At this point, you probably already know how you feel about Destiny. Developed by Bungie, makers of the world-conquering Halo series, this grindy-FPS has quickly become just as divisive as Marmite on toast. Depending on where you sit, the mere mention of Destiny will either leave you with an engram-shaped gleam in your eyes, or have you rolling them so furiously that they evaporate inside your skull.
Now, its highly anticipated sequel is only a few months away, so we sat down with a single-player build of Destiny 2 at E3 to see what’s changed. Most significantly, we wanted to find out whether Bungie could spin a decent story at the second time of asking?
HOME NOT-SO-SWEET HOME
While the original Destiny having spurned PC owners entirely, its sequel won’t be making the same mistake twice. As such we found ourselves taking on Destiny 2’s opening mission, a thrilling slice of cinematic action titled 'Homecoming', with an entirely alien controller configuration: a mouse and keyboard.
Wondering what difference this all makes? Well, it’s a total game-changer. After the slow and skulking pace of the original, experiencing Destiny’s excellent gameplay at 4K and 60 frames per second transformed the franchise into an infinitely more intense experience.
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, seeing it unceremoniously razed still packs quite the emotional punch. As we jumped and dodged the incoming laser fire, the faster nature of Destiny 2 meant that we found ourselves having to really concentrate to avoid a grisly death. On PC, Destiny’s combat feels more urgent and thrilling than it ever has before.
Unfortunately for console players, though, Bungie has opted to lock Destiny 2 at 30 frames outside of PC – and that includes those playing on PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One X. It’s a baffling move, as after experiencing Destiny 2 as it should be, we can’t help but think that most players would sacrifice the slightly higher resolution for the intensity that comes with the much higher frame rate. Thankfully for console players then, the better PC resolution isn’t the only change players can expect from Destiny 2.
A FRESH PERSPECTIVE
Alongside making Destiny 2 play better, it feels like Bungie has made a real effort to make missions feel more connected to the game’s story. Last time around, Destiny was guilty of having incredibly samey feeling missions with each largely consisting of just shooting waves of alien foes. And the reasons for doing so? They quickly became less and less relevant. With Destiny 2, Bungie has opted to inject a bit more spectacle into proceedings.
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 is 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.
Exhilaratingly, this grandiosity isn’t limited to cut scenes. As we ran around slaughtering the invading Legion troops, sometimes we’d get a little help from The Tower’s NPCs. After making some decent headway across The Tower, a hulking behemoth of an enemy ship flew at us from the foreground, ready to blow us into a thousand tiny pieces. Luckily enough, Warlock Vanguard Ikora was having none of it. Running up onto the ship at great speed she single-handedly took it down, unleashing a superhero-style punch that instantly saw the craft crash and explode into a slew of tiny pieces.
With the Destiny largely leaving you to just do the shooting, seeing NPCs really influence gameplay really added to the feeling that an actual invasion was going on. Rather than missions just being a half-hearted concoction to help players farm enemies for some sweet new loot.
Destiny 2’s thirst for the cinematic doesn’t just extend to its story: there’s also a sweet new Warlock subclass called Dawnblade. Not only does this class hand you the ability to heal those around you, its ‘super’ temporarily turns you into a flame sword-wielding version of Phoenix from the X-Men, and it is awesome. Triggering this special move sees the game’s camera shift to third-person, allowing a competent player to completely clear the screen of enemies using a combination of deadly sword swings and ranged flame attacks.
As well as being the absolute business, this screen-clearing trick offered a hint of what else is to come from Destiny 2. Sub-classes for the Hunter and Titan will wield similarly epic supers, including a lightning whip and Captain America-like shield, respectively.
Despite all this spectacle, Destiny’s minute-to-minute gameplay of shooting waves of enemies remained largely unchanged during our demo. At least this meant we could test out the game’s brand new submachine gun in the best manner possible: by unloading all of its bullets into enemy legionaries. In all honesty, it felt pretty identical to the auto rifle, obediently dispersing bullets at a decent speed. While we also tried out was a new fusion sniper rifle it worked exactly as Destiny players would expect.
So there’s plenty here that remains familiar from the first game, but even old mechanics have been tweaked for the better. For example, guns now 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, this system is designed to make room for new hand-cannons, such as grenade launchers.
Destiny 2 initial verdict
After sitting down with the first mission of the game’s single-player, so far, Destiny 2 is shaping up to be fast, fun and cinematic shooter. Immediate, reactive, and ear-rattling, each blast is rewarding, from trigger-pull to enemy-stopping impact.
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 will prove a huge graphical step up from its predecessor. While Bungie has promised more open environments and new multiplayer modes, unfortunately, we haven’t been able to see how they play yet.
From what we have gotten our hands on, it looks like those who were hoping for a bold reinvention might end up disappointed. Even if the franchise does look and play better than it ever has before, especially on PC. For hardened fans of the series, we’ve got a feeling this will pull them back into Bungie’s explosive universe with all the force of an enemy tractor beam.