Early in the story campaign of Destiny 2, you are tasked with reclaiming a lost arcology, found floating in a methane ocean on the Saturnine moon of Titan, from a race of alien bug assholes called the Hive. After leaping around on some platforms, you plunge headfirst into an overgrown nest of Hive monsters, which only gets danker and more disgustingly cocooned in gross yellow goop the further you go. As you fight them off and blow up their egg sacs for some reason (ew), the churning metal score intensifies and soars and you can feel your heartbeat speed up and the waves of enemies keep coming and you’re popping their heads like bubble wrap and they’re surrounding you and you’re about to die but then somehow you don’t and finally you shoot the life out of their Hive God or whatever and it feels terrifying but mostly it feels awesome. That’s Destiny 2.
However, Destiny 2 is not just a world-class first person shooter, it’s a farming simulator smuggled inside the body of an FPS. The “point” of the game is to beat challenges and kill aliens so you can acquire the best weapons and armor, so you can beat more challenges and kill better aliens, and on and on it goes, until you either can’t possibly get better guns or the sun swallows the Earth whole.
This loot treadmill is at the center of the game, and it’s not exactly to Destiny 2's detriment, since the game is built for players to fight with each other (and even against each other) and that interactivity necessitates differentiation. In fact, I can’t deny that chemical thrill I get out of seeing glowing purple orbs pop out of dead enemies’ bodies, like a child lunging at a loaded Christmas tree. There are so many cool guns in Destiny 2, and the chance to unlock, say, a badass hand cannon or that one sword everyone loves basically ensures that any sufficiently serious Destiny player will plug themselves into the loop and shoot for the head forever.
That said, holy shit, the loot cycle makes me feel like a lunatic. I don’t exactly have seven hours to devote to the six-person Leviathan raid, nor the energy to level up and get the infernal MIDI Multi-Tool which pretty much every enemy in PvP seems to be killing me with. I have dabbled in a few of the more hardcore MMO elements of Destiny 2, like the co-op Strikes or the PvP Crucible area, and they are undoubtedly fun, but the gulf between me (a casual video game idiot) and my Strike partners (who all seem to have cool wing armor and better aim than me) is harrowingly wide. Mechanical skill aside, I could grind/work my way up to put myself in position to be an ass-kicking world-destroyer. It’s possible, although the time and energy it would take just to catch up to whatever the meta is stresses me out just thinking about it.
Some people love this, and the hunt for exotic and legendary items is probably fun and certainly rewarding (if done correctly). As gameplay loops go, this one demands focus and multiple rolls of the dice. There’s chance involved, which makes me feel extra manic. The last Strike I took part in (a Strike is three-person co-op PvE mode that I completed with two random players) rewarded my 30 minutes of hard work with nothing better than a helmet. Needless to say, I did not get the fucking Rat King. God damn it.
After a week of playing, it feels like I’m just going to have to make my peace with missing out on the rawest shit Destiny 2 has on offer. I have neither the time nor patience to grind my way up to an elite power level, and I’m also probably not good enough at the game to offer much to any potential Clan or Raid team. The loftiest heights of Destiny 2 are off limits if you don’t get on the treadmill and run, which I cannot.
The good news is, you don’t really need to play Destiny 2 like a cultist to enjoy it. The story is robust and satisfying, with a very strong ending and a fleshed out villain (which I gather the first game lacked). I’ve only played a few FPS games and have spent most of my time as a healer in Overwatch, a cartoonish romp that isn’t really like Destiny 2, but this game has easily the best gunplay of any video game I’ve spent time with. There are so many different sorts of guns, and a trio of seemingly indistinguishable pulse rifles will probably each have a unique heft and recoil pattern.
I didn’t play the first Destiny, and the sense I get from reading about it is that it was as enjoyable of a shooter as its sequel, but it was plagued by a nonsensical story and an actively hostile UI. Everyone seemed to complain about the game’s labyrinthine structure while still lighting 1,000 hours on fire. Destiny 2 has smoothed out these rough edges and streamlined itself. When I don’t feel like getting humiliated in the Crucible or don’t have the time to complete a full mission, there are plenty of smaller ways to spend time popping aliens’ domes open like piñatas, which, like I said, is fun as hell. Each planet acts as an open world of sorts, with public events surfacing and tiny side quests called Adventures. You can hang out, shoot a big spider-looking tank for a five minutes, get a bad piece of armor, then scram. Honestly, this is how I spend a ton of time in the game. Maybe someday I’ll get into a raiding clan and hop onto the treadmill in earnest, but I’m just going to shoot aliens for a while instead.