Hitting level 20 does nothing of course. If anything Destiny 2 starts at level 20. An imposed maximum level that marks the end of easy steady progression and beckons you to start grinding through areas and challenges in order to maximise the statistics on your equipment. It’s all shockingly familiar. Because it’s the same dance that the original Destiny offered. In fact, I’m wondering why I’m playing this.
Not because Destiny is a bad game. It’s just incredibly obtuse. While the first game had issues in its developments causing its story and plot to be almost non-existent, its game design choices were more tangible. The familiar shooter controls that harken back to the Halo series, combined with the loot gathering of the Diablo and, perhaps more fittingly, Borderlands series. There’s a lot to love in Destiny.
Yet, for some reason, after it hits level 20, Destiny starts to treat you like you’ve passed your initiation rite and begins talking in tongues to get you to experience the positive feedback of finding better loot again. New currencies are introduced that fit into each other like gears in a Swiss time piece, weapons and armour can be tweaked with modifications to provide a miniscule improvement towards certain challenges in the game, and suddenly the grandeur of one’s outwardly appearance with armour sets and shaders for colours becomes enviable. Take a step back and it’s like you’re looking at the inner workings of a cult, where the promised values are slowly replaced by an eternal demand for resources in exchanges for status within a small group of fanatics.
Like a cult, it is a place where one can feel home. Sometimes a bit too much. The quests and tasks presented by the game are inanely common to the point of them being offensive if you’ve ever played any type of role-playing game, but there are highlights every now and then that make you forgive the rest. The environments themselves are curious in that they all seem to represent other games: war-torn European cities akin to Call of Duty, a sea-based construct akin to a oil-drilling platform complete with harbour and Dutch-named sea vessels that somehow evoke shades of Metal Gear Solid 2, and even a planet with an inexplicably similar colour palette and alien architecture to what one would deem to be trademarked by No Man’s Sky.
Weapons are almost nondescript. There are so many with an equal amount of ever-so-slightly differing stats, that you’ll gain preference for the different types of pistols and rifles, rather than specific weapon versions. The public events seem to be the same ones from the first instalment, although they seem to be a little less random in type per location.
Similarity is the name of the game then. Which is fine as – just as a gazillion games before it – Destiny 2 liberally rubs on the panacea of game design on itself: multiplayer. In Dutch there’s a saying that basically mentions “shared pain is half pain” and it certainly applies here. All the similarities to the first game are kind of forgotten as you help out your fellow team mates or shoot each other to kingdom come in sanctioned matches.
The game certainly gives you the proper toys to play with and is far more conscious of your environment to help you out even adding some more platform antics. Playing together with others feels like cheating, as you can easily resurrect each other, provide back-up, and at the very least curse together at the unfair odds. But even here Destiny 2 seems hell-bent to sand down its cutting edge: fail a public event and the game more often than not treats it as if you’ve achieved victory anyway. It’s just that you can earn "much more victory" when you are better at it.
And thus the game plods on, an enjoyable shooting romp for all involved with the same function as a pool table among friends. Its story is mediocre, trying simultaneously to be an epic science-fiction tale of annihilation, a mysterious high-fantasy saga, and a roguish cartoon-like comedy. Oh, and by the by, here are some elements from the first game so you can still feel connected and safe.
The gravity of the situation changes as often as you change planets and the characters themselves are so cynically accustomed to their environments that they never truly step beyond their stereotypes. Special mention goes out to Failsafe; who could’ve thought Bungie would so blatantly pay tribute to Warframe’s Ordis? But then again, by now it’s pretty clear Destiny just takes whatever it needs from other sources.
Faith in the Light
What’s left is a promise. A promise of something being so much better than everything else out there. And if you believe and have faith, Destiny 2 is exactly that. A continuation of the plan laid out by the first. A step closer to attaining that new rung within the cult hierarchy and the peace and comfort of knowing that your leaders know what they are doing by continuing what they were. Who cares that the sacred texts are still a bit naff and garbled? There’s another raid to plan with your "fireteam" of fellow cultists and scrape together the resources to almost agonizingly progress in the endgame. After all, progression was good. Remember those first 20 levels?
It's so shockingly familiar that everyone outside might still be wondering why you play this particular Skinner box. Especially after you’ve reached level 20. Again. Maybe because it's so darned pretty and controls so smoothly. Maybe it's because you have some true friends in the game. Or maybe you just desperately want to believe that the creators of Halo can present you with the best video game on the planet. Maybe one day your faith will be rewarded.