Destiny 2 opens with your home city being spectacularly invaded by the Red Legion, an unfriendly bunch who look like the Space Marines from Warhammer 40K crossed with potatoes that’ve been left in the cupboard too long. In this way, the opening of Destiny 2 is approximately a billion times more compelling than that of the original, where you were gently awoken by a flying robot (with the voice of either Peter Dinklage or Nolan North, depending on when you played) and shepherded through some rusty ruins, occasionally bothered by aliens.
Where, before, my interest waned even as I explored the grey, craggy terrain of the moon itself, not really paying attention to who I was shooting at beyond the fact that they were shooting back at me, Destiny 2 has more focus in the campaign. Dominus Ghaul might be about as complex an antagonist as you’d expect from his name, but he gives you a great big target to aim at. There lies Ghaul, a big ugly bastard who tried to destroy our home, and us with it, but we defeated him by means of: firstly, regaining our power; secondly, rounding up our friends one by one; thirdly, strengthening our foothold on different planets; fourthly, by getting in a tank at one point, for some reason… and so on and etc.
Destiny 2 also looks much more compelling. The new areas have more interesting maps, with different ways to traverse and lots of hidden nooks to hide in, and the planets are infinitely nicer to look at. Titan has shining, stormy seas, and Nessus is a lovely mix of turquoise and red. So, so far, so improvement.
Most of the rest of Destiny 2 is a lot of ‘quality of life’ improvements upon the first game that smooth out little annoyances, like, um, having a proper map this time, with better fast travel and quest tracking. Despite some teething issues with PSN, on-the-fly matchmaking for Strikes and the Crucible is working well — Guided Games, the matchmaking system invented for raids when you’re without a Clan of your own, is still in beta and yet to be tested. One gets a slightly nagging feeling that this is all stuff that should probably have just been in the original Destiny. In fact, the people who got on board and stayed on board with Destiny often say that it got really good after all the updates and DLC story content years after launch, which is all well and good unless you’d already buggered off by then, because excellent shooting can only hold your attention for so long.
But luckily the shooting is excellent — of course it is, this is a Bungie game — and few things are more satisfying than doing your floaty double jump over enemy heads to shove a lightning grenade and/or explosive handcannon bullets down their throats. The three class types combined with the variety of weapons means there’s something to suit the tastes of any potential space warrior out there, although it does become frustrating when your highest rated gear isn’t stuff you actually like. While leveling is one thing, what you’re really chasing is Power, which is averaged from your gear level, so do you go for something more powerful or something you can actually shoot well with?
Destiny 2 has thrown in plenty of other bits and pieces to keep you occupied alongside and after the story. Each region has a number of quests to complete after you’ve done the campaign, as well as a smattering of Adventures (trash loot; just make you feel better while you’re low level), Public Events (really fun the more of you there are; can be made ‘Heroic’ for better drops), Strikes (harder, replayable missions in a team of three; one player will probably be carrying the other two), the Crucible (brutally humiliating PvP) and, of course, the Raid, a punishingly difficult mission requiring a team of six with high power level, which can take hours to complete.
For all that, though, getting loot and increasing your power level is a Sisyphean task that can start to wear on you even as you want to keep doing it. It reminds me of my older brother describing addiction: you really want a cigarette, but once you light it up you’re not really enjoying it, which is basically the repeating addiction loop all MMOs operate on. Step forward microtransactions to circumvent a little of the players’ frustration. These let you buy the newly-consumable outfit colour shaders and some advanced gear mods with real life money, something I haven’t needed to do yet but can foresee getting annoyed about, because for all that Bungie claims they’re abundant, I have almost run out of my favourite shader already.
Destiny 2 does seem to be trying to stay fun, though. It can actually be quite funny at times (this supposedly channeled by Cayde-6, the Hunter class Vanguard, but that I found more in a lonely AI trapped on Nessus, developing two distinct halves to its personality). Some of the character and loot descriptions actually did make me laugh, and the first Raid, Leviathan, is an epic of truly legendary scale that might as well be called Assault on Hedonismbot Mountain.
Destiny 2 is a marked enough improvement on Destiny that I’m thinking about how to upgrade my favourite exotic weapon right now. It has problems, but then obliterating enemies with lightning will make you forget them. It might even make you forget real life problems, actually. Disintegrating spidery aliens is horribly cleansing.
Available on: PlayStation 4 [reviewed on], Xbox One, PC
Release Date: September 6 2017 [console], October 24 2017 [PC]