We were like sardines in a tin can. Every influencer, member of the press corps, and Activision staffer had been crammed into a stuffy aircraft hangar down in Hawthorne, California, fittingly right next to SpaceX’s headquarters. While Elon Musk’s company was nearby trying to help pioneer space travel, we had all huddled together to see the first gameplay of Destiny 2—the highly anticipated sequel to Bungie’s 2014 MMOFPS sci-fi space opera.
Fortunately, it wasn’t long before Luke Smith—likely one of the more visible and successful examples of game journalist turned game developer, and now director for Destiny 2—had taken the stage to highlight and guide us through the series of video vignettes we were about to watch. To kick things off, Luke surprisingly talked rather candidly about the fact that the original Destiny had lost a significant chunk of its audience after release. Although 50% of Destiny owners had invested in the expansions, crafted their own adventures with friends, and saw firsthand the universe Bungie so desperately wanted to create finally come together and take shape late in Destiny’s life, there was another 50% of the audience that hit that initial level cap, and never returned. The fun had simply been buried too far beneath the surface, and not everyone was willing to go digging for it.
Admittedly, I fell into that latter group. Although a perfectly competent and polished shooter, the first Destiny never grabbed me. I couldn’t sink my teeth into its lore, and what it had done in that initial effort just wasn’t enough to warrant me sticking around—and definitely would not get me to open up my wallet again for its expansions. However, at least Bungie was aware—or claimed to be aware—of folks like me. It’s often too easy for developers to continue to cater to the people they already have locked in, chalking up those lost over time as simple passersby, paying them no heed.
Bungie wants to get to the fun parts faster with Destiny 2 in the hopes of luring people like me back to the franchise. After both the presentation and then the ensuing hands-on with the game, though, I was left shaking my head, because it appears that very little has actually changed. In only the franchise’s second game, Destiny 2 feels like a glorified add-on—or, worse yet, a soft-reboot.
Some of the additions that were highlighted during Bungie’s presentation would of course be impossible to show in a venue like this. Building clans and the improved matchmaking is something that we will need to wait for final code for before we properly see it, but it is definitely something the game has long needed. While chatting with others at the event, it was common for the more diehard Destiny fans—the ones who easily fell into the 50% opposite me—to be extremely happy about this change. Still, many also lamented that it’s something that should have been in the game from the get-go, or at least earlier than this. This was one of two common reactions I found throughout the day: that the changes Destiny 2 were bringing should’ve been in the original.
There was also grief expressed over the fact that those loyal to the franchise would not see any boons or the like carry over from one game to the next. Destiny has been propped up by its fanbase believing the game would continue to improve, investing time and money into it constantly, and they are being “rewarded” by having to grind all over again. It almost feels like, in trying to win back folks like myself with a fresh start, that Bungie may have taken their entrenched audience for granted to some degree.
The other reaction that was far more common throughout the day was simple—this is it?—and many in both halves of Destiny’s potential audience shared it. Only one new raid, no new classes, and three new worlds (four if you count the new areas opened up on Earth) were teased. Sure, you have the new subclasses and powers for heroes, but if you’re going to make everyone start over, why not go hog wild and expand the gameplay, customization, and class options?
The worst of it is that Bungie showed us so little that whatever new content might’ve been there felt buried in the demos. Here we were, digging to try to find the fun of it all again. All heroes we played with—whether it was on the one Strike mission, one new 4v4 PvP mode, or the Homecoming campaign mission (which had been shown to us during the presentation already)—were prebuilt. Most of this was available on both PC and PS4, and I can attest that the PC version of the game looked and handled great. But, the demos that Bungie gave to us failed to make me care whatsoever, just like with the original game.
For example, allowing us to play a mission you literally just showed us during your presentation did nothing to expand on the idea of the fresh story you’re trying to set up. Dominus Ghaul is stealing the Traveler for himself; if I didn’t care about the giant gumball in the sky from the first game, how is this going to suddenly compel me? Thanks for dropping me into a firefight, with a prebuilt character, that I don’t want to be a part of after walking me through it literally 30 minutes prior. Let me explore a little; show me something new. If you’re trying to convince people to come back to Destiny, this wasn’t the mission to do it with.
The Strike Mission was similar. Although there were some new and interesting environmental hazards like giant mining drills, the Strike seemed to play just like the ones in the previous game: work your way deeper into an exotic location with your team—in this case a mining asteroid—kill the boss, get out with some loot.
Also, if you’re promoting connectivity and community, maybe give us some headsets with microphones in PvP or the Strikes. It’s hard to coordinate if you can’t communicate, and handcuffing everyone demoing the game like this made no sense even if you weren’t stressing how the game brings people together—but since you are, this came off as extra moronic.
The most interesting section of the day for me was easily the PvP, which at least showed us the new Countdown game mode. Even that didn’t feel exactly new, however, as it is best described as being exactly like Search and Destroy in Call of Duty, just with a Destiny-colored coat of paint. Every player has one life to live; one team has a bomb and a pair of targets. If that team kills everyone on the opposing team or successfully detonates the bomb, they win. Conversely, the other team is also trying to kill everyone, or can defuse the bomb before it goes off to achieve victory. The small map we played on was conducive to the mode and offered up some fast and frantic action. I would have loved to see other modes as well, though, especially to see how shrinking the standard 6v6 of most Destiny modes to 4v4 in Destiny 2 would affect them.
Activision and Bungie have just less than four months before Destiny 2 launches, and if they’re trying to find fuel for whatever hype train they want to get started, this was not the way to do it. I was left unimpressed by what was shown to us; like the first game, Destiny 2 came off as a perfectly competent and polished shooter in my hour or so hands-on with it, but it is an uninteresting one. My hope is that this was merely Bungie keeping their best cards close to the vest, and that more intriguing and nuanced gameplay will emerge over the summer. Otherwise, no matter how much the game has improved, it’s going to be hard to push onto players a fancy expansion that serves as a reset button for a franchise—no matter what 50% of the audience you fall into.