If The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild changed our perception of open world games, Destiny 2 has challenged the way we think about shared-world experiences.
With all of the heart and soul of the Halo series at its peak, Destiny 2 wraps you in from the moment it starts with character, content, and clarity. As most things go, the experience only gets better with friends.
Making the dream work
The power of Destiny 2 exists almost entirely in its ability to make you feel like you’re always playing with other people. The game does this in a number of ways: through your self-selected Fireteam, through the hordes of players roaming the game’s open worlds, and through the unpredictability of random matchmaking.
Playing through the game’s campaign missions with your Fireteam not only enriches the gameplay itself, but it serves to amp up the impact of each story quest. Rather than feeling like the lone Guardian in a destroyed world (oh hey, Destiny), you feel like you’re part of real, global, ongoing effort.
The story’s vocal cues generally reference the game's non-playable squad of Guardians banded together, but they could just as easily be representing your fireteam.
That said, the game goes a long way to make sure you’re constantly aware that the areas you’re exploring are also being explored by other human players. Whether it’s kicking a soccer ball around The Farm, or having players dip in and out of mob scrimmages on each of the game’s planets, each one feels important -- a far cry from the forced shadow players of the first game.
Matchmaking in Destiny 2 ensures that the stakes are high for everyone. Whether playing a Strike or working through Control matches in The Crucible, communication is easy. It is no longer just about taking down a boss or progressing; it's about telling a story together.
Plus, more often than not, these random matches ended in crazy dance sessions between newly-minted friends.
A dash of cinema
All of what I played of the first Destiny was played alone. At the time, I lived with the only people in the world I’d likely play the game with, so we were left to roll solo. Sure, this may have hurt my experience with the first game, but it gave me an introduction to the world, at least. Unfortunately, the experience as a whole left me more confused and sour when its “story” came to an ambiguous end.
But Destiny 2’s story can be played in its intended form both solo and cooperatively, and you won’t feel like you’ve missed out on anything vital solo-going. Additionally, the narrative beats are much more digestible this time around because the game’s story scales itself back, no longer held to the intense (and hidden) lore and systems of the first game.
You play as a recently powered-down Guardian (well, after the first mission of the game) who meets up with a cast of new and familiar characters looking to take down Dominus Ghaul, the leader of the Cabal, who seeks to control the power of the Traveler for himself.
Returning favorites like Commander Zavala, Cayde-6, Lord Shaxx and Ikora Rey carry the game’s cinematic rhythm, coming in somewhere between the sci-fi opera of Mass Effect and the blissful fantasy of Lord of the Rings.
The game’s final act is a heart-pounding triumph, offering much more to cling to than the first game.
Like 2007, but better
Destiny 2’s gameplay is a shining reminder that Bungie is the king of sci-fi shooters. The Halo series changed everything about the first-person shooter genre and gaming as a whole, so it was incredible to see the studio’s newest franchise truly evolve from that.
The game’s missions are chock full of mechanical callbacks to the Halo series, from the easy to maneuver and grossly overpowered vehicles, to the vertically-designed levels that are as bright and colorful as they are grotesque and daunting. Bungie has always had a magic touch, and the gunplay in Destiny 2 is as tight and satisfying as any Bungie shooter has ever been.
Class powers feel enhanced, and whether you play as Titan, Hunter, or Warlock, you’ll find an incredible amount of depth and an internal conflict over which superpower you want to use. Lucky for you, you can change those on the fly, given you’ve unlocked them and are safe from certain death.
The Hammer of Sol and Stormcaller still stand out as favorites. The first has you feeling like Thor, except with the power of hellfire behind your hammer. The second makes you feel like a Sith Lord, as you call on lightning and and chain-shock your foes to crispy bits.
Destiny 2 is a case study in how to make a shared world game. While our earlier impressions made us believers, our time spent with it since has only cemented our adoration. Destiny 2 is the best cooperative experience you can have on current-gen consoles.
From its easy-to-follow story, to its well-acted characters and balanced skill classes, there’s no reason for players to get bored anytime soon. And with multiple expansions, Raids, and more on the way, we’re sure to be playing this until rumbles of a Destiny 3 start to surface.
Suit up, Guardians. This is the game for you.
Verdict: Five out of five stars.
Destiny 2 is now available on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 and releases on PC October 24. A PS4 review copy was provided by the publisher. This reviewer completed the game using the Titan class, reached max level and spent four hours in The Crucible.