In 2014, on Destiny‘s on launch night, I stood in an excited line at my local Gamestop at midnight to be among the first to get home with the game. I was unbelievably excited to play developer Bungie’s next title since they left the Halo franchise behind. Unfortunately, the first Destiny ended up being a bloated husk stuffed full of interesting ideas, great gunplay, a jumbled mess of a story, and lots of loot. Pieces of a good game were there, but I didn’t wait around to see if they came together as expansion after the expansion was released. I exhausted vanilla Destiny’s content as quickly as many others and found the game to feel hollow — I was even one of the many who sat outside a cave shooting enemies hoping for a worthwhile drop, to no avail. The game had serious flaws, but a solid skeletal design had been established. With a more focused team this time around, Destiny 2 subverts expectations following the severe issues of the first and feels like the Destiny game Bungie wanted to make from the outset, and it’s pretty damn good.
Destiny is essentially built on two pillars: great gunplay and a deep loot system. Every other piece of the game is assembled around these two features and without them, the entire experience would crumble. Luckily, Destiny 2 delivers both as well as it ever has before, although with a much more forgiving loot system. Drilling the last round into the boss at the end of a strike mission and seeing a purple (or lord willing yellow) engram drop still am an adrenaline rush, even if you’re much more likely to see one of those drops when comparing to the previous entry. In my 25+ hours with Destiny 2 I have received a handful of exotic drops at random, something that literally never happened to me in my 70+ hours with the original Destiny (which I understand is barely anything compared to many players). A more consistent drop rate coupled with real progress just from playing the game and completing missions makes the experience of playing Destiny 2 feel rewarding in a way Destiny would never allow.
The classes are the same as before — hunters, warlocks, and titans. Each has 3 different subclasses to explore and decide which you prefer based on the 3 in-game image elements: arc, solar, and void. Unlocking the subclasses for your character and then adjusting each to your liking is incredibly satisfying and allows you to tweak your guardian to your personal play style. As a hunter, I prefer to get in close and deal as much damage as possible, often using swords to my advantage and the game allows me to spec to this design. Playing with a titan and warlock that are more defensive allows me to really play off the cuff and retreat to backup when my health is low. Creating a well-balanced fire team before attempting some of the higher difficulty missions is key to success.
The story of Destiny 2 is head and shoulders above that of the original — it is an actual story. Convolution is rampant in the Destiny universe — the first game failed to establish a worthwhile narrative and was, unfortunately, just bad. Preceding the release of Destiny 2 stories came out about the troubled development of the original game, especially describing the story having been gutted multiple times before being scraped together prior to release. Pieces of it were so bad that they were completely changed in the months and years following release, such as Peter Dinklage being completely removed from the game as your ghost, with Bungie instead having Nolan North take over. The story of Destiny 2 is far from something to write home about; it has a very predictable plot line with an uninspired big bad used to pull you along toward an inevitable confrontation. But even a thread so simple and bare is better than what Destiny provided, making the conclusion satisfying, even if the whole thing feels like a B-tier Halo story. The characters of the game are mostly familiar faces, although they are much more fleshed out and vocal this time around (sometimes to their own detriment). Destiny 2 has immeasurably more personality than its predecessor, which makes being in the world much more enjoyable.
When boots are on the ground and you are exploring any of the handfuls of planets, the game also excels at showcasing how much more alive it is. Birds flutter and chirp as you wander through an empty street in the European Dead Zone on Earth, and around the corner you can see a Shard of the Traveler, looming atop a beautiful vista that creates powerful quiet moments I never found within Destiny. Of course, it’s only a matter of time before you’re ambushed and then the game truly comes to life as other players hop in and fight alongside you as a Public Event begins counting down nearby, eventually spawning an enormous boss that players will flock to for a chance of rare loot.
The design of Destiny 2’s zones are similar to the first, bouncing between tight corridors and wide open battlefields, but going between these places feels much more natural, and picking up any of the various missions scattered about injects more story (sometimes more interesting than the core narrative) and mechanics into the gameplay. The game runs and looks great on a PS4 Pro, although on console it is ashamedly locked at 30 frames per second. When it releases on PC it will allow for 60 frames, and having seen footage that gameplay looks even sharper and smoother. I didn’t find any technical hiccups, although on the first couple days following release server connection dropped maybe twice; this has not happened since.
Destiny 2 can at times feel complicated and overwhelming, especially when it comes to the various currencies that all serve a different purpose. Glimmer acts as basic credits used for making simple purchases with the various vendors, legendary shards are used to infuse weapons and armor and add mods, while also acting as currency for Xur, Agent of the Nine, who sells exotics. Silver (Destiny’s microtransaction currency) can be used to purchase bright engrams, which drop random cosmetic items such as emotes, shaders, and new ships. Not to mention each planet has a resource you can harvest by exploring — it can feel maddening to try and grasp it all.
The good news is it can also, for the most part, all be ignored. You will gain currency simply by playing and your progress will not be inhibited. In fact, you’ll just continue to accrue it without even paying attention. Unlike the first game, you can enjoy Destiny just by playing. Drops come at random after Crucible matches (PvP), strikes (PvE) or from doing practically anything the game offers, meaning you don’t have to focus on something you don’t enjoy to progress. There are some objectives that can only be completed because they are specific to that game type, such as the Trials of the Nine which is a challenge with unique loot exclusive to the Crucible (PvP). This loot is not progress critical to progress, however, and can be easily passed by if you’re not a PvP player. Destiny 2 attempts to accommodate all of its player types, and for the most part, succeeds.
Destiny 2 is a game refined after years of criticism of its predecessor, and Bungie manages to address nearly every piece of feedback they received while keeping the best pieces of the original alive and well. At this point in my time with Destiny, I was feeling a bit hopeless, lost, and bored. Those feelings of hesitation have been entirely replaced with excitement to explore the higher tier of content including the Nightfall Strikes and Raid. And even before I get to those milestones, I’m just excited to play the rest of the content available and keep seeking exotics. I may not stick around and sink a few thousand hours into it, but I won’t be leaving feeling like the developer failed to deliver on their promise. Destiny 2 proves that a game with good ideas shouldn’t be abandoned, just pointed in the right direction.