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Not Everything Is Great About Destiny 2

Now before the internet hate machine descends on this article like the overreacting Cthulhu that it is, I need to say a few things. To start, I like Bungie’s game. I really do. And this is coming from someone who found it nearly impossible to get into the first Destiny. I probably played it for a grand total of 2 hours (and on several separate occasions, mind you) before throwing in the towel. See, the thing is, I thought the first few Halo titles were amazing pieces of work, so it was quite disappointing for me that the same developer’s modern take on their own FPS formula left me feeling so flat.

But Destiny 2 is quite obviously a great game and improves on the original in all the ways that matter. The controls are incredibly solid, and for someone who isn’t usually the best at first person shooters (read: terrible), they feel intuitive and positively responsive. The graphics, while not running as smooth as I’d like them to on my PS4 Pro, are well-drawn and well-directed, representing a whole variety of alien landscapes in shimmering, extraterrestrial glory. Composition-wise, Destiny 2’s soundtrack is art in every sense of the idea, filled with warm horn passages and some of the best string work I’ve yet heard in a game.

Furthermore, the progression system is downright addictive, and I find myself eager to continue my varied space exploits so that I can level up my character and collect new weapons, armor and shaders (shhhhh, don’t speak of them). However, the sad thing is that this all stands in stark contrast to the story, which spews out like a tidal wave of convoluted science fiction word salad. Let's get real here: When I feel like I need to take a college course in a game’s lore to actually grasp what’s going on, I think it’s time to reassess the notion of accessibility.

Destiny 2 suffers from the same problems that many high fantasy games and other pieces of similar fiction (including TV shows and books) do. Its far-reaching history is too complicated for its own good, too needlessly intricate to be interesting, too self-important and obtuse to be compelling. Dialogue is peppered with enough in-world jargon to fill a 100-page Destiny and Me informative pamphlet, and the way acquaintances casually sound off about the obviously obscure goings-on within their universe often leaves me pointlessly overwhelmed and ultimately bored. I mean, I hear the words and I see the events happening, but I’m not attached to any of the characters or the setting, so none of it means very much. Would I be more excited if I’d played the original game? Possible, but doubtful.

But here’s the thing: I want to care. I really do. I crave stories that grab me and never let go, but I need a game to give me something—anything, really—of real substance to sink my teeth into. Unfortunately, batterings of empty details aren’t usually the way to go about it. If you’re going to present me with several sinister alien races to fight against, make the battle personal. Make the conflict heavy and the resolutions satisfying. As it stands, I’m just blasting down wave after wave of Fallen creatures with no perceived motivation. Are the Fallen actually evil? Do they have any redeeming qualities? Do they possess any depth beyond plasma blasts and incessant screeching? Sure, there’s mission dialogue and chattered objectives that point me in the right direction, even tell me that the Fallen are bad and that bad things need to be killed, but it all feels strangely hollow.

I’m sure there’s a subset of players who just eat this stuff up and write thousands of pages of disgustingly accurate Guardian fan fiction in their spare time, but I’m most definitely not one of them. I need more meat to my exposition, more personality to my encounters. For a game that hinges on an epic tale of exploding stars and ancient rivalries between powerful entities, the narrative tension never rises above a fizzle. Most of the time, you can cut it with a potato. A dull one. The dullest potato.

I don’t necessarily want to fault the writers involved with the game, because a) I also write for a living and b) I’m not entirely sure I could create something better. So in the spirit of writer decency, I’d rather just assume Destiny 2 is simply a victim of its hybrid genre and unconventional structure, a casualty of having one foot planted firmly inside traditional campaign gameplay and the other in a shared world replete with ever-evolving online multiplayer. I guess, in the end, we can’t have it all, and as a result, storytelling is an afterthought here. And supposedly this is leaps and bounds above the original Destiny, which, when you sit down and think about it, is a very scary thought.

Taking this context into account, I would imagine it’s difficult to craft a cohesive, clear thread within the confines of such circumstances. In that sense, I can totally understand the narrative’s shortcomings. Bungie's writers don’t have the luxury of a straightforward single player adventure that focuses completely on 10 uninterrupted hours. Instead, there are myriad distractions like sidequests, public events and most importantly, millions of other players concurrently making their way through the game. All of who, by the way, can level up and enjoy themselves while completely ignoring the main missions if they so choose. That’s at least what I’ve observed to be true. Maybe they are, in fact, mandatory, but my confusion on the matter may just help bolster the silly point of this entire rant.

As a piece of software that you play and improve at with friends, Destiny 2 excels wonderfully, and I plan to keep partaking well into the release of its planned DLC. But as a vehicle for story and emotion, it regrettably falls flat on its MMO face. If we're lucky, Bungie will take a page from Titanfall 2's campaign playbook for the next go-around.