★★★★ DESTINY 2 Bigger means better for this online sci-fi shooter
The first Destiny game cost an eye-watering $500 million to produce and promptly banked $500 million from first-week sales. It was the biggest new franchise launch of all time. Following the lead from Hollywood, the equation of big budget equals even bigger business rang loud from the cash tills.
Why so popular? Mix the slick sci-fi shooter antics of the award-winning Halo games (Destiny 2 is built by the same developer), with the addictive character levelling and multiplayer action associated loosely with the World of Warcraft titles (the most successful MMO to date). Present it all inside a futuristic universe where you can meet other people, travel the galaxy and shoot aliens while splitting the loot and cover your ears to the deafening chorus of "Take my money!"
But big budgets don’t negate the need for sharp criticism, and while the original Destiny was a runaway commercial success, there were also plenty of detractors highlighting its lack of a cohesive story, minimal human interaction (unlike full-blooded RPGs) and the stark emptiness of the Destiny world.
The plot proffered some vague nonsense about light-wielding Guardians fighting to protect the last human city on Earth from an undisclosed "darkness", combined with the basic "go to this point on the map and kill things" mission structure. This is fine for multiplayer action, but for a single player experience? At times it felt like one long tutorial.
Fast forward three years and Destiny 2 arrives, and typically with a franchise worth the same as the annual GDP of Dominica or Tonga, it’s a "play safe" strategy; focusing on refinement rather than revolution and aiming to correct mistakes from the past while serving up the next chapter in what is an excellent first-person shooter.
Let’s look at all that is good. There’s a fully fleshed story for a start. From spectacular opening set pieces that carry on through the campaign, there’s a much greater sense of urgency and context to the action, which centres on fighting back against the invading aliens known as the Cabal. There’s a new hub area called The Farm that’s filled with missions to select and people to meet – again much bigger than the first.
In fact, it’s the open world areas that are showing the most initial promise. They were always large, but largely vacant; now early stages show a world teeming with life and things to do, namely Lost Sectors and Adventures. Lost Sectors are Destiny’s impression of a first-person shooter dungeon crawler, where you find hidden areas, clear them of various types of alien villains and swipe all the loot such as new weapons or bits of armour that you are constantly upgrading to make your character more powerful.
Adventures are side quests; smaller, bite-size missions that run parallel to the main campaign. A decent RPG will often live or die on its side quests. Generic fetch missions or assassinations may add little, but item or cash rewards often don’t add enough meat to the gameplay bone. Destiny 2 gets around this by offering more varied objectives that weave characterisation and storytelling into the missions, giving them a greater context in the larger narrative.
As with online-only games, it’s tricky to offer a complete snapshot of the game within the launch window as some player-focused Destiny events are only now coming online. But from what we have played, there are some disappointments that need to be mentioned. Staying true to the "refinement not revolution" ethos there are no completely new races – you still get a basic selection of three (Titan, Warlock or Hunter), few new weapons and even fewer new worlds.
But shortcomings aside, and given that this ever-evolving online world is fresh out of the digital womb, this sequel is a worthy follow-up to the biggest game of a generation. If you invest your money, then be prepared to invest even more of your time in this open-ended space shooter.