We sent a Destiny addict to LA to get a first taste of what the sequel has to offer.
We made our way across the ocean to see whether Destiny 2 delivers on our hopes and expectations, and as we walked away from the event after eight hours, we felt reassured. Destiny 2 is on track to becoming something truly great.
It started out with an hour-long presentation. The premise of Destiny 2 is established straight away. The tower in the last safe city on Earth is invaded by the Cabal. The turtle-esque aliens feel strongly about taking control of the mysterious power given to the humans by The Traveller (the large sphere hanging over the city), and they simply go about bombing everything. A valiant effort to defend the city is made, and we get to see familiar faces like Cayde-6, Ikora Rey, and Zavala, give it their all. When the switch between cutscene and the actual game happens the crowd cheers. Destiny 2 looks like Destiny, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.
As we grip the controller we feel right at home almost immediately. There is no doubt that this is Destiny at its core, both in terms of visuals and gameplay. What becomes apparent, however, is how much more dynamic it is. The whole combat zone feels alive; there is shouting over the radio, fire and sparks all over the place, and there is a sense of danger in the air. It feels like Destiny, but the "Homecoming" mission runs circles around all of the similar missions found in its the predecessor. From helping Zavala resist the initial onslaught aided by his Titan bubble, to watching Ikora Rey throwing a nova bomb at an attacking spacecraft, to standing eye-to-eye with the game's antagonist, Gaul, it all feels great. Truly great.
Luke Smith, game director on Destiny 2, who also headed up development on critically acclaimed expansion The Taken King, explains that Destiny 2 is a reboot and the idea is that it should be just as easy for someone who has never played Destiny to get into it, as it is for someone who has invested hundreds of hours.
"We want to build a world that you want to be a part of. This is about constructing a place that is interesting, it's about having amazing things to do. No matter what mood you are in and no matter if you are a solo player, competitive player, or a co-operative player, we have activities for you to play"
The objective has been to build a world players want to spend time in, a world full of things to do for all sorts of players. Regardless if you enjoy playing with friends or alone, there will be things for you to do. The structure of the game world has been severely altered, the planets you'll visit will be massive, and they'll contain lots of things to see and explore.
On Earth we get to visit the "European Dead Zone", according to Bungie the largest area that's ever been created for Destiny, and it's complete with dense forests, and underground cave system, and a Red Legion base to take over. We will also visit Titan, one of Saturn's moons, and that entirely lacks land mass. Nessus is a planet that the Vex has almost completely consumed and turned into a machine. We will also see Io, the last planet The Traveler visited before its collapse. We weren't shown any of this at the event, but it sure sounds like Destiny 2 will feature a more open world than its predecessor, complete with secrets and a map to help you explore.
The mission that has been shown, called Homecoming, is also the one we later get to play. For those of us who have invested a great deal of time in Destiny, it's a smooth transition to start blowing away Cabals. Destiny 2 plays almost exactly the same as Destiny, but as you'd expect a few new mechanics have been added to the mix. For now, two of the old subclasses are confirmed ("Striker" for the Titan, and "Gunslinger" for the Hunter), plus three brand new subclasses (more on these later on). The old classes have been given a minor makeover and have been given a brand new ability per class to go with grenade and melee attacks.
The Gunslinger has been given a dodge move to use in precarious situations (think of the evade jump of the "Nightstalker"). The Striker has been given a protective wall that can be set up, and the new Warlock class "Dawnblade" can conjure up a healing energy field. The abilities can also be modified with two different choices, allowing for some class customisation. The healing field of the "Dawnblade" can, for instance, be exchanged for a field that grants you and your fellow players a damage boost. This extra ability adds an another dimension to Destiny 2, as you need to consider a lot more as you go about assembling the perfect Raid team.
Dawnblade is the only new subclass we were allowed to sample. The grenades are the same as with the old Sunsinger class and the variations in terms of jumping are all familiar. The super consists of a burning sword that allows for lots of damage dealing at a high pace, preferably while airborne. The other two new special attacks shown were the Titan's Sentinel, based on the Void element. Imagine Captain America and you'll get the gist of it. The shield is used to target enemies dumb enough to get in its way, as well as for protection should the need arise. Arcstrider is the new Hunter class and it reminds us a lot of the Arcblade class from Destiny, at least as far as what was shown during the presentation.
Although the classes feel familiar for the most part, the upgrade system has been given a proper makeover. It has been simplified and many of the choices you could make are no longer there. Instead, Bungie wants you to stick with one of two pre-made moulds. Not a problem in and of itself, as most players probably didn't fiddle much with these settings once the upgrades stopped, but it does remove some of the sense of control and could be seen as a move to be more casual. It's worth noting here that the version we got to play won't be the same as when the game launches in September, and much could change.
After the campaign mission we get to try a new Strike, The Inverted Spire, and as was the case with the campaign mission, it is immediately recognisable as a Destiny mission, but certainly a quality one. Here we get to fight against the Vex and the Cabal across enormous battlefields and gigantic industrials drills as we head on our way to a fascinating boss encounter. Bungie seems more open to experimenting with mechanics than what was previously the case and there are even platforming segments. Gone is the tried and tested formula of running into a room, killing everything there, rinse and repeat. At least, that's the impression we got. Whether this is indicative of other strikes at launch remains unknown.
One thing that has been completely altered is how weapons are handled. Not in the sense that it's different to use them, but rather how they are categorised and what weapons to use in certain situations. Previously it was fairly easy and straight forward. There were three main categories with various subcategories. If you wanted to have a pistol, a shotgun, and a rocket launcher you were free to equip that. Now the weapons are instead divided into Kinetic, Elemental, and Power. In the first two categories, you can carry the same sort of weapon, with the difference that the weapon in the Elemental category will do Elemental damage (Solar, Arc, Void). It's now possible to rock two assault rifles if you want to. In the Power category you'll find weapons that can kill with one shot. Sniper rifles, shotguns, rocket launchers and so on. What this means in practice is that rocket launchers and sniper rifles use the same ammunition which makes for some interesting changes, particularly in multiplayer. There are at least two new types of weapons in Destiny 2: submachine guns and grenade launchers. The first is meant as an option in close quarters, while the second, well, it lets you launch grenades. Of course, it's entirely possible more additions will be in the full game.
Before we got into the changes made to the competitive modes, we'll go into the ways in which Bungie hopes to alleviate the recurring problems they've had with matchmaking. In Destiny, the most difficult (and best) content came towards the end of the game. Here you'll find the Raids, Trials of Osiris, and to a certain extent, the Nightfall strikes. The problem with this content is that only half of the players ever reached the end game and Bungie want more players to experience the best of what Destiny 2 has to offer. Instead of straight up matchmaking, there is something called "Guided Games". This tool will allow solo players to find clans with open slots ahead of a certain activity so they can send a request to join said activity. When you're looking for a group you will be able to read clan information, and hopefully you'll be able to find a good match for your skill level and playstyle. This way Bungie hopes to eliminate some of the hostility often found on "Looking for Group" pages and standard matchmaking.
Luke Smith puts it like this: "You will have ways to manage the players joining your sessions. The thing we are trying to solve is the toxicity between humans; we want people to be excellent to each other and we need to give them a system that allows them to do that. We are priming you with clan banners, names and descriptions for you to go "oh my gosh, that is someone I want to play with."
"One thing we didn't talk about in the presentation, it is called Guardian Oaths that we ask you to take when you are entering Guided Games. If you are the clan, you have an oath to the person playing with you. They might not have played this activity before and your job is to sherpa them through it. You are supposed to help them and show them what it is to be a good Guardian."
If you're part of a clan who helps other players you will earn rewards of various kinds, and the more you do for others, the more you get in return. Exactly how this will work is not quite clear yet, but it sounds like a good solution for nurturing a positive community. Anyone who has tried to play a Raid with complete strangers without microphones will know the sort of headache it can cause.
That takes us to the multiplayer. Perhaps the most unexpected announcement during the presentation was that all PvP modes will be four on four in Destiny 2. This was revealed along with the new mode, Countdown, a round-based mode where one team attacks by planting a bomb and the other needs to defend the site or disarm the bomb. The round can also be won by eliminating the other team. You have one life per round, but you can get revived by a teammate, but revives are limited to four per round.
It sounds a lot like Counter-Strike, and it is, and it works wonderfully. It's easy to understand why it's just four on four, as that makes it more personal and intense, and it also makes balancing all the maps to the various game modes easier for Bungie. We played a few games and they were a lot of fun, and it still feels like Destiny, even if the four on four format does give it a different flavour. How things will evolve in the future with game modes and player count remains to be seen, but we asked Luke Smith about Iron Banner and Trials of Osiris, and it seems like they will be coming back, but just how they will play remains to be seen: "Trials of Osiris will ship to Destiny 2, but it is different than it has been," Smith told us.
As we're sure you're aware, Destiny 2 will also be playable on PC and we got to sample this version of the game at the event. How did it play? Simply incredible. It takes a bit getting used to playing with a mouse and keyboard, but the sense of fluidity afforded by a locked 60 frames per second (the finished game will feature an uncapped framerate) beats consoles with ease. The graphical fidelity between the PC and console didn't differ much, but it should be noted that the PC settings were dialled up to 4K and medium. Why consoles (that includes PS4 Pro and Scorpio) will be locked to 30 frames per second was answered thus:
"On the Playstation 4 Pro we elected to use the GPU for 4K native, it was not going to punch hard enough to get us to 60 frames per second. With Destiny 2 on PC we want to have an experience that can appeal to PC enthusiasts and that means uncapped frame rate, customising your FoV, anti-aliasing, more particles; the full suite for what we think enthusiasts wants," Smith explained.
Destiny 2 feels familiar, but as we wrote at the start, that's not necessarily a bad thing. What most people agree on is that Destiny was nearly perfect in terms of playability, but it faltered elsewhere: the content, the narrative, and the character progression. Destiny 2 comes across as incredibly polished, with tight controls, fun weapons, and vertical gameplay. What we got to see of the narrative, both during the campaign missions and during cutscenes, shows promise, and the exploration of the various planets could be very interesting.
Only time will tell how it all turns out, but Bungie is really pulling out all the stops this time, at the same time as trying not to mess with what made Destiny so popular to begin with. Don't fix what ain't broke, as somebody probably once said. That's how it feels. Later this summer there will be a beta, and then it's only a couple of months until launch. We have been reassured and feel confident that Destiny 2 will deliver the goods come September.