Guardian Evolved – “Destiny 2” Review

With smarter world design, stunning visuals and nonstop loop drops, Destiny 2 is a joy to experience.

Destiny 2 is a meditation on everything that made the original game addicting while ditching all the tedious design choices. Each of the four planets in the game feels aesthetically similar to what what developer Bungie produced in the original game and expansions, but areas to explore and hidden secrets are much more plentiful this time around. Wide open spaces are littered with roaming enemies and hidden loot, making the core gameplay loop more engaging than ever.

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In some ways, that’s the best part of Destiny 2’s revamped loot grind: How frequently you’ll stumble on engrams and gear. Even if the breastplate or helmet clocks in weaker than what’s already equipped, that little dopamine release you get as you slide into a blue, purple or occasional yellow engram while dodging enemy fire is enough to keep you grinding. Leveling up in Destiny 2 feels much faster, and thanks to great multiplayer design, there’s usually a random player or two around to help you tackle each task.

Marrying the new area design and fantastic co-op comes my favorite gameplay improvement in Destiny 2: Public Events. Players can rally to a point, max out their ammo and prepare for a chaotic 5 minute battle with the Cabal, Vex, Fallen or Hive. Within Public Events there are mini objectives that can trigger a Heroic Public Event, which ups the ante a bit giving a little more challenge for a little more loot. Still, even during Heroic challenges, Public Events are a low risk, high reward way to enjoy Destiny 2. Getting killed repeatedly by enemies is no problem as the revive system and short respawn timer get you back in action in less than 10 seconds. Each event ends with a loot chest drop, and you usually can find a few engrams laying where you cut down the last few enemies. These events happen randomly around each planet, so checking the mini map or roaming around to find new activities is easier than ever.

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With each of the game’s planets having its own companion character that you can visit to exchange your wares with, it’s still depressing that you have to travel to one of Destiny 2’s social spaces to decrypt engrams. Visiting them and interacting with other players is still fun, but sitting through 2 minute load screens a couple times each play session is a bit of a drag. With so much of the core gameplay refined in the sequel, it’s strange Bungie didn’t streamline engram decryption.

The level 20 cap is back in Destiny 2, which can be reached in a dozen or less hours of gameplay. Once you hit that, a bigger emphasis is given to your light level which seems to reach, at the very least, the low 300s. Strikes open up way before you reach anywhere near that number, though, and Nightfall Strikes and the Raid become available around the 240 and 260 light level, respectively. From experience, these minimum levels are just that and playing near the low entry point will mean you’ll need a hard carry from your team. Once you hit light level 270 (and certainly by 280) the game becomes decidedly more relaxing during Public Events and Strikes. Nightfall Strikes and the Raid remain difficult at almost any level, and Prestige difficult for both modes opens up at light level 300. Level 270 and above is safely what I would consider to be Destiny 2’s current endgame. The hunt for new gear and loot remains tantalizing, but to say the endgame loop from the original game has been improved would be a stretch. You can keep repeating Strikes and Public Events, but there’s still not a ton of fresh content to explore.

Nightfall Strikes are one of the more surprising departures from the original game. While the added difficulty over basic Strikes is still obvious, Bungie has emphasized speed with a new timer that gradually counts down. Additional objectives within Nightfall Strikes like jumping through rings or taking down powerful enemies will throw 30 additional seconds on the countdown. While Nightfall Strikes challenge your mastery of Destiny’s navigation and combat, it’s still frustrating that the timer means you’ll have to breeze past hordes of enemies to prevent running out of time. Of course, all of these frustrations could be mitigated with Heroic Strikes, but Bungie has curiously removed them as a playable difficulty mode outside of Heroic Public Events.

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I’ve dabbled, but not beaten, Destiny 2’s first Raid, The Leviathan. What I’ve played is a brutal meditation on Raids from the original game with challenging puzzles and enemies that are only susceptible to one type of attack. One thing I don’t appreciate so far (it could become more tolerable as I continue to increase my light level) is the Raid’s obsession with brutality over genuine challenge. When you’re out of ammo for the only gun that can damage the main enemy raining bullets on you and your fireteam, things feel more mean-spirited than fair. It’s unfortunate that the barrier to entry for the Raid, even well into Destiny 2’s endgame, can be as prohibitive as it is.

Destiny 2 has a stronger campaign than anything offered in the original game and its subsequent expansions. Bungie has ditched the vague lore bullshit – and the afterthought Grimoire cards – and instead relies on character banter and occasional cutscenes to carry the narrative. Cayde-6, Hawthorne and Failsafe are some of the more compelling characters in the game with their own personality and charm. The story is basic and can be completed in less than a eight, but it does enough to introduce new Destiny players to various alien factions and the universe lore.

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The same three player classes, Hunter, Warlock and Titan, make a return in Destiny 2. There’s new and returning subclasses, including the fantastic subclasses introduced in the original game’s Taken King expansion. While the new subclasses are fine, it still feels like the most viable options are the tried and true classics. It’s tempting to stick to one class in Destiny 2, but creating new characters in a different class is a great way to add longevity to the game’s somewhat bland endgame.

One mode that’s still accessible (and fun as hell) after dozens of hours is the Crucible. Down to 4v4 competitive matches instead of the original game’s 6v6, the Crucible feels much more competitive than before. Matches are still engaging with challenges and loot after every single match.

The Verdict

Destiny 2 is a meditation on everything that made the vanilla game and its expansions great while cutting most of the clunky mechanics fans hated. Loot grinding is still very real, but engram drops feel more frequent and the play spaces offer plenty of room to breathe. Compared to vanilla Destiny that was released in 2014, Destiny 2 has much more meat on the bone – even with a mediocre endgame.

Its campaign is short and run-of-the-mill, but it acts as a phenomenal tutorial that also gives hints at the universe lore. The Strikes, Nightfall Strikes and the Raid are enjoyable during late-game loot grinding as the crawl to earn better gear becomes more difficult. While fantastic with friends, they occasionally fall back on brutality instead of fair challenges, which can leave a sour taste in your mouth if your fireteam isn’t well-coordinated. Despite occasional frustrations, Destiny 2 is the best iteration on Bungie’s semi-MMO formula, and it lays a fantastic foundation for years of expansions.

5:5

Destiny 2 was reviewed on Xbox One courtesy of Activision and Bloober Team.

Interested in Bear Claw Gaming’s review process? Check out the official scoring FAQ!

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