Destiny 2 (XOne) - ReviewBrandon J. Wysocki , posted on 30 September 2017 / 5,026 Views
Prior to the launch of the quasi-MMO/FPS Destiny, Jonty Barnes, Director of Production at Bungie, was quoted as saying “we're going to continuously update the game from now until the end of time. That's always going to be part of the philosophy of Destiny. We always wanted to build a new universe but keep building upon it, rather than to do a complete and utter restart periodically." A little more than three years after that quote, we have Destiny 2, a game that does in fact completely restart progress from the first game.
There were some lofty promises and expectations for Destiny, and for those of you who don’t know, it underwhelmed many at launch. I struggled to stick with it through the first expansion because of its many faults, but I hear that throughout the shorter than expected life of the first Destiny, Bungie did a lot in the way of learning from their mistakes and realizing more of Destiny’s potential. I never really bothered to go back and see that for myself, but Destiny 2 is a testament to Bungie learning and growing from their previous experiences, but it still feels like it should be so much more.
To start, Destiny 2 is still built around a smooth first-person shooter experience that belies its 30fps framerate (on consoles). The controls are responsive, and, save for the rare hiccup, performance is excellent. Although there can be some long load times, once you’re in the game, the overall experience from a technical standpoint is very good.
There isn’t much new in the way of the three character classes from the first game. And although each one has a fair amount of customization that may cater more to certain play styles, at the end of the day, the game revolves almost entirely around shooting, so the differences are fairly modest.
The graphics and art design complement one another very well. I was often captivated by the worlds that had been created. And while some of the most interesting-looking areas are backgrounds that you will never get near, the attention to detail and diversity of the worlds literally paints a picture that pulls you into the game.
While some terrific use of lighting stands out, my overall impression was that the worlds in Destiny 2 were more beautiful, bigger, and better than those in its predecessor. There are some pleasant platform-esque sections, hidden nooks and crannies and, often, some impressive scale. Though in practice things still occasionally feel rather linear.
The sound and acting are generally good, though some of the dialogue is lackluster. The score for the game is, overall, superb. I can recall one track that was so chaotically bombastic that it made me want to mute the game, though I think even it contained a decent rift or two. Nearly all the other tracks made me immediately want to own the score.
A huge improvement over the first Destiny is the inclusion of the entire narrative in the actual game itself. I know this is something Bungie worked on improving throughout the life of the first game, but truth be told, I think Bungie has always struggled to tell a good story. They’ve always done a great job crafting interesting locales, which in themselves can tell a story, and this game is no exception in that regard. However, I think the actual narratives have tended to be mediocre and forgettable.
In Destiny 2, the story and acting are at their best when they’re kept simple and/or light. Throughout, there are moments of predictable writing (and mission design), but also some genuinely humorous moments. Attempts at drama, however, particularly by the normally dependable Nolan North (reprising his role as Ghost and who otherwise does a fine job in the game) are, at times, cringeworthy. I suspect some, if not most, of that is on the writing.
The antagonist, Dominus Ghaul, is not an extraordinary character, but he hits the marks that a solid villain needs to, and rarely reaches beyond his grasp (in terms of writing and acting). I don’t recall the first Destiny having a nice simple “face of evil” to help drive you through the story, let alone a fairly interesting one. This is a definite improvement, and almost immediately appreciable. He makes a strong entrance early on and helps maintain your interest in the story throughout.
In general, the story and presentation are on par with a decent summer blockbuster, but there are moments where things dip into “C movie” quality. However, with some fun banter from characters such as Nathan Fillion’s Cayde-6 and Joy Osmanski’s Failsafe, and a straight-forward, serviceable antagonist in Neil Kaplan’s Dominus Ghaul, combined with some stunning set pieces, it is an enjoyable enough experience, at least while it lasts.
With 17 missions to complete the story, it can go by pretty quickly. Luckily, as you progress through the story, more modes and challenges are opened up to you, providing a variety of new and different experiences. One of the first of these is the PvP/deathmatch mode called the Crucible.
Sadly, the Crucible maps lack the scale and, more importantly, the diversity of the rest of the game. As the matches are only 4 vs 4, I’m not decrying the lack of massive maps, but too often they feel claustrophobic. They’re mostly corridors of varying sizes, with an occasional open area. In all of my time with the game I recall only one or two maps that provided a pleasant change of pace.
The lack of variation in the map designs here seems conducive to a lack of variation of how the matches play out. Despite a few different modes, in general, if you happen to have a team willing to stick close together while running through the confines of the map, that team will win. Although I could often implement some form of strategy beyond running and gunning shoulder to shoulder with my team, the multiplayer experience, much like its maps, lacks distinction and depth.
Another concern for deathmatch is that despite most modes claiming to balance things out in terms of level and damage, perks provided by weapons and armor can play a big role, effectively giving an edge to higher leveled players all the same. It’s not that a beginner can’t overcome the odds in such a case, but it does call the balance of deathmatch into question. So, while deathmatch provides a nice change of pace for the sake of grinding and finding loot, it leaves something to be desired.
In addition to unlocking some side missions as you progress (some of which are a path to some desirable loot, but nearly all of them are pedestrian), patrols, and daily and weekly challenges, and milestones become available, which provide a little guidance or twist to your otherwise freeform grinding, earning you a reward for your trouble. The weekly challenges become especially important as you reach higher power levels.
For now, the level cap stands at 20, but your power level – the average of the values of all of your equipped weapons and armor, which itself improves both your damage and defense much as you’d expect reaching a higher level would - maxes out at 350. As you’ll definitely reach level 20 before your power level is anywhere near the max, reaching higher power levels by acquiring better loot is one of the driving factors for partaking in the end-game content.
Among the end-game content are Strikes, essentially dungeon runs for the game, with a boss fight at the end. Once you beat the campaign, Nightfall Strikes, Strikes with twists that increase the difficulty (akin to skulls in Halo) become available, as does the first and only Raid. All of these are great (in the beginning), usually providing exhilarating and challenging gameplay along with commensurate loot upon completion.
But just as the game seems to open up with end-game content and the like, and you continue to revel in the nice variety of weapons and armor you acquire, along with the increasing power level that comes with them, two disappointing things occur. First, you begin to realize that even though more activities are opening up, they’re all just about the same. Second, you’ll see that high level progress is usually only accomplished through a few of the available activities.
In the first Destiny, Bungie demonstrated that they had a very specific, sometimes stunningly narrow vision for how you would consume their game. Patching the “loot cave” and a lack of matchmaking for Strikes and Raids come to mind. Unfortunately, that detrimental approach really begins to show at this point in the game. You will almost certainly reach a point where all the gear you acquire (in the many ways you can acquire it) will plateau (around 265, give or take.)
Suddenly, most of the things you do in the game will be both repetitive and unproductive, the exception being the once weekly milestone reward for completing the Nightfall Strike (of the week) or Raid, along with a couple other challenges that you can only complete once per week. The drops you acquire through those missions themselves are not a guarantee for increasing your power level. Really, neither are the aforementioned milestone rewards, as they are likely to be a high-powered item, but they can easily be for a slot that already has a high-powered item, thus providing little to no improvement.
So, while you’ll have “random” events to partake in, including the Crucible, five Strikes (six on PS4), the Nightfall Strike, the Raid, side-quests, Patrols, and a few other activities you can participate in once you’ve hit this point in the game, most of the them will net you no advancement for your character, removing the only real incentive to do them in the first place. You might occasionally get lucky and earn something that is an improvement, but all the same, the leveling at this point is tedious, and that stands in a stark contrast to the fast-paced gameplay and advancement you experience up to that point.
To add to the disappointment, Bungie has only partially addressed the lack of matchmaking for the critical Nightfall Strikes and Raid. Now, with a seemingly finite amount of tickets provided (which are needed to participate), you can join a “Guided Game” (Bungie's overthought matchmaking solution) for these missions. Between the limited tickets with which to do so, and the painfully long wait times to get in (almost certainly because of the different stipulations in place for these “guided games”), it’s an improvement, but could be so much simpler and better.
And that really sums up the game overall. It’s a clear improvement over the original. This feels like what Destiny should and could have been from the beginning. Yet, a sequel having an improved launch compared to the underwhelming debut of its predecessor does not inherently make a good game. And while the final product here is refined, it also fails to add anything substantial to the formula. In that, I see no reason why this entire game couldn’t have been DLC for the first Destiny.
Great as the shooting experience is, there’s really only so much to do, and so much of it feels repetitive after a while. I trust that, in time, DLC and patches will add to the content and enjoyment, but for now Destiny 2 has nowhere near the breadth of a traditional MMO. It’s more similar, but in most ways inferior, to games like Phantasy Star Online, Borderlands, and Monster Hunter.
Bungie has inexplicably continued to use a heavy hand in trying to control the way players experience the otherwise fun and interesting worlds they’ve created. Questionable decisions such as enforcing restrictions on matchmaking for end-game content, limiting high-level character progress to so few activities, or even making the game online-only (I see no reason why it needs to be), really put a damper on what could be an incredible experience. As it is, there simply isn't enough of a pay-off for the time investment that the game asks of you. I have enjoyed it for many hours, and I’m sure I will return to it from time to time. But the more time I have put into the game, the less satisfied I’ve felt, not because it's bad in any one way, but because Bunge has again failed to deliver a fulfilling and lasting experience.
This review is based on a digital copy of Destiny 2 for the XOne, provided by the publisher.