If you watched the live stream announcement for Destiny 2, you’d know that developer Bungie is targeting two core audiences with its Destiny sequel. On one side, there’s the returning faithful who, let’s face it, don’t really need to be sold on too much for Destiny 2 outside of new weapons, new areas, new missions and, well, the kind of bullet-point ‘new’ stuff you’d expect from a sequel. They know that they’re going to buy the game, and Bungie knows that, too.
On the other side, there’s the new players, who may have briefly or never touched Destiny in any of its forms, but they’re wondering what the fuss is all about. Whether it’s your first time in the Destiny universe or whether you’ve already sunk hundreds (or thousands) of hours into the space, Destiny 2 is poised to please.
The thing is, there’s another, third market that wasn’t acknowledged during the presentation that, I can only imagine, was a decent chunk of the initial Destiny player base: those players who got gut of a lack of content and stopped playing. I was one of those players. I put in more than 100 hours into vanilla Destiny, including more than a few hours after The Dark Below DLC dropped, but I hit a wall because I was essentially doing the same stuff over and over again.
It’s hard to distract from the grind when there’s a lack of content.
You don’t have to look too far online to find people in a similar position: the players who gave launch Destiny a good slog but tired of doing the same grinding missions over and over again. For those who steered clear of Destiny because of these sorts of testimonials, the Bungie pledge is that Destiny 2 will be brimming with content, so much so that World Lead Steve Cotton said players can expect to see more content than has been seen in any other Bungie game.
There were also comparisons to content in terms of the original Destiny, but that’s not setting a terribly high bar. Refreshingly, there was a lot of talk about how Destiny 2 will be expanded, specifically in terms of an emphasis on exploration.
Bungie teased treasure maps and unknown regions, with dungeons that have bosses guarding coveted loot. Better still, there’s a new map feature that lets you track all of the goings-on in the world you’re currently in, as well as the promise of new places to explore, plus the likelihood of stumbling on side quests in the game world.
These sorts of content promises paint a picture of a Destiny 2 whose launch will be a much richer experience when stacked next to the original game. But most of the feature announcements that drew the biggest cheers from the crowd were the kind of things that should have been part of the original game.
Things like matchmaking to find people to play Strikes, Nightfalls, or Raids with. In-game clan support and a shared-reward system between clan members, regardless of their input time. The elimination of the need to travel to orbit before travelling to where you actually want to go. The pledge of a deeper, richer story with characters and events with twists and turns that players will truly care about.
Again, for Destiny devotees, this is the kind of stuff that should draw large cheers, but for the Destiny departed like me, they’re more necessary inclusions in a sequel than the kind of mind-blowing sequel features that immediately restore my faith.
In terms of my hands-on time with the game, it fell on the side of underwhelming because it’s clear that Bungie is only ready to tease exploration at this stage instead of properly showing it off. There’s no denying that Destiny is gorgeous. I got to play an opening snippet of the first level – around 15 minutes of gameplay, but you could rush through it much faster than that – on both PS4 Pro and PC in 4K.
The attention to detail in terms of character faces; small touches like sparks, smoke and fire; and engaging background battles that you can’t help but stare at, these are all phenomenal. Destiny 2 has the kind of bombastic opening that was absent in the original game, but it’s one that’s right at home in a Bungie game, and it harkens back to Bungie’s time with the Halo series.
I was initially put off by the linear nature of the first level, but Project Lead Mark Noseworthy assured me that this was intentional, and that it opens up the more you get into the campaign.
“The first mission is intentionally very linear,” said Noseworthy. “The first mission is [called] Homecoming, and you’re playing a portion of that mission today, not in its entirety, and it’s absolutely quite linear, because we’re training people in a lot of stuff there. It’s very story-driven, it’s part of the larger story, the cinematic story, but there are later missions that will open up a lot more where you have much larger spaces, where you’re fighting combatants on many different fronts, getting lost, finding a Lost Sector, deciding to abandon the patrol that you’re on and going on an adventure, doing something different. So, there’s a lot of player choice, whether that’s the second-to-second player combat, or even in between activities.”
There were certainly sections of the new Strike, Inverted Spire, that had open-approach combat sections spliced with some clever set pieces that combined environmental dangers with tight gunplay.
Because it’s a Bungie game, tight gunplay is a given, though, which is why it’s a little odd that the devs have changed the formula for the weapon system, instead of just adding in more weapon types. The original game simply had a slot for primary, secondary, and a heavy weapon (either a rocket launcher or machine gun). For Destiny 2, this has been shuffled to a more convoluted system of kinetic, energy, and power weapon.
On the surface, it’s not that different – kinetic guns shoot bullets and energy weapons use energy – but the power weapons now also include shotguns, fusion rifles, and sniper rifles (which used to be a primary or secondary choice in Destiny) alongside the expected rocket launchers, machine guns, and all-new grenade launchers (which was unexpectedly weak during my play time). When I played, I checked whether there were still kinetic or energy options for fusion rifles, shotguns and sniper rifles, but they seem to be relegated to the power category, which feels odd.
I get the logic – after all, any of these three weapon types in the right hands were devastating to Destiny’s otherwise moderate-to-low lethality in Crucible – but it makes it feel like the primary and secondary slots, the ones you spend most of your shooting time with, are limited in diversity, even though there is, at the very least, a new SMG weapon category. Hopefully, there are more weapon categories yet to be unveiled.
On the topic of Crucible, this is one area that Bungie has downgraded the Destiny experience, shifting from six players aside to 4v4 PvP. The reasoning for this, according to Game Director Luke Smith is to “create a sense of mastery” with the coveted easy-to-learn, hard-to-master logic as a guiding principal. But that was already the case in the original Destiny, so dropping the player count by two a side – seemingly, without reducing the size of the maps (at least from what I played) – makes it feel emptier, rather than more tactical.
To compound matters, Bungie was also showcasing its new attack/defence mode (apparently a first for Destiny) Countdown, which further highlighted the inherent issues of a sparsity of players. Countdown has 90-second rounds, with teams either attacking or defending one of two bomb sites. Teams switch roles at the end of each round, and the first team to six victories is the winner. On paper, it’s a great mode.
It’s simple enough to learn, but it’s complicated by the reality that you have a single life and have to be revived by your teammates after a cooldown period. This wouldn’t be such a bad thing if the objective mode didn’t incentivise attackers and defenders to fight around the same point, which means a single well-executed offensive super can completely annihilate the other team.
Given that one of the victory conditions is a team wipe, and progress on the super meter carries over between rounds for individual players, it’s easy for teams to turn a small lead into complete dominance, with very little the losing team can do about it. I was on both sides of that during my time with Countdown.
Once again, the gunplay feels fine, and I’m sure that some sort of VOIP system (there wasn’t one at the event) would have helped to coordinate attacking or defensive strategies – when to push and when to back off – but in trying to show off the positives of its new mode, Bungie emphasised the problems of the lower player count.
Don’t get me wrong, after close to a couple of hours of hands-on time across PS4 and PC builds of the game, I didn’t hate my time with Destiny 2. I had more fun with the cooperative Strike than I did with the competitive Crucible, and the opening of the campaign was certainly big and cinematic enough to demand attention.
But for this once-burnt Destiny fan who bought into what Bungie was selling the first time around, I’m twice shy when it comes to giving up my faith so easily for what Bungie is cooking up with Destiny 2. I’m absolutely eager to see, hear, and play more, but what Bungie had to show off at the gameplay reveal event seemed more catered to new players and returning fans more so than the jaded ones who wanted to love the original Destiny but ran out of steam.
AusGamers had its flights, transfers, accommodation, and meals paid for by Activision for this Destiny 2 event in Los Angeles