REVIEW: “Destiny 2” is Casually Hardcore

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  • reviewed on PS4 / rated T / $59.99 / released September 2017
  • FINAL: You WANT this game. 4 out of 5 stars

“Destiny,” gaming’s premiere combination of first person shooter and online multiplayer, is back in the simply named “Destiny 2.” This second installment makes a half-sized attempt at correcting one of the original game’s criticisms, but largely focuses on continuing to deliver the game’s brand of constant, customizable action.

The center of “Destiny 2” is still the Traveller, a mysterious gigantic orb that bestows power to the story’s heroes. As the game begins, the Traveller is attacked by an obvious cliché of a villain named Dominus Ghaul. Everybody’s power is momentarily stolen – until you arrive on the scene – and the rest of the storyline is an extended search-and-rally mission to unite the galaxy’s good against Ghaul.

The first “Destiny” was chided for an obtuse story (the game went so far as to hide information inside collectibles that you had to go to the Destiny website to read), but “Destiny 2” unfortunately trades “obtuse” for “bad.” Ghaul is every bit as blandly evil as you can imagine, dropping screenplay 101 eye-rollers like “we’re not so different, you and I.” Ghaul stomps around one room for every scene he is in, until he shows up for you to dispatch in a mercifully easy boss fight. Fin.

Ghaul is, thankfully, unimportant in the grand scheme of things. “Destiny 2” squeezes much more interest out of a handful of supporting cast members. Chief among these is Cayde-6 (voiced by Nathan Fillion), a robotic hero who might as well be from a completely different game. Sort of like a space version of Captain Jack Sparrow, Cayde-6 shows up to crack jokes at the serious characters’ expense while they arch their eyebrows at how weird this guy is.

Cayde-6 (plus a malfunctioning A.I. named Failsafe, and Asher the grumpy researcher) provide points of comic relief, but it’s such a drastic tone shift that it feels like the game’s story was written by two different teams with two different goals. “Destiny 2” tries to be both a Super Serious Space Opera and an “Avengers”-style Action Adventure Comedy, and ends up fully satisfying neither.

While the story may be a disappointment, “Destiny 2” excels just about everywhere else. Split into large, explorable zones set on several planets and moons, each area is visually distinct and packed with things to do. It is very easy to land on a planet and just bum around, hopping from solo mission to multiplayer challenge as you like. You’ll see other online players doing the same, regularly amassing in enough numbers to temporarily turn a sparse section of the planet into an exciting firefight.

As your character’s experience grows, “Destiny 2” slathers on even more quests and tasks. You’re guided through these additions via the game’s “milestone” system, which does a nice job of introducing missions and hinting at their rewards. New milestones appear every week, making “Destiny 2” an excellent game to casually hop into just to see what’s new and worth tackling.

The end goal of just about anything you do in “Destiny 2” is to improve your power/special abilities and find ever-more-impressive armor and weaponry. Balanced against limited inventory space, you must put a lot of time into testing new armaments and trying out new costume parts. The weapons handle in different and subtle ways, encouraging you to seek out the best-feeling, most-powerful guns and swords. You’ll collect plenty of gear that you don’t want, of course, and that overflow can be deleted and used to improve your favorites or traded in for various useful currencies.

Despite catering to a multiplayer-focused crowd by providing plenty of high-level team-ups-required quests, “Destiny 2” is surprisingly playable alone. It’s the most casual hardcore game going, flexible enough to adapt whether you choose to run with teammates or play it at your own solitary pace.

The impressive thing about “Destiny 2” is how well it scales to fit those needs. You can investigate optional weapon modifications, or just ignore them. You can fret about color-coordinating your outfit, or just wear whatever high-rated gear you found last. You can pit yourself against human players, or just focus on fighting the game’s assortment of mute alien armies. You can join a clan and head out together for a difficult raid, or just wander around stumbling into whatever clash happens to play out on the road ahead. It never feels like one choice is somehow “playing it wrong”; the game is just as much fun no matter what path you choose.

The only thing you’re forced to do, in fact, is polish off the game’s sad storyline, since that unlocks the complete set of planets you’ll want to explore afterwards.

“Destiny 2” has plenty of future support on the docket. The basic version of the game retails for $60; a Expansion Pass is available for another $35 (or as part of a bundle with the basic game for $90 total.) The Expansion Pass is expected to include two waves of content, with the first arriving by the end of the year.

“Destiny 2” is available for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC. This review is based on product supplied by the publisher. Images courtesy Activision.

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