Destiny 2 launched September 5th on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One; and while it’s still recognizably Destiny, the foundations have been filled in, refined, and smoothed out to create a much healthier game than its predecessor. The staff and I at Gameranx have loved what we’ve played thus far, and so we’ve compiled a list, in no particular order, of several ways Destiny 2 is a better game than what came before.
Does anyone remember much of the first Destiny’s campaign? I barely do, because it barely seemed to have one until the release of its major expansions. The game was set in a beautifully ravaged world, but unless you dived into external lore cards, it did little with its material. There just weren’t a lot of interesting characters doing interesting things or cutscenes to get the blood pumping. By the end of the original campaign, I didn’t particularly care what was going on. It concluded with me asking, “That’s it?”
Destiny 2 doesn’t have those problems. In fact, Destiny 2’s introduction missions seem to contain more great moments than all of Destiny 1’s base campaign. And there are actual, understandable stakes here. The Guardians are underdogs in this new adventure, wounded and bloodied, giving players proper motivation and tension. And the villain? Aside from there actually being a central, personality-driven antagonist, Destiny 2 cuts to his perspective in several cutscenes so that he’s not just a name. I’m not going to say the game’s plot is the best in the industry, but it’s such a notable improvement and a positive direction for the franchise. I can’t wait to see where things go next.
You can’t argue Bungie doesn’t harbor a lot of artistic talent. Destiny 2 cranks that dial up to 11 and then snaps it off. There are so many rich details and varied architecture in Destiny 2’s environments, even within the same missions, that it’s impossible not to constantly stop and take screenshots of its visually arresting worlds. They make the first game look flat by comparison.
If you wanted to travel anywhere in Destiny, such as going back to the central hub to turn in a quest after completing a mission, you had to go to orbit (space) first. From there, you could select your new destination. It was extra step, an extra few clicks, that simply wasted our time. Destiny 2 avoids that annoyance by allowing players to view system and local maps from anywhere. It may be a mild change to the interface, but it’s a wonderful one that speeds things along.
A Functional Map
Destiny’s interface maps were lovely art pieces, but were as functional as a wet paper bag. You could hardly tell where the heck you were or what was around you. Destiny 2’s maps, on the other hand, rarely leave you quite so lost. Each area of a zone and its players and objectives are recognizably presented, rather than being designed solely for eye candy.
Side-quests in Destiny were as enticing as white bread. They were often your run-of-the-mill fetch quests you’d grind for reputation and the chance for some rare equipment. Destiny 2 has a lot of simple, miniature objectives in exploration zones, as well, but it also has optional missions that are as involved as those you’d find in the campaign. Their inclusion does a lot to make this sequel feel like a fuller experience.
Public events, timed objectives that would spawn seemingly at random across zones, could become obnoxious grinds in their own rights for hardcore Destiny players. There was never any indication in the game itself, at least as far as I can remember, when and where they would show up. And some quests required the completion of a certain number of public events. Players resorted to browsing web resources that calculated the percentage chances of their appearances.
Destiny 2 removes the confusion. Instead, physical banners are placed around public zones indicating upcoming public events. They’re also visible on the map with timers for when they’ll drop and how long players have to complete them.
Public events in Destiny 2 are more involved, too. They feature additional gameplay elements that spice them up, such as picking up orbs to unlock powerful weapons to aid you in defeating a tank. One event had us preventing swarms of hive from completing a ritual and defeating witches at the same time. Public events can even be upgraded to heroic variants that test you with extra challenges.
Destiny’s weapons were divided into three categories: primary, special, and heavy. Primary weapons carried abundant ammo and were reliable for most situations, whereas special weapons were situational. Think assault rifle vs. shotgun or sniper rifle. Destiny 2 renames and differentiates those two categories in an interesting way. Primary weapons are now kinetic weapons, which deal greater damage to unshielded enemies. Special weapons have become energy weapons. They’re capable of shredding shields quickly, not surprisingly, especially if you match the elemental type (solar, void, and arc) to the color of the enemy’s shields. Do that and you’re rewarded with satisfying explosions. The result made fights feel increasingly reactive while granting stronger definition to secondary firearms.
Gear perks have been changed in some meaningful ways, as well. Previously, if you wanted to use or customize your weapon’s sights or perks, you had to level up that weapon first. That’s right, equipment had their own experience gains. And the process of leveling higher-quality gear could take some time. That’s gone in Destiny 2. Everything on that new assault rifle and pair of boots you recently is unlocked and ready to go from the start.
It’s fun, addicting even, to crush a foe and see colorful loot rain from its corpse. But what if it wasn’t best to open your shiny new treasure chest the moment you earned it? That was the case in Destiny. The rewards of engrams, said loot boxes you’d take to an NPC to decrypt, were tied to the total equipment rating (also referred to as light level) of the gear you were currently wearing. Efficient players would change into their most powerful loadouts before decryption, or would hoard high-quality engrams until much later. It was an annoying juggle that unnecessarily slowed things down.
Destiny 2 calculates equipment power intelligently. It checks for your best possible loadout across all your characters. The minimum power level of what you’ll receive is visible, too. So fear not the emotional abuse of engram decryption! Open your treasures and rejoice!
The Death of the Unreachable Ledge
Do you recall trying to jump to a platform in the first Destiny and falling short by what felt like mere millimeters? And then getting frustrated because you failed again? Yeah, I can’t say that never happened to me an embarrassing amount of times. Destiny 2 thankfully includes a small grapple mechanic where your character will parkour him or herself up ledges. It’s another small but stupidly welcome tweak I greatly appreciate.
High-Value Target Loot
In both Destiny and Destiny 2, there are tougher, named-enemies that spawn and wander around the open zones. A notification in the corner of the screen will even indicate when they’re nearby. Defeating one in the latter game had the chance to drop an engram. Defeating one in Destiny 2, however, always rewards you with a loot crate. It’s a better feedback loop system, makes coming across HVTs more exciting, and incentivizes chasing them down.
Strikes were analogous to dungeons in Destiny, and players would face difficult bosses within. Destiny’s idea of difficulty, however, included health pools that were far too large for enemies that did far too little. They were very static fights. Destiny 2’s strikes are almost akin to mini-raids. Bosses have become multi-staged encounters that require players be on their toes and pay attention to the arena around them.
Guided Games Matchmaking
If you were a solo player or needed more people for Nightfall strikes and raids, you’d either be out of luck or have to search public group finders on third-party websites. Matchmaking was disabled for those missions. It was a frustrating restriction for a game that sold itself on a “shared world.” Destiny 2, meanwhile, just launched a Guided Games mode. Clans members can browse through a list and invite one or two players to join them in attempting the series most difficult but rewarding content. It’s not quite an open matchmaking system – the latter players will require tickets to participate – but it’s an improvement over no matchmaking at all.
A copy of the game was provided for review.