Footage of Destiny 2 in action, showcasing just how great it looks HUD-less
I am speaking to you from the future, so I don't even have time to explain what I don't have time to explain. Though the Destiny 2 servers have only just been switched on, I've already played what you're playing now. Right now. Bungie invited exactly one Aussie games critic to have a 16-hour playthrough of Destiny 2, weeks before launch. I am that Guardian. To those of you who know me, my Light Level credentials are impeccable – and I've had my eyes up since the Destiny Alpha. Basically, I'm here to tell you that – plot-twist – the original Destiny was one big beta. Destiny 2 is the game it should have been from day one.
The most obvious change is in the visuals; no longer will this space opera be held back by the crappy PS3 and Xbox 360 versions. Sorry last-gen consoles. Rather than waste words gushing over how it all looks, I'll just direct you to some embedded videos I captured from my PS4 Pro at the Seattle event. As you can imagine, all these vastly improved lighting, fire, and weather effects all come to the dramatic fore when The Last City comes crashing down in a Cabal attack. Yes, the Tower is toast. Your Vanguard leaders have scattered to their own corners of the solar system, and all Guardians have lost their light. That last bit might just be a bullshit means for Bungie to drop every player to square one, with one potential marketing approach being to call this Destiny 2: The Re-Grindening. Catchy.
Your subsequent journey across the solar system will whisk you from the European Dead Zone to the moons of Titan, Nessus and Io. As expected each of these four areas look and feel radically different, and come packed with their own unique quest-giving character, and sizeable overworlds filled with so much to do I still felt intimidated by them after two days. 16 hours in total. Terrestrial fast-traveling to points of interest is now a thing, thankfully, and the whole process takes maybe 10 seconds. That being said, you have to unlock those galactic bus stops before you can travel to them. And with sparrows being annoyingly slow to unlock, it felt like 6 hours or so to before I got one, you should expect some needlessly long, cross-country trudges,
Still, I played 12 solid hours of the campaign until it reached a critical end mission, at which point the controller was yanked out of my hands. A very respectable runtime that didn't include much side-grinding in Public Events/Heroic Events/Adventures/Dead Sector content. None of the aforementioned feels like filler, either: they're meaty chunks of gameplay that never play out the same, thanks to increased on-screen enemy counts and players dynamically phasing their chaos into your world and vice-versa. The main narrative here is no War & Peace, but the quest to “get the band back together” is of the same high calibre found in The Taken King. Even though the majority of the new quest-giver characters irritated me with their nattering VO. Hey, maybe that’s just me.
Mechanically, the gunplay in Destiny 2 will probably feel exactly the same to any weekend Guardian – highly mobile, and wonderfully kinetic. If it aint broke, etc, etc. Veterans like myself will furrow their brow at a few weird decisions and an all-pervading sense of having levelled through all of this before. Here's a few examples that I jotted down. Grenades, Supers and Melee abilities have much longer cooldowns. A state of affairs that didn't improve much when I reached the Power Level cap of 260 – in classic Destiny fashion you'll have to jump through weekly hoops to get to 300. The gun slots have now changed from “Primary / Secondary / Heavy” to “Kinetic / Elemental / Power” and it's now harder to know what firearm an enemy guardian might be packing (e.g. godly Sniper Rifles and Shotties can now be fuelled by Heavy weapon ammo). I could niggle all day on stuff like this, but none of it presents a major problem.
All you really need to know is: I had an absolute hoot playing this, and I wasn't all that keen on the recent Destiny 2 beta. I do still worry about the PvP that Bungie showcased, but my icy heart has melted now that I've gotten access to a larger pool of modes and better-designed maps. I finally found my groove in Countdown mode, the 4 vs 4 trials/bomb defuse hybrid. I also dig how the matches are shorter, and the subtitle below the radar that tells you what “suburb” of the map you're in is great for coordinating, even with a roster full of strangers.
There have also been some valuable tweaks to the staple Control mode, like captures no longer being sped up by multiple people, with capturing all points massively boosting your point yield. I think the pick of the litter is the new Survival mode - finite lives, permadeath, and coordinated team tactics. It's a low-risk Trials-lite that feels like it's rated E for Everybody. Or possibly T for Teabagging.
Well that’s me signing off for now, but I'll be back to bring you up to speed on Strikes and the Raid content. The latter is traditionally released well after launch, and is widely regarded as the finest content of all the very fine Destiny content.
For now, I see no reason why Destiny 2 shouldn't be a purchase – and this is a recommendation coming from a jaded veteran who'd lost interest by the end of vanilla run. The old guard within you will grumble at re-treading old ground, but will love the overall streamlined experience and all the homecoming feels with Zavala, Ikora, and the always affable Cayde-6. And thanks to a page-one-rewrite for every Guardian's inventory, curious newbies also have no better opportunity than now to buy into the Destiny universe. Fair warning, though - I don't care how exotic your spaceship might get, it'll take at least a month for you to escape the blackhole that is this sequel.
FINAL REVIEW CONTENT POST-RAID RELEASE
The good news is that the campaign continues for an additional hour and wraps in a satisfying conclusion (ie there's no “Stranger” who appears to befuddle you with WTF nonsense, followed by a credits roll.) Better yet, a slew of post-win missions, adventures and strikes open up which effectively doubles the runtime of Destiny 2.
The latter, strikes, are quite replayable as they've grown in complexity to the point where they're almost miniature raids – a series of unique challenges and puzzle wrinkles that go well beyond "just ventilate everything". These are few in number, however, so the long-tail grind revolves around a weekly tick off of PvE and PvP milestones. Yes, it's covering old ground but getting bored is difficult when the battlefields are this vast and dynamic. Something else I didn't expect: repeated exposure to the mission-givers and their meaty side-missions has made me better understand and accept their idiosyncrasies. (I still, however, maintain that Asher is an irredeemable prick.)
Raid-wise, Bungie has delivered its greatest work yet. Destiny 2 eclipses the challenge and creativity witnessed in Wrath of the Machine and even the secrets-laden wonder of the venerable Vault of Glass. Whereas the latter was a descent into the dank caverns of a Vex stronghold, Leviathan is a dizzying ascent into the impossibly opulent mansion of a Goldmemberesque Cabal hedonist. It's basically one big cosmic reality show where you and five mates are the very confused, very outnumbered contestants. The whole shenanigan is modularly designed, too, so there's no telling what the order of madness will be from week to week. That's freshness and longevity, right there.
Communication, coordination, pattern memorisation, stealth, spry platforming and precision shooting are all paramount to success. Even if you've got the right crew this will be brutal, but after many wipes, hours, and tears this will become a multiplayer experience unlike anything you've ever had. Basically, it's the extremely generous cherry plopped atop an already spectacular sequel.
Verdict: Lessons were learnt and learnt well. The looming Darkness has not consumed Bungie at this point in time. Quite the contrary. Destiny 2 is the glorious self-rez fans have been praying for. Stop orbiting it and dive in, today. (Ed's note: this "stop orbiting" business is a direct dig at one Steve Farrelly who, inextricably, remained in perpetual orbit in the first game on PS4 for months. Literally.)
What we liked
Massive shot in the arm in terms of visuals
Strong, lengthy plot has time to explain what it has time to explain
The best Destiny raid content ever offers many a watershed moment
Sublime gunplay is more addictive than heroin hotcakes
What we didn't like
Iffy mission-givers need time to grow on you
Overwhelming vault space wants for better sorting options
Bullshit “you've been placed in a cue to play” messages