It’s finally here. After a hype cycle so big that it could blot out the Sun, and with more promotional fanfare than a day pass to the Olympics, Destiny 2 has launched. Where Bungie’s original failed to live up to expectations, this sequel promises to exceed them. More story. More locations. More loot.
There’s a long-standing argument about whether Destiny 2 is an MMO or one of those nouveau online-experience shared-world-shooters. Over here, we have a simplistic view – there’s group PvP and PvE content, dungeons (Strikes) and even raids. Plus – and this is the big one – it’s heading to PC at the end of October. As we’re a bunch of impatient scamps here, a small group of us have picked up our old Guardians on PlayStation 4 before heading over to the desktop next month.
Which is why we’re giving it the full review treatment, breaking it down over four weeks to get the most complete experience possible. We’ll be sharing our findings with you as we go – including some first impressions – but hold back our final score until the end. For now, read about our experience fresh out of the starting blocks, and be sure to check back as we dig deeper into this sci-fi epic.
Straight from the first moment, Bungie’s sequel makes a tremendous effort to enshroud us in the story. Opening with scenes of chaos and destruction, we’re left crawling through the ruined Tower, a sort-of home base from the original game. As the gunshots and explosions ring around, we discover why the Cabal’s Red Legion have chosen to invade the Earth instead of just destroying it. We also discover why their emperor Dominus Ghaul has such a keen interest in the benevolent Traveller, a gigantic white sphere that has stood watch over the planet for centuries.
If you’ve played through the Beta mission, you’ll recognise this opening experience, but a subtle tutorial has been overlaid to help newcomers to the series, or to console shooters in general. It sits alongside the cutscene-heavy introduction that provides a history catch-up for everyone that skipped or briefly played the previous game.
But the result is the same: the Last City on Earth falls, the Traveller is encased in some form of energy barrier, and the Guardians lose access to the Light and their power. In a single hammer blow, the apple cart is upturned with explosive ferocity.
Even so, wiping the slate clean indicates why this is a sequel and not just an expansion. I’m left feeling weak and vulnerable; the Titan that I’ve poured countless hours into is now just a simple human. It’s a humbling experience, even if it’s only for a moment. From there, it feels like having to relearn being a Guardian again.
To me, it felt like Bungie had gone out of their way to differentiate Destiny 2 from the original. Take the Farm, an early hub point and social area for players to access their vault, hold dance-off competitions and kick some soccer. The ramshackle refugee haven on the edge of the European Dead Zone is a sharp contrast to the carefully constructed Tower, serving as a constant reminder of what was lost.
Even exploring that first zone feels unique. The Central European architecture and mossy forests of the Dead Zone are a stark contrast to the tundra of Old Russia, but hold just as much interest. Even so, the flow feels a little more guided now, with missions (both story and side) gradually opening. While the ordered narrative felt encouraging, I couldn’t help but feel that I lost some of the original’s freedom – more RPG and less MMO. It was a feeling that would come back to nag me as I continued through these early stages.
If there’s one element of Destiny that I found immensely satisfying, it’s the gunplay. Whatever the alien, there’s something about getting that sweet headshot or vulnerable strike that makes it all worthwhile. That warm, fuzzy glow has stuck with me in Destiny 2, whether it’s my favourite assault rifle or the more personal hand cannon. Which is great, as I’ve been doing a whole heap of alien shooting already.
Although I have my favourites, it also feels like there’s something for everyone. So far, the Loot Gods have thrown shotguns, grenade launchers, pulse rifles, pistols, sniper rifles and even a rocket launcher (that was a lot of fun) at me. Even though I have a few go-to’s equipped, I’ve been encouraged to tote around a small arsenal for a variety of situations.
Whatever I’ve had in my hands, I’ve not had any major gripes. Sometimes it’s better to switch weapons rather than wait for one to reload (such as when a horde of Thrall are streaming towards you), but they all feel responsive and weighty without being cumbersome.
If anything, my moans are about stuff not related to shooting, and more about recharge times. I feel like the Grenade has faaar too long a cooldown initially, and usually being about as effective as a disco ball. Sometimes I’ve managed to stick it onto a Fallen or Cabal, but I can’t help but feel it’d just be easier to shoot them. The Titan abilities themselves are fun to throw around, and the full-height wall has got me out of a few scrapes, but I’ll need to see how they work in group play before giving a full critique.
Oh, and the Titan Supercharged shield-pong ability? Ridiculously good fun. PA-DOING!
Playing Destiny 2 on PS4, I feel part of a global online community that’s pushing back against the Red Legion together. Chaps like our esteemed managing editor Bill Murphy appear in my friends list even though an ocean (and several time zones) separate us, and there’s the potential for us to run content together. It’s a marked difference to the fractured continental experience that awaits us with the PC launch next month.
That aside, my experience so far hasn’t really been multiplayer. I can see other players running around Trostland, a small city in the European Dead Zone, but there’s not been a reason for us to group up so far. Mind you, I haven’t progressed far enough to unlock Strikes (3-player dungeons), and I’m hoping that’ll change soon enough.
Each zone is littered with small mini-dungeons called Lost Sectors, which each have a boss and some loot buried inside them, and I’ve managed to solo these to get a taste of instanced content. But, for grouping up, I’ve been reliant on Public Events to see teamwork in action. Whether it’s putting a stop to Fallen drilling operations, or taking down a Hive tank, these events have been fun to take part in and reward satisfying amounts of loot.
Oh, and the Clan system has been down for the first few days since launch, so our small team of Guardians has had a bit of a bumpy transition from the old game to the new.
Up Next: Strikes & PvP
In the next Review-in-Progress, I’ll be tackling two of Destiny 2’s biggest group draws – PvP and Strikes. I’ll also be sharing a little about my transition from Earth to Titan as I leave the European Dead Zone behind and continue to chase that story. Don’t worry, though: I’ll be aiming to keep this as spoiler-free as possible.
At this early juncture, however, Destiny 2 has been an absolute blast. The story and pacing have been spot-on, with big bad-guy Dominus Ghaul coming across as a nuanced menace with his own drives and understandable ambitions, avoiding that two-dimensional cartoon matinee villain. It’s been a treat, even where other space-faring RPGs have been a little disappointing lately.
But, as I mentioned before, there’s this feeling that the pendulum has swung further towards RPG and even less towards MMO. I’m keen to find out if that’s the case throughout, or if it’s just some early shepherding to help Guardians on their way, and I’ll report back soon enough.
In the meantime, sound off! Are you playing a console version of Destiny 2, or waiting patiently for the PC version to come around? Have you chosen to avoid it completely? Speak your piece in the comments!