I only own a PC, so by default I am a PC gamer. I’m avid, though–I’m into it. So I watched the original Destiny release from afar with a kind of detached curiosity. The game was popular, well-reviewed (I think?), and some friends liked it–even a few friends who rarely played shooters. It kinda looked like the Borderlands franchise. Which I loved! But I wasn’t about to buy a whole console for one game. (And christ, playing an FPS on a controller? No, uh-huh. Not for me.)
So now it’s a few years later and Bungie has released Destiny 2 on PC. I tried the beta and it was okay. Pretty lackluster to be honest, but imagined that to be the fault of a tiny beta experience rather than the game itself. (Little did I know….) But, some hyped-up friends of mine graciously bought me a copy so I dove into the full release. After all, Destiny 2 had piqued my curiosity–I love looters and shooters–and it was a big, marquee-name game on PC. I installed the game with a hopeful optimism.
Sadly, Destiny 2 sucks. It’s basically Borderlands with a better story (not a good story, just better), better graphics, fewer levels, fewer guns, more boring guns, and less content. I cannot emphasize enough how much everything about Destiny 2 feels like “less”–less than other games, less than it should be, less than it could be. Taking a step back, the whole thing nearly beggars belief: it took Bungie’s massive, money-laden team years and a sequel to come out with this paltry amount of actual game?
I’ll start with what little was unqualifiably good: the graphics. Holy shit the graphics were stellar. I played the campaign with friends and I must’ve idiotically uttered “damn these are nice graphics” at least four times an hour. Some of the weapon effects and enemy effects were incredibly cool, and many of the zones had stellar lighting and design. The story cinematics were on par with Blizzard’s. It’s probably the most graphically beautiful game I’ve played to date.
And… that was it. That was the only unqualified compliment I can give the game. The rest of my nice things to say come with caveats. Like the campaign itself: it was fun, it had a nice sense of progression. Caveat: the writing was dogshit. Like, literally the megaboss toughmonster was saying shit I imagined supervillains would say when I pit my action figures against each other at age 8. He sure looked cool while saying that shit in the cinematics, though! The other characters are tropes and Nathan Fillion making lame jokes. (Didn’t work for me at all.)
The shooting is clean and feels good. Necessary for a shooter game, considering the amount of time spent behind the scope. But it can also be tedious and repetitive because the guns lack variety. The rest of the mechanics are lackluster. Though there’s a lot of fuss made about unlocking the abilities, they end up having such interminably long cooldowns that they’re essentially non-factors for 90% of the time I was playing. Save grenades for grouped up baddies and use the class special on the boss. Shoot everything else. Tedious and repetitive.
Other than the look and feel of the game, there’s not much positive to say about it. The itemization is the absolute worst aspect. Seriously, it’s dismal. It’s almost confounding how wrong Bungie got it. The whole point of a looter is to get bigger and badder weapons/abilities that make the player feel powerful. Endgame should be focused on mega-powerful weapons and the occasional item that completely changes the gameplay by surfacing a particular mechanic. Destiny 2 vaguely follows this arc, but it’s all beholden to the numbers and with few unique mechanics. Worse yet, the way enemies scale devalues a lot of the weapons’ gains–not once would I ever feel that “I’m fuckin’ crushing these lowbie mobs!” vibe that every looter needs.
Case in point: when I hit level 20 (max level, because no one likes leveling up?), I got access to the pre-order weapon, a sick-ass beam weapon that got stronger the longer you shoot it at a target. It’s the first time I’ve had my hands on this mechanic, and it’s fun to use! It forces me to be more present and focused when killing the endless little mobs, rather than spraying into groups thoughtlessly! But, the power level was only 220. I beat a few bosses, got a new gun with power level 225. The beam weapon is now weak as hell compared to this random rifle. The new rifle encourages just spraying into groups of enemies.
Of course, there’s a weird absorption mechanic whereby I can upgrade the beam weapon to 225 power. But that’s not exactly the point: I want the next weapon to have some killer new mechanic (or maybe, at least, one in five weapons). Alas, there would never be another unique or interesting gun like the beam weapon. There are just more and more slightly-different battle rifles, shotguns, snipers, and SMGs. One gun shoots black holes every three bullets; another does explosive rounds. They are functionally the same, gameplay-wise. Shoot, kill, reload, repeat.
This leads me to my next big complaint: content. The game is completely bereft of content. There are only 20 levels to climb through, and the campaign is about five hours long. Sometimes, that can be satisfying–I mean, goddamn, give me a game that knows when to end any day of the week–but in Destiny 2 it’s not enough, perhaps because of the expectations set by the MMOFPS label. The leveling-up process shouldn’t be a quick precursor to the end game, it should be an experience in and of itself (a direction WoW went in a few expansions ago, to its great detriment).
Even after the campaign, my hopeful optimism lingered. “But, fine, right? An extended tutorial campaign to get you to the end-game where the real action is could be OK, yeah?” Ha-ha. No. The end-game sucks. The utter dearth of content is most felt at end-game. There are something like six or so separate dungeons (“strikes”) you can run endlessly. They have no interesting/unique mechanics, so grinding strikes is almost immediately tedious. Then, there’s a timed strike mode where enemies are bigger bullet sponges, but the experience is the same as ever. By the time I was strong enough to run these super strike events successfully, I was over it. Lastly are the raids. I haven’t done one yet because you need 6 people and there’s no easy way to find random players for it. You have to find a squad on reddit or some shit, in an absolutely baffling bit of meta-game design.
There’s just not a lot to do in the game, which clashes with the expectations set by the genre. I had some fun doing the campaign and the post-campaign quests, but ultimately it was maybe 10 hours of content, tops. The strikes added another couple hours (the fun of which was extended by playing with friends, rather than randos). I tried PvP but I don’t like the floaty, jumping style of PvP that the Halo series originated and Bungie continues to hew to. There are public events and repeatable quests, too, which are nice as well but also limited to about two or three different experiences that repeat endlessly.
And what there is to do is highly repetitive. Given that most actual moment-to-moment gameplay revolves around the shoot-kill-repeat cycle with nothing more interesting happening, the fact that you’re also expected to repeatedly run the same strikes and PvP maps over and over makes the whole enterprise feel downright Sisyphean.
Ultimately Destiny 2 has a decent amount of variety but not a lot of mechanical depth. It was fun to poke into each of the little experiences going on, but none held my attention for any length of time. It looks nice and yeah the guns are fun to shoot. But there’s no variety, the guns themselves are just utterly boring. This results in the number on the item being more important than the item type itself, and that is not a fun progression system. Without compelling goals like cooler weapons or new and unique experiences I wasn’t motivated to run the same content endlessly.
Then there’s the cost. I’m usually not the type to worry about the price of a game–developers work hard and games are underpriced generally. But Destiny 2 is one of the few games to rankle me this way: this game cost 60 bucks but has one of the worst dollar-per-entertainment-hour value propositions of a multiplayer looter game I’ve ever played. The two upcoming expansions cost $35 (or $20 individually). Then, if you’re somehow so time-pressed you can’t beat a five hour game you can also buy the loot boxes that are earned over time. This amounts to a pay-to-progress mechanic in an MMO with already a lack of things to do. It just doesn’t feel like a good value, and I’ve spent thousands of hours on video games. Destiny 2 sucks.