Long and Rambling Thoughts on the ‘Destiny 2’ Reveal from a ‘Destiny’ Addict

destiny 2 bungie announcement

I and four hundred thousand of my closest strangers huddled in front of our computer screens, anxiously awaiting the reveal of a “brand new experience” that had been hyped beyond belief. While grandiose claims and clever commercials are pretty much a staple for large title releases these days, this was the first time I had been so personally affected given just how much I have been invested in the original game. To establish some context, over the last three years I have spent 2,310 hours actively playing Destiny. I have completed over 309 raids, including 242 hard raids (where you can’t be revived if you die). The real number is considerably higher, but the game only records the first time you’ve completed each raid on each character each week, so it’s missing all the raids I’ve done for no loot to help someone else. I have played 4,158 PvP matches in the Crucible, where I have killed 47,166 guardians and been killed 49,662 times. Oh, and I am the 400th ranked Sparrow Racer in the entire world. *flex* Basically, while other adults are out under that burning sky-ball thingy in the company of other human beings, I am playing Destiny.

I love the game, but I didn’t always feel that way. When Destiny first came out, most reviews pointed out some legitimately glaring flaws. Despite promises of an expansive universe to be explored, and a cinematic feel to the game that suggested the same, the actual amount of content did not come close to meeting expectations. The mechanics of the gameplay were sound, but how and why you engaged in them left many reviewers and gamers unsatisfied. And even though Bungie had repeatedly issued the disclaimer that Destiny was not an MMO, players couldn’t help but see the unused potential for those interactions and social spaces, and feel disappointed by the neglect. That became the theme of Destiny: wasted potential, and for anyone who quit the game early on, I do not blame you a bit. What’s unfortunate is that Bungie worked its ass off addressing those concerns, and repeatedly improved the game in some astounding ways. DLCs frequently get labeled as money grabs, and they often are, but in Destiny’s case they coincided with radical improvements to the game’s most glaring flaws. Put simply, Destiny now is a vastly superior game to what it was on launch, and that is thanks to the efforts Bungie made to address the concerns of its customers.

Getting back to the reveal, it began with a cinematic retrospective reminding Destiny players about the lore behind the first game and introducing new viewers to the game’s backstory. Back then the four-armed enemies known as the Fallen had humanity cornered and on the ropes, at which point guardians empowered by the Traveler’s light (the huge floating orb) pushed the Fallen back and helped to build the Tower, with its walls surrounding the last human city on Earth. Seeing that and having the game director’s very first point be about “A World that Pulls You In” was pretty interesting given that one of the main complaints about the first game was its apparent lack of story. On the surface, Destiny appeared to be a generic shooter in space with cool visuals and little coherence. What we didn’t know at the time and what many still don’t realize is that the game actually has a deep, rich lore behind it. Most of that information is hidden in “grimoire cards” that are unlocked by progression through the game but can’t be accessed within the game itself. I understand the thought process that it would be cool to have the story be discovered instead of force fed, but as Bungie found out, most people simply aren’t going to go to those lengths to find out what is going on. So it’s not surprising to me that they are employing a more conventional approach in Destiny 2 with NPCs, cinematics, and exposition. I hope there continue to be additional layers buried underneath that players can explore if they so desire, but going to a more conventional style is the right move to help the majority of players at least understand why they are asked to do the things they’re doing.

So after some other brief comments alluding to issues that would be discussed at greater length later on, we got the opening cinematic for Destiny 2, “Homecoming,” followed by the beginning of the game’s first mission. All of this was meant to provide a story explanation for why guardians like me are losing all of our experience, all of our powers, and all of our loot. As reasons go, this is pretty well done, much better than amnesia or what other phlebotinum is typically employed for video game sequels. But at the same time, it also began to confirm one of my biggest fears about Destiny 2, that it wasn’t a new game at all but rather a remastered version of the original. The new super abilities (“super” meaning your strongest powers) definitely looked cool, and Bungie is superb at making actions look visually impressive, but the purple Captain America was somewhat cringe-inducing and the other two were merely reworked versions of things Destiny veterans had already seen. The Arcstrider is essentially the Bladedancer with a much worse name and a staff instead of a blade, while the Dawnblade is an airborne warlock version of the titan’s Sunbreaker super with swords instead of hammers. I have every confidence that these new supers will be very fun to use, so I don’t want to seem too negative, but this is the point where the smile left my face and I became convinced that the “sequel” was really going to be Destiny 1.5.

With my PvE dreams on the ropes, the reveal shifted to the PvP aspect of Destiny known as the Crucible. I freely admit that I have never been very good at PvP in Destiny, and I don’t play it anywhere near as often as I do PvE, but the Crucible has been an extremely successful aspect of the game that has its own devotees and has begun some forays into Major League Gaming. I was pretty concerned with the announcement that all game modes would be 4 versus 4 given that Destiny currently has 2v2, 3v3, and 6v6 option which offer a variety of experience that appeal to different types of gamers and even whatever mood you’re in that particular moment. Sometimes I want to experience tense gun battles in 3v3 and sometimes I want to be running around like a madman throwing super powers all over the place in 6v6. Having all PvP game modes forced into the 4v4 format was pretty concerning, and things just got worse from there for veteran Destiny players. Currently the biggest controversy in Destiny PvP is the special ammo economy. Special weapons in Destiny are shotguns, sniper rifles, fusion rifles, and sidearms. To combat a previous problem with too many people running around shotgunning everyone else, Bungie drastically reduced the amount of special ammo your guardian possessed and removed all special ammo on respawn for everything except sidearms. In the opinion of most, that pushed things too far the other way. As a result, those playing the game’s most competitive PvP modes rely either on sidearms, since they have one clip of ammo when respawning, or on exotic weapons like the Icebreaker that generate special ammo on their own over time. Instead of dialing back on those changes, the Destiny 2 PvP reveal doubled down on them.

Many have commented on the Destiny 2 PvP gameplay by pointing out its similarities to Overwatch, and that comparison seems fair to me. Aesthetically they do look somewhat alike, with vibrant colors that I do prefer over The Division’s relentless grays. Destiny 2 maps also appear to include more vertical space than Destiny’s maps currently have. And the gameplay itself also looks to have more in common with Overwatch than its predecessor in terms of tanky characters soaking up a large amount of bullets before players go down. In Destiny, positioning is of critical importance. If you step out in the wrong place at the wrong time, a single opponent can eradicate you in less than a second. The action is tense and constant. That suits me perfectly given that I love rushing forward and being aggressive, as I get more enjoyment out of the rare times that I make a tremendous play that takes down multiple opponents than I worry about the times someone does that to me. The highlight of my video game career was a match of search and destroy in Call of Duty 4 where my entire team had been eliminated except for me. Nine years later I vividly remember it being on the Bog map, running into the building on the top and gunning down two enemies, then hopping on one of the tables to wait for another enemy running in, then jumping down and heading around the corner to knife another approaching enemy since I didn’t even have time to reload, before reversing directions yet again and taking down the last enemy. For those eight seconds or so, I played like a PvP god, managing my space and weapons and targeting absolutely perfectly. That kind of frenetic action is what I enjoy about Destiny even though I’m just average in terms of my kill/death ratio. I like being aggressive and trying to make plays, whereas something like Overwatch that emphasizes patient coordination is not that appealing to me. Classifying shotguns, fusion rifles, and sniper rifles as “power weapons” in Destiny 2 means that ammunition for them will be ever more rare than it is in the current special ammo economy, and Bungie also appears to have increased player shields while decreasing the damage from primary weapons. That’s going to slow down Destiny 2 PvP greatly from what Destiny has been, and it will discourage individual play in favor of team shooting. For those coming from Overwatch, that’s going to be a ton of fun, but for Destiny veterans it will be hard to swallow.

Then lastly, the Destiny 2 reveal shifted to a discussion of the social aspects of the game, and this is finally an area where I can express some optimism rather than being discouraged. Destiny has its share of toxicity, especially in the Crucible where thirteen year olds seem to love tea-bagging their opponents, but in my experience Destiny as a whole has been a more welcoming and helpful community than most. There are lots of veterans like myself who are willing to take the time to help less experienced or less skilled guardians complete the higher level portions of the game. Much of that had to be accomplished through third party “looking for group” applications, whereas the tools for matchmaking are going to be intrinsic to Destiny 2. I am excited that clans will finally mean something more than an occasionally witty slogan on your identifying emblem. I hope that Destiny 2 clans will be incentivized to help people who don’t have enough friends that play the game, although the prejudice against pre-teen “squeakers” is likely to persist. Those tools being within the game itself rather than requiring you to know how to find and use an LFG site will mean that more people feel confident about accessing the end game material, which is great because those are the areas where Destiny won my heart.

The one remaining downside that I failed to mention is that just like before when Destiny was trapped between the last days of the 360/PS3 generation and the One/PS4, the technical limitations of the One and PS4 are apparently preventing Destiny 2 from running in 60 fps whereas the PC version will go to 60 fps and beyond. So if you have a top of the line computer, PC should probably be your choice even though it will reportedly be a bit delayed from the console release. Every comment about the PC version that I have heard from participants at the event has been resoundingly positive. Destiny 2 is going to look great and run fine on each console, but it might be frustrating to know that an even better version is out there. I don’t have a PC capable of running it, and I have no idea whether I’ll save up for that or settle for the lesser console experience.  Ultimately, that will probably come down to where the friends I am most interested in playing with decide to get the game.

Wrapping all these various comments into one hopefully coherent idea, Destiny 2 is not a sequel so much as it is the game Bungie wishes they had made the first time. It includes all the tweaks that improved Destiny so much since its launch, while featuring some additional changes that will make it even more “noob”-friendly. My own reactions to the reveal have been largely negative because this is not what I wanted for Destiny 2, but I hope anyone who has bothered to read this will be able to get past my own feelings to see that I am suggesting that Destiny 2 will be a phenomenal experience for people who either tried Destiny early on and didn’t like it, or else never tried the game at all. Destiny 2 is designed for you, not me. This game is going to be a vibrant world with entertaining gameplay, challenging tasks, and more of a story than the one I am used to. Bungie learned from what they did wrong the first time and will be putting out a significantly better product than Destiny was at launch. And if some of the new changes they are making are steps in the wrong direction, as I believe, then Bungie’s history of working to improve the original Destiny should give you confidence that Destiny 2 will receive the same sort of attention and care. This isn’t the sequel I dreamed about, but even so, I can’t wait to see how much my friends who never got into Destiny before will enjoy it.