With Destiny 2 coming out tomorrow, Staff Writer Noah Buttner spent 30 hours playing through the game at an Activision-sponsored pre-launch event. While we don’t yet feel comfortable releasing a review before servers are tested, gameplay meta has been established, and the upcoming Raid has been thoroughly tested: check out DualShockers’ thoughts and opinions on the campaign and the lion’s share of the pre-late game content.
With the majority of Destiny 2‘s 15-20 hour campaign under my belt, and plenty of experience with the game’s new Strikes and Crucible maps, I can tell you that Bungie has crafted another amazing first-person shooter with revamped mechanics that acts as a breath of fresh air to the players who have sunk the past three years into the franchise: and this time, there’s a story.
Anyone who’s played the beta knows that in Destiny 2, Guardians are first-hand witnesses to an attack on Earth’s Last City, resulting in the returning militaristic antagonists, the Cabal, absconding with the Traveler. You and all the Guardians on Earth lose your Light — the regenerative energy that allows you to restore your own life — and are kicked off of a ship by the Cabal emperor, Dominus Ghaul, and left careening towards the planet’s surface. What happened next gave me a newfound desire to level up and increase my power levels; this fall from grace logically motivates both new and old players to literally and figuratively get back in the game.
In Destiny 2, put simply, there’s much, much more to do: not solely through end-game content, but as soon as you’ve reclaimed your Light and start exploring the world. You’ve got Adventures. You’ve got Lost Sectors. There’s more engaging Public Events with even more challenging Heroic Public Events. There are high-value targets roaming the map. You’ve got Milestones. You’ve got revamped patrols. You have Flashpoints. You have Vanguard-specific missions. Oh yeah – and most importantly, there’s a campaign that tells a real story and has cinematic moments with an incredible score, bringing me back to Bungie’s Halo days.
If it sounds like I’m rambling, it’s because in my almost 30 hours with the game, I never felt like there wasn’t something interesting and new to do. My desire to acquire tokens, weapons, planet-specific gear, and hidden lore never allowed me to glaze over the story, but rather appreciate it more. Unlike its predecessor, Destiny 2‘s story missions aren’t always the fastest way to level-up, and that leads to more varied gameplay.
Every time my Fireteam and I would embark on an adventure or make our way towards a part of the map, we would invariably be side-tracked by a nearby Public Event; or we’d glimpse a Lost Sector and would be unable to suppress our loot-obsessed urges. This was true even with the option to fast travel to different parts of the map.
A lot of work was put in by the artwork team and the level designers to ensure that the path between two points was always laden with challenges and opportunities for discovery. Each of the activities aided us with loot on our climb to 250 Light (the max set for us while playing the pre-launch build), which feels even better now that you no longer have to equip your highest Light-level gear. As soon as we neared this imposed limit, however, all of the world’s challenges never increased in difficulty. While that means that they are permanent in the world for players who are leveling up, it also signals that max-level Guardians may have a little less to do.
But my biggest takeaway in the first 30 hours was that Destiny 2’s campaign told a story where you, the Chosen One, could take the fight back to Ghaul. Rather than the one-dimensional boogiemen Oryx or Crota, Ghaul had proper character development thanks to the CGI cutscenes shown every few missions, letting you know both how your fighting is making a difference, and why Ghaul is himself a strong character. Much like your Guardian, Ghaul too is a figure who has brought himself up from nothing and risen through the ranks; while victory is easily achievable for him with his version of Starkiller Base, he wants to do things the honorable way to prove himself. These cutscenes alone were enough to drive me straight into the next campaign mission.
There are other campaign-driving reasons for my binge-sessions as well: for instance, the Vanguards struggle between wanting to fight and their newfound mortality. The only gripe I had with the game so far was just how the loss of Light was so brief, despite the nuance and struggle it added to the experience. The gameplay felt both fresh and amazing when I had lost my Light and was fighting off starving dogs and avoiding detection in the remnants of The Last City; then, fairly early on, the Traveler deus ex machinas itself into the story and grants you alone Light, and not the others. This is hardly a spoiler, given that players will have encountered this shortly after the demo ended. While I understand that the gameplay isn’t the same without Light, I would’ve enjoyed just a little more time without it to make the absence of it more impactful.
The gameplay within the campaign missions is, as I said, reminiscent of Halo; Halo 2, to be exact. At times, I would be moving through a building towards a boss and the music would begin to swell, almost to drown out the sounds of gunfire. It would get my heart racing, and remind me of the gravity of the situation: I didn’t feel as though I was just pumping bullets into waves of enemies until I could have my Ghost open another door. I even felt as though I were driving a Scorpion tank (called a “Drake” in Destiny 2) straight into a meaningful and large-scale battle. The magnitude of all of this seems even larger in comparison to the the original Destiny‘s story (if you can call it that), and made me realize that I was playing a complete game this time around.
I was also able to try out the majority of Destiny 2‘s Strikes, which each introduced mechanics that I could easily see echoed in the game’s forthcoming Raid. Each Strike feels complete and satisfying — and again, not as though you’re soaking damage into a god-like bullet sponge. The PlayStation-exclusive Strike was underwhelming because it traded these cool mechanics in, instead just aiming to overwhelm you with Taken versions of the game’s other enemies. I’m not sure how these Strikes will be when we’ve played them on the hundredth playthrough, but in terms of content, they feel exciting and rewarding and I was excited to play them during the event.
Similarly, Destiny 2‘s Crucible somehow feels even tighter and more refined than Destiny: it could be the improved graphics, or the weapons’ sound design. I feel like Bungie was keenly aware that their first-person shooter mechanics were already good, and that small improvements would mean a lot for players entering the sequel. Weapon adjustments are still being made in regards to balancing, so we’ll have a tighter read on Crucible as launch week continues.
Not only do these activities feel refined, but so do the ways in which you travel between them. With the newly-redesigned destination map, my Fireteam and I were able to seamlessly transition between activities, the Crucible, and Strikes without ever sitting in orbit twiddling our thumbs. While ships and orbit do still exist, it feels like I was spending much more time shooting aliens, and much less time hovering in space.
So far, Destiny 2 has improved upon the original Destiny in every way. There’s a Pierce Brosnan-impersonating sniper who serves as your faction representative for the European Dead Zone. There’s new enemy types, including staff-wielding Fallen Wretches and caped-flaming-crossbow-wielding Hive Knights. There are cutscenes where The Speaker, who never really had much to say, is actually a savage and disses Ghaul in rap-battle proportions during cutscenes.
When I sat down to play this game I had one mission for Bungie: prove to me that Destiny 2 isn’t just another expansion. Thankfully, it turns out that Destiny 2 has listened to the fans and has taken a look in the mirror: the product is one that I –so far– thoroughly enjoy.
I will have a more concrete impression of Destiny 2 after I’ve played the full game.
Disclosure: The Destiny 2 Preview Event was played entirely on PS4 Pro. Travel and accommodations were paid for by Activision.