Funny To A Point – Heeding The Call In Destiny 2
After years of listening to gamers gripe about how the original Destiny ruined their lives in every conceivable way (even as they logged in hundreds of hours), Destiny 2 is finally here. Does the shiny new sequel provide Bungie with the redemption it doesn't really need and has never asked for? Seeing as how all the early criticism has focused on the way shaders are used to paint your guardian pretty colors, it seems like the answer is yes. But we all know that the real verdict won't be rendered until the professional critics weigh in – and we all know that the only professional critic that really matters is ME. Well, fear not, dear readers: Like my hideous Smurfette of a guardian, I am up to the task and ready to save the day!
Full disclosure: I never actually managed to finish the original Destiny. I played for about a week or so when the game first came out, but lost interest when that weird emo prince showed up in the incomprehensible-yet-paradoxically-simple story. My experience with Destiny since then has been downloading every new expansion and then feeling progressively more guilty for not actually playing them.
So what imbues me with the expertise needed to weigh in on Destiny 2, you ask? Well, for starters I was one of the first critics to identify and outline some of the major problems of the first Destiny – I was so early, in fact, that I received a massive amount of hate from the same super fans who would become Destiny's super haters once they realized I knew what the hell I was talking about. I also cracked Destiny's biggest secret, which has still eluded everyone else, so I think that makes me the King of Destiny? I dunno. Anywho, let's get on with it, shall we?
Note: You can click on any of the pictures for a better look at whatever misadventures are being documented.
Destiny 2's opening cinematic lays out the series' plot like
it's reading a picture book to a child, and it's a decision that I wholly
appreciate. At this point, all I really remember about the first game is that a
giant ping-pong ball gave my zombie soldier some sweet superpowers, which I
used to kill a bunch of angry aliens as I searched for
shiny balls engrams
to score more loot. The intro doesn't contain any huge revelations ("a mysterious
good force is fighting a mysterious evil force!"), but I no longer felt the
need to look up a plot synopsis on a Destiny fan wiki after watching it, and
for that I'm eternally grateful.
Actually, Destiny 2's intro did contain one particularly rude revelation: Because I didn't max out my Destiny 1 guardian (I'm going to go ahead and blame Prince Creep for that), I can't import her into the sequel. So as far as I can tell, from a lore perspective my original guardian gets blasted to smithereens during the cabal attack that kicks off Destiny 2. Not being able to carry over my character isn't a huge loss, but it does undermine the fantasy a bit:
The Speaker: "You are the chosen Guardian, who will rise from the dead and save humanity from the galaxy's greatest thr--"
*BLAMMO!!!* [Guardian's head explodes into a fine mist.]
The Speaker: [Shuffling over to the next corpse] "Ahem...You are the chosen guardian..."
Anyway, with my old guardian now super-forever dead, I resign myself to creating a new character from scratch. I go with the Hunter class, because like me they are crafty and roguish and it's my fantasy world so I'll believe whatever I want! I also opt for a female Awoken, because humans are boring and robots are probably going to kill us all one day and I don't need to be reminded of it every time I pull the trigger. At this point I realize I've remade all the same class choices I did in the first game, so I decide to just remake my character entirely. Think you're getting rid of my guardian that easy? Think again!
Creating a character in a game usually turns into an all-night affair for me, as I obsessively shift every slider back and forth to its extremes before settling on the default position. Not so in Destiny 2! You get to create the exact hero of your dreams – by choosing from 7 stock faces and a handful of the ugliest hairstyles imaginable, because apparently the barbers were the first ones to be killed off in the apocalypse. Normally my wife weighs in on every minute detail during the character creation process, but the only feedback she offers me about Destiny 2's limited options is that one hairstyle in particular makes my character "look like a heathen." I'm not even sure what that means.
This just looks like Conan The Barbarian's haircut to me, though come to think of it he probably was a heathen, so I guess she was right after all.
I opt for a crazy space mohawk instead, then move on to the face tattoos, which are always being as pointless and ill-advised in character creators as they are in real-life. Even so, Destiny 2 sets a new low bar for the extraneous category. Once again, I imagine an intern – possibly the same one who made Andromeda's preset faces for BioWare – whipped them up in a matter of minutes.
Bungie Employee: "...You mean freckles?"
Intern: "Nah man, just face dots."
Bungie Employee: "Alrighty then. Next!"
Somehow my guardian ends up looking vaguely like Margaery Tyrell, if she was thrown into the Mad Max universe and also purple for some reason. As totally rad as that sounds, I immediately regret every decision I made as soon as she pops up in the first actual cutscene – the gaming equivalent of getting dressed in the dark and then realizing you're wearing your wife's shirt as soon as you step out into the sunlight.* My wife also didn't seem impressed, simply stating, "she looks quite striking," which I assume is a polite euphemism for fugly. But whatever – at least it's time to finally start playing!
Destiny 2 wastes no time getting into the action; after a brief cutscene starring the three characters from the first game that actually had faces, players are thrust into battle against a new faction of turtle-looking enemies called the Cabal. The Cabal are hellbent on destroying The Last City, which would normally be the name of a piece of armor or some robot butler in a Bungie game, but in this case it's an actual city. Come to think of it, the Cabal is also a perfectly adequate name for an enemy faction...has Bungie lost its edge?!
What the heck are the space moles from Mass Effect doing in Destiny? And why are they so mean?!
The gameplay opens with your guardian returning to The Last City after some kind of patrol (or a sandwich run for we all know), and landing on the outskirts of the siege. I spend a few minutes of getting reacquainted with the controls, which includes immediately throwing a grenade at my feet and blasting away half my health. From there it's on to the first battle, though things don't go quite how I expect.
Even after all these years, I still remember my first open-ended skirmish in Halo; how dynamic the battle felt, and how the A.I. enemies seemed to be thinking and reacting for themselves. In contrast, much of the opening level in Destiny 2 feels more like Disney's It's A Small World ride than an FPS, as you're guided from one small murder diorama to the next. Even for a self-grenading chump like myself, the initial enemies you face are about as threatening as the paper silhouettes at a shooting range, taking a step or two and then waiting politely for you to shoot their heads into some kind of ghost vapor. On the positive side, the controls feel as silky smooth as ever, and the first two guns I picked up were called Origin Story and The Last Dance, so at least Bungie's still got it!
After a few more underwhelming encounters, the game's seamless co-op kicks in – another guardian is just over the ridge and is in need of reviving! I'm not sure how he managed to die during this dog and pony show, but by the time I get over to him, a third player has him back up on his feet. It's the thought that counts though, right?
Our improvised trio rallies around the bald dude who despite being a blue alien is always going to be Captain Daniels to me and anyone else who has seen The Wire (to my wife he's the captain from Fringe, which is basically the same role only with parallel universes thrown into the mix). Daniels tells me that I should stay behind his shield, but I get annihilated by an incoming missile before it's even deployed. So that's how my co-op buddy died...
One of my anonymous pals revives me and we hunker down and fight off a few waves of enemies together. It's a cool, ships-passing-in-the-night kind of moment that reminds me of Journey, albeit with more guns and grenades and slaughtering aliens as they mindlessly funnel into my murder canal.** Once the assault ends, I turn to wave to my teammates, only to see that they have disappeared without so much as a goodbye –apparently manners were also a casualty of the apocalypse.
I move onto the next area and run into another NPC who I should probably know from the first game, but she promptly tells me that she's going to "kick the Cabal where it hurts," and then jumps onto the nose of a spaceship and disappears. I assume she's talking about their space nards, though that's an assumption in and of itself – how does she know the Cabal are males? Way to assume their gender, only human lady left on whatever planet this is. Seriously, is this Earth? Whatever. On to the next fight!
The next encounter actually gives me a run for my money, thanks to one enemy in particular: Pashk, The Searing Will. I know that's his name because I actually took extra damage just to grab a screen of it.
No wonder he's fighting so hard – people have probably made fun of his name for his whole life!
Unfortunately for him, Pashk is no match for Ode To An Unbroken Heart, which is the name I just gave my melee knife because two can play that game, Bungie!
With Pashk's searing will extinguished, I head onto the next area, only to trigger a cutscene that introduces Destiny 2's villain: a massive Cabal warrior named Ghaul. Well, mostly massive – his tiny bald head makes him look like a dude in a mascot suit who took his head off for a breather. Also, what is with villains wearing masks that distort their voices? Have we learned nothing from Bane?
I'm sorry, a world without what? Work on your enunciation, Ghaul! Also, why yo head so tiny?
Regardless, Ghaul gives a little speech about how puny
guardians are, then drives the point home by planting his foot in my face and
kicking me off of the magic tower we were trying to defend. As if that's not
bad enough, he also puts some kind of massive chastity belt on the
ball Traveler, which sucks away all the guardians' superpowers. Talk about
Despite just being a regular alien lady again, my guardian somehow survives the stories-high fall off the magic tower – though I guess that's probably because it wouldn't be much of a game otherwise ("And so the final guardian perished, and the might Cabal took over the galaxy. Thanks for playing!"). I limp out of the burning city with only a pistol, shooting some strange spikey dog creatures that also barf up their souls when they die (seriously, what kind of bullets are you shooting in this game?). Eventually a woman with a hawk shows up and invites me back to her village, which serves as the game's first social hub. By that point in the evening my narcolepsy starts kicking in, and I repeatedly fall asleep while kicking around a giant soccer ball, only to wake up a few minutes later to sight of my character being nuked for wandering out of bounds – always a good time to call it quits.
You thought I was joking about falling asleep, didn't you? Think again!
While Destiny 2's opening doesn't leave the strongest impression (even by tutorial-level standards), it contains at least a few sparks of Bungie's patented dynamic combat, and does a much better job setting up a story and villain than the first game. And while I wasn't particularly blown away by anything in my first night (well, except for the out-of-bounds limit), my subsequent play sessions have been more emblematic of what Destiny 2 strives for: tense and challenging fire fights against formidable enemies; an addictive loot loop that has me switching up my arsenal at a satisfying pace; and fun public events that you can jump into during the final few seconds and still nab the rewards. There's also the PvP that I'm sure I'll get obliterated in, and co-op strikes and raids if I can ever get Jeff Cork to put down Path of Exile and play with me (oh how the tables have turned).
Oftentimes in my column I tend to either gush endless praise for a game or take a big dump on it, but so far Destiny 2 hasn't elicited anything quite so extreme from me. I'm enjoying the combat and the sense of progression, despite the fact that my character feels more like a mute marionette puppet than a super hero (seriously, a silent protagonist? In 2017?). And while I'm enjoying the game more and more every night, I don't know that I'll be one of those crazy people who plays it obsessively for years on end.
Anyway, I continued writing down more impressions and anecdotes in the subsequent play sessions, but rather than weaving them all into a(n even) long(er) and (more) boring narrative, I'll just throw them in with some pictures and videos, and use the extra time to play more of the game. If that's not a ringing endorsement, I don't know what is!
Few games take the term "monster closet" more literally than Destiny 2. It's seriously just a door with mysterious black smoke!
The European Dead Zone is like a taxi zone at the airport – ships are constantly coming in and dropping aliens off on the same street. You'd think they'd have a better invasion plan.
All joking aside, Bungie serves up some awesome sci-fi environments every now and then.
The hawk lady seems pretty cool. Even if she fell for the face dots.
Titan looks like an awesome neon-blue planet when you view it on the map, but it turns out it's just Mother Base. Also, what's with all these potato-chip bags?!
Sometimes Destiny 2's combat suffers from the level design, with enemies funneling into murder canals because it's the only path through the environment. Then again, sometimes it's also fun to rack up a billion headshots in a row.
I ran across these two little frog aliens, which I'm assuming are Destiny's equivalent of Statler and Waldorf. I'm hoping they play a big role in the story later on.
Not to get too deep into spoiler territory, but Cayde's torrid love affair with this chicken is as emotionally touching as it is sexually graphic.
There are a lot of big balls in Destiny 2. Just saying.
Seriously, they're all over the place.
Bungie says the EDZ is the biggest zone they've ever created, but I don't know how that's possible when every rig on Titan contains an endless sprawl of identical rooms and corridors. One time when I was hopelessly looking for an exit, I ran into a big knight-looking dude and received a Lost Sector banner when I defeated him. In my case the "Lost" was quite literal. Also, does anyone else find it weird that Titan is a class in Destiny 2 and also a planet? Too many Titans, Bungie!
I don't even want to know what that is.
Breaking news: The totally useless spaceships return in Destiny 2! They're not fooling anyone, but they do make for a pretty snazzy-looking loading screen.
Everyone spawns into the same location on The Farm, making you look like some horrific, multi-headed mutant. The extra arms would probably come in handy during battle, though.
I was super excited when I got sword from a treasure chest. A sword! Then I found out it's some kind of weird magic sword that needs ammo. How the hell is that better than a rocket launcher?!
And finally, it's not a sci-fi game if you don't have floating rocks – and also point out said floating rocks to the player via NPC dialogue. In this case, ghost speculates that they're caused by some kind of Hive magic. How's that for science fiction!***
*This is a purely hypothetical scenario that has definitely
never happened to me. (back to top)
**Murder Canal would also be a great name for a band, by the way. (back to top)
***That is, in fact, really lousy for science fiction. (back to top)