As the new game from the people who made Halo, Destiny was always going to be burdened with a whole lotta hype.
Despite its massive success, 2014's shared-world shooter suffered plenty of criticism for its sub-par story. With Destiny 2 all set to arrive this Christmas, developer Bungie is out to prove it can still spin a good yarn. It hit home this ambition at the launch of its brand new blockbuster by letting us get our hands on with the game’s opening mission, a pulse-pounding slice of cinematic action titled 'Homecoming'.
The start of the sequel's story is about the game's heroic Guardians losing everything they hold dear. For fans of the first game, this means seeing something they also consider sacred, the Tower, attacked and burned to the ground. Even if you didn't spend time in this social space though, seeing it unceremoniously razed still packs quite the emotional punch.
HOME NOT-SO-SWEET HOME
In the opening moments of our preview, Earth's last safe city—home to our heroes and the iconic Tower—is falling fast. Trees are burning, the plaza's crumbling, and civilians are being evacuated. The most unsettling image, however, is the Traveler—the moon-like entity that granted the Guardians the Light—being shackled by the tentacled arms of an enemy craft.
Of course, our Warlock can't stare at the dire surroundings for too long, as drop-pods are crashing on all sides. Out of these crude transports come the Red Legion, a new Cabal threat led by Commander Ghaul. This brand new baddie believes he's entitled to the Traveler's gifts, and he's hellbent on taking them from the humans. Using an effective blend of assault rifle bursts, Fusion grenades, and our Igniting Touch melee power, we're able to carve through three waves of Cabal grunts with little resistance. Still, the Tower is lost, so we press on to the next objective.
Braving torrential rain, whipping winds, and fiery attacks from every direction, we meet returning character Ikora. In one of the mission's more morale-boosting moments, we watch the Warlock Vangurad effortlessly dispatch a handful of foes before mounting a Cabal ship with the intent of tearing it in two.
As we pass through a burning marketplace, we encounter a cluster of Incendiors, one of Destiny 2's new Cabal units. As their name suggests, these hulks pack flamethrowers capable of casting streams of spreading flames, as well as fiery projectiles. Thankfully, our Warlock is a Dawnblade, a new sub-class whose super makes these foe's fire-spitting weapon's look about as lethal as a birthday cake candle. Triggering the temporary power not only engulfs our Guardian in invincible flames, but arms him with a fire-flinging sword.
A FRESH PERSPECTIVE
With the threats cooked extra-crispy, we hitch a ride with Amanda Holliday, Destiny's fan-favorite plucky pilot. Directed to board a Red Legion command ship and disable its shield generator, we bid her farewell and literally hit the ground running. Thousands of feet above the Earth's surface, we see the burning battlefield below and the severity of the loss begins to sink in. We also get a closer look at the Traveler. From this perspective, the gravity of its plight hits like a jackhammer; just as a tick sucks the blood from a human host, the sacred sphere seems to be having its life-force siphoned from it by this menacing machine.
With a renewed sense of urgency, we pass a Death Star laser-looking device that's propelling those aforementioned Cabal drop-pods down to Earth. We don't get far before “Pashk the Searing Will” blocks are path. The boss unit wields a large shield and an even larger gun, but with our super fully charged we're able to halve is daunting health meter before draining the rest with a few well-placed pistol rounds. Still, the battle leaves us low on health, so we bust out one of Destiny 2's new class-based abilities; working on a cool-down meter, similar to grenades and melee, the skill lets us heal-up or boost our damage output.
Refreshed and reloaded, we head up a ramp, toward our objective and a fresh batch of armed attackers. With the rain smacking us in the face hard, our visibility is compromised, but not so much that we can't see Psion snipers and Gladiators—another new, dual cleaver-wielding unit type—waiting to unleash all kinds of hell on us. We eliminate the former threat with our own scoped rifle, then take the butcher-like baddies out with our flaming length of steel. Triggering the fiery power up-close turns the targets into glowing embers, before they completely disintegrate at our feet.
In the spirit of bad timing, our super runs out just as Brann the Unbent Blade crashes the party. An apparent close sibling of Pashk, this threat utilizes similar attacks, but covers more ground with his jet-pack. Following two deaths—and a pair of re-spawns—we finally smite Brann by throwing everything we've got at him. With a half-second to catch our breath, our Warlock enters the bowels of the craft to disable the shield generator.
As we approach the mission's final objective though, a towering Ghaul partially emerges from the shadows, laughs at our puny Warlock, and says “Your journey ends here.”
While the antagonist's taunt closes our demo, it clearly signals the start of a promising path we look forward to exploring further.
Destiny 2 first impressions verdict
Between its affective imagery, crunchy combat, breakneck pacing, and compelling story beats, Destiny 2's campaign is off to a promising start. Of course, it doesn't hurt that Bungie's gunplay feels as spot-on as ever. Immediate, reactive, and ear-rattling, each blast is rewarding, from trigger-pull to enemy-stopping impact.
Our demo didn't focus on new weapons, but we know guns will forgo the first game's primary, secondary, and heavy slots for new classifications kinetic, energy, and power; on top of supporting more freedom and flexibility, the system makes room for new hand-cannons, such as grenade launchers.
More than traditional guns though, it was our Warlock's super that got our attention. His aforementioned fire-sword not only inflicted an impressive amount of damage, but was accompanied by enough slick particle effects to suggest Destiny 2's probably squeezing even more power from the PS4.
His screen-clearing trick, meanwhile, also offered a hint of what's to come, as sub-classes for the Hunter and Titan will wield similarly epic supers, including a lightning whip and Captain America-like shield, respectively.
So far, Destiny 2's campaign feels familiar in all the best ways, while also teasing welcome additions, such as its commitment to storytelling and new supers and class-specific abilities.
As we barely scratched the surface of the campaign, we can't give a definitive verdict as to whether it will continue to engage both the emotions and trigger finger - but based on our relatively brief taste we have a feeling Destiny 2 might soon pull us back into this universe with all the force of an enemy tractor beam.