Last week, Bungie and Activision presented the long awaited gameplay reveal of Destiny 2. Destiny 1 was easily one of the most divisive releases of this console generation, but has maintained a diehard player-base that still eclipses many other games, some two and a half years after release. So it goes without saying that this reveal had a lot to prove, not just to those who have fallen in love with Bungie’s space magic universe, but those who felt let down by a final product that didn’t live up to expectations.
Even its staunchest detractors acknowledge that Destiny as a package and value proposition has changed radically in the years since its release. The Taken King, a high price point DLC that signaled the beginning of the game’s “Year 2”, overhauled many systems that had been met with ire in Destiny’s initial retail release.
Campaign plot progression and characterization were meatier, with Nathon Fillion’s character, Cayde-6, quickly becoming a fan favourite. Fillion’s work and some genuinely funny character interactions brought much needed levity into a self-serious universe. Many of the game’s more grindy or random elements were toned down and rebalanced, and the expansion added dozens of new missions and maps for players to explore. Alongside this came the inclusion of The Dreadnaught, a patrol area (Destiny’s equivalent of an open world map to explore) that was filled with secrets and a density not previously seen in the game. “The Taken King” scored far better with critics than its predecessor, proving Bungie had the humility to recognise the areas for improvement in its new franchise, and the skill to implement meaningful and positive changes while preserving the spirit of their creation.
Players were excited to see what Bungie had cooked up for Destiny 2, with over half a million viewers tuning in for their stream of the event – a presentation for a hand picked audience of journalists and prominent players that included gameplay stations for attendees to try. But the general sentiment following the reveal seems to be one of quiet approval rather than rapturous applause. “From what we've seen so far, this looks more like Destiny 1.5 than a brand new game.” Kotaku’s Jason Schreier said at the conclusion of his liveblog of the event, a succinct and common sentiment in the community.
Perhaps the lukewarm reception can be chalked up to Bungie trying to address one of the biggest (and wrong...est?) complaints about the first game - no story. Of course by no story, they actually meant no plot (Destiny's bursting at the seams with story), but it's a widely understood sentiment. The problem is, by addressing this in a way that is easily understood by most players, they've simply shown off what looks like a narrow and scripted hallway shooter akin to Call Of Duty in the first Destiny 2 campaign mission. This actually doesn't play to Destiny's strengths at all, and it doesn't feel like the right tone for the campaign to take.
Many hardcore Destiny players would attest that of all the repeatable tasks in the first game, heroic story missions are the least appealing. And that was when there was minimal plot-points and cut-scenes getting in the way of your enjoyment. A bad plot could account for this, but the game’s barebones campaign was actually one of its hidden strengths.
The lack of story in these missions allows you to enter a cognitive flow that makes up the bulk of what made the original Destiny such a success despite its shortcomings. By not snapping the player out of their concentrated state to deliver exposition they’ve likely heard dozens of times before, Destiny 1 stretches a small amount of content into a large amount of repeatable best-in-class gameplay. Couple this with voice chat and some friends who are committed to logging in a few times a week with you, and it’s an instant recipe for hours upon hours of enjoyment.
With a focus plot-heavy story missions and scripted sequences, Bungie could very well be actually harming the game. It's a solution that throws the baby out with the bathwater – the developer is making concessions for the people who might play the campaign once and then trade the game in at the expense of the diehard players who are likely to repeat the content for years.
Destiny 1 revealed itself with a patrol mission. A single guardian walking through a freezing, ancient traffic jam in the shadow of a massive man-made wall. We were drawn in immediately by the mystery of this game. Suddenly, another player appears in the game world; a friend to play with. They travel through the dark interior of the wall and out the other side, to find another friend and an emergent gameplay experience. A huge spider tank drops down from an alien ship as the skybox explodes and enemies appear all around. Half a dozen more players stream over a nearby wall and into the action, joining with the fire team to take down the boss together. The mystery, the shared world and the loot were the stars of this show - Destiny's best features were placed front and centre.
It was this reveal that generated the kind of fervour that's all but required to eventually sour into hate. Only when you fall in love with an idea can its perceived failure make you angry.
But the thing is, Destiny wasn’t a failure, anyone who was willing to stick with the game past its first rocky year found a deep and meaningful experience full of exciting challenges, gratifying surprises and memorable teamwork. The improved story missions were a nice but ultimately shallow improvement to what made the game great. That Bungie choose this element of its sequel to show off first makes you wonder if they truly understand their own game’s appeal.
Destiny 2 has so much more to show us, systems and changes that will likely justify the number in the title. But this initial gameplay reveal seems like a misstep. It's too similar to convert detractors or excite existing fans. Here’s hoping their E3 presentation in June recaptures the magic of that initial glimpse into the world of Destiny – a finely tuned gameplay experience where we tell the real stories with our friends by our sides, not with a blockbuster script and an all-star cast.
Destiny 2 is out September 8, 2017.