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Destiny 2 Review

December 6th, 2017 by

Destiny 2 001Sometimes a band aid will do the job. A touch up of paint here, a tune of the engine there, and you’re good to go again. Other times though, you need something more drastic. You need to burn it all down and start again, and that’s exactly what Bungie have done with Destiny 2.

You can feel the catharsis in the opening mission, Homecoming. When the cut-scene ends you’re plunged into the Tower, the same Tower you spawned into countless times in Destiny 1, the Tower you probably know your way around blindfolded, except this time it’s engulfed in flames and destroyed by an assault force of Cabal warriors. When you reach the end and Dominous Ghual unceremoniously boots you off the side, it’s almost as if Bungie are reinforcing their point; Destiny 1 has gone. It’s not just you starting from scratch, it’s them as well.

Okay, maybe that’s not an entirely accurate statement. Destiny 2 is still based around a three classes – Hunter, Warlock, and Titan – each with three sub-classes built around three Elements, if we’re to use the nomenclature of the game; Solar, Arc, and Void. Some of these sub-classes are new to Destiny 2, such as the Dawnblade Warlock who unleashes devastating flaming swords from the skies, whilst others are revamped. For example, Destiny 1 veterans will recognise the Striker Titan, except now you’re able to roam around making multiple Arc slams into the ground. We’re still relatively early days but I’d say that the classes are more balanced than in the original game, where some classes *cough*Hunters*cough* seemed designed to infuriate. Some of this may come down to Guardians feeling more vulnerable during their Super attacks, who can be taken down fairly easily by Energy weapons.

Similarly mostly the same is how you play. Story missions and Strikes are still set up for teams of three, as are Patrol activities on the various planets you can travel to. The Raid is still for a team of six. Crucible has changed though, and now based around a 4v4 match. It was a surprising change from the 6v6, 3v3, and free for all modes in Destiny 1. Essentially it works fine as 4v4 and the gameplay is as fun as ever, but I still have an issue with how it ‘fits’ into a gameplay session with friends. Destiny 1 was – if you ignore Rumble free for all – built around multiples of three, and it made for a seamless transition between activities. A night of Raiding could be ended by taking your Fireteam down into Crucible to blow off some steam. Similarly, I’ve had nights in PvP that turned into “Hey, why don’t we Raid instead?” That’s no longer possible, and now requires either jettisoning two people or finding two people, depending on which way you’re going. I’d have been much happier having 4v4 alongside the previous options from Destiny 1, and I feel that missing them out is a misstep that I hope Bungie rectify.

Another change is to the weapon system. The previous system of Primary, Special, and Heavy has been replaced by Kinetic, Energy, and Power. Guns like sniper rifles and shotguns have been shifted to the Power slot, and the Energy weapons are made up with elemental versions of auto rifles, hand-cannons, sidearms, etc. It was a controversial change when announced and, truthfully, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. I enjoy the Energy weapons greatly, and it works well with the subtle change to how enemy shields work. A shield can be dropped by any weapon, although notably quicker with a matching Element, and taking out a shield with the matching Element causes an area of effect explosion that does damage to nearby enemies. It’s a small change, but one that adds a bit of strategy to confrontations.

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The downside to the change is that it’s made certain weapons feel redundant. Snipers and shotguns don’t really feel like they have a place in the current meta. After all, why take a sniper rifle to a fight then you can fire a Curtain Call rocket, which detonates and then drops cluster bombs for extra damage? Similarly shotguns feel out of place, especially in PvP, where getting up close is a risky move due to the prevalence of team shooting. How Bungie will balance this in time remains to be seen.

There’s some extra changes to weapons too. We have two new weapon types, some more successful than others. Sub-machine guns are a lethal tool in the right hands, able to deliver a quick burst of damage. Also new are grenade launchers which…well, as far as I can tell they’re just useless.

A huge change in weaponry and armor is a move to fixed rolls on loot. In Destiny 1 each piece of Gear – aside from Exotics – could drop with a random set of perks. This led to hunts for so-called “God Rolls”, where dedicated players would farm certain activities for that perfect roll. While this has removed a bit of the excitement of getting a loot drop, I can understand the rationale from Bungie’s perspective. Creating weapon balance in Destiny 1 was nigh-on impossible with such a range of perks, so moving to fixed rolls makes any changes within an archetype easier to work with.

Destiny 1 was much-maligned for the barely there plot, thinner than a sheet of supermarket bargain label toilet roll, so it comes as a welcome surprise that Destiny 2 has a tangible story. Introducing Ghaul, his motives, and the destruction of the Tower right at the start sets up the rest of the game, and he makes for a threatening presence throughout the many cut-scenes that move the plot along. Narration is provided less by Nolan North’s Ghost and more by the Vanguard members and other supporting characters, and their individuality plays off well against each other. There’s also a playfulness and lightness to some areas that was sorely missing in vanilla Destiny, which set itself up as oh-so-serious yet badly missed the mark. Make no mistake, the story won’t be winning any awards but it’s infinitesimally better than the original game. There’s also two little hints, in the opening video and post-credits scene, that offer a tease into the future, harking back to a mysterious piece of concept art.

The centerpiece of every bit of Destiny content (bar House Of Wolves, but probably best to forget that existed) is, of course, the Raid. Each one so far has felt significantly different from each other, both thematically and mechanically, and Leviathan is no different. The concept is based around passing a set of challenges to deem you worthy of meeting Callus, the former leader of the Cabal empire, exiled on an opulent palace within a gargantuan, planet-devouring, spaceship. Leviathan is probably the easiest Raid so far in the Destiny games, however it’s still an enjoyable romp that requires tight teamwork. There’s echoes of the Dreadnaught here too, with a labyrinthian underbelly to explore for loot chests.

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One of the interesting things in the Raid is how it ties into the storytelling in what we’ve seen so far in Destiny 2, and maybe how it signposts what comes next. Previously Destiny Raids have been a “full stop” in the story arc, with each final boss bringing a thread to conclusion. Without spoiling it too much, this is not the case with Leviathan, and defeating Callus brings more questions than answers. I’m intrigued to see how Bungie use this reveal in the wider context of the game, and in the franchise in general.

For a game hugely advertised around being a social experience, Destiny 1 didn’t really succeed. It’s true that many friendships were born from that game, and many of those friendships will proudly tell of the times they ‘Became Legend’; whether it’s the time a team member clutched the win to took them to the Lighthouse, or that one Guardian who was the first to successfully run the sword during Crota’s End, even just a little catch phrase that caught on within their Fireteam. For those who didn’t manage to pin down a solid team though, it was more isolating. I’m pleased to see Bungie make an effort in pushing the communal side, via various means. Matchmaking for end game PvE activities has been included for the first time. Guided Games, although currently in beta, is a way for solo players to match-make with clans looking for that one extra person, and Bungie actively encourage this to be a positive experience by having a rating system, with poorly marked clans are excluded from being able to match-make. On the times I’ve used Guided Games I’ve been match made with friendly, helpful players, and every time it’s been a success. Also expanded is the Clan aspect. The website and smartphone app have been updated to make Clan chat more central, plus it’s easy to see in game who’s online and what they’re doing. One improvement I would like to see is an in-game beacon system, so I can can jump on and push a message to my online Clan-mates, such as “Anyone fancy the Nightfall?”

Vanilla Destiny often frustrated with the paucity of loot. This is no longer the case in Destiny 2, where the game flings the stuff at you from every angle. As should be expected there are certain plateau points, which it tries to allay with weekly Milestone activities tied to Powerful Engrams. These Engram drop high level Gear, designed to push your Power level upwards. For the most part it’s a success, although some luck is still needed.

Another major criticism of vanilla Destiny was a lack of things to do, and that’s less of a problem in Destiny 2. Each planet has an array of activities to partake in, from small Patrol missions, to longer Adventures, to multi-stage Quests that reward Exotic weapons. Completing any of these rewards with tokens to be redeemed at that planets specific vendor from a random loot drop. Public events also return, this time with optional Heroic modes, and this time you’re able to see where and when they’re starting, as opposed to needed to use a third party website and hope for the best.

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Despite all the positives so far, there’s various elements where Destiny 2 doesn’t improve of the predecessor, and in many way seriously regresses.

Destiny 1’s linking of needing loot to increase your Power/Light level went through an at times painful evolution, finally reaching a comfortable and rewarding system when the Taken King arrived, then further refined with quality of life improvements. Bungie understood after discussions with the team behind Diablo 3, another game that needed a dramatic reboot, how to make the player feel rewarded for their time. As such, it’s bizarre to see Destiny 2 make such large mistakes in this area. Although there is a wealth of ways to get earn powerful high level gear on a weekly basis, Destiny 2 isn’t clever about what loot it does give you. As such, we’re reduced to an almost Destiny 1-esque ‘Forever 29’ situation where you can put all the time in the world in, finish every Powerful Gear milestone every week, yet still not drop the single piece of armour you require to reach the level cap. I’m now in my third week of having all all three characters at 304, all requiring just one single piece to level up. Worse still, for some inexplicable reason Bungie removed the ability to infuse Gear across characters, for example using a Titan helmet to infuse into your Warlock helmet, leading to a situation where all my armour drops in a week are essentially useless. I understand this situation won’t happen to everyone, but for those who do it’s a step back into the dark days of Destiny 1, where your time and effort isn’t rewarded by the game.

This problem manifests itself further in the so-called end game activities. If we’re to use Iron Banner as an example, previously the monthly PvP activity was a great source of loot. Every 3 games you were guaranteed a drop from the loot table, if you were lucky these would sometimes double up. Additionally, there was a ranking system and each rank up would also drop a piece of high level Gear. Thirdly, just in case you missed out on something you particularly fancied, you could purchase the items from Lord Saladin or Lady Efrideet. This system, which was much loved by everyone who played PvP in Destiny, has been replaced with the same token system employed throughout the rest of the game vendors. No random drops post-game, no ranking system, no store to buy items, just a simple ‘hand in 20 token and received a random engram’. Worse still, that engram will be lower Power than what you currently wear. Bungie has inexplicably taken a system that worked perfectly well, completely scrapped it, and replaced it with something that is fundamentally worse on every level. Essentially there is now no reason to take part in Iron Banner on its monthly rotation aside from completing a few matches to hit the Crucible weekly milestone, and/or if you’re a completionist who wants a full set of the Iron Banner Gear.

The token system infects every aspect of the end-game. Whilst I don’t mind the concept of it, it needs to be alongside drops from a loot table, not entirely replacing it. If anything, this is the largest misstep by Bungie in Destiny 2, and something that needs to addressed quickly to stop major criticisms from the community.

On the build up to Destiny 2 I had a conversation with Phil, my long-suffering friend and teammate since the moment Destiny 1 launched. ‘I’m going to play it more healthily this time,“ I said. I didn’t want it to take over all my gaming time. I intended to just have the one character. Yet here I am, almost inevitably, sat with 3 characters. Worse still, I’ve preordered on PC. For some unfathomable reason I’ve been casting an eye over to the Xbox too, wondering about what other wonderful Guardians I can meet.

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Destiny 2 is not perfect. It still comes up short. I can see the flaws, some of them utterly frustrating and almost inexcusable. Yet I’m sucked in, again. All the niggles are fixable, rather than being inherent as they were. For every gripe there’s countless moments of pure joy. Everything it does right, it does exceptionally well. It’s a fantastic, best in class FPS game, made all the better with the people you share the experience with.

Midlife Gamer Rating: 8/10     Format:  XboxOne, PS4, PC   Release Date: Out Now

Disclosure: Midlife Gamer Staff Writer Matt Jones reviewed his personal copy of Destiny 2. The title was reviewed over the course of 10 days. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.

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