Destiny 2 Review – Smooth Shootin’

Bungie is one of the best developers out there. And the best developers focus on what they’re good at. A DICE game immerses with top notch visual and audio design. A Naughty Dog game wows with incredible graphics, animation, and story. A Bungie game? Shooting bad guys always feels so damn good.

Destiny 2 isn’t some vast departure from the formula that launched Activision’s next big franchise. But Bungie did fix a bunch of the screw ups to make Destiny 2 a great follow-up to Destiny 1. You won’t magically fall in love with Destiny 2 if you despised the first one. But if you enjoyed even the smallest piece of Destiny 1, there’s a lot to like about the sequel.

Destiny 2 looks good

Destiny 2 is a looker.

Alright, let’s dive in and see what Bungie delivered.

An actual story, with story stuff

I’m a sucker for any half decent sci-fi story, and Destiny 2 was right up my alley. It’s no Halo, but it scratched my sci-fi itch.

Destiny 2 opens with Dominous Ghaul sacking the City and capturing the Traveler. That’s the big white sphere floating above the City that gives Guardians their power (or Light). With the Light fading, our heroes return to their mortal selves. And with this mortality comes hesitation. It’s not so easy being a hero when the next time you bite the big one, it’s permanent. We see the supporting cast grapple with this at points in the story, especially Ikora and Zavala.

But it’s a problem our Guardian doesn’t deal with for long. We’re special. Why? Beats me. This is a hero story. The why we’re special isn’t important. Only that we are. After a short sequence dodging spotlights and cautiously wading into battle, we get our Light back. A piece of the Traveler calls to us and boom, back to superhero status. Too bad we didn’t mention how we got our Light back to anyone else. Could have made taking the fight back to Ghaul easier.

As we venture throughout portions of the solar system, we meet a few new faces. Some I like. Others, not so much. Hawthorne and Devrim are solid additions. Both help us get back on our feet. They show another side of the Destiny universe. The side that doesn’t rely on the Light to live their lives.

Destiny 2 Cayde and Hawthorne

Cayde-6 and Hawthorne.

Asher Mir falls squarely in the category of annoying. He’s a bossy Guardian on Io who just doesn’t know when to shut up. Or explain things in non-technical terms. He yammers on and on until Ikora or our Ghost interrupts him.

Failsafe is the kind of character you either love or hate. Think Borderlands’ Tiny Tina. You either enjoy the humor, or don’t. Having Failsafe and Cayde-6 bantering at the same time doesn’t help. Both have that sarcastic wit that strays into the “almost too much” category. But for me, it never quite crosses that line.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Ghaul’s side of the story. Yeah, he pretty much looks like a mix between Bane and Darth Vader – but his interactions with the Speaker and his second-in-command tease a deeper character. Ghaul has never met a foe he couldn’t beat. But he views the Traveler’s selection of Earth for its Light as a defeat. His mentor pushes for him to take the Light by force, but Ghaul hesitates.

Ghaul in Destiny 2

Ghaul and the Speaker.

He wants to know how to communicate with the Traveler. How can he be chosen by the Light. Why was Earth chosen and not him. It makes for an interesting side-story to the main story beat. And I always perked up a bit more when the bad guys took center stage.

Destiny 2’s story is a fun romp. The gameplay is top notch. There’s enough mission variety to keep you engaged. And the cutscenes are slick. It doesn’t feel as iconic as Master Chief and the Halo story, but it does a solid enough job. After Destiny 1’s sheer lack of a story, Destiny 2 actually has one. And it’s decent.

Shootin’ bad dudes still feels good

If there’s one thing Bungie excels at it’s shooting bad guys in the face. There’s a cadence to every encounter.

Glowing body parts scream ‘shoot me!’ Grenades, while not readily available, feel good to toss. Supers pop often enough for you to feel like a badass ripped straight from your favorite superhero movie. My Titan felt like Bungie reached into an Avengers movie and grabbed a few characters. Captain America shield tossing? Done. Thor hammers with a fire twist? Yep. Running around Hulk smashing every alien that looks at me sideways? Hell yes.

Titan shield in Destiny 2

Bungie makes sure to offer plenty of guns to take the fight to the enemy with. Pistols, assault rifles, snipers, grenade launchers, rocket launchers, scout rifles, hell even swords. Everyone gets pulled to a favorite weapon. Me? Can’t beat the sharp crack of a scout rifle and the satisfying headshots when my bullets found their target. Toss in a sword for when the action gets a little too close for comfort, and I was set.

The audio design is almost as good as the gunplay. I was shocked at how much I enjoyed the music. There were moments playing Destiny 2’s story that reminded me of DOOM. The music is almost overwhelming as I blasted my way past one pack of aliens to the next. Destiny 2 feels epic. And the music plays just as integral of a part as anything else in that feeling.

But I’m not going to sit here and shower constant praise on Destiny 2. It stumbles. Destiny 2 is one of the easiest games I have ever played. I didn’t have one moment when I was challenged during the story. Want to try out one of those Adventures in between missions? Or how about a Public Event? Good job, you just over leveled yourself for the rest of the story. I’m not saying Destiny 2 should be crushingly hard to play, but a difficulty slider should be there. Other loot games like Diablo have them.

It’s a shame too. The story missions are fun, but they’re just not challenging. You walk into a room and all the enemies drop if you so much as look at them. After knowing what Bungie can do with Halo, the lack of difficulty here is disappointing.

But Destiny 2 is a loot game. Which means the endgame is when the real game begins. And there’s plenty to chew on a few weeks after release. Strikes, Public Events, exotic quests, Nightfall Strikes, the Crucible, and the Raid. Each one nudging your Light level ever higher. Each one offering shiny new Purple and Yellow engrams to quench your thirst for more loot. I still haven’t made it all the way through Destiny 2’s only Raid so far, but I had a lot fun wading through all the other activities.

Destiny 2 gameplay

Again though, this is where the lack of difficulty rears its ugly head. The only real challenge is in Nightfall Strikes, the Crucible, and the Raid. That also brings up matchmaking. Bungie is introducing a concept called Guided Games. A group of players known as ‘guides’ walk other players called ‘seekers’ through a Nightfall Strike. It’s a cool idea, but the game design should also prepare players through the leveling experience for the endgame content. Instead it’s everything is easy. Then oh shit, everything is super hard.

Again, add a difficulty slider with rewards. It gives players the steady challenge increase, while also making all of the PvE content worth playing once you start reaching higher levels.

As for the loot? It’s decent. I still feel that rush of excitement when I get an exotic or purple Engram. But I’m not a fan of limiting characters to one Exotic armor and one Exotic weapon. Imagine playing Diablo and you only get to wear one Set piece. Oh, you have an inventory full of badass gear? Sorry, you can only wear one piece at a time.

It wouldn’t be so bad if the Exotic armor and weapons didn’t look so much better than all the other gear. I want my kickass assault rifle, scout rifle, helm, and boots. At the same time.

Guardian versus Guardian

The Crucible. Where the gear shows up, but the stats don’t matter (except the occasional Iron Banner event).

It’s fun. Give me a decent shooter with multiplayer and I’m good to go for a while. The Crucible is packed with the usual multiplayer offerings we see these days. You have your ‘Kill Confirmed’ mode with Supremacy. A ‘Domination’ mode called Control. A ‘Search and Destroy’ mode called Countdown. If you’ve played Call of Duty before, you’ve played these modes.

But the comparison to Call of Duty stops there. The Crucible plays more like Halo. Team shooting is the name of the game. A quality team of four will destroy a team of randoms every time. Power weapon control is a must. If you’re in the mood to rage, just queue up by yourself and get matched against a Clan. An occurrence that happens way too frequently given the 1 million+ playing the game.

Still, I had a blast. Whether teaming up with three friends or wading in solo. Countdown was a fun change of pace, but the matches did stretch a round or two too long. Maybe tweak the timer, or drop the number of rounds to win by one.

Bungie did tweak how often Supers are used. In most matches, you get one chance to use them. I get why Bungie did it. The devs don’t want people getting blasted by one-hit kills all the time. But Destiny 2 loses a bit of itself by being too safe with its multiplayer.

The game modes that are here are fine. But I want Bungie to shake the formula up. Try something new. Something bold. Give us a 12v12 with Supers flying everywhere and vehicles. Hell, go the Battle Royale route and let us use Ghosts to resurrect Guardians and fight.

Destiny 2 Cayde chicken

Even Cayde wants chicken dinner.

Or maybe focus on the co-op side of things more and give us six-man encounters. Like hold the gates of the City against a Hive attack for a certain amount of time.

There’s so much potential to try something new. It’s disappointing we are seeing the same modes we’ve been playing for years. Still, what’s here is fun. I just want to see Bungie take more risks.

It’s a Bungie game. It’s fun

That’s all that matters. Sure, there are things I don’t like. Most of the game is too easy. And I want to wear all my loot. But the story is solid. The music is phenomenal. It looks great. The Crucible is still fun. And the gameplay is just as smooth as it’s always been.

Now I wait to do it all again on PC.

Activision provided a review copy for the Xbox One.