• Navigation
View RSS Feed


Destiny 2 Review -- The Empire Strikes Back

Rate this Entry
There is no game that has consumed more of my playtime the past few years than Destiny (hereby referred to as Destiny 1). As someone who spent years playing Final Fantasy XI, the loot-based progression, the community, and the challenging end-game content appealed to me. And, as an ardent fan of the Halo franchise, the first-person shooter mechanics were second to none. Some days I would spend hours rerunning raids in hopes of an elusive drop while other days, my time would be devoted to clashing against other players in the Crucible. For all its flaws, Destiny 1 really was an amalgam of a game that felt crafted for me. When Bungie announced that Destiny 2, the game’s first true sequel, would essentially restart the experience, it felt like a gut-punch. Suddenly the character I had been developing and the loot I had been collecting were meaningless. For the first time in years, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep devoting my time and energy to the Destiny universe. Well, it should come as no surprise that I caved and ended up picking up Destiny 2, and here we are, nearly a month later. I’ve spent countless hours spread across the game’s campaign, wandering new planets, fighting through a new and challenging raid, and learning new Crucible mechanics. I guess what I’m trying to say is, tuck yourselves in, kids, it’s time for another Destiny review!

For all its flaws, Destiny 1 introduced players to a new universe and laid the foundation for things to come. Players encountered the Traveler, a mysterious sphere that at one point ushered in a golden age of human advancement, but had long gone dormant, blessing a select few, the Guardians, with the ability to do great things through the use of its light. Destiny 1 also scratched the surface of a conflict between the Traveler and an ambiguously defined threat called the Darkness. And finally, Destiny 1 established a home for players in the Tower, a social space located in the last safe city on Earth filled with familiar NPCs and locations. If Destiny 1 was intended to build up a new world, the story of Destiny 2 serves to tear down much of what we’ve come to know the past three years. In the opening moments of the game’s campaign, the Tower is destroyed, our allies are scattered, and the light is stolen. At the forefront of this assault is the Cabal Empire, led by Dominus Ghaul. This imposing antagonist has led his forces to Earth to prove his worth by defeating the Guardians and taking their powers for his own. Throughout Destiny 1’s lifespan, the Cabal were the least explored enemy race. Introduced during the last quarter of the original campaign, the Cabal were never the focus of their own dedicated expansion. Players have clamored to learn more about this intimidating race, and Bungie has delivered in many ways.

A number of reviews and individuals have applauded Destiny 2’s story for finally delivering on the narrative promise of Destiny 1. If I’m being totally honest, yes, Destiny 2 has a better story, but I personally do not think it merits all the praise. Honestly, Destiny 2’s story suffers from one of the biggest issues that plagued Destiny 1: pacing. In addition to telling a story, the Destiny 1 campaign had the added challenge of introducing players to a handful of planets to explore and four new enemy races. While Destiny 2 builds on Destiny 1, it is also intended to serve as something of a fresh start to draw in new players. As a result, players have to travel the universe, visit new worlds, and (re)introduce themselves to former allies. Unfortunately, this means that players visit each location, do a few things, then rush to the next location. The worst problem is that the game fails to capitalize on the potential ramifications of Ghaul’s ominous tagline -- “Welcome to a world without light.” Destiny 2 is a video game about powerful heroes, so, as expected, players regain access to their light and the abilities it provides. However, as players travel from location to location and encounter the members of the Vanguard, the game only scratches the surface of the effects that losing their powers and their connection to the Traveler has had on these major figures from the first game. Because the game rushes from one location to the next, it never truly capitalizes on these emotional leads. All that said, the flow of the narrative feels more natural and the focus on the Cabal threat definitely helps the story feel more coherent, but at the same time, it would have been nice to see Bungie explore each location and the enemies faced in more detail. Some of it might come up in DLC (for instance, what are the Vex doing on Nessus?), but that possibility doesn’t conceal the flaw in Destiny 2’s narrative. Another weakness is Ghaul and the limited interactions players have throughout the campaign. Prior to its release, Bungie repeatedly stated that Ghaul would be an enemy players would come to fear and hate. Unfortunately, for a primary antagonist, Ghaul is more of a looming presence in the distance rather than an ever-present threat. Yes, there are a handful of cutscenes throughout the campaign that follow Ghaul’s actions, and yes, they certainly help to explain his motives, but they don’t do a great job of making him seem like a fearsome adversary.

For those new to the franchise, the core of Destiny 2 is still a game with Player versus Environment (PvE) and Player versus Player (PvP) components built around the phenomenal first-person shooter gameplay that defined Destiny 1, albeit with a few changes. Some of these changes are minor and understandable, others are more significant. Players still pick one of three classes and then switch between one of three subclasses per class, run around mostly in the first-person, carry three guns, shoot at various alien races (or other players) while avoiding the oncoming deluge of fire, and throw out the occasional grenade, melee, and super abilities. Six of Destiny 1’s subclasses return mostly unchanged, while the remaining three have seen significant modification. Hunters retain the golden-gun wielding Gunslinger and the Nightstalker with its debuff inducing void bow, while the Bladedancer has changed into the Arcstrider. Equipped with an electrified staff, Arcstriders acrobatically jump around the battlefield, flying from one foe to another. Warlocks can still throw out explosive balls of energy as Voidwalkers and fly across the battlefield as a Sith-lord on Stormcaller. Their new subclass, the Dawnblade, replaces the Sunsinger. Dawnblades carry a flaming sword which can fire off and rain projectiles down upon foes. Finally, Titans can still run around and slam into opponents with either their fists as the Striker subclass or flaming hammers as Sunbreakers. Their third class is now the Sentinel which gains a shield that can slammed into foes or thrown around like Captain America. Players unlock the three new subclasses through the progression of the campaign while the six old subclasses must be unlocked by leveling up and collecting items. Given the narrative approach The Taken King took to unlocking new subclasses, Destiny 2’s simplified quests seem like a wasted opportunity, but not a major issue in the long-run.

Based on an ever-problematic special ammo PvP economy, Bungie has tweaked the weapon loadouts. Instead of a primary, special, and heavy weapon, players now carry a primary weapon, a second primary with an energy modifier, and one power weapon. Primary weapons include scout rifles, pulse rifles, auto rifles, hand cannons, sidearms, and sub-machine guns, while power weapons consist of sniper rifles, swords, fusion rifles, linear rifles, shotguns, grenade launchers, and rocket launchers. I was somewhat apprehensive about this change for PvE prior to the game’s release, but honestly, it is really not as problematic as I feared. Yes, one of the powerful tools available to players has been replaced by another primary weapon, but I can’t really think of any current encounter where I needed access to more firepower. Maybe this is a testament to Bungie’s ability to adjust their gameplay design, or maybe this will be a problem down the road, but this change was not as detrimental as I initially feared. Another change that I am still fairly apprehensive about is the elimination of random rolls on weapons (and armor). In Destiny 1, two players could have the same weapon, but because perks were decided randomly, one person could have an amazing weapon with perks that synergized perfectly, while the other could have one that fell far shorter. In Destiny 2, every weapon has the same perks. Now, if two players receive the same weapon, they will receive identical weapons. Other, more eloquent individuals have discussed this topic ad nauseam, but personally, I don’t agree with this change. On one hand, yes, it is great that players don’t have to worry about having an amazing gun ruined by terrible perks and everyone is on a level playing field. On the other, grinding for weapons was one of the things that kept people playing Destiny 1. Was it frustrating at times? Yes, of course. But it still provided an incentive for players to keep running the same content over and over. In Destiny 1, there were powerful weapon with fixed rolls -- exotics, raid and Trials weapons. I feel that system could have been tweaked to allow easier to access fixed rolled weapons while also providing some weapons with random rolls to give the hardcore players reason to keep repeating the same content.

Another significant gameplay change is that timers for grenades, melees, supers, and the new class abilities have also been noticeably increased, seemingly to place greater emphasis on gun-skill in the Crucible. This has been compounded by the change to the armor system which has removed stats which reduced ability cooldowns in Destiny 1 (players can equip mods to reduce their cooldowns, but the effect is not nearly as drastic). While I can somewhat understand this from a PvP perspective, it also has the unfortunate side-effect of making PvE less fun. Using abilities to be a powerful hero, fighting against hordes of enemies is a lot of fun. There were some crazy builds (like spamming infinite grenades) players could pull off in Destiny 1 using specific armor pieces, perks, and stat rolls. Many of these really fun builds were only viable in PvE as they required swarms of enemies, so this change is more than a little disheartening. Abilities and supers are part of the Destiny experience. I could see them toning them down a little for PvP balance, but this change feels too drastic. Further reducing the ability to seek out those ridiculous combinations is the fact that class trees have been simplified drastically. Instead of picking individual perks, players now choose between one of two perk trees, each with four perks each. I’m not a fan of this reduction in choice to begin, but the bigger problem I have is that perks cannot be turned off, and some of these perks are actually detrimental based on an individual’s playstyle. For instance, on my Gunslinger, I refuse to unlock the last perk on one of the trees because the other three perks match my playstyle, while the fourth perk ruins the subclasses’ super viability in the Crucible. The only reason I know this, however, is because I played the Beta and got to experience that perk and knew it was problematic. Given the choice, I would happily use the fourth perk from the other tree, but that’s not an option with this new system.

Players have a wide range of activities to engage in across both the PvE and PvP spectrum and each week, players are able to view a list of objectives called Milestones which provide powerful gear and rewards. For the PvE crowd, there is exploration, weekly Flashpoints, the Strike Playlist, and a new raid. For all the activities available to players in Destiny 1, the worlds felt empty. Yes, there were patrols in the world, but they all felt pretty much the same. Public Events were fun, but they were also random and required external websites to track and pursue. Across the board, the worlds of Destiny 2 feel more alive and layered with activities. For starters, each planet has multiple landing zones which allow players to freely fast-travel with ease. Additionally, Public Events are now marked on the map and happen frequently enough that roving bands of players can easily jump from one to the next. Each week, one planet is specified as the Flashpoint and players earn powerful rewards from completing Public Events on that planet. There are also Lost Sectors, mini dungeons which can be done over and over, treasure chests and weekly treasure maps, narrative adventures and quests, and the obligatory patrols. Each planet also has its own reputation, weapons, and armor sets, seemingly replacing the factions of Destiny 1. As it stands, the worlds of Destiny 2 feel more alive and exciting than those of Destiny 1. Whether this will last, well, we’ll have to wait and see.

All that said, the worlds themselves do not feel like significant upgrades over the worlds of Destiny 1. Yes, the European Dead Zone is a larger area than any from Destiny 1, but the rest do not share that same sense of awe. Another unfortunate change is that there is less incentive to wander off the path and explore each and every corner of the map due to the removal of Dead Ghosts and Grimoire. Destiny 1 was criticized for requiring players to read most of its lore on Bungie's website. As players progressed through the game, they could unlock lore by defeating specific foes, collecting exotic items, participating in activities, and by collecting Dead Ghosts. The Dead Ghosts were strewn around the map, so players had to really search to find them all. Every point of interest is now marked on the map, so players have no real reason to stray from the path. Lore for important items is now contained in game, which is fine. However, in The Taken King, players had to collect fifty items to unlock one of the game’s powerful exotic weapons. Most players simply focused on collecting the items to complete the quest, but players also unlocked the detailed history of the Hive through each item they collected. A part of me can’t shake the feeling that we will end up losing a significant amount of lore this way. Given the colorful and beautiful worlds that Bungie has crafted, it is a little disappointing that so many players will never simply wander and instead just go from objective to objective.

Over the course of Destiny 1, Bungie took a number of steps to improve the Strike experience. Strikes are larger missions where groups of three players pursue a series of objectives before confronting a boss. While Strikes were initially fairly boring, they saw significant improvement with the release of The Taken King. Destiny 2 mostly maintains that level of quality, while not taking advantage of additional improvements released in subsequent patches and updates. This five Destiny 2 Strikes (six if you’re on PS4) are fairly fun encounters which have you explore areas you may have only run past during the campaign. Some of the bosses feature a variety of mechanics to make them more interesting, others feature mechanics that make them feel like something of a chore. Honestly, the biggest disappointment is the Bungie removed much of the incentive that compelled players to run Strikes. As Destiny 1 progressed, Bungie introduced Strike-specific-loot that was often desirable and coveted as well as a scoring system that rewarded player efficiency. All of that is missing in Destiny 2. The Strike playlist is just another means to power up -- one that takes longer to complete than most others, and is therefore not the best use of time. Conversely, the Nightfall Strike, a harder Strike which offers more powerful rewards, has seen some welcome changes. The most notable change is that Nightfalls are now timed, so players have to actually plan and develop a strategy before starting the Nightfall to avoid running out of time. Players gain access to the Nightfall much earlier than in Destiny 1 and these Strikes serve as a nice stepping stone for players to get ready for the later content which requires significantly more coordination and communication.

As with every new Destiny release, the biggest PvE activity is the new raid, The Leviathan. Taking place inside a gaudy and ornate palace on a massive world-eating Cabal ship, the Leviathan is nothing like any of Destiny 1’s raids. For starters, the Leviathan is not a linear raid. Players enter the raid and arrive in an open hub which leads to the different encounters. The order for these encounters rotates each week, which is a minor but nice addition. The Leviathan also features a sprawling underbelly which invites players to get lost searching for chests and shortcuts. I’m not one-hundred percent sure this is possible, but I know players can navigate to each encounter through the underground, raising the potential to pick the order of your encounters. The encounters themselves are also different than other raids. While Destiny 1’s raids were mostly built around boss encounters, the Leviathan’s encounters are more about mechanical encounters with only a single boss at the very end. Beyond that, the Leviathan is.. ..weird. Not to spoil anything, but the three main encounters are called the Bathhouse, Pleasure Gardens, and the Gauntlet (which is a deceptive title for what is essentially a Japanese gameshow..). In the newly established Cabal lore, sure it makes sense, but that doesn’t make it any less weird. If I’m being totally honest, I feel that Bungie might be stretching a bit with their raid mechanics. Yes, The Leviathan is a fun raid, but some of these mechanics are so convoluted, I can’t imagine how hard it would be for a group of new players who never played Destiny 1 to solve them all. It took my group multiple hours to solve each encounter on the first day and we all had multiple years and countless hours of Bungie raid experience to build upon. I would probably rank the Leviathan as Destiny’s third best raid (behind Vault of Glass and King’s Fall), but I also developed a strong hatred of Rise of Iron’s Wrath of the Machine due to its ridiculous challenge mode..

While the PvE content is certainly exciting and engaging, especially early on, the content I most look forward to is the new PvP content. Without a doubt, I spent more time playing Crucible matches than anything else in Destiny 1. While the PvE side suffered from content droughts, the Crucible was a constant source of entertainment and challenge. With Destiny 2, Bungie has taken steps to reset the Crucible to address some of the biggest concerns that plagued Destiny 1’s Crucible. As I mentioned previously, one of the biggest problems was the overuse of special weapons -- weapons like sniper rifles and shotguns that could one-shot an opposing player. Destiny 2 emphasizes primary weapon combat and gun-skill. Players now essentially have two primary weapons, heavy power ammo can only be picked up by one player, and abilities have been reined in. While I welcome these changes, time to kill (TtK) has been increased across the board as well. For instance, my favorite PvP weapon in Year 3 of Destiny 1 was a pulse rifle called the Blind Perdition which had a TtK of 0.87 seconds. The most comparable gun I’ve found in Destiny 2 is a pulse rifle called the Nightshade which has a TtK of 1.2 seconds. This might not seem like a lot, but these slower TtKs mean it is easier to disengage from combat and team-shooting is far more important. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed that I can no longer out-gun multiple opponents at once. Still, I’ve been playing Destiny 1 for three years, so I’m not too upset that I have to learn new mechanics and learn to rely more on positioning and teamwork.

Of course, there are some other, less desirable changes to the Crucible as well. For starters, unlike Destiny 1, Crucible activities are now grouped into one of two categories: either Quickplay or Competitive. Quickplay includes staples like Control and Clash, and the almost universally despised Supremacy. Competitive includes two game-modes, either Countdown or Survival. In Countdown, one team is tasked with planting a bomb while the other must defend or disarm. Teams alternate roles until one team reaches six wins. Survival gives each team eight lives and a team wins a round by wiping out the other team and depleting their lives. Quickplay matches are intended to quickly find matches based on connection quality while Competitive is supposed to pit players against others in their skill-range. The weekly Trials tournament also returns, this time dubbed Trials of the Nine. Honestly, I’m not too mad about the Crucible being broken into two playlists (unless I get a string of Supremacy matches..). What irritates me about this new structure though, is that Bungie has created a competitive playlist without including the key element players want -- player rankings. Especially given that they must have some type of ranking to match players in competitive, there seems to be no reason not to make that number visible to players. This whole thing becomes even more irritating when you remember that Bungie has had actual ranked playlists and visible rankings in their previous games. I can’t speak for everyone, but an actual ranking gives me a reason to keep playing competitive. I play competitive in Overwatch so I can work to improve and see my competitive ranking go up (and to unlock gold weapons..). With Destiny 2 (and Destiny 1 for that matter), I don’t get that feeling, so I feel no incentive to play Competitive. It also doesn’t help that, again, there are features that were developed over the lifespan of Destiny 1 that are missing from Destiny 2. The two most egregious are the lack of Private Matches and the fact that premade teams are matched against players who solo-queue. Also, why is there no free-for-all?

Going forward, there are three big questions facing Destiny 2: What is out there to keep players engaged, what does the endgame of Destiny 2 look like, and what does the future of Destiny 2 hold? Destiny 2, like Destiny 1 before it, is a persistent shared-world shooter. The game thrives when there are players doing activities, wandering the world, and fighting in the Crucible. This week saw the release of the Faction Rallies, a new event where players compete to earn tokens for a faction of their choosing to unlock new gear. We also know that both Iron Banner and the hard Prestige mode for the raid are on the horizon. That’s all well and good, but how long will that content keep players engaged? Faction Rallies are a fun event, but it lacks any depth. A big part of my concern stems from the loot changes. Every weapon is now one-and-done, and armor is almost entirely cosmetic. It’s hard to imagine that many players will keep doing the same content over and over for loot they already received. This leads to my next question, what exactly is the endgame of Destiny 2? Destiny 1 had multiple endgames. For all its flaws, one aspect of the endgame was farming tier 12 armor and searching for the perfectly rolled weapon. Destiny 2 has removed those aspects and many others, so what are players expected to do in the endgame? Not every player will be like me and want to spend their time in the Crucible. Without things to chase and pursue, I worry that Destiny 2’s player-base will begin to diminish more quickly than its predecessor’s. Finally, what exactly does the future of Destiny 2 hold? This is a broad question that can go a lot of ways. For starters, will we see the return of features that were released across Destiny 1’s lifespan? Will the content change to have more depth, or are the Faction Rallies the standard going forward? Will some of the new features be adjusted and improved upon? Some of the new stuff seems like half-steps that don’t fully capitalize on their potential. For instance, Guided Games -- essentially a matchmaking system that allows solo players to meet and join with clans for some of the harder content. Much of Destiny 2’s endgame content requires communication, and Guided Games says a mic is required. And yet, there’s no way to ensure players who join have a mic or are using one. Small but significant oversights like that feel poorly thought out and leave me concerned about Destiny 2’s future.

At the start of this review, I said there was a part of me that thought about not picking up Destiny 2. For all my worries and concerns, I am glad that I did not listen to that voice. Given the amount of time I've poured into the Destiny franchise, I imagine there will always be a part of me that has some trepidation. As a hardcore Destiny player, part of me is worried about the endgame, but then there's the part that says don't worry about it, there's always the Crucible. For all its flaws, it still has a phenomenal game-play core that makes the game just fun to play. Whether you’re considering picking up Destiny 2 for console or waiting for the PC release later this month, I recommend Destiny 2. At the end of the day, I’ve spent countless hours playing Destiny 1 and I’m still having a lot of fun playing Destiny 2. For a game that’s essentially going into its fourth year, I think that’s a pretty good place to be.

...the light will find its way.

All images owned by Bungie.


  1. Cail -
    Cail's Avatar
    I think it would be a lot of fun if they added a PvP planet, where if you go on the planet, you can kill other players as well as PvE, similar to The Division
  2. 6souls -
    6souls's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Cail
    I think it would be a lot of fun if they added a PvP planet, where if you go on the planet, you can kill other players as well as PvE, similar to The Division
    Rate down.