In terms of narrative, world building, and shared-world experiences, Destiny 2 outshines its predecessor delivering the best story and some of the best content Destiny has seen thus far. The hike to level twenty and the crusade through the campaign aren’t even half of the fun, however. Much like Destiny, it’s the “endgame” content that will keep players invested and coming back for more, at least in theory. The PvP arena, the Crucible, and its most challenging hurdles, including the “Trials of the Nine” mode, Strike missions, including the Nightfall and the Prestige Nightfall, a new raid, The Leviathan, quests, new Adventures, and a series of new endgame editions comprise Destiny 2‘s weekly rituals and the game’s post-campaign content. Each provides an avenue toward Destiny 2‘s max power level, 300 (305 with modifiers), making for a streamlined experience difficult to define as a “grind” its so generous and smooth, especially compared to the original’s stingy, unapologetic chug to the top. But does Destiny 2 lose some character with the focus shifting from the hardcore player to the more casual kinderguardians? Here’s the conclusion of Goomba Stomp’s Destiny 2 review: the endgame.
After facing off against the Red Legion in the campaign, completing a handful of narrative-expanding Adventures, and joining forces with other players to conquer a few Public Events, the player’s character will more than likely be level twenty and their power level (the level of their gear and guns) breaching two hundred. Any real grind in Destiny 2 begins here, as power level growth is dependent on gear drops which are dependent on defeating enemies and completing repeatable activities. Strikes and the Crucible offer consistent gear drops, but the far faster and more frequent Public Events are the shortest route to 265 power, at which point the level of gear dropped by these repeatable activities plateau. On top of the world specific tokens found out and about and redeemable at each world’s vendor (covered in the first half of the review) patrolling planets and participating in Public Events is easily the most time efficient approach to level growth.
Interestingly enough, new subclasses are found by completing patrol activities, further demonstrating that developer Bungie was perhaps anxious about player participation in exploring each planet, a shortcoming of the original game. Quick tangent, only one new, “inactive” subclass can be held by a character at a time. Even if another is discovered out in the wild before the second is usable, the player won’t be able to pick up the new one in what I see as a dumb design choice potentially inconveniencing the player. But back to patrols and Public Events. There’s nothing inherently wrong with encouraging participation in Public Events, but it does create an imbalance where Crucible and Strikes do seem less profitable and worthwhile, an issue that persists through the rest of the endgame.
From there, progression is dependent on the game’s weekly rotating activities, or Milestone activities. Milestones are a series of activities viewable from the director by holding the left trigger down that reward “powerful gear” for completing them in the form of a “luminous engram,” which typically grant two items at a notably higher level than what the player currently has. Each of these Milestones highlights a different component of the game, whether world exploration, cooperative play, or competitive play. The Flashpoint, for example, has players complete Public Events on a specific planet. Call to Arms encourages players to compete in the Crucible and rewards them regardless of which mode they play, Quick Play or Competitive, or whether they win or lose. For PVE players, the Nightfall Strike makes its return, albeit with some significant changes. Should the player opt to join a clan, Destiny 2 incentivizes clan participation by giving one luminous engram a week for personal contribution to the clan (for participating in almost anything) as well as specific rewards from particular modes if the clan succeeds in something collectively (say, completing the Nightfall together or the Raid with three or more clan members). And of course, there’s the new Raid as well as the Trials of the Nine weekend Crucible mode taking the place of Destiny‘s Trials of Osiris. A new quest found on the director here and there will also reward the player with “powerful gear,” but for the most part, Milestones are the key to Destiny 2‘s endgame. Thankfully, Milestones, as visible as they are, give players clear in-game objectives and opportunities for character growth and give obvious direction through the endgame for those seeking it.
While the Milestones are a very welcome addition, making weekly to-dos extremely easy to track, the rest of the content outside of the Milestones, the Strike playlist, the Crucible, and any other repeatable activity, seems unrewarding and pointless by comparison. Take Strikes for example. Returning from the original Destiny, though with some key changes, the Nightfall Strike is perhaps the best it’s ever been. Each week, the Nightfall is a different Strike from Destiny 2‘s playlist presented as a time challenge, that, should time run out, marks failure. Rather than a whole slew of modifiers altering the Strike, new Nightfalls have two modifiers, one specific to adding precious, additional time to the clock and another modifying damage or how health is regenerated. The new Nightfall is undeniably more rewarding as the end-of-Strike boss typically drops some powerful gear on top of being rewarded a luminous engram back at the tower which contains typically two, high power items. No complaints there.
The rest of the Strikes, however, hardly seem worth participating in. Were I to hop back into Destiny 1, I would see multiple Strike playlists offering different levels of challenge. The original game incentivizes tackling the “Vanguard Strike Playlist,” the most challenging besides the Nightfall, by including fun modifiers like in the Nightfall, Vanguard reputation, Vanguard specific gear drops, a chance at gear specific to each Strike completed, Legendary Marks (now replaced by Legendary Shards) for the first three Strikes completed each week, on top of an Eververse (Destiny’s microtransaction vendor) chest for the first mission completed after the weekly reset. Destiny 2, by comparison, offers some random, typically uncommon (as opposed to the desirable legendary or exotic) gear drops, which could be acquired much fasting doing Public Events, and Vanguard reputation tokens. Essentially, Strikes are only good for leveling up the Vanguard if the player is chasing Vanguard specific gear. If a player is really into Strikes, they’re there, there’s just no incentive for the rest of us. Ideally, Bungie would encourage player participation by offering Legendary Shards for Strike completion, or even better a series of gun and armor modifiers, and a Bright Engram for the first Strike completed each week. A chance at mission specific, chase items gives, even more reason to repeat each and every Strike, and, since all items have static rolls, Bungie wouldn’t have to bother with the Skeleton Keys from Destiny 1. Admittedly, the game is young and some of these changes may come in the future, but it feels like a step backward from the mostly progressive sequel.
The Crucible PvP arena also went through some major changes, some generally positive, others, like the state of Strikes, a little regressive. All Crucible modes feature two teams of four going head to head, including Trials of the Nine (Trials of Osiris was one of few three versus three multiplayer modes). Stages are more intimate and the time to kill slower. The resulting games see constant engagement that prioritizes teamwork and cooperation in a truly sensational way. With the lack of “special weapons,” gunplay and balancing also seem much more level in Destiny 2, though certain guns are certainly leaving a mark in the Crucible (Mida, Uriel’s, and Last Hope to name a few). While I enjoyed D1‘s Crucible, despite some of its quirks, if push came to shove, I would probably say D2 has a better competitive environment. The only misfire is the strict options when finding a match. Everything in the Crucible is broken down into to categories, Quick Play and Competitive. Control, Supremacy, and Clash, returning modes from the original, are all lumped together into Quick Play, giving players no *ahem* control over which mode they play. This works just fine for Competitive which only has two modes, Countdown and Survival, both modes a little more intense with limited live counts in each, making a fitting playlist. I only wish that the Crucible offered players a little more in terms of selection when it came to Quick Play.
While some players may miss the old days of Crucible’s most cutthroat mode from D1, Trials of Osiris, Trials of the Nine is, in many ways, the answer to many of my critiques of the mode. With teams of four, single players make less of an impact and far more emphasis is placed on team play and communication. In the case of Countdown, there’s an objective beyond eliminating the other team, meaning strategy can be more of a crucial element. Boons have been removed making it a simpler experience, and the scorecard doesn’t start until a team gets a win, meaning the first couple matches can be awkward warmups with little consequence. Also, going flawless means earning seven wins in a row, a little shorter than nine (though, again, without buffs), still a bit long for players who don’t sink more than an hour or two into the game at a time, but still better. Overall improvements to the Crucible also have a huge impact on the mode. Shotguns and snipers are no longer the true primary weapons of the mode. Heavy ammo is available, but very limited and fairly easily responded to. All around, the mode strikes me as much more approachable, and I hope finds more resonance with the group between the sweaty try-hards and the casuals.
One of the general additions to help bridge that specific gap is the new Guided Games feature, Bungie’s solution to the call for matchmaking. I have always understood Bungie’s point of view on matchmaking in Destiny. Some players are simply not equipped to handle some of the game’s more strenuous activities, and matching rookies with veterans in an environment like the Raid would probably sour the experience for both. Enter Guided Games, in which members of clan seeking guidance through an activity can quickly be paired with the Sherpas of a separate clan willing to lead. The feedback guided players are encouraged to give in the end will hopefully keep people honest, but, if anything, it introduces something like matchmaking to activities in which typical matchmaking wouldn’t work. Most importantly, it hopefully extends the audience of some of Destiny 2‘s endgame material, including the Raid (which historically has low participation percentages).
The Raid itself, the Leviathan, is definitely something to be experienced. Though it has no impact on the main narrative of the sequel (though it does bring some context to Ghaul and other Cabal), it does expand on the lore of the game in a fun, engaging way. More importantly, it’s a raid and environment unlike any other in Destiny up to this point. Dark and dim this raid is not. Without spoiling too much, the trials within the Raid are also some of the most unique the game has ever known and there is far less “kill this big baddie with these specific mechanics in place,” and far more mobile minded puzzles. The format has also gotten a shake up from the original game, making rewards easier to come by in the long run and taking a different approach to hidden chests and the checkpoint system. Admittedly it’s not my favorite raid, but considering Destiny‘s outstanding track record, that’s not saying much.
A few missteps aside, Destiny 2 truly built and improved upon what came before.
Continuing late Destiny 1‘s mentality, Destiny 2, for the most part, let’s players play how they see fit and progress how they’d like. There are a wide handful of opportunities to earn luminous engrams containing powerful gear. To truly reach the pinnacle of power in Destiny 2, 305, players will have to familiarize themselves with the weapon and armor modification system. Guns and gear in Destiny 2 can be modded with single use mods found from the Eververse and the Gunsmith. Some gear will even drop with mods already equipped. The rest will require the player to equip the mods and only legendary, purple, mods improve an item’s level (always by five). The system is simpler than it seems at first, and, as a whole, I don’t mind it, it’s a decent way to customize one’s character. However, acquiring a specific type of modifier is far more of a hassle than it needs to be involving mostly dumb luck. Unless the player can combine a series of blues to get the legendary they want, they’ll have to take a chance at getting what they want by scrapping other legendaries to get mod parts to then spend at the Gunsmith on a totally random mod. The game should reward players with more modifiers in general or simplify the way in which they can acquire the specific one they need (Kinetic weapon mod, always the Kinetic), so that the elation of getting a cool raid or Trials weapon isn’t suddenly soured by the necessity to stupidly waste materials to potentially get the necessary mod to get it to max level. Once there’s a simpler way to find or forge legendary modifiers, the system should work great. As it stands, the system is a waste of time and player resources. Not to mention the inventory space for mods and shaders simply won’t cut it.
A few missteps aside, Destiny 2 truly built and improved upon what came before. The climb to the top, with the exception of mods, couldn’t be clearer or more approachable. The grind has been virtually eliminated, though some hardcore players may miss always having something to strive for, whether level or specific gear rolls. Personally, I think this is a misdiagnosis. The lack of grind in Destiny 2 is a massive improvement, what players miss is something to be chasing. There’s vendor specific gear and specific guns, but with static rolls players are far more likely to come into what they want far more quickly. Consequently, more to chase in the way of Strike specific gear, an easier way to chase mods, or a vaster collection system would be more than welcome. I’m hoping with time, ships, sparrows, and maybe even shaders are added to the collection, perhaps re-purchasable with a costly amount of bright dust so that system isn’t affected? Regardless, one thing is emphatically clear when playing through Destiny 2– while the sequel might feel comparatively sparse at the outset, it’s a firm foundation, clean and accessible, ideal to build upon. Plenty of weekly rituals, engaging Strikes, a more balanced Crucible, an improved Trials, a thrilling new raid, and plenty to collect ensure that Destiny 2 will be played for months to come. Given time, it’ll continue to improve, making it even easier to claim that this is the Destiny we always hoped for.