Whatever else it was, 2014's Destiny was a polarizing product, confused about its own identity and therefore confusing to consumers. Was it a failed MMORPG or a multiplayer shooter with a bolted-on campaign? Was it a Diablo-esque loot collection game? Was it a new genre? Even after the excellent Taken King expansion/reboot, Destiny remained both a disappointment to many and a favorite to many more. Destiny 2 is much more coherent and focused and fixes many of the issues that plagued the first game. On the other hand, it lacks some of the magic and incoherent, mystical wonder as well.
The single player campaign, which can be mainlined in ten hours or less, is a tight narrative with little padding and a good variety of mission types, environments, and enemy encounters. The story unfolds through a familiar arc, an often used "rally the troops and defeat the Big Bad" tale whose lavish production values can only carry it so far. Even archetypal stories can be effective with memorable characters, but with the exception of uber-antagonist Dominus Gaul, the other NPCs and the mute player character are disappointingly forgettable. From the sanitized "witty" banter coming over the headset to the noisy, explosive but bloodless battles, Destiny 2 feels pretty...safe. It is a shame that so much care went into producing a campaign that only really has a few surprises, coming late in the game. The campaign is short enough and full of enough eye candy and action that it never ceases to be entertaining, if unoriginal.
But man, Destiny 2 does look and sound good, with vivid, saturated colors and lighting and an often jaw-dropping, epic scale. Skyboxes are immense and awe inspiring and though the game does take the player through a fair number of environments -- from a post-apocalyptic Earth to oceanic Titan and beyond -- there isn't quite the variety of surprising alien landscapes that populated the first game. Vertical spaces and jumping are prominent and the ability to double and triple jump are part of the de facto skill progression. Unfortunately, there is a frustrating lack of precision, and quite a few deaths came as a result of poorly executed platforming. The musical landscape is populated by a rich, symphonic score that can be percussive or soaring and only becomes annoying in battle when replaced by a synth-heavy, drum-machine driven cue that irritates instead of inspires.
No developer does console shooters better than Bungie, and frenetic battles and intense firefights with a wide spectrum of weapons is at the core of Destiny 2. Just about every weapon is fun to use and useful and ammo is scarce enough to add some tension and tactical forethought to the fights. By and large, the selection of weapons -- as well as many of the limited enemy types -- are a carry over from the first game. Enemy AI ranges from mindless cannon fodder to sightly more cagey and powerful enemies who will dodge effectively and seek cover consistently.
As part of Destiny 2's focus on simplification, weapons and equipment don't need to be upgraded, but one decision has drawn ire from some fans of the first game. Shaders -- which are used to color and customize equipment-- are consumable items, and although they can be picked up on the battlefield... they're also available for purchase with real world money.
By design, Destiny 2's campaign is the scaffold on which to build a character for the game's broad selection of cooperative and competitive multiplayer modes, most of which are refined or slightly reconfigured carryovers from the first. In addition to Pubic Events -- open world PvE battles that reward the player with loot and experience -- there are Adventures (side missions), co-op Raids and of course, the competitive Crucible modes which have been scaled back to 4v4 for a tighter, more intense experience. As before, players who enjoy Destiny on a daily basis can look forward to a steady stream of DLC, maps, and a engaging with a strong and passionate community.
Most of Destiny 2's changes are focused on ease of use and improving the player experience, from a really useful in-game map to the ability to teleport across locations to overall improvements in framerate, graphical fidelity, and just generally giving the player more to do. Whether due to the game's popularity or the PS4 platform on which I was playing, I had several weeks of frustrating issues with server connections, progress-destroying disconnects and other artifacts of the game being an "always online" product.
Destiny was, out of the gate, kind of a mess that got much better with the Taken King expansion. It was, for a time, incoherent and obtuse but attracted a rabid fan base that appreciated its multiplayer combat and mystical story and worlds. Destiny 2 arrives as a much more polished, tightly focused experience that has far fewer glaring faults and many core strengths. It looks fantastic and the combat is still really fun. Its campaign is far more coherent and probably better executed but lacks passion or characters with whom we can engage. From its lavish advertising campaign to its lavish production values, Destiny 2 has a bloodless, corporate feel that acknowledges the sins of the first game, but maybe goes a little too far in its zeal to correct them.