Destiny 2 Review in Progress – Reignite the Light (PS4)
“Eyes up, Guardian,” my Ghost says as he and I regain the favor of the light. The line is a callback to the moment my Guardian first awakened in the original Destiny. Destiny 2’s opening moments sees the destruction of everything we know and love as longtime Destiny players. The Tower is in flames, people we know are scattered and missing, and perhaps worst of all, the power that I’ve known for the last three years has been stripped from me. These somber moments are ones I’ve talked about at length before, the imposing Dominus Ghaul managing to do what even a Hive god and time traveling robot could not.
Ghost’s broken voice is the only friend I had. Together we dragged our broken frames away from the wreckage of the Tower in an epic quest that somehow feels Lord of the Rings in scale, despite being a single mission. Bungie did an amazing job through music and gameplay cuts to make the journey to the Farm feel long and arduous. In fact, the dynamic music in every space feels cinematic and epic. There are chilling realizations of just how much power I’d lost. Things I’d come to take for granted—grenades, powered melees, and even a double jump—aren’t available to me. All I’ve got is a malfunctioning Ghost, some wrecked armor, and a couple of guns I managed to scavenge on my way out of the city. I’ve defeated gods and kings, and Bungie made me realize that underneath all the armor, without the power of the light, I am just a man (or woman, depending upon which of my characters I am playing).
A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to play through the majority of Destiny 2 at an event near Bungie’s studio. You may have seen my release of the EDZ exploration footage and impressions a short time after, but much of the content we played was under a strict embargo until now. As Destiny 2 server access rolls across the globe, the details can finally be unveiled and my excitement no longer needs to remain under wraps.
It’s tough to know where to start. As someone intimately familiar with Destiny after 1300 hours in game, the highlights for me are the changes and improvements over the original game. At first glance it may appear that the game hasn’t changed much, but you have to remember that Destiny underwent three years of revision to get to the state it’s in today, with further adjustments making up Destiny 2. There are also a lot of changes under the hood and behind the curtain that haven’t been revealed to the public yet. Bungie does like to delight and surprise, so even my gameplay session had a number of things that were off limits in order to protect their secrets leading into release.
Old or New
At the event I was prompted to create a new character, unable to pull one of my old Guardians over for the journey. The fresh account meant that I saw Destiny 2 through the eyes—or rather heard it through the ears—of a new player. New players will be given different dialogue during much of the game than us Destiny veterans. My first encounter with the Taken was a confusing one as Ikora attempted to explain them to me. I know, lady! I only went in to their king’s realm to defeat the threat he posed to humanity, no big deal. If you’ve completed The Taken King expansion from the first game, it was indicated that your dialog will reflect that previous knowledge. They didn’t dive into detail, but the impression I got was that dialog will depend on the completion of certain milestones during the lifetime of Destiny.
As heavy and rewarding as Bungie has made Destiny 2 feel for the longtime fans, new players are being offered an amazing jumping on point. The dialog alone shows how much they want both new and old players to feel welcome in this world, feeding right in to the more epic cinematic adventure that Destiny 2 takes you on. There are more cutscenes in Destiny 2 than the entire first game had in the base game and all expansions. Story missions feel like they have more purpose and epic moments in affecting the world state. Adventures tell stories across the landscapes of the patrol zones so that each has narrative baked in. And this is all before reaching the end of the game where we were cut off. I was amazed with not only the sheer amount of things to do in Destiny 2, but also how rewarding every aspect of the game felt. Part of that comes from this being a new experience, but understanding the economy of the first game, a lot of things have been changed to make sure that things players used to dread, like patrols and material farming, feel like fun and engaging experiences.
Bungie has no problem poking fun at themselves and old problems. It’s something we saw multiple times throughout the life of the first game, and we find some of that self-referential humor here poking fun at either themselves or the fans in Destiny 2. My first visit to Eververse (more on microtransactions later in the review) was met with the line, “What? You thought an apocalypse would shut Eververse down?” At one point Cayde-6 says, “I don’t have time to explain what I don’t have time to understand,” a clear reference to the cryptically laughable line from the first game by the Stranger, who said, “I don’t have time to explain why I don’t have time to explain.”
There’s even a reference from Cayde to our voiceless Guardian as he gives them instructions on what to do. “Say you’ve got it! Say something!” he yells as my Guardian looked on silently. It feels like Bungie is acknowledging that your Guardian doesn’t have a voice and making light of it, rather than just leaving it as is. They know players are upset, and whatever internal decision led to that, they are trying to soften the blow with a little humor.
Every new world is exciting to explore, each with their own unique characters that act as the faction representative for that world. Failsafe is the hilarious bipolar AI on a crashed colony ship on Nessus. Devrim Kay is the stoic sniper keeping watch in the EDZ. The only character I came to despise during my playtime was Asher Mir on Io. Supposedly an intelligent scientist, he felt like a dumb caricature of a brilliant mind. There was plenty of opportunity for he and Ikora to have some thought provoking discourse on faith versus science, but this irrational and angry scientist turned every one of those conversations into a bad joke. If you were worried about Cayde-6 or Ghost going overboard with the silliness, don’t be. They’ve each got a good balance of funny and serious. It’s Asher Mir you’ve got to worry about, taking the number one place as my least favorite character in Destiny.
As much as I talked about exploration of the EDZ, a lot of those comments can apply to the other three worlds as well. Each feels well stocked with secrets tucked away in corners and meaningful rewards for playing on them. Lore being entirely in game now means that scannable objects in the world tell the story, and hitting L2 on a piece of gear extends a lore tab to get a bit of history on that particular piece of armor or gun. I’d highly recommend seeking these out anytime a Ghost icon flashes in the upper right corner of the screen. Every bit of lore will be both interesting for new players and rewarding for the old Guardians that want to learn more about this world without light.
Playing in the Sandbox
I hesitate to talk much about sandbox design for Destiny 2 based on the build I played at the event. There is an additional day one patch that will change even more of the balancing for various things, so I would be remiss to comment on drop rates or recharge times and then be proven wrong by the final game. I could easily say that it seemed exotics came a little bit too frequently, with the guy sitting next to me getting as many as 17 in the two days we were there, but I imagine the retail release will drag out the carrot a little bit more than that. At any rate, even the values in the launch day game will probably be different by the start of next month. Destiny 2 is a living game that will always be updating, changing, and improving, so it’s not fair to judge it based upon a single snapshot in time.
Let’s get some brief details out of the way though. Yes, The Taken King subclasses are back, meaning that each character has three full subclasses in the final game. I won’t spoil how you go about earning these (I’m sure you can find it in a million places already), but I love how much story Bungie has put into every aspect of Destiny 2, including getting your additional subclasses. The missions involved dive further into the history of that particular class and the Guardians who have wielded that light.
I’ve talked at length before about Strikes and Crucible. The additional Strikes in Destiny 2 employ a lot of fun mechanics that make them feel a little less formulaic, housing some of the most interesting boss encounters in the series thus far. The Crucible’s new 4v4 mechanics are great for making the game feel less rigid than threes, but more structured than the chaos of 6v6. My biggest concern is how they will handle people leaving. As of right now, it seems like a player lost is a match lost. I think there will be some iteration to do in the final game when it comes to matchmaking, and I’m reserving judgement until I get some rounds in on the live servers.
Every activity in Destiny 2 now has daily challenges attached to it, so no matter what you are doing or which character you are playing as, there will be goals to aim for. The downside for these challenges is that they aren’t listed anywhere except in the activity that you’re doing. It might be that they are more of an afterthought to add a bit of variation to some activities, but I wish I had a way to see what I had to do where so that I could make educated decisions about what activities to do. Who knows? Maybe in the final game it won’t matter at all once I reach the endgame. This is precisely the reason this review is still in progress.
Pressing the touchpad brings up the Director, allowing players to move to any activity or destination in the game from anywhere else. It’s a small but significant quality of life change that means there’s much less time spent jumping through hoops to get to playing something and more actual playing of the game. This page is where you’ll see the list of missions you currently have active, so unlike challenges, these are all available from anywhere. The other amazing thing is never being pulled out of your menu as activities load. Again, a seemingly small change that was a massive annoyance in Destiny 1 makes Destiny 2 seem far and away better just for improving on that one aspect.
A New Kind of Engram
If you watched my EDZ exploration footage, you may have seen me earn a Bright Engram at one point and wondered what it was. Bungie has reworked the microtransaction system in Destiny 2 to center around lootboxes. Once I reached level 20, every additional level up earned me a Bright Engram, which can be decoded for cosmetic rewards. They include drops like premium shaders (that can now be applied to individual armor pieces, weapons, Ghost shells, ships, and sparrows), exotic sparrows, ships, and even exotic emotes that have special effects. I was able to unlock one called “Salty,” which was essentially the Salt Bae meme with little sparkles coming from my Titan’s fingers.
The game feels consistently rewarding, no matter what I am doing. Destiny’s post cap level ups would grant me a couple Motes of Light, a material I quickly grew out of uses for, but Destiny 2 rewards continued play by giving players what they would need to pay for otherwise. I was still given the option to directly buy some of the cosmetic items too. It seems like they’ve got all their bases covered. I’m not even going to try to speculate on the monetization of future content because the only bar of comparison we have is the first game, and there’s no telling how Destiny 2 will change these plans. All I will say is that the improvements made to Destiny 2 make me confident not only for the life of the game, but for expansions that feel more valuable and rewarding to players who want to pay their hard earned money for additional content.
A sequel should be many things. It should be familiar. It should be a step forward. It should cultivate the things that worked. It should improve what didn’t. Finding that balance is difficult without either copying too much of what came before or no longer staying true to the original. As old Guardians and new alike take this step into a world without light, Destiny 2 proves that Bungie has taken great care with this balance. There’s a familiar game here, and yet there’s a game all its own. It’s thrilling to start at the bottom again and need to work my way up after three years of feeling powerful.
I could go on and on, but I won’t. Even as much as the story experience has been improved, and many quality of life changes have been implemented, Destiny is all about the endgame. If you aren’t concerned at all about the endgame content, my recommendation is to get Destiny 2 right now. If your hestitation was on story, whether it changed enough from the first, or any other number of small quality of life things, rest assured that Bungie listened to their players and Destiny is better than it’s ever been.
Our full scored Destiny 2 review will come after I am able to complete the campaign with my own characters, play with my clan, and experience the gameplay loop that will inevitably keep me coming back again and again. If we decide to release a scored review prior to the release of the raid, we will be doing impressions of the raid separately.
Destiny 2 review event and accommodations provided by Activision. Review code provided for playing in a live environment. For more information, please read our Review Policy.