Available on PS4 and Xbox One now. PC release to follow
PS4 Pro support
Available on PS4, Xbox One (version tested) and PC
In case 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 to 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 more 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 campaign. The story had an at-best vague mythos about light-wielding Guardians fighting to protect Earth’s last city from an undisclosed ‘darkness’, and a basic ‘go here and kill things’ mission format. As a result, the single-player never really delivered, feeling more like a ridiculously long tutorial for multiplayer than a well-thought-out campaign.
The second was the grinding 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 commit multiple hours a week to its Strikes and Raids, praying for better loot rewards – which wasn’t always guaranteed.
Hats off to Bungie, for the first issue has largely been addressed in Destiny 2, with the studio doing a stellar job of crafting a coherent narrative. 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 first game, you jump straight into a firefight with the Cabal as they invade Earth.
The only difference here is that each character type has a new sub-class that replaces one of the original three. 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 Cabal leader and big baddy Dominus Ghaul.
The Cabal aren’t the most original characters, but their Roman-style armour, deep voices, chunky weaponry and lumbering animations make them feel like a member of the nightmare Warhammer 40k universe.
It’s this tone that really sells the single-player. 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.
The impression of vulnerability helps to sell the idea that you’re actually fighting to save humanity, making the early segments all the more fun – despite the fact that Destiny 2’s gameplay is very similar to its predecessor.
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Be warned, though: the gameplay has only had a Call of Duty-style refresh; not a full reimagining. After the opening couple of hours, which are far more linear, the game reverts to the same open-world format we saw back in 2014.
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, helping to give it at least a semi-fresh vibe to existing Destiny fans.
Events are random side missions that appear at specific times. They’re designed to take advantage of Destiny’s always-online element, which lets you see other local players.
They offer a diverse set of challenges, from taking out super-powerful bosses 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.
The story and events are great – but sadly, don’t completely hide the by-the-numbers format for one key reason: the primary campaign has only one, woefully easy difficulty level.
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 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 failed to fully shine in single-player.
Modes are split into cooperative and competitive options. In co-op, you can create a Fireteam and take on a harder version of one of the story’s missions, or dive into a Strike.
Strike missions in particular are a blast to play, thanks to stellar level design. The maps have been completely rethought since the original game, with Bungie adding puzzle and platforming elements previously only seen in hardcore Raids. The end result is that they’re challenging and ultimately more rewarding to complete.
Destiny 2’s competitive multiplayer is split into ‘Quick Play’ and ‘Competitive’ streams, the latter serving more hardcore players. So far, so dull – right? After all, you can find equivalent options in pretty much every competitive shooter under the sun. 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.
For starters, teams are limited to four players. 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 focused and competitive. Countdown is a shining example of this.
Countdown is one of Destiny’s first attack/defend modes. 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, while the defending team rushes to stop them. Either team can win by completely wiping out the other.
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 campaign. I was joined by a fellow Warlock and two Hunters with close to identical dual-hand-cannon weapon loadouts. From there, we set out on the hunt for the attackers, racing to find which drop-off would be targeted.
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 summons an energy shield.
Armed with the shield, the enemy Titan 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, cutting us down like wheat in a field. We were wiped out before the Titan had time to fully load the bomb, and the first round was lost.
It was at this point I realised the importance of balancing skills and weapon choices when making a Fireteam. 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 ill-suited to the task at hand. The combination of errors made it all too easy for the enemy team to rush us.
The skills’ new cluster system further emphasised this point. Instead of being able to pick and mix your passive skills, you have to pick a specific skill cluster and stick to the options within it. This means you can’t mix and match to create an all-rounder, the common tactic in the first Destiny. Instead, you have to commit to a more specialised build that will heavily impact your playing style.
The addition of ‘support’ abilities for each sub-class is another new element that emphasises the multiplayer modes’ increased focus on teamwork. Support abilities offer a variety of different useful effects. The Warlock’s Dawnblade sub-class can either summon a healing or stat-boosting field for them and their allies, for example.
Your choice can make or break your chances of success. 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. Your Guardian can equip three different weapon types: kinetic, energy and power. What makes this more interesting than the previous primary, secondary and heavy slots is that each category isn’t limited to a set of specific weapon types.
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 you. If you want to wield hand cannon in two slots, or pack a kinetic SMG with an energy rifle, you can.
Here, again, the variety proved a double-edged sword. Arming my Warlock with two hand cannon was majestic, allowing me to fulfil my lifelong ambition to be a space-cowboy-wizard in the campaign. However, it didn’t work so well in multiplayer’s vast open spaces, which were ideal for ranged weapons. 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 into Raids, which remain the ultimate challenge for players. Even with an experienced Fireteam, we struggled with Destiny 2’s first Raid: Leviathan.
We jumped in full of confidence but soon hit our first roadblock. Stumped by the 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 were met with yet more puzzles and a series of super-tough firefights. We died more times than I’d like to admit – and still haven’t completed it.
Some may hate the brutal difficulty, 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 to unlock the best content.
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, none of my Guardians were quite at the required level. As a result, for 24 hours I had to churn through 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 DLC to keep you going.
If anything the carrot system is worse in Destiny 2 thanks to its enhanced character-customisation. 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 yet another grind.
The weapon modifications system is similarly long-winded. You can modify your weapons’ characteristics using mods, which can be purchased at some traders or scavenged while playing. On the one hand, the system makes it easier 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 – 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.
There’s no getting around the fact that Destiny 2 is a huge time sink – which will be an issue for many.
Destiny 2 is one of the most enjoyable games I’ve played this year, and tackles one of the biggest issues with the first game. 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-buy.
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.