'Destiny 2' Isn't the Sequel I Was Hoping For
All images courtesy of Activision

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'Destiny 2' Isn't the Sequel I Was Hoping For

New guns but fewer choices, more storytelling but less story—why does everything feel like a trade-off?

More than anything with Destiny 2, I wanted to know that I'd always have reasons to look forward to that daily sign-in. To have Destiny's daily rituals and quests remain novel and engaging, long after I'd finished the story campaign.

That might be an unfair ask, because what it amounts to is a request for endless entertainment from a game whose longevity—for me—largely stemmed from a self-perpetuating loot chase and the curious satisfaction of shooting Scout Rifles into aliens amidst a celestial dreamscape. And yet it was the chief item on my wishlist when I sat down for the Destiny 2 reveal: give me reasons to stick around this time.

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Here in the cold light of day, I don't think I saw quite what I wanted to out of the Destiny 2 reveal. In fact, the more I hear about the game, the less certain I am that it is for the brand of casual Destiny player I represent.

I saw a lot of interesting and potentially cool things, not least of which is a single-player campaign that feels a little more lived-in and a lot more in-tune with the ostensible fiction. Getting the major NPCs out of the Tower—where they've scarcely ever been more than terse mannequins—and into the world can only be a good thing.

But I also saw a lot that was incredibly familiar, and little that assured me that Destiny 2 would transcend the limitations of its predecessor. It will be a new-ish game, but I worry that it will also arrive at the same endpoint a lot faster because they journey is so familiar.

Photo by Randy Shropshire / Getty Images for Activision

I think it's telling that one promise Bungie made during their presentation was that Destiny 2 would include a "new raid," which seems like a tacit admission that this sequel is largely "more stuff" for a fan base that sucked all the marrow out of the first game. It's the phrasing you use for an MMO's content expansion.

I hope I'm wrong. But everything I've seen and heard increasingly convinces me that Destiny 2 is largely moving in directions that don't address my core complaints. It feels like a game made to win new fans and improve the experience for dedicated die-hards, but if you "only" played Destiny for 10-15 hours a week, a few months at a time? I'm not sure you're the one being catered to.

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I had a chance to ask Lars Bakken, a designer on the Crucible ( Destiny's PvP competitive multiplayer), about how Bungie is tackling my concerns. The first thing I asked is what Bungie will be doing to keep the experience fresh and evolving from week-to-week, month-to-month. To his credit, he didn't sugarcoat his answer and didn't fall back on platitudes. But he also didn't have anything encouraging to report.

"So if I were to answer your question in the way that's satisfactory, I would give you details on how we're going to do that. We definitely know that there is a certain type of player that we can never keep satisfied. But my hope is that with Destiny 2, all the work the that the teams have done will—I don't want to say the problem will go away because that's not a true statement," he said. "People who play—if their job is to play Destiny 24/7, they will run out of content. But the hope is that the way we package this stuff, and the way it comes to them, will be better than what we were able to accomplish in Destiny 1."

That's an honest response, but also a disconcertingly passive one. Because it kind of feels like it sweeps a lot of Destiny players into a generalization about MMO players: "Some people are impossible to satisfy."

Some are, but I don't think that was me or my friends. I was never even within hailing distance of reaching maximum Light level, and yet Destiny still ended up feeling like a game I had utterly strip-mined down to its bedrock. Multiplayer games in the Crucible went some way to keeping the game fresh, but the problem there was that Destiny isn't really my first choice for a multiplayer shooter. I played a lot and was near-religious about doing my daily Crucible quest, but PvP didn't really solve Destiny's repetition problems.

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But I don't think people like me are impossible to satisfy. It's just that Destiny as a "live game" never seemed able to sustain my interest over the long haul between expansions. Ironically, this is where Destiny 2's clean-slate works against it: it's an expansion's worth of new content that cuts off access to all the old stuff.

Doing that was important in order to give Destiny 2 its own identity, according to Bakken.

"We wanted to be a true sequel. We wanted to be a place where, if you've never played Destiny before, if you're like 'I've heard about this game but…' now—and it sounds cliche to say it—but it is literally the best time to get in and play," he said. "Because everyone is starting at the same place. Because someone who has a thousand hours in it, they might understand better how Destiny works. But they don't get to bring all that equipment in with them. And we're trying to change up enough things to make it feel fresh even if they have thousands of hours in. For the person who is brand new, they won't feel like they're behind from Second One."

I'm not sure I'm 100% on-board with all those change-ups, however. For one thing, I am pretty sure I hate the weapon loadout system. Where you could have shotguns and sniper rifles in your secondary / Special weapon slot in Destiny, they are now exclusive to the Power weapons slot. That also means that the very different play-style possibilities they open up are also locked away behind the game's most scarce resource: Power weapon ammunition.

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The idea is to isolate the game's most potent weapons.

"When you talk about things that can cause confusion for the player," Bakken explained, "what are the things that can kill me? Or: what are the things that can one-shot me? Which is the most important thing. 'What just happened?' As a player you look around and go, 'What just happened there? I don't even know what killed me.' …It's pretty easy to understand when someone is in their Super. They're on fire, floating in the air literally throwing flaming swords at you. Or they have a Power Weapon on them."

It makes a lot of sense, particularly if you're assigning a higher priority to multiplayer this time around, which definitely sounds like the motivation behind this change. To be fair, PvP is Bakken's primary job so it's no surprise that he looks at this change through this lens. But this is a change that makes sense almost exclusively through the lens of multiplayer.

"We've gone to great lengths to have tells for all the power weapons. If they're using a grenade launcher you see a laser sight coming out of them. With snipers, they've got the red glint like in Destiny 1. The shotguns all have a hot white flashlight on the end of the barrel. So we call all these things out. And what we wanted to do was take all the one-shot kill stuff and put it into a category that was easier to understand."

The problem is that, as I was playing Destiny 2, I felt like Bungie had also put all the meaningful weapon variety into a single category. It's weird to hear Bakken using the language of player empowerment—"It's also about the freedom to build the type of guardian you want"—when the effect of that decision feels so crushingly limiting. The new submachine gun feels like a zippier Auto Rifle, which basically means that the first two weapon slots break down into two broad categories: high-damage single-shot weapons and automatics. Doing anything different has moved from being a choice to being a rare treat. Triply so in multiplayer, where Power ammo is only getting more scarce.

The rough edges that get sanded down are also the places where Destiny had the most character.

And maybe that's my overriding concern with Destiny 2: doing a better job with story missions and offering more things to do on the Patrol maps is hugely important, but every time I look at the margins of the experience it feels like stuff is being taken away in the name of simplicity. Sometimes that's about major stuff, like what weapons you have access to and where they fit within the game.

But sometimes it's about the small, weird, charming parts of Destiny, like the Grimoire that is apparently going away. If you remove the place where Destiny was allowed to be at its weirdest and most tantalizing, are you really solving Destiny's lore problem, or just exacerbating it in the name of a user experience improvement? That's the trouble with such a focus on "quality of life" improvements and streamlining in a game that may never have been as ambitious as it needed to be: the rough edges that get sanded down are also the places where it had the most character.

I'm glad for the new stuff that's being added in Destiny 2. If there's a Cayde-6 and Eris Morn buddy road-trip movie happening somewhere inside that game, I'm going to forgive a lot. I just wish all the big additions didn't also involve something meaningful being taken away. We're told it will be better in the end, but with each passing day I'm wondering: better for who?