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Review: Destiny 2 (PC)

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  • Review: Destiny 2 (PC)

    Like the first game, we're left wanting more.

    When Destiny first launched in late 2014, it was something special, almost magical. Bungie and Activision created a new franchise that let players explore parts of our Solar System from their couches, forge new friendships, take down massive enemies, and feel akin to comic book superheroes. However, that game was not without its faults. At launch, the game lacked much in the way of in-game story, opting instead to send the player to a website to get a bulk of the game world's lore. The content, while fun, was just lacking. There just wasn't enough of it, especially for a game that had that Bungie's always superb gunplay. In a lot of ways, the major issues with the launch version of Destiny were ironed out as more expansions were released.

    This obviously wasn't the ideal solution for everyone. The short of it is that the near ideal version of Destiny didn't come together until after a number of updates, a number of content drops, and, of course, a few paid expansions. Those who purchased and played The Taken King expansion were quite satisfied with the way Destiny turned out, not necessarily with how Destiny began. The hope here is that Destiny 2 would take up the torch from The Taken King and would move forward with even more content, more depth to the limited RPG mechanics, more locations, and just more of everything else they loved.

    What happened here with Destiny 2 is that it went about three steps forward and one step back when compared to the release of the original game. However, when you stop and compare Destiny 2 to Destiny at the stage it was at with The Taken King, it feels more like one step forward, one step back. It definitely addresses some of the major complaints of Destiny yet lacks a lot of the gameplay, quality of life, and overall refinement that later expansions added.

    Now with a dedicated in-game lore button.

    Replacing the Grimoire and the need to visit a lore website, we do get an increase in the number of in-game voice work and in-game cutscenes. This is a great thing for everyone, especially for those that enjoy a healthy dose of amusing quips from characters such as Cayde-6 and the newly introduced Failsafe. One thing I will say is that the story in Destiny 2 isn't exactly what I would call "great." And while it probably won't be winning any awards, it's at least nice to have a much more robust story right out of the gate. The main campaign has its fair share of head scratching moments, especially when it comes to the actions, or rather the inactions, of the game's main antagonist. He is very much a stereotypical film or game villain that tends to do or say things that actually slow his progress towards his initial goal. I can't help but wonder what happened to the idea of The Darkness, a key concept in Destiny that is not even mentioned in Destiny 2. The same can be said about the Exo Stranger from the first game. She is nowhere to be found in Destiny 2 nor is she ever mentioned. Yes, Luke Smith did say that the character arc for the Exo Stranger was wrapped up in the first game. Except that it really wasn't. Questions still lingered, but perhaps there just wasn't enough time. In addition, out of the group of three of us that played through much of the main campaign together, two of us missed what is arguably a fairly important plot point. I and another had no idea that this event even transpired until the third told us about it a bit later.

    Sadly, one of Destiny 2's biggest steps backward is with the amount of content at launch. The end game, especially, feels like it's lacking in a number of ways. While there are some additional missions to undertake after the main story is complete, there just aren't enough of them. These side-missions also have the player going back through areas they already saw throughout the course of the main campaign or saw while roaming around on patrols. Destiny 2 also launched with just five Strikes (think MMO dungeons), or six if you're on the PlayStation 4. This is the same number of Strikes that the original game launched with. Destiny ended up having a total of 20 strikes by the time the last content drop was released. To go from a robust list of 20 different Strikes to stepping back to just five is truly disheartening. Yes, I am quite sure that more Strikes will be added in the months and years ahead, just as they were in Destiny 2. It doesn't make the sting hurt any less, especially for longtime players. Unlike the "Heroic Strike" playlist from the first game which granted better rewards for undertaking greater challenges, there are no difficulty options when you jump into the Destiny 2 Strike playlist. Though I suppose with the way the enemies scale more closely to your player level, this isn't as big of an issue as it could be. It is nonetheless disappointing that this feature was removed in the sequel.

    The game also launched with just one Raid, Leviathan. Destiny also just had one Raid at launch but ended up with a total of four. I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised at the number of endgame PvE activities here, but again it still feels disappointing. I had hoped that Bungie would have launched with a few extra Strikes, especially since PvE content is still the preferred way to get better quality gear for myself and many players. To Bungie's credit, they did make it so that players of any skill level can attain better quality gear without having to run the Raid. One of the biggest speedbumps in the first game was the fact that for the longest time, you could only hit the maximum light level if you regularly ran Raids. It was kind of a bummer for those of us who did not run the Raids often enough for various reasons. At least now, options to hit the level cap (currently 305 Light level) include doing public events in the various zones, running the Raid, running the Strikes, running the Nightfall (a weekly variation of one of the Strikes but with modifiers turned on), playing competitive PvP, or doing any of the optional side missions scattered around each location.

    Even with these new ways to level up, I will say that there are still some speedbumps along the way. These growing pains show up in the form of leveling stagnation. Engrams, the Destiny version of loot drops, tend to drop only at the highest current possible level for your character. That is to say, they drop at the level you would be if you equipped all of your highest quality weapons and armor at the point the Engrams drop. That means unless you luck out with a drop that raises your level even just one point, you will see these lulls in progression where every new item you attain doesn't allow you to make any personal character progress. Your best bet for hitting those next light levels is to hope an Exotic Engram (gold) drops, which often features a piece of gear that is generally a few levels higher than your current level. Once this happens, future Legendary Engrams (purple) will start to drop at this new, higher light level, and the cycle can repeat for a bit until the next plateau is hit. In the past month or so of playing, the progression slowdown really begins to show up when you get into the realm of 260+ Light. From there, you will be lucky to jump up another couple of levels every few days. This is, of course, all dependent on just how much time you spend playing the game each day. If you are someone that can sit and play for eight or more hours every day, grinding out public events and strikes, you will probably get that gear score up in a fraction of the time. For almost everyone else, it's going to take a while and that time may feel like even longer than it really is since all you're going to end up doing is replaying the same content over and over again in hopes of getting those illusive drops. It's definitely a far cry from the lower level progression which seems to take almost no time at all.

    Destiny 2 also has a loot problem. No, the loot itself is not inherently bad. It's more that there just isn't enough of it. A recurring theme with Destiny 2 is that there needs to be more. More loot, more Strikes, more end game content, more areas, and just more stuff. To highlight this problem I can safely say that I have been rewarded the same Legendary helmet more times than I can possibly remember. The only difference being that sometimes that helmet is a point or two higher Light level than the old one. It's the same model, the same name, and it has the same perks. If you didn't like the piece of gear the first time, chances are you won't like it the 50th or 100th time you get it either.

    Note the challenges on the right.

    On top of these rather obvious faults, there are other, smaller quality of life issues with Destiny 2. The game features daily and weekly challenges. This is nothing new and they are honestly a great way to get people to play on a regular basis. Completion of these challenges will allow you to earn new Engrams from various people and factions that you encounter throughout the game. These challenges show up both on the map screen, while other challenges show up simply by taking out your travelling companion, Ghost. While I do not have any issues with these challenges showing up on the map screen, it's the ones that show up when simply taking out your Ghost that irk me to no end. These challenges have specific goals that must be met, typically while playing PvP or running through the Strike playlist. They appear as a set of three items on the right hand side of the screen. However, these challenges straight up disappear from your screen if there is any other piece of information in that space. For example, if your teammates are busy killing things and earning Glimmer (Destiny's in-game currency) for you in the process, the amount of Glimmer you earned from those kills overrides the challenges. Thus, you must wait until that notification disappears so that you can finally read about your challenges and what you must do to complete them.

    I appreciate the fact that Bungie added the ability to sort various inventory sections. With the ability to accumulate a large number of consumables, collectibles, modifications, and the like, it can be a little daunting to find the particular item you want without first sorting. I have to give props to Bungie for this and also a big thumbs up for having a fairly substantial inventory size right out of the gate! However, would it have been too much to ask that the game remembered the sorting method that I last used in a section? The sorting just gets thrown out of the window the moment you leave the inventory. I would have also liked it if there were separate sound sliders for sound effects, music, and dialogue. As it is, there is only one general slider to adjust the game audio. It's all or nothing, so to speak. As someone that likes to fine tune my audio experience, this was a letdown. It's stuff like this that, at first, seem like very minor issues. However after hours of gameplay those little things start to add up.

    If you look at the review up to this point, it may seem like I hate Destiny 2, right? Actually, no, I quite enjoy it. I feel like I'm far enough out from that "honeymoon phase" where I can confidently say that I like Destiny 2, aforementioned faults and all. This is in stark contrast to the bitter taste that the original game eventually left in my mouth prior to the launch of The Taken King. Is it possible that I will start to resent Destiny 2 as I did the first game? Yeah, probably. But the thing is, I feel as though the amount of time I have already poured into Destiny 2 would more than justify the amount of money it costs. I probably wouldn't feel the same way if I was playing strictly solo, however. See, a huge part of my enjoyment is doing these assortment of activities with my friends. A group of three of us often run Strikes together, or we hop into public events as they're happening, and we have even dabbled a bit in the Crucible PvP modes. Though PvP in the Destiny franchise has never really been my favorite and Destiny 2's implementation of it has done nothing to change my mind on that front. We have run through the story missions together, chatting and sometimes laughing at the rather ho-hum plot. We have shared minor disappointment when one of us is blessed by the "RNG Gods" with a new Exotic or Legendary Engram and the others were not as fortunate. We have not, however, managed to tackle the Raid, though that will hopefully come in due time. And the thing is, we have played on a very regular basis, almost daily, since the game's launch. We have long since completed the story and yet we're still playing. Why is that?

    It is because Destiny 2, despite its glaring flaws, is fun. If it weren't for how damn good shooting these crazy, fictional weapons felt, I probably would have given up on the franchise a long time ago. But Bungie just nails it. They nail the feeling of engaging in combat with these alien species. They nail the feeling of charging into battle with an electrified shoulder charge or sticking a foe with a grenade and seeing a spectacular shower of particle effects as it explodes. It just feels good, really good. As a small aside, I loved the Halo games, even going so far as to play through all of the ones I owned on Legendary. As such, I was actually a bit worried that the very identifiable, very enjoyable "feel" of playing a Bungie FPS would be lost in the transition from controller to mouse and keyboard. Thankfully, these fears were put firmly to rest within the first five minutes of Destiny 2. I suppose it's safe to say that Bungie's games are just a joy to control no matter what your preferred input methods are.

    Diving into the weekly Nightfall Strikes with my buddies is still some of the most intense gameplay I've encountered in a long while. Sadly, we aren't yet high enough level yet to tackle the added Prestige difficulty variant of the Nightfall. For that you have to be at or near Light level 300. However, from what I've seen it's going to be even more intense and I can't wait to try it out. I have no doubts that the feel of this game is enhanced by leaps and bounds due to the often gorgeous visuals, and a soundtrack that rivals Bungie's best offerings. Speaking of which, there is at least one track in the Destiny 2 soundtrack that reminded me a lot of the song that plays in Majula in Dark Souls II. Since it's a good song, I really have no problems with this.

    Destiny 2 has a lot of options for PC players.

    The PC release of Destiny 2 is a technical masterpiece. It runs incredibly well, looks great, and allows for framerates that Xbox and PlayStation owners can only dream about. It comes with almost all of the bells and whistles that PC players have come to expect over the years. I'm talking about FOV sliders, the ability to rebind keys, plenty of graphical options, the ability to set super high framerate caps, and the list goes on. It's a very robust PC offering. It also features the ability to scale the internal renderer. For instance, while I only have a 1080p monitor, I can run the game at 140% of my resolution giving me some additional AA on top of the SMAA implementation already present in the game. I could probably bump this scale up even higher but at the cost of some framerate. As I'm using a high refresh rate monitor, I tend to prefer higher framerates over rendering at 4K with a solid 60fps. On the flipside, some players may find that it beneficial to set a render resolution under 100% if they're experiencing performance issues. It's nice to have these options, especially when so many PC releases feel like a poor afterthought by many developers.

    I don't normally spend much time talking about a game's visuals but I need to make a special point about Destiny 2's lighting and particle effects: They're beautiful. There were multiple times where I took a moment from a series of battles just to marvel at the lighting in a number of areas. Larger battles erupt in showers of colorful particles and tracer rounds. Players can spawn in with a number of different visual effects, typically complete with a swirl of different colored particle effects. Exotic emotes, such as eating a bowl of neon curry, emit their own light that is actually cast on the surrounding environment. Dynamic lighting, such as from a floodlight tossed on the floor, will cast shadows as you and your team pass by. It's a lot of these seemingly little touches that made me appreciate the overall graphical package offered by Destiny 2.

    So, how can Destiny 2 improve? How can it get over the mountain of shortcomings outlined earlier? Give me more. Give me more content. Give me more, varied loot. Give me more ways to build my character and their abilities. Give me more Exotic gear that feels like its worthy of the term "Exotic." Give me more areas to explore. Give me more planets to explore. Give me more missions. Give me more Strikes. Give me the ability to set the difficulty on Strikes, or add in modifiers that provide additional challenges when I want. I want more of everything because what I have played has been fun, there just isn't enough of it. This isn't necessarily a knock against Bungie or the product they delivered. If anything, I would say this is a good thing because it means that people like me want to keep playing. We want to go back time and time again to experience the solid gameplay core at work here. We just want to have a reason to keep playing. We want to experience this solid gameplay in a wider assortment of areas with a wider assortment of missions that give us a wider assortment of loot.

    I've seen a lot of Destiny fans wondering why old content never made the jump to Destiny 2. Why is it that we suddenly lost the ability to visit Mars or the Moon? What happened to those old Strikes and Raids from the first game? Will they ever return? And if they do, will they return as free bonuses on top of completely fresh content drops? These are all thoughts and questions that I would love to see addressed in the months ahead. I already have the first two expansions to look forward to, but will that be enough to make me feel comfortable paying for whatever comes after? I just don't know yet. The ball is firmly in Bungie's court on this. It will be very interesting to see if they can meet and hopefully exceed the lofty expectations set forth by Destiny fans, both new and old.

    As one final note, while I was provided a review copy of the game for free from Activision I did spend some of my own money to purchase some of Destiny 2's real money currency that they call Silver. Silver allows you to buy a variety of cosmetic items from an in-game NPC. One of these items is called a Bright Engram. These Engrams contain an assortment of cosmetic items such as new emotes, new Sparrows, new ships, new gear shaders, and the like. It should be important to note that all of these cosmetic items can be purchased without having to spend any of your actual money. Players can earn a free Bright Engram any time they "level up" after reaching level 20. I don't mean Light level 20, I mean actual level 20. Light levels start to matter after hitting level 20. It's confusing, I know, but it makes sense when you play the game. Anyway, these free Bright Engrams contain the same cosmetic drops as the paid ones. As with all Engrams, paid or free, you're left to the whims of RNG on what you will end up getting. Those who don't care much for the RNG life can directly purchase an assortment of cosmetics. These cosmetics do rotate in and change on a weekly basis. These cosmetics can be purchased with Bright Dust, an in-game currency that players can earn by dismantling unwanted cosmetics they have already earned or by simply completing some specific objectives in the game. I'm not sure if anybody out there was still concerned about this, but I'm just saying there is nothing to worry about here. There are no "pay to win" mechanics at work. The store just sells cosmetic items, which can all be earned for free by simply playing the game. Of course, you will still need a fair dose of pure luck and a bit of praying to the RNG powers that be to get the items you want from your free Bright Engram drops.


    Additional Information
    Destiny 2 (Developed by Bungie, Published by Activision)
    Starting at $59.99 (USD) for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
    Rated T for Teen for Blood, Language, Violence
    Game was reviewed on: i7-6700K at 4.5GHz, 32GB DDR4-2666, Nvidia GTX 1080 Ti, Windows 10 64-bit Version 1703 (CU, not FCU)
    This game was provided to Total Gaming Network for review purposes.

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