Destiny 2 – The Season One Report Card
Destiny 2 released in early September, and its player community has spent countless hours in the weeks since then plumbing its solo, cooperative, and competitive challenges. With the PC version about to release, I wanted to take an in-depth look at the console game as it exists for its most devoted players, and examine the good, the bad, and the questions that remain as we head into the game’s future.
Some clarifications are in order.
First, this isn’t a second review. My original review stands as an evaluation of the game as it will be experienced by many players – that is, a person who dives in and navigates their way through the story missions, explores the competitive options, and begins to dig into the wealth of public events, strikes, and maybe even a few runs at the raid. That’s a flashbulb of the game experience after my first 60-80 hours or so of play, and if you still haven’t tried Destiny 2, that article best speaks to the excitement and fun you can expect to find over what might be many weeks of play. To sum it up for those who prefer not to click over, I found the first many dozen hours of Destiny 2 to be a thrilling adventure, and one that was well worth exploring for both veteran Guardians and newcomers.
Second, this article bills itself as a season one report card. I’m aware that Destiny 2’s first season is still underway, and it’s possible that Bungie may still have some additional content for players to explore. If such content arises, I’ll update these impressions. However, with the recent release of the prestige version of the Leviathan raid, the impending launch of the PC version, and many clans having now had the chance to fully level up their season-one clan banner to completion, I thought this would be a good time to take a step back and explore what I’ve seen so far.
Flash And Thunder
Chart the course of my time with Destiny 2, and a lightning-and-thunder analogy feels increasingly apt. Destiny 2 makes a remarkable first impression, with strong storytelling, dozens of new activities, lots of desirable objects to collect, and a stunning art design for characters, worlds, and action that can’t help but get the blood pumping. The thunder that follows rings for a long while, but echoes the same beats that diminish in power with the passage of time. Many of the same things that feel exciting in the early hours fade in impact as the game wears on. Take the token economy; at first, this investment system provides consistent rewards and meaningful advancement. But as it echoes into the later game, the same system loses its punch, with too much randomness and repetition, and a diminishing of the rewards attained during activities, divorcing the reward from the excitement of a victory over a strike or raid boss, or a Crucible match victory.
The picture that emerges is one of two games. Destiny 2 begins with an incredibly rich palette of experiences for many riveting hours of adventure, and that includes many of the activities that emerge after the campaign’s completion, including the exotic weapon quests, early runs at the raid, and lots of fun cooperative exploration of planetary destinations with friends. The second game emerges, not all at once, but slowly over the hours that follow. Rather than open the door on new complexities, secrets, or insights into the fiction, Destiny 2 offers few reasons to invest for the long term, demanding that its players concoct those reasons for themselves.
Bungie made a daring decision when it chose to reset progress, destinations, and several in-game systems with Destiny 2. The choice invites constant comparisons to the original game for those of us who played it the most, some flattering, and some less so.
Destiny 2 onboards players far better than its predecessor. For those of us who have played both games a lot, it’s easy to forget the millions of players who found Destiny 2 more welcoming and understandable. That’s no small feat.
Destiny 2 also does a far better job, both in the short and long term, of making its destination planets compelling locations for exploration and battle. A map with clearly marked public events and fast-travel points is a huge quality-of-life improvement over the original game’s sometimes barren playspaces. Plus, the art and geography of these locales is consistently breathtaking; I have a hard time choosing a favorite, even after hundreds of hours of play.
These changes to destination organization and structure only come because we’ve left behind the old structure from the original Destiny, but they come at a heavy cost. After all this time exploring the new Destiny 2 spaces, it feels strange that I’m still locked away from the content and locations in which I played for three years in the original game. Going to Nessus or Io feels no fresher at this point than it might be if I could fly into Mars or the Dreadnaught. In an ongoing story akin to many MMOs, I feel oddly contained having lost the ability to return to those old haunts. Conceptually, the universe has contracted, and that’s not a sensation I love in a game about being a hero of humanity reclaiming our birthright across the solar system.
To put it another way, I understand intellectually why Destiny 2 needed to be a clean break from the original Destiny and all its maps, modes, and activities; it allows game systems, technical constraints, and other game elements to reset. But, if I’m honest, there are times in recent weeks that I’ve longed for the increased variety that might come from making a return visit to older locales, and seeing how they fared in the wake of the Red War.
In my review for Destiny 2, I called out an absence of mystery and magic in the storytelling of Destiny 2, and that sensation has been reinforced in the intervening weeks. Destiny 2 does a better job than its predecessor of contextualizing its destinations and introducing its core characters, but it misses something important through the abandonment of the Grimoire, and its unwillingness to include secrets and mystery that characterized that earlier game.
I was never one of the players crying out about the stupidity of the Grimoire; instead, I was one of the dorks regularly pouring over those cards and all their weird sci-fi goodness, and transplanting them over into pdfs to read at my leisure. Even so, I certainly sympathized with the desire to see more of that content in-game. Bungie was wise to move away from using the web-based Grimoire system a second time, but the absence of an equally rich repository in-game leaves many things without an explanation. Lore write-ups on some equipment and the occasional scannable object for your Ghost just don’t measure up. What is the Leviathan? How does Devrim Kay know Hawthorne? What hidden secrets on Io make it such a sacred place for Ikora and the warlocks? And for players who never played the original Destiny, who are these enemies I’m fighting (other than the Cabal)? What’s the deal with the Hive, Vex, and Fallen? Veterans may know the answer, but Destiny 2 fails to clarify those details for newcomers.
Similarly, Destiny 2 seems reticent to embrace some of the sense of secrecy and even confusion that was so appealing before, as typified by the adventures experienced in The Taken King expansion. Where is the community moment of finding the secret Black Spindle quest hidden away in a heroic story mission? Or the secret chest in the Dreadnaught that requires that you first bathe in the scent of the Hive? Or the binary puzzle of Rise of Iron’s Outbreak Prime puzzle? These moments united the community, and like a secret decoder ring, helped players feel like they were in on something special and magical.
Next Page: The value of consistent events, and the frustration of microtransactions
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