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Destiny 2: Second Verse
Company: Activision

Destiny planted the seeds of expectation in a creative vacuum. From there, it proceeded to starve them to death over the course of three years, returning once or twice annually to administer a teasing spot of life support, which only served to prolong its tortured existence. Mechanically functional but stunted in both imagination and soul, it was an expensive case study in skin-deep beauty. Its striking vision of the future of our solar system and solid shooting mechanics were betrayed by an exploitative structure and some of the poorest in-game world-building in the history of our medium. Considering its incredible pedigree, to call it a disappointing title would be incredibly gracious.

Given the level of investment Activision has sunk into the property and the commercial success it enjoyed over the course of its three-year lifecycle, Destiny 2ís existence should surprise nobody. Iíve spent some time with the beta; a strange nomenclature, considering this doesnít feel so much like a beta as it does a fully-featured demo. And a good one, at that; I quite enjoyed my time with it. The level of polish is quite high, and everything on hand is fundamentally enjoyable. My initial takeaway from Destiny 2 is that someone at Bungie has been listening, and thatís incredibly encouraging. Sure, itís only a demo, but if itís a taste of things to come, I for one will be happy.

The Tower is on fire, thanks to the Cabal -- those roly-poly humanoid fellas on Mars who jump really high and are super fun to shoot in the head. Itís time for you to live up to your namesake, Guardian. So get out there and guard, unless youíre keen on the extinction of everything good. Youíre shuttled from setpiece moment to setpiece moment, blasting Cabal into smoky ruins and generally trying to stay alive. Yes, Destiny 2 makes a strong first impression with its introductory story mission, "Homecoming." Equal parts explosive and cinematic, it is the antithesis to simply waking up in the Cosmodrome to the sleepy delivery of Dinklebot.

"Homecoming" introduces a new conflict while stepping up its NPC representation. Vanguards no longer function like glorified menu screens with celebrity voices. Theyíre proactive heroes with actual personalities. Granted, your mileage may vary. For example, the snarky exo Cayde-6 (Nathan Fillion, essentially reprising his role from Firefly) is aimed at a very particular demographic, but he has the potential to get really annoying really quickly. And for the love of the Traveler, does Lance Reddick always have to be a stick in the mud? Heís got depth and nuance for days, and I wish someone would make good use of it. But at least they're letting him do something other than hunch over a table while looking vaguely menacing. All of these interactions are scripted to a T, but they go a long way towards making a sterile, hollow universe feel legitimately alive.

Once youíre done with the introductory mission and are left to ponder its distressing cliffhanger, you can jump right into the betaís Strike, "The Inverted Spire." Set on the Vex-controlled Centaur planet of 7066 Nessus, the mission is to discover why the Red Legion is present. Turns out, theyíre drilling for somethingÖ more specifically, theyíre drilling for something they probably should not be drilling for. Things go to hell in a handbasket quickly, as they are wont to do in first-person shooters, and your Fireteam soon finds itself in the middle of an all-out Vex/Cabal battle. The setting is a fun one, as it allows some creative environmental quirks to liven the proceedings. Without spoiling anything, Iíll just say that heavy machinery always makes things interesting. Of course, it wouldnít be a Strike if it wasnít capped off with a boss fight, and "The Inverted Spire" offers one thatís more akin to a multi-phase Raid Boss than the standard bullet-sponge reskins the original threw at us all too often.

Based on what the beta offers, Destiny 2 is likely going to be playing it safe when it comes to its competitive element. Two game modes were on offer, and while they fit Destinyís gameplay well enough, they feel much too standard to allow it to set itself apart as a viable alternative to the wealth of riches that populates the modern competitive shooter market. Control makes its return, with teams of Guardians racing to capture objective zones while gunning down opposing forces at every turn. Here and there, Heavy ammo will spawn or a Guardian might launch a Super, but itís pretty vanilla. Countdown is new for Destiny, but almost ubiquitous to the genre; teams get one shot to plant and defend a charge as the clock ticks down. Once the charge goes off or all members of one team are eliminated, the round ends.

With the Tower burned to a crisp and the Traveler besieged, where does a Guardian go to wind down? The Farm. Touted as "the last football pitch in the Galaxy," this European Dead Zone camp is primed to be the first major social space in Destiny 2. This area was only available for an exceedingly sparing amount of time, and it was unpopulated by NPCs. Exactly all that this zone entails remains a mystery at this point, but one can safely assume this is where Guardians will partake in activities along the lines of Faction missions, Bounties, and of course, shopping.

Between its impressive opening level and the Strike offered in the beta, weíve gotten a better glimpse at what Destiny could ultimately become. There are countless variables and unknowns floating around Destiny 2, so itís impossible to say whether or not it will finally make good on what we were promised all those years ago. After all, the myriad of problems that plagued its predecessor were complex issues of brevity, structure, and value. Unfortunately, a demo, by its nature, cannot reassure anyone when it comes to such issues. But we can certainly hope, and that is exactly what we should do.

Destiny 2 launches worldwide for Xbox One and PlayStation 4 on September 6, and for PC on October 24. Check back with us for a full review.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos
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