I don't know if I'd call Destiny 2 the best game I played this year. Hell, I don't know if I'd even call it one of the best games I played this year (if I had to make an amendment to my GOTY list, I’d add Astro’s Playroom, which was delightful).
Despite all this, I finally understand Destiny 2, and it’s given me some of the most fun I've had this year.
I was interested in Destiny when it was first announced in 2014. I wasn’t that much of an FPS guy, but I did enjoy Halo, and the idea of an MMO Shooter sounded appealing to me — even if this technically wasn’t what we’d end up getting. I picked it up for the PS3, played through the campaign, and then dropped off.
The main reason for this is that I had no idea what the hell was going on. Destiny purportedly had a very interesting story, but I didn’t see any of it. It was all locked behind a grimoire, where one would have to log into a separate website to read all the interesting lore within the game. This is probably the most baffling thing I’ve ever seen in a game, and I’ve played Kingdom Hearts. I quickly learned that when it comes to my playing habits, I require a why for what I’m doing to enjoy it. Killing for plot is what separates us from the beasts. Destiny did not seem interested in telling me why in a way that didn't give me a headache, and thusly I was uninterested in playing it.
Time passed and Destiny 2 launched, and I decided to pick it up again. I got a little further this go-around, but now I had a different problem: I felt like I was left behind. It turns out some stuff happened in the Destiny expansions I never picked up. Events and characters were being referenced that I didn’t know. Who the hell is Mara Sov and why is she so hot? What the heck is a Crota? These were questions I was expected to know the answer to, but didn’t have. Moreover, while the Red War was a better campaign experience than Destiny 1’s, it still felt like a slog. No access to my Sparrow and a rushed plot left me cold. I played through it and the campaigns for Osiris and Warmind, but didn’t stick around after being overwhelmed with plot and things to do.
This was…disappointing for me. I was a Kingdom Hearts and Metal Gear Solid fan, and I love MMOs and loot. Destiny’s esoteric lore and constant rising numbers should have been a match made in heaven for me, but it wasn’t.
Obviously, that changed, or you wouldn’t be reading this. But why? Really, it was just a slew of luck. The stars aligned in multiple ways:
The PS5 version of Destiny is the one that let me stick around, and there’s little wonder why. It plays like an absolute dream on the new system. The game runs at a constant 60FPS. Menu loads are snappy. Fast travel and planet hopping is quicker than ever. And there’s an FOV slider! These QOL upgrades make the whole experience more pleasant. It really felt like I was able to take in the game’s universe for the first time.
Beyond Light’s New Player introduction is miles better than vanilla D2’s, or New Light. It’s a bit of a soft reboot, and it slowly introduces you to the available activities in the game, and how one is expected to progress. It feels more like an extended demo more than anything else once you’re done with it — there’s nothing to do but chase exotics or do strike playlists if you don’t buy the expansions — but by the time you’re done, you’ll actually be able to make an informed choice on whether you’d be interested in what the game has to offer.
I Watched a 4-Hour Lore Video
Okay. Yeah. Listen, I know this isn’t the ideal way to experience a game’s story. I am mad that Destiny made me do this because it has made piecing its story together so frustratingly difficult when it didn’t have to be. But for me personally, it was the final piece I needed to get into Destiny. I felt caught up, and I finally understand why I was doing what I was doing. I am incapable of enjoying things unless I can understand and consume them in their entirety, and Bif’s video let me do that. Which is rad. My hyper-fixation demons are pleased.
It’s Like a Ferrari
So, now that I have all the pieces put together, what’s so great about Destiny? Why have I been talking about it non-stop on Twitter for days?
I would honestly say that the most important thing is that this game handles like God. It is the best feeling FPS I have ever played in my entire life. You could strip Destiny of all its other parts and turn it into a simulator where I shoot targets in a dark empty room and I would still play it for hours. Every ounce of feedback when lining up your gun sights is serotonin for my poisoned brain.
The story is also really enthralling and gripping when you sacrifice your sanity by basically doing homework to understand it. Yes, it’s basically just Kingdom Hearts for Jocks (these people love to talk about the battle between Light and Darkness), but the stuffing feels more realized with tons of interesting factions and characters within them that are well-written and come with motivations that I care about. Really, it’s like Kingdom Hearts and Metal Gear Solid had a plot baby that also happens to be much gayer than either of those games — or at least, gay on purpose (Osiris is gay and also my dad).
All that said, Destiny 2 is probably most interesting to me on a mechanical level, specifically in its end-game. I created a Hunter and focused on the Solar ability tree, and found that I really liked throwing flame knives at people because throwing knives are cool. Knife throwing has a cool-down tied to the Strength stat, but as a Hunter, I can reset that cool-down by dodging next to enemies. I had found myself with a bunch of gear that was tied to the Mobility stat, which lowered my dodge cool-down to about 15 seconds. And thanks to my bud Ishiku, I got tipped off about an Exotic chest piece that let me have two dodges available to me at a time. With that, I could throw cool fire knives as much as I wanted!
It was extremely cool to come up with a build like that almost entirely on my own, and the level of flexibility isn’t something I’m used to when you consider that the only other game I’ve reached end-game in is FFXIV. There, your build is just whatever the most powerful piece of gear is, and then the materia you need to use which you can find through a quick google search (it’s usually Direct Hit and Critical Hit, just an FYI). Which is fine! But Destiny allowed me to basically completely change my play style, making my Hunter different from someone else’s. And I’m still theory-crafting, with my next target being an Exotic Auto-Rifle that will let me throw knives even more by regenerating my cool-down faster.
On top of this, despite Destiny 2 sometimes feeling like busy-work (we’ll get to that), it allows for a bit of freedom in how you approach objectives. One mission to unlock a gun allowed me to choose between using it in Strikes, Crucible (PvP), or Gambit. I don’t care for PvP that much and Gambit unfortunately gets me into big Heated Gamer Moment mode, so I went with Strikes instead. Weekly loot drops can also be obtained all sorts of ways, and while it’s probably optimal from a min-max perspective to do all of them, I can ignore one or the other when I’m not in the mood and still feel like I’m making some progress.
Are Ya Winning, Sunset?
Despite finding myself suddenly falling in love with Destiny these past two weeks, all is not well in the land of Nessus. I was lucky enough to play through Red War, Osiris, and Warmind before they got put in “the Destiny Vault,” but someone who’s new and might want to experience that story will now have to watch it on YouTube instead. I’ve seen a lot of attempted justification for this, and there just isn’t any good one. If Destiny 2 wants to be Destiny 3, then Bungie should just make Destiny 3. What we’ve gotten instead is this weird half-measured Destiny 2.5. Legacy content is important. I think Final Fantasy XIV’s ARR content is boring as sin, and I’m glad a chunk of the useless stuff was cut down, but imagine if it was all gone. The good plot we’re getting now would make zero sense because of the lack of context. I can’t comment on the sunsetting of guns because I don’t know much about this game’s gun meta, but getting rid of 1/3rd of your game’s plot is just. Not good! Sorry.
Moreover, I feel like most people are aware that Destiny 2 can be a chore simulator. I would and have argued that every game’s loop can feel like busy-work at a certain point, and Destiny’s loop is so good that I can usually ignore how chore-like some tasks can feel. But my God, sometimes I can’t. Progressing my Stasis powers, for example, has been a ridiculous grid. Yesterday I saw that I had to do more things in every specific ways to progress and just yawned before shutting my console off. I know I’ll get back to it soon — probably as soon as I’m done writing this piece — because the allure of loot is simply too strong, but yeah, would love it if you toned some of this down, Bungie.
Eyes Up Guardian
So yes. I had some qualms with Destiny 2, and I have a few more that have stuck around. But when my cute, cool as hell Hunter lines up a bow shot and lets it fly into a Hive Thrall’s head, making it explode into a confetti of loot and ammo, I forget every issue I might have had. Maybe I’m just in the honeymoon phase, and soon I’ll be complaining on the Destiny subreddit like half the game’s population seems to do. But for now, I’m very content to fly around Europa and help my hot robot girlfriend deal with her family trauma by blowing up a bunch of shit. Because I finally understand Destiny 2, and I’m having a blast.