Capturing the Light – Destiny 2 Impressions

*Destiny 2, like its predecessor, is meant to be taken as an MMORPG experience. This also means expansion packs in the near future as well as continual content updates, making it difficult to give a full review. Therefore, Last Token Gaming’s review will be an impressions piece instead.

Release Date: September 6, 2017 (Playstation 4 and Xbox One), October 24th (PC via Blizzard’s Battlenet)
Rated: T for Teen
Developer: Bungie
Producer: Activision
Genre: FPS, RPG, Open-World
Platform: Xbox One (played and reviewed), Playstation 4, PC (October 24th)

Destiny was set to fail, and did so spectacularly; hailed as the next big franchise to define consoles, Bungie and Activision did everything they could to hype the MMO-like experience. Unfortunately, the development troubles, regurgitated level designs, lack of storytelling, and a completed phoned in performance by Peter Dinklage were elements of the launch disaster. At its best, Destiny’s base game was the semblance of a foundation for a solid full-game experience waiting to emerge. In the normal to worst experiences, the game felt empty, hollow and lifeless. The question became less about whether it was Destiny could become a good game, but more of whether or not Bungie would survive the shitstorm it found itself in.

Three years later, thanks to several expansion packs and an ardent, determined fan base, Destiny was able to pull itself out of most of its pitfalls to become a solid gaming experience. Instead of leaving players to doing research to figure out the storyline, each expansion pack provides a short, solid story that adds to the overall lore while being self-contained at the same time. Levels, though still feeling empty in spades, felt open and much more alive. Extreme challenges like raids began providing players difficult, exciting missions that encouraged team communication, skills, and high-level gear. All of a sudden, Destiny was a game worth playing. Even so, I still found myself on the fence when the marketing began for Destiny 2.

Going into Destiny 2, I was half expecting to have a very similar experience because the lead up to its release felt way too similar to its predecessor. Upon talking to several players after experiencing the beta, I was hearing that slight hesitation in their voices during their description. This was due in large part to the recycled level and enemy designs, and shallow selection of weapons with even less modifications. Sure, there were plenty who remained optimistic for the game upon release, but I and several others started becoming skeptics. I think it is safe to say, after playing this game, Bungie has started to understand its flagship franchise and the direction it needs.

Main bad guy, Sci Fi bad guy Ghaul

One thing that Destiny 2 immediately addresses is having a single player campaign that has a storyline to follow. The plot is a basic premise: a large military group, known as the Red Legion, comes into town to steal the Traveler. Their leader, Ghaul, is hell bent on gaining light from the Traveler, making him immortal and impossible to defeat. In the process, the Red Legion has destroyed the Last City of Earth and taken the light from all the Guardians. Powerless and vulnerable, players must rebuild everything they can in hopes of defeating Ghaul and his Red Legion. For a base storyline in a game certain to see many expansions in the upcoming future, it’s simple but effective for building off of.

However, Destiny 2 is defined by providing characterization to its main cast and having a heart. Every main character is given a moment in the spotlight, providing insight beyond their stoic appearance. Instead of a usually calm, reserved Zavala, players see him dripping with fear and bitter resolve to fight until the end as the Red Legion continue their merciless onslaught. Inversely, during this same battle Ikora displays rage and overwhelming resignation. Cayde-6 continues treating players with the same humor he’s always had, but in battle there’s cynical optimism laced in. In these moments, players can feel something that was not felt before within the world: vulnerability. When the light is eventually taken from all the Guardians, everyone now has to face existentialism head on and embrace their own mortality.

Unlike its predecessor, Bungie provides the context to justify restarting the players back to square one, as well as a reason to traverse through the campaign. Not only is restoring everything back to how it was before the main motivator, survival becomes the main element objective. There’s an understanding that if no one can stop the Red Legion from capturing the Traveler, this is the endgame that is being decided judiciously and prudent. Knowing the endgame also leaves all of the main cast, both new and familiar, to have a sense of vulnerability tinged in their dialogue. There’s a hint of self-reflection on the life already lived, and the one currently living. There’s emotional levity behind every interaction, further emboldening the player’s quest to save the Traveler and life as they all know it.

Bungie also continues to do a solid job dropping cryptic lore hints that help build the background regarding Destiny’s universe. Ranging from a few sentences in dialogues to weapon descriptions, the amount of detail is just enough to get hardcore fans of the franchise to begin digging up whatever information they can. While the information is not always pertinent to the game, it can provide context to the current game as well as future content.

Cayde-6 (Nathan Fillion) continues to provide the comedic relief needed in the midst of tragedy.

Yet, Destiny 2’s story does have some drawbacks. Although mortality is prevalent, the player immediately gains exemption from this factor. The emotional resonance, while still retaining its power, creates a disconnect with the players and main cast. Although Ghaul remains a formidable, powerful opponent, he falls too easily into the “blind with power” archetype that seems to be a staple of Science Fiction writing. Unfortunately, the Deus Ex Machina ending reduces the conclusion to being less than satisfying. The biggest disappointment is how short lived the campaign is, giving just enough time for exposition and not as much time for build up. The missions range in duration and scope, and the number of missions range on each planet. It’s disappointing, because the story felt like it needed more fleshing out.

Where Destiny really shines is in the gameplay, and Bungie superbly demonstrates an attention to detail, creating excellent gameplay design. Gunbattles range from fast and frenetic to long, grueling dogfights. It can range from taking on one wave of enemies, to multiple enemy fronts and several mini bosses. That’s because as a result of the Red Legion’s ambush, the four main factions from the beginning of the franchise are fighting to expand their territory. When going into battle, players might be stuck in a situation where they have to fight one side before the other…or fight them both at the same time. I believe the intention is for Destiny’s fights to force players into thinking critically quickly, but the execution is not completely there. This does not take away from the enjoyment, as the “shoot first, ask questions later” approach is just as fun and enticing.

Destiny also ensures that battles have many outcomes with different player classes and their respective powers. Players get to choose one of three classes to play as that have their strengths and weaknesses: Titan, Warlock, or Hunter.

Titans are the tank of Destiny, specializing in strength and close combat fighting. This class prefers close quarter dog slugfests with melee and close range weapons. Titans can take extensive damage and draw enemies’ attention in order to help their teammates have an advantage. If things get too chaotic, Titans have an ability to generate a shield to block damage for a period of time that can serve as calm reset in battle. Unfortunately, Titans can get overwhelmed in heavy numbers and have a hard time handling mid-to-long range enemies.

Warlocks are the class preferring utilizing magic and mid range fighting. This class prefers to keep enemies at a distance and utilizing that space to deal out heavy magic damage. If things are getting hairy, the Warlock is able to create a healing circle that regenerates teammates health quickly. Other players can also remain in the circle for negating enemy damage while dishing out damage. It’s the perfect support class that can stand on its own if needed.

One of the Titan classes special abilities, creating a shield. These shields last a considerable amount of time and provide the cover necessary to help recover health.

Hunters are the stealth class that prefers either picking apart enemies from the back or sneaking up on them. This class prefers being in the shadows and picking choice times to engage in close quarter combat if needed. The hunter class has an ability to allow themselves to reload their weapon quicker, allowing for quick cover fire for their allies in clutch moments.

Each of these three classes also have a series of subclasses that specialize in the type of damage they deal: solar, arc, or void. Like the classes, each subclass specializes in their type of damage they dish as well as how it’s dealt out.

If players want to take a break from taking on the Red Legion, there is a plethora of activities today in the various worlds comprising of Destiny 2’s campaign. Even in the middle of a campaign mission or activity, players can take a breather and enjoy what else Destiny 2 has to offer. Instead of only landing on planets for missions using the same map, each world is an open map to explore. Scattered across the map are “lost cities” that players can explore, public events that range in activities like clearing out an enemy invasion or stopping resources extractions, or activities (aka side quests).

Another component of the game players can enjoy for breaking from the campaign is the Crucible. The Crucible is the multiplayer arena designed to pit players against each other in a series of game variants. Players can choose to enjoy quickplay, where it’s more about the enjoyment and less about skill. Inversely, players can decide to enter the competitive arena to show off who’s the better player. These matches become equal parts a battle of attrition, and parts skill.

When players finish the campaign, Destiny 2 almost becomes a whole new game. Each planet contains a small side story that slightly adds to the universe’s overall lore. If that’s not enough, players can enter into what are known as strikes and raids. Strikes are a standalone mission separate from the story with challenging gameplay and requiring extensive teamwork. In fireteams of three, guardians work together to complete a set of objectives leading towards taking down a major boss. Nightfall Strikes are weekly highlighted strikes offering even tougher fighting conditions: higher enemy count, tougher enemies, and a timer. These intense strikes are demanding, requiring extensive communication, teamwork, and precision.

Work together to take down powerful enemies in Strikes and Raids

Finally, there’s the major raids tying into the campaign. These raids require 6 players with high level equipment, and a lot of patience. Players have to traverse hours of puzzles, and enemy hordes, before taking on the final boss. Raids, such as the premiere Leviathan Raid, can take hours to get through.

If players are not focusing, the result can be catastrophic. The time before respawning is a long wait, placing the burden on the fireteam to hang on with a even bigger disadvantage in numbers. If all players fall, it means the end of that raid run. Plus side? Players can restart at their last checkpoint before they failed. The downside? With the weekly shuffling occurring every Tuesday, players need to finish the raids before then.

All of these gameplay variants boil down to one things: loot. Like Destiny, Destiny 2 is all about getting the best equipment to make your character strong. Each equipment has certain aspects tied to them determining their strength; the power level, elemental damage, weapon type, and rarity. Weapons and armor that falls into the legendary or exotic category have special passive abilities that can restore health faster, increase mobility, or increase in charging of the special abilities. The better the equipment, the more possibilities available in battle.

Destiny 2 is a solid base game for what looks to be a solid collection of experiences by taking the criticisms of its predecessors head on and improving upon them. Instead of having players aimlessly wandering regurgitated level designs, players are treated to an open world that’s alive and immersive. There are secret places to explore such as the lost city, adventures and patrols, and public events to take on with other players. After finishing the short lived campaign, Destiny 2 almost becomes a whole new game focusing on challenging multiplayer experiences. Raids and Strikes are forcing players into communicating and working closely together to get through waves of enemies, and a final boss across a sprawling level. If players want to take other players head on, they can enter the Crucible to either test their skills or play for fun.

In the end, Destiny 2 is a solid game to play and own if people feel they cannot wait to get in on the fun. Otherwise, it is a safe bet players can wait until one or two of the expansion packs to really dig into the game.

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About

The moment he was born, Terry Randolph knew he would play video games. Okay....not the exact moment he was born, but definitely at an early age. His affinity for video games was cemented in the multiple tantrums he threw while being dragged away from playing Sonic the Hedgehod at his daycare when his parents came to pick him up. Since then, Terry continues to enjoy all the experiences gaming provides. He also loves to write short stories and ambitious novel projects. Last Token Gaming was born from both his love of writing and video games. Twitter: @wanderinganbu Email: terry.r@lasttokengaming.com

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