; cutscenes and dialogue never acknowledge the dozens of other Guardians running around doing the same things. Bungie seems obsessed with telling a hero’s story, and that means failing to acknowledge, again, that this is a multiplayer game. After the strong negative reaction to D1’s story, it’s not surprising that Bungie has taken this very safe route, but it feels like a missed opportunity to play up to the strengths of the game.
I didn’t love getting to know the core characters better, either; I liked them better when they were mysteries, because I think my head canon versions were cooler. But whatever: you wanted more Nathan Fillion, you got him. As with Rise of Iron, the brand new NPCs are too divorced from the stories we know to be very sticky; they’re there to serve a function, and they do it adaquetly. Hawthorne, who apparently exists to represent the perspective of those who aren’t Guardians, didn’t really go anywhere in what I saw; if you were already deep enough into Destiny lore to know the city wasn’t the sum total of Earthly existence, you don’t really learn anything new from her.
Having said all that, we were not allowed to see the final act of the campaign, and it’s entirely possible Bungie is holding out stacks of secret content to roll out in the months after release – certainly there were a number of hints at future storylines scattered throughout – so what the hell do I know? If you liked what you saw of the story in the beta, you’ll probably like the rest of Destiny 2’s campaign.
Story aside, actually playing the game is delightful – which surprised me, given my lukewarm reaction to the beta. Gunplay is fantastic, tinkering around with builds and equipment is rewarding, and some of the more challenging action setpieces are just tremendous good fun. We can only hope the endgame – raids, Iron Banner, high level Strikes – is as sublime as D1’s was.
What I really liked about Destiny 2 was the simplification and diversification of progression. Bungie has been talking about making Destiny more “rewarding” since the loot cave days, and I certainly felt like whatever I chose to do next, I’d come out the other side with an uptick to that all-important Power stat.
Every single loot drop felt exciting - and if the endgame formula Bungie had settled on by the very end of D1’s updates is carried over, that feeling should continue right through to whatever the Power cap is. It wasn’t just a matter of getting a bit bigger and better, as finding it interesting and exciting to change my build. There are so many good and very different guns, all of which look, feel and sound magnificent, and each of the three Exotics I encountered encouraged me to overhaul my character and try a fresh approach.
(I was less excited by the Bright Engrams, which seem to be mostly cosmetic loot boxes, and can be purchased with real money as well as earned in-game. But that’s because I’m not at all comfortable with this increasingly popular form of monetisation rather than from any obvious problems I observed with the system – especially as it wasn’t finalised in the build I played.)
Thanks to an interlocking series of systems, chasing loot in casual PvE activities is much more tenable in Destiny 2, which is good news for the significant number of players who like to play that way. Some of the Destinations are so large and suitably raddled with things to do that it’ll be some time before regular players have seen everything.
Assuming they want to, of course. Again, I’ve already spoken about this, but I was disappointed by things like Lost Sectors turning out to be less exciting than they sounded. Go down corridor, admire sometimes spectacular scenery, kill mini-boss, get loot: there’s very rarely any story hook to explain the enemy presence or the landscape, and it all feels so very, very … video-gamey.
So here’s where I start to feel uncomfortable making public judgments, because I’m aware that my own small disappointments with Destiny 2 come from two places. First: my own stupid obsession with a setting whose creators apparently see less in it than I do. Second: playing too many video games to be able to just enjoy them without seeing how all the bits go together and suffering the inevitable loss of immersion this brings.
I really want video games to present me with deep, mysterious universes that reward my scrutiny rather than collapsing under it. I want video games to live up to the time I give to them without cynically exploiting psychological tricks to keep me “invested”. Which pretty much means I want the impossible, in this version of the universe.
Now that I’ve spent too many words kind of trashing it, let me tell you: Destiny 2 is better than D1, which I loved, and so I love Destiny 2 even more; I absolutely cannot wait to get back to playing it. I don’t actually care about any of the things I’ve complained about. I’m going to put hundreds of hours into this stupid game, shooting things and watching my numbers go up.
Look, if you liked Destiny, you’re gonna like Destiny 2. If you didn’t much like Destiny, many of the things you complained about have been addressed in Destiny 2, for better or worse. If you’re really on the fence, give it a week and see whether the servers melt, the progression is broken or the raid turns out to be rubbish, or whatever. That’s my Destiny 2 “review”.