Starting at the most obvious, but also the most deceptively simple: What is Destiny 2 for? What is the function that it fulfills in the world, and how is that function greater or lesser than the one that its predecessor Destiny performed? This might be a high-flying question, and you might balk at it, but remember that the big industrial pitch for the first game was that we would be playing Destiny for the next ten years. Like World of Warcraft before them, the Destiny franchise is meant to be integrated into your daily life. Don’t play a new game, do some strikes to grind rep; don’t check out the next first-person shooter game down the line, just get your friends together for a Destiny raid.
Asking what the game is for is another way of asking how it becomes fully integrated into your life. All of the other things that are seamlessly, and without thought, brought into the fold of my daily existence have very particular uses. An oven for baking, a microwave for cooking simple things, a refrigerator for keeping food for long periods of time, lamps for light, and on and on. I’m going to be using those things, or some version of them, for the next ten years. So what does Destiny 2 do?
I think there are two main schools of thought on this, and after playing a substantial amount of the game, I feel like I can present both. One function of Destiny 2 is that it is a platform for spending time with friends. Another function is that it is a slow, meaningful grind toward equipment and content. It is in the nexus of these two functions that Destiny 2 tries to burrow into your life. You walk around, and you shoot guns at things, and these two modes of interaction are at play.
Destiny 2 wants you to hang out with your friends inside of it. It is a game that wants to provide ample opportunity for your competitive friends to get together and smash into other teams in vicious first-person player-versus-player content. It’s also a game that wants your difficulty-seeking friends to band together in the eternal fight between players and designers. There are raids, or at least there will be soon, and they are simply about doing the most mind-boggling and complicated things that the game can allow. Finally, and this is the most important, you can go on autopilot and just hang around on a world with your friends doing patrols and adventures.
While the former existed in the previous game and were each a flavor of “go to x location, do y thing, kill z number of enemies,” the adventures of Destiny 2 are a form of content that seems created directly in response to some of the criticism that was aimed at the first game. Adventures are the sweet spot between the traveling and fighting of a patrol and the story focus on the game’s main narrative missions. Each adventure puts you in a little pocket of the world with a very particular mission in mind, and you basically delve into the nexus of content that the writers, designers and world creation team have made for you. In contrast to the first game, which basically told you to go online to read more if you actually care, Destiny 2 seems invested in delivering all of this information to you, and casually exploring that and discussing it with friends seems like a great thing for people to do that wasn’t available in the previous game.
Strikes, or special dungeon-based missions for small teams, are back, of course. There are also challenges (specific requirements for each planet that reset daily and reward loot), flashpoints (specific planet-based missions that reset weekly), and a huge number of public events (micro-missions that people can seamlessly collaborate on in the world). All of these are for stumbling into; they don’t seem to exist for systematic completion, but instead to make sure that you always have something to do if you want to keep the conversation going with your buddies. Destiny 2 is supplanting the NASCAR race, the football game, or even the Heroes of the Storm tournament as a thing to do when you’re really doing something else. It wants to be your regularly scheduled entertainment, the thing that supplants your TV-viewing time as the new god of the entertainment center.
Underneath all of this content is the slow grind, and this is perhaps the best place to talk about the game’s story. I am an unflinching enthusiast for videogame narratives at this point. I am more interested in the stories of Battlefields or Call of Dutys than I am anything else, and the same is true for Destiny 2. The plot here is simple: the protagonists of the universe are the Guardians (that’s you, the player), and you’re powered by a big white orb. The game opens with some bad people coming to your house, stealing the orb, and scattering your buddies to the wind. You do some magical trickery to get your orb power back, and then you have to scour the solar system to get the gang back together in order to storm your old house to get the orb back.
That’s a summary, and the actual game is big, splashy and full of science fiction terms. It is a better-told story than the most recent Halo game, and it is on-par with any middle of the road sci fi book that you might want to read. I was entertained. Playing through the campaign gave me the feeling, though, that this was merely a pretense for slowly dripping all of the things I mentioned in the paragraphs above to the player. We hop to each beautiful planet, do some story beats, learn the concepts of that space, and then we’re off again to the next one. We level up, get appropriate gear, and make our way slowly to the end-game of Destiny 2, which is really less an end than it is the game proper.
When the story dumps us out into freedom, we’re supposed to recognize the long treadmill in front of us. We’re supposed to search for exotic weapons and strange new opportunities for marginal increases in statistical ability. We’re intended to want a slightly better gun for the PVP matches, and also a different gun for playing strikes or raids in the most optimal way. The hill climbs ever upward, and we’re supposed to savor the fact that we can climb that hill, that each gun feels good to shoot, that each small step feels like a significant one that is taking us somewhere.
What, then, is the function of Destiny 2? It has something to do with your time, whether that’s socializing with friends over monotonous tasks or grinding up gear for marginal benefit. Both of those things feel good. I think that Destiny 2 is the best place to do those things if you’re thrilled at the prospect of doing them. However, I let out a big sigh once I realized I was at the end of everything unique this first release of Destiny 2 had to offer me. While new content will drip in over the next couple years, right now you really have to take seriously that Destiny 2 is like a microwave: you know exactly what it does, and it does it well, but you can’t expect it to do more than that. It’s very hard for me to look at the past five or six years of console and PC games, and then the things that are announced for the next six months, and think that I want to fully integrate Destiny 2 into my life as my primary entertainment appliance. It would be so easy to do so, but the cost of committing to this thing over any other thing seems so high.
Destiny 2 was developed by Bungie and published by Activision. Our review is based on the PlayStation 4 version. It is also available for Xbox One. A PC version will be released in late October.
Cameron Kunzelman tweets at @ckunzelman and writes about games at thiscageisworms.com. His latest game, Epanalepsis, was released last year. It’s available on Steam.