Destiny has come a long way. Developer Bungie’s massively online first-person shooter was fun, but launched with a host of unforeseen consequences from trying to fuse the World of Warcraft formula and fast-paced console gunplay. Over four major expansions, Bungie continually learned lessons and made changes that improved that situation on every front, from its loot grind to its storytelling. In preparing our Destiny 2 review, the sequel has shown itself to be the culmination of all that experience.
The sequel to Bungie’s “persistent-world shooter” isn’t without its problems. Though it releases a bunch of new content, it feels more like an expansion of the original game than a true sequel.
Despite some quibbles along the way, though, Destiny 2 is a vast improvement over the game Bungie released in 2014. It is a much more complete, interesting and fun experience through and through. More importantly, Destiny 2 is the best version of Bungie’s idea in Destiny we’ve played yet.
Destiny 2, like its predecessor, takes place in the distant future, when a conglomerate of alien armies have invaded the solar system and threaten the last vestiges of humanity, which are holed up in a walled stronghold called the Last City.
At the game’s outset, a new faction from one of those forces, known as the Red Legion, launches a sneak attack on the City, wrecks its defenses, and defeats its defenders — The Guardians, the gun-toting group of superheroes made up of the game’s players. The Legion, led by the towering alien emperor Dominus Ghaul, saps the power of the Traveler, the giant robotic orb whose “light” revives Guardians when they die in combat.
Suddenly mortal, humanity’s army is scattered to the wind. As one of the survivors, your Guardian must find a way to get your power back, and mount a counter-offensive against Ghaul, with numerous, alien-blasting detours along the way.
Destiny’s story was a famously convoluted mess, with lots of key lore material accessible only on Bungie.net and not in the actual game. The Destiny 2 plot isn’t too much better. You still spend most of your time on a series of cleanup missions tangentially related to the main story, with the occasional cutscene tying Ghaul and the game’s main threat back into the campaign.
At the same time, the game excels in leveraging its characters, such as Destiny mainstays Zavala, Cayde-6 and Ikora, to make your various missions more interesting and enjoyable. Even if the plot still suffers, the moment-to-moment experience is often funny and lighthearted in a way that makes it enjoyable to hang out in Bungie’s vast, weird future.
Destiny, but smoother
It’s hard to judge Destiny 2 without looking back at its predecessor. The story was largely only accessible through “Grimoire Cards,” unlockable bits of explanation only accessible on Bungie.net, and the original Destiny was thin on content from its start.
Players blazed through everything the game offered in a couple of days, only to get stuck in a boring loop of replaying the same content in order to strengthen up their characters for the best stuff the game had to offer: The very hard, hours-long, six-player raid. Much of that loop was improved in the years that followed, but there were still kinks throughout.
Destiny 2 takes all the best ideas from Destiny and repackages them in a game that’s a little easier to follow and a lot more fun to work through. There’s more variety in the missions and activities (though everything still boils down to shooting every alien that crosses your path). New, more curated missions called “adventures” and “quests” fill out the game with activities that start out simply and pick up in intensity, often including bosses and interesting challenges.
This is the most fun Destiny has ever been.
Players will find tons to keep them busy, from the story, adventures, and quests, to competitive multiplayer in the “Crucible” and the return of three-person “Strikes.” Bungie has designed cool missions that don’t just take you through a series of alien-filled rooms that lead to a big bullet sponge of a boss fight. Each mission pushes you to raid enemy encampments, defend positions, drive vehicles, and explore for secrets.
The lightheartedness in Destiny 2 helps elevate a lot of those missions. Much of the dialogue in the game is straight-up comedy, which makes playing (and replaying) missions fun and breezy. This is Destiny but without all the seriousness. It often gives tongue-in-cheek reverence to the weirdness of its space fantasy, while learning from the mistakes of over-emphasizing the confusing stuff. The result is a more human, more character-driven experience.
(Mostly) a big improvement
The biggest frustration with the first Destiny was reaching its “endgame,” the point at which players finished the main story, and looked for more to keep them busy. The main goal of the endgame in both Destiny games is chasing better and better weapons and armor to make your Guardian more powerful, getting them ready for the game’s toughest (and, in Destiny’s case, best) content, six-player missions called “raids.”
Completing timed Public Events and tracking down tough-to-earn, top-level weapons can send players down small rabbit holes, giving them valuable sub-goals on the road to the raid. Many missions don’t even unlock until after the story is completed, but even heading back to previous planets to complete earlier side missions helps players advance their characters in a significant way for quite a while.
The grind slows down as you start to approach the peak level of raid-readiness, where gear levels off and the game starts to become opaque in its explanations of how to advance.
Destiny 2 takes all the best ideas from Destiny and repackages them in a game that’s a lot more fun to work through.
It’ll take most players longer to get to that point than last time thanks to a lengthier and more involved story campaign, and the journey is a much more enjoyable one because of greater variety in the missions. Bungie clearly learned quite a bit from creating things like Destiny’s raids, and those lessons and good ideas make their way into much more of Destiny 2 than they did in its predecessor.
The first raid in Destiny 2, called “Leviathan,” doesn’t disappoint. The previous six-player events were the best-designed content in the series, requiring players to coordinate and choreograph their actions in order to be successful. Leviathan does the same, and is filled with well-designed battles that are tough mostly because they require every player to work together in individual roles to the benefit of the team. Players willing to grind their characters’ Power levels up will in the endgame will find some imaginative, smartly built shooter content waiting for them when they finally check out the raid.
Leviathan riffs and builds on some great shooter ideas. One portion has a game show-like relay race in which two players have to race around a track while the others open gates that block in their paths; in another, players have to stand on specific buttons, repeatedly rotating their positions to keep everyone protected while hulking bad guys rush toward. Each section requires players to figure out what to do, execute plans, and work together as a unit — elevating Destiny 2‘s already solid gameplay with some inspired teamwork requirements.
If there’s a criticism of Leviathan, it’s that, like other Destiny raids, it feels fairly out-of-step with the rest of Destiny 2. The sequel spreads more inventive, varied content throughout the rest of the game, but it’s still like nothing what’s in Leviathan — for all intents and purposes, the raid is like a separate game. It’s a great, worthy addition to the overall Destiny 2 package, but the whole game would be better if its mysterious secrets, complex battles, and design variations propagated into a bigger portion of the main game.
And some of Destiny 2’s systems remain as inscrutable as its predecessor’s. Many of the game’s interface issues have been smoothed out, but there some awkward situations still arise. For instance, you have to constantly open the map or interrupt combat to check your several objective trackers. Just how you advance to the peak of the endgame isn’t exactly clear. And it’s apparently easy to handicap yourself if you don’t complete the objectives (dubbed “milestones”) that hand out the best gear after you’ve completed everything else.
As with Destiny before it, Bungie is hoping to take Destiny 2 for the long haul through multiple expansions and content updates that keep players coming back. The game’s first three months haven’t been completely smooth, however, with players complaining about various aspects of the progression system and Bungie trying to work out the kinks along the way.
Though the developer has made serious strides in that regard since the days of the original Destiny, it’s clear that the process of improvement is still difficult. The first expansion for Destiny 2, Curse of Osiris, feels like a page right out of the original Destiny handbook, as we noted in our review. It’s short and dull, with a lot of repetition in the campaign, new Adventures, and new Strike missions it offers.
Curse of Osiris has a few upshots, like the infusion of new weapons to hunt and involved secret quests to uncover. But decisions like adding new, slow grinds and using the expansion to gate off content that would otherwise be available to Destiny 2 players feel like they weaken the overall package.
From a gameplay standpoint, though, this is the best place to enter Bungie’s shared-world shooter, and the most fun Destiny has ever been.
It took years for Destiny to find its stride and overcome the love-hate relationship players developed with it, and the culmination of that journey is Destiny 2. Bungie has made the most fun version of its shared-world shooter yet, and best of all, it wastes a lot less of players’ time. There’s still room for improvement, especially in the areas of story and lore and the very end of endgame progression, but exploring the solar system with friend and killing thousands of aliens has never been such a good time.
Is there a better alternative?
No. Destiny set a standard for massively multiplayer console shooters that other games tried to emulate, and Destiny 2 raises that bar significantly.
How long will it last?
With its current crop of content, Destiny 2 will keep most players busy for around 10 hours with just its main story, and can double that or more with the rest of its content as players work toward the endgame. And then there’s the raid, which is some of the best team-based shooter gaming content on the market.
Destiny received fairly regular content updates for three years after its release, and we expect Bungie to continue updating Destiny 2 with more content, both free and paid, for years as well.
Should you buy it?
Fans of Destiny probably already have, but for shooter fans wondering what all the fuss has been about, Destiny 2 is absolutely worth trying. Most of the frustrations of the original have been ironed out, making for a multiplayer shooter experience that’s a lot of fun even if you aren’t a die-hard player.
Updated on 09-27-2017 by Phil Hornshaw: Bungie released Destiny 2’s first raid a week after the game’s release, and we’ve updated the “(Mostly) a big improvement” section to discuss it.