It's a difficult game to review, but we feel we've spent enough time with Destiny 2 to hand out a score.
For the sake of clarity and transparency, we'd like to explain a few things from the offset. About a month ago, we visited Bungie in Seattle, where we played through two-thirds of the Destiny 2 campaign. We didn't get to see everything, but in total we managed to push through about 20 hours of the game during our visit. Now that it's been released, we've managed to spend another 30 hours finishing the campaign and exploring things we couldn't get to in Seattle. All-in-all we have spent around 50-55 hours in Destiny 2 so far, and we feel more than ready to hand out a score.
The type of game that Destiny is, however, makes it difficult to really dig into the depths of every detail, because many things only really get started when the credits have rolled, with the world and its contents growing over time - we know this from the first game. At the time of writing, for example, the first Raid has not yet launched and the new Guided Games feature hasn't been activated. What's there right now is, however, more than enough to judge the game, in our opinion, but new things will be discovered in the weeks ahead, like hidden secrets and previously undiscovered features. With all that in mind, is Destiny 2 worth your hard-earned cash right now? The short answer is: hell yes.
An important aspect for a lot of games is having a tight, well-directed, and interesting story with nuanced and well-written characters. Adventures like Mass Effect, The Witcher, and Metal Gear Solid are among our favourites for this very reason. The first thing that struck us as we started playing Destiny 2 was the production values surrounding the story. We're talking about hours worth of quality dialogue here, and the feeling that there's actually a story to tell this time - that's more than the first game ever succeeded in doing. There's even an internet joke that the beta version of Destiny 2 contains more narrative than the entire first game, and this joke certainly rings true.
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We're thrown straight into the thick of the action at the game's opening, as The Tower, whose function has been to protect the last human city on Earth, is under heavy assault. Everything is burning, it's raining, and everything feels hopeless. Our ally, Ghost (played by Nolan North), sounds defeated and the feeling rubs off on us. That Tower where we spent three years of our real life kicking a digital ball around is going to have to be abandoned. It's designed for us to take it personally, and it does the job - this is a superb start.
We immediately learn that it's Dominus Ghaul who's behind the destruction, and just when it's time to kick his behind, he throws our character into the literal abyss. We barely survive and as we stagger through the streets of the city, the journey towards recovery, reconstruction, and then retaliation begins. The goal of the game's campaign will, of course, revolve around Ghaul and the need to stop him at all costs, but what impresses us is how well-crafted Destiny 2 feels. There's proper character development, a developed world, and a traditional narrative, with a clear beginning, middle, and end to this game, three points that were largely lacking from the first game.
It's a quality campaign that contains lots of interesting twists and turns, varying missions, and loads of great action. The returning cast of characters, headed by the charismatic Cayde-6 (played by Nathan Fillion), is a welcome sight, but we also get acquainted with a few new faces too, the most prominent of which is probably Hawthorne, who ensures that evacuation from the city goes as smoothly as possible. The exchanges between the characters are well-crafted and always reflects the current situation in a meaningful way too, as the Vanguard trio of Ikora, Zavalla, and Cayde-6 all have to deal with what it means to lose their "light", and the question of whether they are even Guardians anymore. It's about rebuilding what has been lost and at the same time finding out who you are when you don't have anything left. We fully enjoyed the ten or so hours we played before the credits rolled, and there was a sense of satisfaction at its conclusion.
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When it comes to our complaints, the supporting cast perhaps doesn't get enough room, but that's a tiny groan in the grand scheme of things. On each planet, we get to meet a new person who then acts as a figurehead for said destination. On Earth (that's the European Dead Zone), it's the gentlemanly Devrim Key, a moody sniper who enjoys sitting in his church tower, picking off aliens while dismissing his contribution as a completely menial task. We'll not delve into the personalities of the characters you meet on Nessus, Io, and Titan, but we will say that they all felt a little underdeveloped. Having said that, we're convinced that they will grow over time and when more missions and expansions have been released, we're sure to develop a more intimate relationship with them.
To try to figure out what's actually new in Destiny 2 takes some serious time, even if the fresh feeling is everywhere to be found. If you ever played Destiny you will feel at home right from the start, as Bungie's superb gunplay, the approach to weapon management, the range of movement, and environmental traversal is all impeccable. The different classes in the game aren't new but rather updated versions of those from the previous game, comprising of three classes - Warlock, Titan, and Hunter - and each has three different subclasses that dramatically change the way you play. The new subclasses are Sentinel (Titan), Dawnblade (Warlock), and Arcstrider (Hunter), and each one changes the traditional role of the class in interesting ways (more on how this works can be found here). The way in which they're unlocked and upgraded has been greatly simplified with menus that are easy-to-understand and the removal of a lot of unnecessary choices that barely affected the game at all. Now you pick a subclass and then choose passive abilities to further hone your style, and it's definitely better this way, encouraging you to swap certain features quickly and easily for a more varied experience.
The structure itself is very similar to that of the previous title, but some changes and improvements have been implemented. The first thing we notice is that we actually have access to maps this time, with icons on them. It's such a small thing, but it makes a huge difference to the world as it ties things together and gives us a better overview. At each destination there are, in addition to campaign missions, many other things to do, such as secret areas called Lost Sectors. These take a little effort to find, but they always contain a boss and some kind of reward.
There are also treasure chests spread throughout the environment and lots of other secrets hidden away. On every planet there's also something new called Adventures, which act as side quests with stories that further develop the world and the characters who inhabit it. The support characters we mentioned earlier also have a couple of missions for you to complete. All in all, there's lots of content both in the campaign and on the side, and the adventures are well-made and usually lengthy and fully developed. For those who really want to dig into background stories and explore the planets, there's ample opportunity to do so, and the locations - Earth, Io, Nessus, and Titan - are all wonderful to look at and clearly distinct from each other. It's easy to just walk around and enjoy the view, that is until you get killed by a Hive sword in the back.
The level system is largely unchanged. You level up (relatively slowly) by collecting new equipment and weapons, and the game's later activities will require you to have a certain level to get involved, with things like Nightfall, Trials of the Nine, and the upcoming Raid requiring you to spend a lot of time getting as powerful as possible. Even the weapon system is similar, although a few changes have made to how they're grouped together. All weapons that in theory can kill with one shot; shotguns, grenade launchers, rocket launchers and the like are now categorised as Power Weapons. At first it may seem strange, but ammunition drops often enough to not make it a problem, and it's actually an improvement in PvP where there is an increased focus on normal weapons.
Other new features aren't as obvious at first glance. The system for customising your character has been improved with different shaders for different parts of the equipment, and there's a whole new system that allows you to modify weapons and equipment. Now you can change what kind of elemental damage you do with your weapon (Void, Solar, Arc) whenever you want.
Once the campaign is over and the adventures have run their course, there are, of course, other activities to get into, Strikes being one of them. These intense missions force you and two friends to shoot everything that moves as you make your way between objectives, before each one finishes with a boss fight, typically one of epic proportions. The Strikes present in the game at the moment are well-made and feel much more dynamic than most of the ones found in the first game. There's not as much "running into a room, scanning something and then shooting hundreds of enemies and repeat", although there's some of that still present here.
If you'd rather face human opposition, you'll be wanting to get into the Crucible, which has received a couple of major updates. All matches feature eight players and you can choose to play in two different modes at the time of writing; Quick Play or Competitive. Of course, there's more focus on cooperation and team play in the latter, and we'd recommend you venture there with friends rather than go in by yourself. The balance feels good and the pace is slightly lower than before, something we appreciate because we want time to react when someone starts shooting at us instead of dying on the spot before we even see who's gunning us down.
While that sounds like a lot, we'll see exactly how big Destiny 2 is in the coming weeks, as more and more secrets are unearthed and players find hidden gems, but the content that's in front of us right now - the story campaign, the adventures, the competitive multiplayer - is really good. Bungie has really outdone themselves this time and delivered a complete game that feels stuffed with content. We almost feel overwhelmed when looking at the map, but in a good way, for example. The visuals and design are superb, the music and the audio constantly impresses, and Destiny 2 offers more things to do at launch than the first game ever did, maybe even more than with the expansions thrown in too.
Destiny 2 is a great game, regardless of whether you became horribly disappointed by the first game or spent hundreds of hours collecting all the weapons and making life hard on raid bosses. At times you may have a feeling of "been there, done that", as it basically comes with the same types of enemies, the same three classes, and the characters in the story could have done with some a little more exposure, but we've spent over 50 hours in Destiny 2 so far, and no doubt that's going to multiply by ten over the course of the months and years ahead. We came in with high expectations, which sometimes can lead to big disappointments, but in this case Bungie has delivered all that we could have asked for.