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Destiny 2

Score: 85%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Bungie Software
Media: Download/1
Players: 1- 9 (Online Only)
Genre: First Person Shooter/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

Destiny. I have never written more about a game that I did not like. Boring at best and grossly insulting at worst, its scant base package was a half-baked faÁade that did very little to hide the cynical, exploitative business model driving it. Strong marketing and a prestigious pedigree rendered it a cash cow, however, and so the experiment continued. Its scattershot expansions over the following three years milked the udder with such force that it risked dismemberment, though one of them managed to offer a glimpse at its potential. Destiny sought to monopolize an inordinate amount of its playersí free time and disposable income, and its cardinal sin was, to put it graciously, its refusal to give back. Obviously, the prospect of a sequel did not excite me; Destinyís commercial success led me to believe that the people behind it would adopt its development philosophy as a template moving forward.

Imagine my delight when I was hit with the realization that Bungie has been listening to the right people and taking exactly the right approach to every bit of feedback received. Incredibly, the powers-that-be have more or less rejected complacency, deciding instead to actually build a good science-fiction shooter on top of the superb foundation it laid for itself three years ago. Everything that Destiny does well, Destiny 2 does better and delivers more of it; much of what Destiny does poorly is either pared down, de-emphasized, or straight up culled out. Destiny 2 suffers from some persistent flaws and probably shouldn't end up on anyoneís short list for major awards (BAFTA, this shade belongs to you), but itís still getting my recommendation. Most importantly, Destiny 2 has something that its predecessor lacks: respect for your time and money.

The now-defunct need to maintain parity with previous-generation hardware has freed Destiny 2 on both a technical and an artistic level. This is a gorgeous shooter, from top to bottom. Artistic license with physics aside, the game has focused all of its visual splendor into the areas youíre most apt to be scanning. Character models are generally retained from the original Destiny and polished up a bit; the different alien races are instantly identifiable and interestingly-designed, and they are each animated exceedingly well. I donít think Iíve ever played a T-rated shooter that gives such satisfying feedback for each and every headshot. Sure, the red stuff may be replaced by some ethereal combination of smoke and energy, but it never, ever gets old.

Marty OíDonnellís original score was, to me, Destinyís strongest asset. It did more to sell its underdone narrative and the resulting on-screen action than any other aspect of the gameís execution. OíDonnellís departure from Bungie may have left that element of Destiny 2 in question for some, but the particularly attentive were never concerned. OíDonnellís longtime colleague Michael Salvatori picks up right where the duo left off, with a soundtrack that is in many ways even better than the first. Certain cues established in Destiny are either expanded upon, reworked, or abandoned. Missing the cut is the haunting chorus of "The Great Unknown" and all of its iterations; since it was arguably the most prevalent theme from the original game, its absence moving forward is a bit jarring. But all the music in Destiny 2 is superb.

For the most part, the rest of Destiny 2ís sound design is just as good, but when itís not, itís through no fault of the performers or engineers behind it. Good sound design can make the difference between dissatisfaction and high impact, and Destiny 2 hits the latter every time. Guns sound fearsomely powerful and different from one another, even if they fall under the same weapon type. Everything you hear is designed to make the overall experience an empowering one. From discharges of elemental energy to the numerous explosions of matter both inanimate and living, Destiny 2 just plain sounds awesome.

Destiny 2ís excellent voice cast can hardly be blamed for the material itís been stuck with. The performances are good, though the characters mostly are not. Your travels will have you most frequently interacting with the main three Vanguards, so they are the most important. Lance Reddickís Commander Zavala is a total stick in the mud, and heís played with the same joyless determination that everyone seems to expect from the veteran, who has time and again demonstrated his versatility. He deserves better than this. Reddick aside, Destiny 2 is mostly the same desperately depressing Firefly reunion. Cayde-6 is really just Nathan Fillion being Nathan Fillion. Not a bad thing, in and of itself, but he is never more than a robotic Mal Reynolds. He can be alternately funny, charming, and annoying, but honestly, he isnít anything close to an original character. And finally, we have Gina Torres as Ikora Rey, whose overwrought, maudlin sermons have me regretting running Warlock for that reason alone. And, of course, Nolan North returns as your own personal Ghost. While his effeminate, neurotic portrayal is lightyears beyond Peter Dinklageís infamously sleepy performance in the original (pre-2.0), he sounds like he's trying too hard to get laughs where none should be expected.


Gameplay:

A sect of the extraterrestrial marauders collectively known as The Cabal has invaded Earth, conquered its remaining city, and shackled the Traveler. This has resulted in the all its Guardians becoming severed from the Light, that mystical force that grants both supernatural powers as well as functional immortality. But somewhere in the European Dead Zone, a single shard remains, and it has a willÖ

Iíve never thought Bungie was good at storytelling, and Iím sad to say that hasnít changed. Claims of this universe one day standing alongside Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings are still unintentionally hilarious. That being said, Destiny 2ís story is both more comprehensible and more enjoyable than that of the first game. That may not be saying much, as Destiny didnít really feature a story so much as it did a loosely-connected web of tedious exposition that gave you a vague context to predicate all that shooting and looting upon. Destiny 2ís yarn of humanity under siege fighting back against total annihilation is pedestrian, but at least this time around, youíll know whatís happening, who the major players are, and why youíre doing what youíre doing. Thereís more personality this time around, but itís not always for the better. Destiny 2ís characters operate at three speeds: blandly stoic, desperate in their attempts at humor, and the same spot in-between. Honorable mention goes to Failsafe, the fractured AI that runs the Exodus Black, and dishonorable mention goes to Dominus Ghaul, whose arc as a supervillain is half-assed from the get-go and only gets less interesting from there. Oh, and your Guardian doesnít count: he/she is still an inexpressive mute.

So overall, the story is a bust, albeit much less of one than Destiny's. But it provides enough context to drive an excellent Campaign that has a clearly defined three-act structure. Titled "The Red War," it's a world-hopping odyssey that shows you some pretty fantastic sights and has you killing legions of really cool-looking aliens. While it may feel like a glorified case of chase-the-waypoint at times, the combat remains engaging and punchy throughout its eight-or-so hour runtime.

Destiny 2ís most immediate improvements are, in and of themselves, stark departures from the original. Thematically and mechanically, it is a cleaning of the slate, and a desperately-needed one at that. This is a far less ambitious game than Destiny, and in the grand scheme of things, I count this as a positive. Say what you will about it (Lord knows I did), but Destiny did an awful lot. It dabbled in MMORPG design. It dealt with factions. It attempted to bring ambient questing to its particular style of gameplay. It included a competitive component. But it rarely delivered anything resembling compelling gameplay. Itís apparent from map and mission design and the vastly expanded scope of activities that play to the gameís strengths that Destiny 2 is primarily concerned with being an enjoyable shooter. If ever an idea surfaced during development that sounded cool in concept but didnít exist in service to that goal, it was likely rejected. This jettisoning of the kitchen sink approach is perhaps the most significant step towards making this franchise all that it could be. I would much prefer a game that does a few things extraordinarily well than a game that does several things poorly. Destiny was underdeveloped and spread too thin. Destiny 2 is lean and focused. The difference is palpable throughout.

Destiny 2ís PvE offerings are generally diverse and robust throughout. Thereís a general structure youíll progress through as you work your way up to Level 20 and "beyond." As you advance through story missions, side-quests pop up across each open-world. Dubbed "Adventures," these quests are Destiny 2ís way of letting the universe breathe a bit, taking the primary focus off of the main story momentarily and shedding some light elsewhere. Mission design is fairly linear across the board, but smart enemy behavior and excellent map design more than make up for that.

As you approach the end of the game, youíll be able to partake in more difficult adventures that require an actual Fireteam. Yes, Iím talking about Strikes, that Destiny staple. Itís interesting and indicative of improved design philosophy that these are saved for the endgame; they are made all the more satisfying as a result. Think of them as mini-raids that require combined firepower, if not combined brainpower.

Both of those are required for Leviathan, Destiny 2ís launch raid. Itís a dense, attractive, challenging quest that again showcases this particular type of gameplay at its best. Not only must you and your Fireteam be on your A-game in terms of twitch and positioning skills, but you must come to grips with its occasionally abstract and implicit objectives to solve its challenges. Itís great stuff, but thereís a fairly steep cost of entry: you wonít be able to access it until you reach a certain Power Level, and thereís a good bit of grinding and a fair bit of repetition involved if you want to get there at all.

Considering the breadth and depth of Destiny 2 is significantly greater than those of its predecessor, this doesnít sting quite as much as it could have. That being said, I ended up tiring of vanilla Destiny 2 during the proverbial home stretch. You can chalk it up to personal preference or the inescapable fact that Iím just getting old, but I only really see it as a minor blemish on an otherwise rich and comprehensive experience.

Lord Shaxx made it out; the Crucible returns in Destiny 2. Iíll be frank here: as far as Iím concerned, itís dead on arrival. Functionally and mechanically, itís fine, and I have no intention of suggesting that it should not be in the game. If anything, it serves to make Destiny 2 feel like more of a complete package, and that can only be a good thing. The only real problem here is that it just canít stack up to its contemporaries; itís just way too standard, and by extension, dull. Itís one of the slowest-moving shooters on the modern market, and while it uses the same stellar shooting model that powers the game proper, it lacks the strategic and reflexive chops that would make it a viable alternative to the likes of Battlefield 1 and Titanfall 2.


Difficulty:

Destiny 2 is easier than its predecessor. This may turn off some more hardcore players at first glance, but when you take into account the reasons why Destiny was a more difficult game, it makes this instantly forgivable. The 2014 originalís idea of difficulty was simply a matter of giving enemies more health. You and your Fireteam had to sit there and dump thousands and thousands of rounds into each powerful enemy, pausing here and there to get rid of mobs and once and a while using a Super to deal maximum damage/power up teammates. Destiny 2 is indicative of penitence on Bungieís part here, as each big fight generally refrains from wearing out its welcome. It lasts only long enough to feel uniquely exciting and shuttles you onward to the next one.

Investment. Your level of Destiny 2ís challenge level and overall longevity will depend entirely on what youíre willing to invest in it. If you want to see everything in the core game: run all the Adventures, Strikes, and Patrols, youíll end up approaching the level required to access the endgame content moving forward. That being said, if youíre unprepared for the grind, you might have some difficulty sticking with it. For my part, Iím not too concerned.


Game Mechanics:

Destiny nailed its fundamentals. Destiny 2 manages to improve on them, largely through fantastic tactile and audiovisual feedback. As always, you traipse about a series of sizable open worlds, gunning down hostiles, undertaking quests, participating in public events, and hunting for items that will increase your reputation with certain factions.

Three weapons, a grenade, and your super. Yep, this is a Destiny game. Using your Kinetic, Energy, and Power weapons on hand in tandem with your Light powers, you slay the enemies of the Traveler, growing stronger by the end of each encounter. And I do mean "stronger;" while Destiny 2ís loot system still feels a bit like a slot machine, most drops will provide you with a net improvement over what you previously had. Power level aside, weapon effects must be considered. Certain types of energy react with certain types of shields; match the colors and youíll be rewarded with an explosive effect. Other weapon effects might bestow passive abilities or encourage a specific style of play, but itís never complex enough to give anyone pause for more than a moment or two. Decisions regarding gear are often ridiculously easy to make, rarity-be-damned.

Regardless of whether you carry over a Guardian from the original game or start a new one, the opening chapter of Destiny 2 ends with a Metroid-esque wipe of all your abilities. But before long, you get your Light back and start leveling up once again. The cap as of this writing is 20, with an aggregate of equipped gear statistics serving as a far more telling descriptor of your Guardianís combat effectiveness and survivability. The gear is really all that matters, as Destiny 2ís role-playing elements are trimmed down to the point where, subclasses aside, there is vanishingly little to distinguish them. The three races (Human, Exo, and Awoken) and three classes (Titan, Hunter, Warlock) may fool more casual players into believing that the differences are significant enough to warrant their inclusion, but 99% of the time, one Guardianís playstyle is just like that of the next. That being said, in the field on a moment-to-moment basis, exclusive class skills, grenades, and supers can at least freshen up the proceedings a bit. I didnít go in expecting customization options on the lines of what Borderlands 2 or Path of Exile has to offer, but the diversity on this front is pretty sorely lacking.

If there's something that bothers me about Destiny 2's core gameplay, it's the weak on-foot mobility. Even a sprinting Guardian is a slow Guardian; combine this with the fact that you have to do quite a bit of running and jumping from point to point, and it just manages to register as a problem. While the visuals and frequent combat encounters largely take the sting out of the occasional boredom, there's no getting around the fact that the reduced movement speed takes a bite out of the Campaign's otherwise solid pacing. Yes, you get your Sparrow back, but not until the game is almost over, and even then, as the result of a random loot drop that occurs with no fanfare or notice. This was likely a design decision made to pad out the experience, but it was unnecessary.

We were provided a copy of the "Digital Deluxe" version of Destiny 2, which retails at $99.99; it includes the core game, its two currently-planned expansions, and a couple of digital extras. While our policy is generally to review what we receive, this is a special case. It is currently impossible to review all that the "Digital Deluxe" version entails. In order to be fair to the game -- and to you, the reader -- we will be providing reviews of each expansion as it becomes available, and by the end of the cycle, we will be adequately prepared to offer a thorough, honest evaluation.

Considering that segments of Destiny 2 have been partitioned off to serve as paid downloadable expansions, itís easy to entertain pessimistic thoughts about the current state of the game industry and its relationship with the consumer. But when it comes right down to it, the core game of Destiny 2 does something that its predecessor never managed: it stands on its own. It is confident and complete enough to justify the standard asking price, and the content on hand is satisfying and worthwhile. Destiny 2 may not be the 2017 shooter Iím most excited about, but itís definitely the one Iím happiest for.

Activision provided me with a copy of the game to review. The opinions I share are my own.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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