Destiny 2 review: Our final thoughts
At the time of posting this, the Destiny 2 servers have been on for two hours. Ordinarily that would mean some streamer, who sounds like Jemaine Clement, would be your tip of the spear on whether or not to buy Destiny 2. Not today, though. Bungie opted to send only one Aussie games critic to an early playthrough event several weeks ago. I was that Hunter.
With 16 hours already under my belt, you and I are no longer at the tip of the spear, dear reader; we're about halfway down the shaft somewhere. I'm here to open my vault on everything you ought to know about Destiny 2: the good, the bad, and the vexing.
Let's get the good stuff sorted first. The main narrative is roughly 12 hours long, is of the same high standard set by The Taken King, and never “doesn't have time to explain what it doesn't have time to explain”. (Speaking of: Nathan Fillion's Cayde-6 does take the piss out of how bad the script was in vanilla Destiny.) Now, I say roughly 12 hours, because all event attendees had to stop at a certain point which had all the hallmarks of an end mission. That's why this is an un-scored work-in-progress – I simply haven't been given closure on this space anecdote, and the raid content needs to be clocked, too.
Continuing with the positives, Destiny 2 still has that best-in-class gunplay feel and its visuals are the business, too. Thanks to Bungie no longer catering to the older consoles, enemy and player counts in the overworld are noticeably increased, you've got a draw distance until next Tuesday, plus the story missions have been made to look resplendent with their fancy weather and lighting effects. Running the original Destiny and this sequel next to one another looks about as night and day as Oryx in a selfie with The Speaker.
Surprisingly, I found a lot of fun in the revamped Public Event / Heroic Event / Adventures content. The latter are multi-part, fully-narrated, 20 min quests of substance, unlike the cruddy fetch-quest Patrols in the last game. The new Public Events make the entire overworld feel like those dedicated Archon Forge co-op areas we saw towards the end of the Rise of Iron expansion. This world can go from calm to chaos in an instant. Typically when Destiny 2's director decides to deposit a bunch of rando guardians – and the mayhem they've created – smack bang into the craziness you're already made for yourself. That alone is represents months of silly, emergent fun.
Props also have to be given to the Crucible PvP. Though the multiplayer-heavy beta left me unenthusiastic on some of the new changes, being exposed to a wider array of extremely well-designed maps and modes has brought me back to the table. Maybe it's the three rounds of getting 6.0+ KDR speaking, but I've finally found my groove with the 4 v 4 Conquest mode that's all about finite lives and bomb defusing. Survival is enticing as well, given it's like a mini Trials of Osiris with none of the pressure (and over-achieving jerkwads). Matches are quicker, the rewards feel just as lucrative as PvE, and I can see myself merrily teabagging in it for ages.
Sadly, at this point we have to shift gears into the bad. There are four of the aforementioned overworld areas available (European Dead Zone, Titan, Nessus, Io) and three of the mission-givers that preside over these areas are...well, annoying. One is voiced by the smarmy-sounding voice actor responsible for The Reef's cryptarch (I can't help but associate bad RNG drops and jerky one-liners with him). Another is a split-personality AI whose 'wacky' side is more hit-than-miss. Lastly, there's an old awoken scientist who's like a bossy, unfunny Rick Sanchez. Destiny 2 is all about the content rehash, too. So I feel like these personalities are going to go from 'mildly irritating' to 'turned off in the volume options' in a few week's time.
Beyond those irritants, I didn't find much else to genuinely fill my rage meter. Flipping through my post-play notes reveals I was pissed off about sparrows arriving so late in the game (there's a new fast-travel system in the overworld, but you still have to trudge your way to unlock the travel nodes for the first time). I can also see here that my level 20 under panties were in a twist over the Hunter's stealth options being curtailed. Grenade cooldowns never really improved to the levels I expected, either, plus I was kind of bummed that no fourth enemy faction was revealed (just a handful of type variants) and no fourth sub-class either. That was remarkably stingy of you, Bungie.
This, of course, brings us to the “vexing” section of our presentation – the little niggles that I think might annoy veterans initially, but can either be patched away or acclimated to over time. Having the guns slots change their nature – to allow primaries to become secondaries, and secondaries to become heavies – is still confusing as hell, but I'm confident I'll figure it out. I was also surprised to learn that some “blue” gun drops don't randomise their perks and handling stats – farming for the perfect “God roll” was a fun side-grind for me. The upside of this is Bungie having a more controllable gun meta, I suppose. No freak variants can dominate PvP.
I'd best stick a pin in things at this point, as I'll need to have room to cover the advanced Strikes and the all important Raid content (which, as per tradition, will be released well after launch).
For now though, I feel very happy about the sequel I have in front of me. The sad nature of playing on a reviewer debug unit is that you can't take your save file with you, and so I'm now about to replay 2 days worth of game that I've more or less clocked. Normally I'd view that as monotony on a disc, but not here. It's midnight on server launch and I'm mainlining coffee, ready to go through again with my fireteam of mates.
To anybody who knows me and my love of sleep, that's the highest non-numerical endorsement I could give to Destiny 2.
To my surprise, there was about an hour left in the tank of the main-quest, and it all rounded off pleasingly. (That means a sense of closure, as opposed to an incoherent spiel given by some time-travelling git in a hoody.) Also, and much like The Taken King, fresh post-game content is jammed down your throat in the form of lengthy side-quests, adventures, and strikes. The runtime effectively doubles, until you reach a point where you're happily re-grinding areas that somehow feel and play out differently, thanks to Destiny 2's ever-changing battlefield and a huge cache of unique, gotta-catch-'em-all weapons.
There are only a handful of strikes on offer, but they're quite replayable. Forget the straightforward blastfest of vanilla – strikes (and their timed nightfall variants) are mini-raids filled with puzzle and platforming wrinkles, plus a few brutal checkpoints. Currently, however, your best grind to raid readiness is simply showing up day after day to nail “milestones” set across the four PvE spaces, and in the much more lucrative Crucible PvP. Loot is definitely generous, and the RNG way more respectful of what you already have, but power level gains slow to a drip feed around the 270-280 mark.
Hit that glass ceiling and it's time to take on Leviathan, Bungie's best raid content to date. It's more complex than Wrath of the Machine and King's Fall combined, more awe-inspiring than your first bewildering dive into the Vault of Glass. Essentially, you and five other guardians have been cordially invited to climb up through the impossibly opulent and expansive space-mansion of a Cabal hedonist. I'll not spoil the mechanics of the various sections here, how, ver I will say that any weak links in your team will be exposed very early on. Leviathan demands tight-knit teamwork and communication of the highest order, not to mention expert marksmanship, stealth skills, and goat-level jumping prowess. The mansion is modular, too, so this raid has the potential to feel fresher from week-to-week.
All told, Leviathan is the golden capstone placed atop an already impressive pyramid. Bungie made a bunch of mistakes with vanilla Destiny; some of which could be fixed with repeated patching and major expansion updates, but others were too firmly rooted to weed out. Diehard fans will see Destiny 2 as the greatest do-over they could have hoped for. Newcomers will be sucked into a black hole of grind, guns and the greatest co-op experiences you can find in gaming.
Raids are some of Bungie's best work
Raid-wise, Bungie has delivered its greatest work yet. Destiny 2 eclipses the challenge and creativity witnessed in Wrath of the Machine and even the secrets-laden wonder of the venerable Vault of Glass. Whereas the latter was a descent into the dank caverns of a Vex stronghold, Leviathan is a dizzying ascent into the impossibly opulent mansion of a Goldmemberesque Cabal hedonist. It's basically one big cosmic reality show where you and five mates are the very confused, very outnumbered contestants. The whole shenanigan is modularly designed, too, so there's no telling what the order of madness will be from week to week. That's freshness and longevity, right there.
Communication, coordination, pattern memorisation, stealth, spry platforming and precision shooting are all paramount to success. Even if you've got the right crew this will be brutal, but after many wipes, hours, and tears this will become a multiplayer experience unlike anything you've ever had. Basically, it's the extremely generous cherry plopped atop an already spectacular sequel.
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We reviewed Destiny 2 on PlayStation 4 with a copy provided by the publisher.
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