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Review: Destiny 2

by onOctober 26, 2017
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Editor’s Note: Couple of month after the game’s original release, this review has been updated following the release of the game on PC as well as the patch updates and content drop to all customers which reflects on the overall score, and final verdict.

A while ago, I finished an interesting written by my colleague Jason Schreier over at Kotaku called Blood, Sweat and Pixel, telling the stories and problems of 10 different AAA and indie developers faced when creating their games. One of the chapter was all about Destiny, and it got me realize how much one of the biggest commercial successes of recent years, was a flawed title that took almost three years to get on solid grounds, numerous studio creative changes, but yet became something that involved a huge community of players all around the world including myself (proud hunter right here). Despite somewhat lukewarm criticism and negative feedback from early adopters, this shooter like no other has found its way, after a series of free updates, 2 DLCs and 2 expansion packs (The Taken King and Rise of Iron). Now almost 3 years after its first release, comes the sequel, Destiny 2, a way to fix many core issues from the original and hopefully start off fresh.

To say that the first Destiny was criticized by the press and players is something lots know already. This merge between MMO and FPS had lots of flaws during the past three years: a story badly written and incomprehensible unless you visited the Bungie site (to read Grimoire cards), grindy, too expensive with all the DLCs, and let’s not forget about the plethora of bugs that whether were abused for good intention or not is a different story (I’m looking at you all Raid cheesers). Nevertheless, players stuck around, and devout Guardians continued to voice their discontent at the game, in hope that Bungie will listen, but it seems they had other plans: create a sequel that will become a fresh start for everyone. Now clocking more than 35 hours of play in Destiny 2 (a shy number in comparison to my 923 hours on the first Destiny), trying a plethora of activities, finding new loot, I’m pretty sure there is still much to discover, but at least I can say one thing: Destiny 2 deserves your time, because it finally fixes some of the core issues of its predecessor.

Throughout my reading of Blood, Sweat and Pixel, I learned the main issue behind Destiny’s rather lack of story. Months before the first planned release of the game, Bungie studio executives had asked that the script be rewritten, due to a lack of clarity from the original one. Too linear, according to them, this new change of order had consequences on the development of the game, as one could imagine, and sadly Bungie gave birth to game that was praised for its shooting mechanics but pretty much nothing else. As sad thing, coming from the studio that create epic stories of challenges and rise to power (the Halo series), but throughout the 3 years of the first Destiny, The Taken King and Rise of Iron became a testing ground to put some sense in the lore of the game and its rich story (and plus we got amazing content creators like My name is Byf decrypting and explaining the lore better than the game makers). With Destiny 2, the studio had the chance to start on a good foundation, almost reminding us of the days of Blizzard’s World of Warcraft: Cataclysm, a clean wipe for everyone, so they build upon what worked and what needed to be fixed.

Destiny 2 takes place a small year after the SIVA crisis introduced in Destiny: Rise of Iron. Crota and Oryx are just bad memories (or good memories for you accomplished raiders), and the game recounts a short summary of your past exploits in the previous version, if you played it. It recalls the date of your rebirth on Earth Cosmodrome; the day you triumphed over the Darkness in the heart of the Black Garden, your first victory in the Vault of Glass raid; the day you reached the Lighthouse on Mercury; when you became an Iron Lord; and so on. It is also an opportunity to remember with whom some of these accomplishments have been done, and like many Destiny players around the world probably believe: the experience is not necessarily to know how you play, nut with whom you play. This small introduction was therefore quite moving, I must admit, enough to almost shed a tear among those who spent hundreds of hours on the first opus. The newcomers though, will be introduced to the universe of Destiny by a summary of the previous events in a well done, if not better than actually playing the first game. Destiny 2 did well to differentiate between the veterans and the beginners, adapting the numerous dialogues of the game; incorporating the enormous – hidden – lore of the series in an easier way for new Guardian, who can thus discover a brand new world. The others, who have known the horrors of The Dark Below, fought the blight of the Takens and saw the snowing peaks of Felwinter are treated as they should: as Destiny Veterans.

The script of Destiny 2 is finally quite simple in its own way. The last city on earth, still standing since its creation, is suddenly attacked by the Red Legion, an elite faction of the Cabal Empire. Encountered in the first game, the Cabals had until then constituted only a vague threat; a few outposts on Mars were filled with exhausted troops, but never truly a representation of the terrible power of this military empire. The Guardians are rapidly outnumbered and the city falls into the hands of the invader; the player, in a final desperate attempt, tries to attack the mothership and falls head-to-head with Dominus Ghaul, the leader of the Red Legion. You then understands that Ghaul’s aims is to seek out the power of the Traveller, a divine entity that has been dormant for centuries, after protecting humanity and to whom the Guardians owe their powers. What happens next is that Ghaul encloses the sphere god in a sort of gigantic harness, which has the effect of depriving all the Guardians of their Light, becoming vulnerable and mortal, and are eliminated one after the other, while the few survivors are forced to retreat.

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In short, Destiny 2 tells the story of the Guardians’ long struggle to get back their City, free the Traveler, and triumph over the Red Legion while getting back their lost powers. Without telling you too much, know that the adventure will lead you to four corners of the solar system, like the first episode, but this time to organize the resistance or counter-attack. Overall, the game has some solid good writing and offers some of the most epic moments of the series, probably because of a switch in creative writing leads, including Senior Narrative Lead Jason Harris. Well served by numerous cinematic and plenty of dialogues with new and old characters, the plot progresses at a good rhythm and remains clear, from the beginning to the end. Screenwriters also had the good idea to include the point of view of the other side; with a set of cinematics that show what’s going on with Ghaul while you progress through the story, and obviously helps understand the Red Legion’s intentions, and their final goal. If it never really surprises, this campaign has the merit of being straight to the point and even emotional, recalling what the studio did better back in the early 2000s, as we remember the epic stories of Halo to Halo Reach. The first moments of this defeat against the Red Legion reminded me of Halo Reach’s eight campaign mission New Alexandria, in which the Noble-6 landed wounded and almost unarmed, in a city invaded by the Covenants forces. Destiny 2 however, retains its own identity, avoiding to pour the theme too much into the suffering of humanity, with dramatic moments, well served by an excellent soundtrack done by Skye Lewin, Michael Salvatori and others… Some tracks are fit of epic movies, and I can’t stress on how amazing they are in terms of composition but also variety, so I’ve included a sample of one of my favorite one which you can hear below. Plus, I’d like to thank whoever was in charge of the sound effects this time, as the weapons aroused my senses, like the low throbs of the Graviton Lance pulse rifle, or the volley of rockets coming out of the Wardcliff Coil rocket launcher.

While Destiny 2 is all about a fresh start, the game still uses key characters known to fans, such as the trio of Zavala, Ikora and Cayde-6, but also introduces some new ones, all rather well done, starting with my personal favorite called Failsafe. The latter is an AI, one of the only survivors of a golden age mission on Nessus (roughly 500 years before the event of Destiny), which now suffers from a multiple personality disorder that makes it rather amusing. Sometimes jovial and helpful, Failsafe can be more squeaky and sarcastic without any logical transition. On Io, the player will meet Ashar Mir, an awoken scientist whose personality is closer to your grumpy uncle than a helpful nerd, then on the EDZ (which we’ll explain more later on), you’ll meet one of Bungie’s first ever gay characters, Devrim Kay. These characters aren’t just there for show, but important to each planet as they give the player many information about the places but also dedicated quests. In the end, the Destiny 2 campaign finds a certain balance here, with its epic clashes, its moments of doubt and its hard blows, without taking itself too seriously. It’s a formula that may not please everyone, but the regulars of the studio production will recognize the Bungie tone, which likes nothing more than drop fun jokes even when the end of the world is near.

Dominus Ghaul, leader of the Red Legion

It easily took me around 10-15 hours to see the end credits of Destiny 2, which followed a sort of linear path that is at the choice of the player. Technically, Destiny 2 guides the player to concentrate on key story quests, but you have the choice to do other things like sidequests called Adventures. On the other hand, since some story missions are only accessible when the player has reached a certain level, it was necessary for me to go into PvP or Strikes (matchmaking cooperative missions with three players) to get enough experience and obviously better gear and weapons.

While the first Destiny was finally quite simple in its unlocking system, players gradually unlocked new planets, and from space he could choose a mission, whatever it was, or go for a stroll on the planet of his choice to do patrols or just farm for ressources. Bungie has thoroughly reviewed the way its game was built, and now every Destiny 2 planet has several landing zones, but also different missions and quests, which are all up to the player to decide what to prioritize. Story missions are even located on the map, so you have to go there to activate them, but you’ll end up finding other things to do on the way, such as Adventures, which act as smaller scripted set of missions, or explore Lost Sectors, (secret zones which house mini-bosses and loot boxes), or a plethora of public events that guardians in the area can join, and of course returning patrol missions. Destiny 2 broadly resumes the basis of what its predecessor did, but constantly enrich the experience, like The Lost Sectors, for example, are only an evolution of these small dark caves in which sometimes there were no real interest in discovering.

The planets themselves follow the same logic of evolution of Destiny 2. Larger in size, they are also richer, with vast areas filled with varied visual elements, enemies, secret chests and all sorts of loot to discover. The game makes the effort to propose even more complex levels to invite the player to explore each planet, and succeeds on all front with some interesting verticality notably on Nessus and IO. If the first Destiny had us visit Earth’s Cosmodrome, the Moon, Mars and Venus, Guardians in Destiny 2 will visit previously mentioned IO, Nessus, and Titan, one of Jupiter’s satellites. Gone are the Russian plains of the Cosmodrome, as we discover the lush forests of the European Dead Zone, well known to PvP enthusiasts; in fact, several maps of the first Destiny were located precisely in the EDZ, like the Widow’s Court. In general, each destination has its own identity, almost making it a character of its own: Titan is a hostile planet, abandoned by humanity, home of methane research centers and arcologies.

While the consolev version of the game is rather stunning especially in terms of variety of effects, it’s on PC that it truly shines. Despite the fact that Bungie is kind of new to the PC game, this is an excellent PC version. I refuse to even use the term ‘port’, because that implies they developed the game on consoles and then tried to adapt it for PC. Destiny 2 runs like a dream. On all settings and in every scenario, there was little to no lag to speak of. The textures for PC are really skilfully rendered, and it took advantage of my pc’s graphics options pretty skilfully.

Bungie and especially partner studio Vicarious Vision did a great job, so that the game runs in 1080p and 60 frames per second on even the most modest configurations. On Windows 10, with a GeForce GTX 1070, Destiny 2 is impeccably fluid, and can even go as high as a 3840 x 2160 resolution (if you an handle a bit of stutter).

While the various improvements in light effects, texture sharpness and display distance are significant, especially when you walk through the most beautiful environments of the game, Destiny 2 does not impress beyond measure and is content to do just enough without pushing the boundary in comparison to console version. Of course, the game is fluid and smooth, and it’s getting that upgrade to 60FPS that surely makes the difference when comparing to onsoles that are locked to 30 frames.  is especially the fluidity of the game that is appreciable, especially that we have behind either hundreds of hours on the series, only thirty images per second.

The problem, I suppose, lies in the aim assist. While it makes sense on console, on PC it just feels unnecessary. It doesn’t get in the way *that* much but it certainly feels like it’s there. Aside from that, the game plays well and there aren’t any real gripes.

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The latter have unfortunately been invaded by a well-known enemy of the players, the Hive, which almost gives a sort of Alien movie side to Destiny 2. Nessus on the other hand reminds me of Venus, full of warm colors and impressive alien vegetation, home to vast vex ruins. IO finally is know as the last thing the Traveller touched before the Collapse, a “religious” place for Warlocks, and home of the biggest vex building you’ve ever seen.

You will spend plenty of time on these new planets as the game offers many missions. If I liked them to be higher in count in comparison to the first Destiny, I must admit that the developers have learned the lessons of the past. Destiny 2 stands by itself with the current content, even though expansions are planned for the months to come. With a total of 35 hours of play with the core game, I still have a lot of things to do and endless grinds, as the most hardcore of us fans will seek to reach the highest power level of 350, and without the need of replaying missions and other tedious tasks from the original game. Because yes, if anything, Destiny main problem was this weird cycle of having to replay story missions with different modifiers such as harder difficulties (Heroic missions). Numerous games do the same like the Diablo franchise, but these mechanics were not something that players really liked, and throughout the Destiny cycle these were pushed to the side. Instead the Destiny 2 introduce different weekly and daily activities that surely will have you venture in the same locations of the games, but without a feeling like you’re doing the same thing every time, namely Milestones and Challenges. The later are small secondary tasks that are dependent on either the game mode you are playing, or which planet you’re on. For example, it could be a task to kill 75 Fallen enemies on Titan, or maybe kill 5 Guardians with heavy weapons in the Crucible. There’s basically 3 challenges per activity (Crucible, Raid, Strikes) as well as per planet, giving you the chance to build XP and rewards faster. The other more important tasks are Milestones, which are usually more complicated, but will give you larger rewards such as powerful gear (usually higher power level than the one you have), and usually are linked to the most challenging part of the game like finish the Raid, Nightfall Strikes, newly introduced Flashpoints and Lord Shaxx’s Call to Arms (I’ll get back to all these later in the review)

All this mention about loot made me realize that we should probably talk about its new system, and especially how it affects the character that adorns and wields it. Like in the first Destiny, players will be able to pick one of the three classes: Titan, Warlock or Hunter, which will each have, after several hours of play, three different sub-classes. While most expected a new class or at least sub-classes to be added in the game, Bungie’s choice makes sense as it would be too random to add it at this point. Instead Bungie introduces redesigned subclasses, especially on the front of the starting ones like the Titan’s Sentinel, Warlock’s Dawnblade and the Hunter’s Arcstrider, which ultimately are an evolution of respectively the Titan’s Defender, Warlock’s Sunsinger and the Hunter’s Bladedancer.

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This does not mean that the subclasses haven’t really changed since the original Destiny, but on the contrary, have completely different skill trees. While the logic is still to have a cooldown ability of a grenade, your subclass skill, and a Class Ability Modifiers on top of your Super, the changes are dramatic for Destiny veterans, which will need to revisit their strategies. In my case, as a Hunter, I had to learn the hard way that gone are the invisibility perks of the Arc class, but instead, the Arcstrider is an agile high-risk subclasss with numerous tricks to lower your cooldown timers for all abilities. On that front, cooldowns are no longer subjected to the stats of your armor, since the trinity of Discipline, Strength and Intelligence have disappeared, instead relying on your nodes activated in your skill tree. This is a great thing for skilled players, especially when it comes to PVP, as they will be able to reload their skills fairly quick and inflict more damage because of the way they play, instead of betting on the armor stats like in the previous Destiny.

On the other hand, improving your character still depends on your loot and gear. The good news at least is that the system is much clearer than in the first game (and trust me, I’ve seen numerous changes in the past three years). In Destiny 2, loot can be found almost everywhere and in all activities, with revised drop rate on all front, so it won’t take you days before you find a legendary engram. The same thing applies in crucible, where I got my first exotic after a mere 8-10 hours of. On top of that, the original Destiny reputation system has been scratched, in favor of a system of tokens that are more interesting. The Vanguard have their own led by Zavala, Shaxx for Crucible, but also each planet’s key character has their own “ranking” system. Basically, the more you do task that help each person, the more you get token which you can hen redeem and level up your “allegiance” to eventually unlock Legendary Engrams, which decrypt into a series of themed weapons and armors (shaders and other cosmetic loot as well). Plus you can now join actual clans with all your friends (the old groups), which has its own reward system on a season basis, as well as buffs throughout period of time.

The new loot system is redefined to reduce endless grind

In short, the possibilities of the new loot system are numerous and if you were already addicted to that in the first Destiny, then the sequel will probably eat all of your spare time as you hunt for the best. There is however a small change that will not please all Guardians and especially devotees of the RNG gods: the rolls on weapons are no longer random. If in the first Destiny you could have three completely different scout rifles for example, with their own perks, and the most hardcore of all Guardians would keep on playing until he gets that god-roll. With a fixed roll for each weapon, this hunt is over, but at least we don’t need to spend a bunch of glimmer (the in-game currency) and farm for resource to upgrade everything anymore. Another small detail that also makes a big difference in terms of weapons and gear, is the addition of the mod system. First of all, since weapons now are split into kinetic (non-elemental weapons), elemental weapons and heavy slot, your loadout is now more strategic than before, since you can literally equip anything in all three spots. Are you more of a long range shooter? Then put on a Kinetic scout rifle, an elemental one in the second slot, and maybe a sniper rifle in the heavy slot. The choice is yours, and once you start playing around with the mods, which can drastically alter a weapon core to the point of turning an Arc rifle into a void one, the possibilities are endless. Finally I’d like to end a note on the front of the weapons with the simple fact that I’m glad to see that overused original Destiny weapons like Sniper Rifles and Shotguns are now considered heavy weapons, which changes drastically the way Guardians have been playing online competitively, and I welcome the new weapon types which are the submachine guns and grenade launchers (Machine guns on the other hand are gone).

Speaking of competitive gaming, Destiny 2 offers its dedicated PvP game modes, known as the Crucible. At launch, it allows the player to choose between two dedicated playlists: Quickplay or Competitive. The first is undoubtedly the more casual, with a compilation of classic game modes like Control and Clash; while the Competitive playlist focus on more complex modes. It’s thanks to the latter that two new game modes have been introduced. The first is directly inspired by Counter-Strike, known as Countdown, requiring a team to place a bomb on one of the two spots on the map; while the other team must either defuse the bomb or kill their opponents. The second game mode – Survival – pits two teams in a classic death match, except each side has a limited number of respawn.

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Even though it’s lacking custom games, or the ability to just play specific modes, Destiny 2’s crucible marks a real good evolution when compared to the first game. The first reason is that since weapons have fixed rolls, it brings an easier way for developers to put balance in the game, even when it comes to each class strengths and weaknesses. If, at first glance, the Striker Titans or the Warlock Dawnblade seems dangerous, they are counterbalanced by weaknesses and key changes which shouldn’t be overlooked. For example, a Titan Shoulder Strike does not kill instantly, but actually can slightly imbalances its wielder, who must yet quickly chain the charge with a headshot in hope to defeat his enemy. Very often, the defending guardian has enough time to respond even before the Titan may have deal the fatal blow.

The other important change in the game’s crucible is the change to a 4v4 system, which is closer to what competitive shooters are opting for nowadays (with the exception of Overwatch of course). This decrease of set teams has helped Bungie to shrink the size of their Crucible maps, but turning them more complex and full of key clash area

The bravest of all guardians can now try their skills in the Trial of the Nines

All this would be a real pleasure if there were no defaults, and sadly the first one is important for me: when it comes to design, some maps seems like they were done better than others. Without really being bad, Vostok is a map located near the Iron Temple, which is too large and sadly constricts Gaurdians to clash in the middle area, within the corridor path in the mountain. Players are also scattered away from each other at each respawn, which often results in a second, fast but painful death, alone against two enemies that are going in a rotation. The second issue is that even though weapons are rather balanced on paper, auto rifles seems to be everywhere, due to their higher than normal reach and unbelievable accuracy that makes the use of slower weapons such as Scout Rifles or Pulse Rifles obsolete (unless you have the Mida Multi-Tool). Yet, I’m not worried on that front, as Bungie has always been very responsive and quickly balancing the Crucible, so I’m pretty sure it will happen soon.

Back in Destiny, the Trials of Osiris was the ultimate test for PVP, pushing guardians to go through an intense challenge of winning 9 games in a row of elimination mode, to eventually be granted access to the lighthouse on Mercury for some of the hottest armor and weapon loot (all themed after ancient Egyptian mythology). This time in Destiny 2, our challenge is the Trial of the Nines, which change every week, with a challenge to pass through 7 consecutive wins, and discover some strange prophecies from mysterious Nines.

The new Levathian Raid bring all the best from the previous edition in one package

Before we wrap this up, shouldn’t I talk about the raid? This ultimate test of teamwork still requires squads of six players, in order to overcome the numerous events in a large scale mission and eventually beat the final boss. This first raid – since I assume more will come with the upcoming announced two DLCs – is really well done. Directly linked to the lore of the Cabals, the Leviathan raid took the best of the four previous original Destiny raids and merged them into one. This raid is staged with relay systems as was the case for the Oryx one, and even a stealth phase like the Gorgons Maze of the Vault of Glass. The game also added two features that makes the job harder for those used to cheese things around. First of all, the Raid are now free of checkpoints, meaning there’s no way of coming back to any part of it after returning to orbit. The second key thing added is on the front of respawn mechanics. Each player has one resuscitation token for each area in the raid, and once the token has been used, he cannot revive anyone else. This makes things complicated, because if one member of your party stays dead for more than 25 seconds, then the whole team is wiped.

Finally, take the time to thoroughly explore the raid as it seems that the developers have hidden many secrets and some of them have yet to be discovered. Note that it is now possible to use a matchmaking system, and join another squad to do the raid via something called guided activities, led by “shephards” which should allow solo players to do all activities more easily.

Destiny 2 was reviewed using an Xbox One digital copy of the game purchased by the writer and a PC code provided by Activision. The game on PC by Mazen Abdallah, on machine running Windows 10, with an 8GB NVIDIA Geforce GTX 1070 fitted on a 4th Generation Intel i7 4790 3.6Ghz CPU and topped with 16GB of RAM. The game is also available on on PlayStation 4 via digital and retail stores. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published (click here for more information about our review policy).

What we liked

• A proper told storyline with a perfect use of it rich lore
• The artistic direction is still amazing
• A sublime soundtrack and sound effects
• A smooth experience on both console and PC
• A revised and more intelligent loot system
• The new organization of weapons
• A complete game at launch
• All the new locations to visit are massive and well designed
• A less grindy and laborious process to level up
• That Leviathan raid
• Finally some Cabal action I've been wanting since the first Destiny

What is not fun

• Some framerate drops to less than 15FPS when the action is too hectic on screen
• Micro-transactions are there to stay
• Not enough crucible maps or strikes

Editor Rating
 
Concept
8.6

 
Graphics
8.4

 
Sound
9.5

 
Playability
9.1

 
Entertainment
8.8

 
Replay Value
9.0

Final Score
8.9


Our final verdict
 

Without aiming to revolutionize the recipe, Destiny 2 does exactly what you’d expect of it: to correct the numerous defects of a game which had the base of becoming a legendary experience. With its impressive artistic direction and the beauty of its soundtrack, Destiny 2 offers this time a properly done story experience worthy of the legacy of Bungie. Epic, alone or with friends, the game is simply richer, more complete, and better thought out. A must have whether you are a veteran of the series or a budding guardian.

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