Available on PS4 and Xbox One now. PC release to follow
PS4 Pro support
Destiny 2 is the sequel to Bungie’s slow-burning hit of 2014, which makes it kind of a big deal. In the event that you’ve been MIA for the past three years, Destiny is an action shooter with RPG elements created by the all-star Bungie team responsible for Halo. It overcame middling reviews and draw a huge fan base thanks to its robust loot system, fun combat and excellent competitive and cooperative multiplayer modes.
When Destiny 2 launched, the original game still had a greater number of active players than the majority of 2017’s blockbusters. Despite this, I’ve always had two big issues with the original game.
The first was its lacklustre story and campaign. The story had an at-best vague mythos about light-wielding Guardians fighting to protect the last human city on Earth from an undisclosed ‘darkness’, and a basic ‘go to this point on the map and kill things’ mission format. As a result, the single-player game never really delivered, feeling more like a ridiculously long tutorial/appetiser for the multiplayer segments than a well-thought-out campaign.
The second was the time investment expected in terms of foraging for top-end rewards and loot. To really make the most of Destiny you had to give up playing pretty much every other game for months, and spend multiple hours a week grinding at its challenges and super-hard Raid levels, praying you’d be rewarded with better loot – which wasn’t always guaranteed.
Hats off to Bungie then, for the first issue has largely been addressed in Destiny 2, with the studio doing a stellar job of crafting a coherent story. After deciding whether you’ll play as a Warlock (space wizard), Hunter (rogue), Titan (Spartan in everything but name) or import your character from the original Destiny, you jump straight into a firefight with invading aliens, known as the Cabal, who are invading Earth.
The only difference here is that each character type has a new sub-class that replaces one of the original three from the old game. Specifically, the Dawnblade replaces the Warlock’s Sunsinger, the Arcstrider is Hunter’s Bladedancer and, finally, the Sentinel becomes Titan’s Defender.
Not to give away any spoilers, but the opening sequence is Halo-level epic and does a fantastic job of making the seemingly immortal, super-powerful Guardians appear the underdogs. This is helped by a number of intelligently paced cinematic cut-scenes that introduce you to one of the game’s big baddies: Cabal leader Dominus Ghaul.
The Cabal aren’t the most original characters, but their Roman-style armour, deep voices, huge chunky weaponry and lumbering animations make them feel as though they’ve come straight out of the nightmare Warhammer 40k universe.
It’s this tone that really sells the single-player element throughout the game. On completing the opening sequence, you don’t return to the ultra-modern Guardian citadel, but instead are forced to find remnant groups in make-shift bases, struggling to survive in the wilderness outside the city walls, or on distant planets.
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The impression of vulnerability helps to sell the idea that you’re actually fighting to save humanity, making the early segments of the campaign all the more fun – despite the fact that Destiny 2’s gameplay is very similar to that of the original.
Be warned, though: the gameplay has only had a Call of Duty-style refresh; not a full reimagining. Once past the opening couple of hours, which are far more linear than the rest of the campaign, the game reverts to the same open-world format that will be familiar to anyone who’s played the first Destiny, or Borderlands.
It tasks you to jump between planets using your Guardian’s trusty spaceship, picking up quests as you go. As before, quests and items of interest are marked on the mini-map, and have the same follow markers and kill-whatever-gets-in-your-way format.
Thankfully, the new mid-mission ‘events’ add some variety to the game, helping to give it at least a semi-fresh vibe to existing Destiny fans.
Events are random side missions that appear at specific times on the game map. They’re designed to take advantage of Destiny’s MMORPG always-online element, which lets you see other local players in the game, even if you’re playing solo without a Fireteam.
They offer a diverse set of challenges, ranging from taking out super-powerful bosses who would be close to unkillable if taken on solo, to speed-runs where you have to take out a certain number of enemies in a set time. Although small, they provide a welcome diversion to the go-from-A-to-B format seen in most other campaign missions.
The story and events are great – but sadly, they don’t completely hide the by-the-numbers format for one key reason: the primary campaign has only one difficulty level, which is woefully easy.
If you take the time to take part in a few side missions or events, then you’ll quickly find yourself walking through missions in the manner of a DOOM marine in God mode. After reaching level 20 even the final boss took less than five minutes to dispatch, which is a shame considering how well the story builds itself up.
It’s also fairly frustrating that many of Destiny 2’s more interesting gameplay modes don’t appear until the main campaign finishes, which makes it once again feel like a six-plus-hour warmup to the main event: cooperative and competitive multiplayer.
Fortunately, Destiny 2’s multiplayer options remain as fun as ever, and showcase a number of positive gameplay changes that have failed to fully shine in the single-player story.
The multiplayer modes are split into cooperative and competitive options. Cooperative options remain the same as before, and only really come into their own once the main campaign finishes. The various game modes let you create a Fireteam and take on a harder version of one of the story’s missions, or dive into a Strike. Strikes are custom missions in which you join forces with four other Guardians and fight through hordes of enemies before taking on a super-tough boss at the end.
Strike missions in particular are a blast to play, thanks to team Bungie’s stellar level design. The maps have been completely rethought since the original game, with Bungie adding puzzle and platforming elements that were previously only seen in the game’s hardcore Raids. The end result is that they’re challenging and are ultimately more rewarding to complete. Since completing the campaign, Strikes have become my Fireteam’s challenge of choice when playing Destiny 2.
Destiny 2’s competitive multiplayer is accessed in the Crucible section of the galaxy map and is split into ‘Quick Play’ and ‘Competitive’ streams, the latter serving more hardcore players. Game modes on offer include the staple Deathmatch and Control (king of the hill) options, with which original Destiny players will feel right at home.
So far, so dull – right? After all, you can find equivalent options in pretty much every competitive shooter under the sun, ranging from Gears of War 4, down to Call of Duty. However, the moment I dived into my first few games I spotted a number of subtle tweaks and positive additions that added a welcome layer of strategy to Destiny 2’s multiplayer.
For starters, Destiny 2’s competitive multiplayer is limited to four-versus-four teams. This may disappoint those looking for large-scale epic battles, such as the ones promised in Star Wars Battlefront 2 or Halo 5, but for me it was a wise move that makes the matches feel more strategic and competitive. This was showcased when I jumped into my first game of Destiny 2’s new Countdown mode.
Countdown is one of Destiny’s first attack/defend competitive multiplayer options. It splits the teams into two alternating roles that switch from one round to the next. The attackers are tasked with detonating one of three bombs littered around the game map within a specific timeframe, while the defending team rushes to stop them. Either team can win by completely wiping out the enemy players.
Running into my first Countdown match as a defender, I didn’t pay any heed to what class or weaponry my comrades were using, going in with the same standard Dawnblade loadout I used in the main campaign. As a result, I was joined by a fellow Warlock and two Hunters with close to identical dual-hand-cannon weapon loadouts.
From there, my Fireteam and I set out on the hunt for the attackers, racing to find which bomb drop-off would be targeted.
Finally, after a few seconds, we encountered an enemy Hunter and Titan at one of the bombs. Launching a salvo of shots, I threw my grenade thinking that the flames would at least temporarily stall the invaders. I was wrong. Within seconds of letting the ball of flame loose, I was introduced to the new Titan Sentinel sub-class’ super, which lets it summon an energy shield.
Armed with the shield, the enemy Titan then launched a move that would fill Captain America with envy. Running through the flames and gunfire towards the bomb with her shield high, the Sentinel carved a path for her partner, who used the opportunity to launch the Hunter Arcstrider sub-class’ new super, which lets it summon a lightning spear.
Spear in hand, the Hunter darted between the four of us and our slow-to-fire hand-cannon salvo, cutting us down like wheat in a field. My entire Fireteam was wiped out before the Titan had time to fully load the bomb, and the first round was won by the enemy.
It was at this point that I realised the importance of balancing skills and weapon choices when making a Fireteam in Destiny 2. One of the reasons we lost so quickly was that none of us had bothered investing in a defensive class, instead picking identical slow-firing weapons that were ill-suited to the task at hand. The combination of errors made it all too easy for the enemy team to bum-rush us early on.
The skills’ new cluster system further emphasised this point. Instead of being able to pick and mix your passive skills, in Destiny 2 you have to pick a specific skill cluster and stick to the options within it. This means you can’t mix and match items to create an all-rounder, which was the common tactic in the first Destiny. Instead, you have to commit to a more specialised build that will heavily impact both your playing style and your Fireteam’s defensive and offensive capabilities.
The addition of ‘support’ abilities for each sub-class is another new element that emphasises the multiplayer modes’ increased focus on teamwork. The support abilities are activated by holding down the B button (tested on Xbox One), offering a variety of different useful effects. The Warlock’s Dawnblade sub-class can either summon a healing or stat-boosting field for him and his allies, for example.
Deciding upon the option you go for is an important strategic choice, one that can make or break your chances of success in competitive and cooperative multiplayer matches. Playing Control, the ability to quickly boost a comrade’s health and set up choke points was invaluable; but in Strikes, the ability to quickly bolster our attack was almost essential when fighting the end boss.
The weapon system adds yet another strategic element to the game. In Destiny 2 your Guardian can equip three different types of weapon: kinetic, energy and power. What makes it more interesting than the original Destiny – which divided weapons into primary, secondary and heavy slots – is that each category isn’t limited to a set of specific weapon types.
In Destiny 2 you can find every weapon type in each of the three categories. This sounds a small thing, but it makes it far easier to create a loadout specific to your play style. Unlike in the original Destiny, if you want to wield hand cannon in two slots, or pack a kinetic SMG with an energy rifle, then you can.
Here, again, the variety proved a double-edged sword. Arming my Warlock with two hand cannon was majestic, allowing me to fulfill my lifelong ambition to be a space-cowboy-wizard in the campaign. However, it didn’t work so well when playing in maps with vast open spaces, ideal for more ranged weapon types.
It’s this increased emphasis on teamwork and forward planning that kept me spurning Titanfall 2 (my go-to competitive shooter) and playing Destiny 2 well after I’d clocked up enough time to finish the multiplayer section of this review. So far it’s actually proven a bigger incentive than Destiny 2’s Diablo-like loot system, which for most was the only reason to keep coming back to the original game.
The emphasis on strategy and teamwork carries over into the game’s Raids, which remains the ultimate challenge for Destiny players.
Avoiding any spoilers, but even with a Fireteam that completed every Raid in the original Destiny, we struggled with Destiny 2’s first Raid: Leviathan.
It wasn’t long after we jumped into the Raid full of confidence that we hit our first roadblock. Stumped by the Raid’s first puzzle we were forced into a game of trial and error, rushing to figure out how to unlock the next section while fighting off hordes of enemies. From there we met with yet more puzzles and a series of super-tough firefights. We died more times than I’d like to admit to – and still haven’t completed it.
Some may hate the Raid’s brutal mechanics, where immediate death and tricky puzzles with close-to-zero clues are common. For me, however, this has always been the best part of Destiny, since it forces you to really work as a team.
However, the lead up to the Raid also showcases what in my mind remains Destiny’s biggest stumbling block: the amount of churn you have to go through unlocking Raids and the coolest gear.
The Leviathan Raid has a recommended power level of 260-280, although personally, I found it best to try it only with a team that are at least level 265-270.
Having dilly-dallied testing each of the three classes for my review, none of my three Guardians were quite at this level when Bungie announced the Raid’s requirements. As a result, for 24 hours I had to churn through the game’s challenges, strikes and multiplayer, desperately trying to level up in time to play in the Raid when it launched.
Make no mistake, Destiny 2 is the Las Vegas Casino of computer games. Bungie has used every carrot and trick up its sleeve to ensure that you can’t be pulled away from spending hours on end in its wonderful world. Even when you hit the current cap level of 300, Destiny 2 will continue to offer some more loot, a new challenge or promised DLC to keep you going.
If anything the carrot system is worse in Destiny 2 thanks to its enhanced character-customisation mechanics. For example, unlike the first Destiny shaders, which let you change the colour combination of your character’s gear, here they’re item-specific. You need one for every item you equip. This is cool, but it also makes unlocking the combination you want a fresh challenge that requires plenty of time hunting for the particular one you want – or chancing it on missions in the hope that you’ll get one as a reward.
The weapon modifications system is similarly long-winded. In Destiny 2 you can modify your weapons’ characteristics using mods, which can be purchased at some traders or scavenged during missions and challenges. On the one hand, the system makes it easy for you to upgrade your favourite weapons, or tweak them to work in specific situations. But it’s also yet another enticement to spend vast amounts of time churning.
Some will love this mechanic – and, in fairness, the challenges and loot do a fantastic job of making you forget that much of the time you’re simply repeating old missions or playing the same multiplayer modes over and over again.
But there’s no getting around the fact that Destiny 2 is a huge time sink – which will be an issue for more casual or, dare I say, older players. As much as I love playing computer games, my life doesn’t normally grant me the privilege of having whole days, or even a few hours every evening, to play them.
Destiny 2 is one of the most enjoyable games I’ve played this year, and it does well to tackle one of the biggest issues I had with the original. Featuring a stellar, albeit easy, single-player campaign, excellent combat and class mechanics, and the most enjoyable cooperative multiplayer I’ve seen in a shooter since Gears of War 4, Destiny 2 is a must-have game.
My only concern is that, once again, it seems hell-bent on sucking every moment of free time you have to unlock its most interesting and entertaining features – which might prove a turn-off for more casual players.