The scene fades from black and everything seems calm. Our heroes are wandering about, continuing their assigned duties. Suddenly, an armada of ships break through the clouds, unleashing legions of missiles at the heroes, killing plenty and leaving nothing but ruin. This isn’t the beginning of a Call of Duty campaign or the exciting opening of an Uncharted game. This is how Destiny 2 opens, and after such lackluster storytelling in the original game, came as a huge surprise. The first mission was the exact opposite of everything in Destiny 1. Filled with setpiece moments, gorgeous cinematics and a tangible threat, Destiny 2 makes a strong first impression.
While there are lots of activities to complete across the four new open areas, Destiny 2’s campaign is, surprisingly, a true highlight of the game. During the Destiny 1 era, the campaigns always felt like a side note. While The Taken King did its best with the structure and mechanics available to it, vanilla Destiny and Rise of Iron’s stories fell flat. Destiny 2 doesn’t fall into the same trappings, for the most part. Overall, the campaign is well-paced, well-acted and well-structured, though there are times it veers off the path.
WARNING! Slight spoilers are below. Don’t scroll below the screenshot, unless you want to keep reading!
As you may recall from the beta, the opening mission ends in disaster. Confronted by Dominus Ghaul, the imposing leader of the Cabal Empire’s Red Legion, the Guardians are stripped of their light and left to die. Stripping players of their power is a powerful narrative tool, one that numerous other games have taken advantage of (God of War). Seeing your Guardian limp about with no tools is harrowing, but the feeling of hopelessness doesn’t last long.
Where Destiny 2 falters is that it gives players their power back so quickly. Unlike a God of War game where players spend the entirety of the game regaining all their lost skills, Destiny 2 gives it back to players in the very next mission. Any nervousness about dying permanently ends up feeling cheap and it probably would have been more impactful to have more missions without Light.
Destiny 2 does find it better grounding with its NPC characters. Unlike the player, characters like Zavalla and Cayde-6 do not recover their Light. How they deal with the loss of their powers ends up being more impactful and emotional than anything the player must put up with.
We were able to play about fifteen missions of the campaign, which equated to somewhere between 6-8 hours. It’s a surprisingly lengthy campaign and when taking into account the final missions should exceed that time limit. For the most part, the campaign remains engrossing throughout its length thanks to its varied mission structure. The campaign keeps players moving from world-to-world, meeting new characters and facing the different enemy species. Along the way, players will drive tanks, transport essential items and fight alongside NPCs. Each mission begins and ends with a cutscene instead of the exposition dump that started and ended each mission in Destiny 1. While there are still a few missions that are just point-and-shoot with little context, the majority do provide enough context to keep players moving towards the objective marker.
The Darkness was not a compelling enemy in Destiny. Vague and ambiguous, players had no idea who or what they were fighting against. So, with Destiny 2, we get a more straightforward villain in Dominus Ghaul. Obsessed with being worthy, Ghaul leads the assault on The Last City and successfully captures the Traveler and Speaker. Though mostly appearing in cutscenes, Ghaul has more depth than Destiny 2’s trailers have let on. He’s a brute, but there’s something honorable about this Cabal warlord. Whether it’ll pay off at the end of the campaign is a mystery, but he’s intriguing so far. What wasn’t so intriguing was the doomsday weapon that shows up early in the game. It’s meant to create a sense of urgency but ultimately comes off as cliché and extraneous. Gaul alone was good enough.
Though we couldn’t see the ending of the campaign, what we did see was far more engaging and expansive than anything previously seen in Destiny. It remains to be seen if the ending can match the high marks set by the opening, but the ride to get there is one well worth taking. There are a few bumps along the road, many caused by a lack of urgency, but what we’ve seen so far is a vast improvement and should keep players entertained until the end.
Destiny 2 is available now on PS4 and Xbox One. The PC version launches October 24.