Review | 12/21/2017 at 11:00 AM

Destiny 2 Co-Op Review

A game that exists

As 2017 (thankfully) draws to a close, we wanted to take a look at how Destiny 2 stands after some needed updates and the release of the first expansion. Games like these are ever-changing and shifting, but we wanted to put together our thoughts on it and try to answer the usual question that gets tossed about with this: “is it worth it?”

Jason’s Take

What are you looking to get out of Destiny 2? Do you want something that lets you hop in every week with a couple buddies to shoot aliens and get some new gear? Do you want to be the deadliest Guardian that smokes other fools attempting to try the Trials of the Nine? Or are you looking for something that will completely replace some other MMO in your life, say World of Warcraft or Guild Wars 2? These three questions appear to encompass the bulk of Destiny 2’s player base and by attempting to placate/appease/appeal to all of them, Bungie has left none of them very happy.

Those questions also break the game down into three recognizable genres/categories: Destiny 2 as an aRPG, Destiny 2 as PvP title, and Destiny 2 as an MMO. Personally, I approached Destiny 2 as an aRPG with solid shooting mechanics and, from that perspective, I feel the game has been semi-successful. The minute-to-minute gameplay is enjoyable and the “shooty space guns” shoot well; Public Events are more interesting and easier to track, and the new “Adventures” offer some fun, bite-sized stories that hint at what may be in store for the game in the near future. The recent “Curse of Osiris” expansion arrived just in time to add some new activities (heroic Strikes and heroic Adventures) that could be completed with just a couple of friends, and the latest update added “Masterwork” weapons, which makes decrypting engrams hold some excitement again. The new “Seasons” feature, which is part of the base game, changes up some of the gear you can earn from vendors, and even the limited-time events (like “The Dawning”), ensure there will be times when there is new gear and cosmetic items (like armor/weapon shaders, emblems, and Sparrows) to chase.

Bungie has learned some key lessons, too, from their first venture and made the whole grind to increase your “Power Level” (formerly “Light Level”) after you hit the level cap (20 in the base game, 25 with the expansion) more straightforward. Weekly activities ensure you’ll receive gear that’s always at least five levels higher than your current Power Level, and the game seems to track what your highest Power Level could be out of all your acquired gear so you don’t have to keep swapping gear in and out to maximize that level before getting the rewards. Those weekly activities ensure there’s always some box to check when you hop in, so you and your friends can have some set goal for what you want to do during a play session.

All of that being said, the biggest issue I have with Destiny 2 is the distinct lack of endgame activities for a group of two or three people. Granted this isn’t all that different from the first Destiny, which initially had very little to do after the story wrapped up and players were busy grinding to get “Raid ready.” Eventually, though, the first game also had things like hidden challenges in the Strikes or missions that led to Exotic weapons, and unique gear that could only be acquired from Strikes. It’s surprising that, thus far, Destiny 2 has none of these things, which is incredible as this is a follow-up title not an initial outing. Presumably, Bungie has a stack of “lessons learned” and community feedback from the first Destiny. While it’s clear they did respond to some of that and make changes where needed, it’s odd that they then either walked back certain design decisions that worked (like integrating Strikes into the story and random stats on guns), or seemingly ignored some things that would have made the sequel even better than the first; and as I said, nowhere is that more apparent than in Destiny 2’s endgame experience.

Outside of the Raid and the Crucible, three is the magic number for your Fireteam. Strikes require three people and you’ll get matchmade into a group of three if you’re playing alone or with just one other person. Public Events (particularly the heroic variants) are a lot easier with a couple buddies. Heck, part of the main story revolves around getting three people together and reform their Fireteam. So, with all the focus on having a group of three, why is the only meaningful endgame activity a six-player Raid?

That’s a realization I came to around my third week with the game. After running through the Strike Playlist a few times and completing all the Public Events on each of the four planets, I wondered why I was still doing it. Within the confines of the game, completing those weekly activities and getting the powerful gear rewards was the easiest way to increase my Power Level so I’d be eligible to do the Raid. However, that particular activity also requires me to have five friends that, one, are also at the correct Power Level, and two, have a few hours free to go through the entire thing. The latter is the catch. As a mid-30s adult with a partner and child, time is at a premium. Most of my friends are in a similar boat and trying to line up all of our schedules where we collectively have four hours free to play a game is almost impossible.

The new “Guided Games” feature is supposed to help with this issue by allowing a group of four (who are all from the same clan) to queue up for the Raid and get match made with individual players that want to experience the content. This is supposed to be beneficial to both parties as the clan gets enough folks to go through and complete the Raid, and the individual players get to learn about and complete the Raid with an experienced group. My experiences with it thus far, however, haven’t been great.

Long wait times usually forced me to abandon the queue before I could get into a group, and those few times when I did get into one, a few of the clans I teamed up with were impatient and unwilling to help me learn the Raid mechanics. There are some serious expectations mismatch with the system, and I can’t tell if that’s the fault of the system itself as Bungie designed it, or with gamers as a whole. Most likely it’s a little bit of both. The Raid is not something you can hop into and expect to be done in an hour or even two as It requires such a precise level of coordination from all the people involved. Even one mistake in a few of the encounters and the group has to wipe (i.e., everyone dies) and start that encounter over again. For clans that have already completed the Raid and have gone through the pains of learning how to do everything, the idea of teaching all of that to a couple “unknowns” probably isn’t that appealing. For the individual players, it can be just as frustrating trying to learn something when you know you’re the only in the group that “doesn’t get it .” This mismatch of expectations leads to no one having very much fun.

To be clear, I don’t fault Bungie for these particular issues around the Raid itself; including a high-level activity that rewards your most fervent players is necessary and that means setting a certain barrier to entry. The real fault lies in the Raid being the ONLY such unique activity available in the base game and it can ONLY be completed (barring exploiting glitches/hacks) with a group of six. Yes, there’s the Nightfall Strike - a harder version of the regular Strikes that imposes a time limit and special modifiers like doing increased melee at the cost of special abilities taking longer to charge - but that’s not exactly unique. The “Curse of Osiris” expansion added the new “Raid Lair,” which requires less time overall but still needs six players to complete it.

That addresses one small part of the problems with the Raid (i.e., the time commitment), but it doesn’t address the core issue of a lack of endgame content for a smaller group of players. Overall, this is a step back from where the original Destiny ended up with activities like the Prison of Elders. While they likely have similar things planned for future expansions, it is disappointing that the sequel appears to be starting off, content-wise, where the first game began rather than where it ended. Much as with the first game, Destiny 2 has potential and promise, and maybe it will run a similar course to the original Destiny where a big expansion will drop next September and shake things up a bit. I can’t help but wonder, though, why it seems to be charting such a similar path instead of starting somewhere familiar and going somewhere new.

Going back to the original question of “is it worth it,” I can only say “yes” with modifiers. If you’re looking for a fun FPS aRPG to hop into with a group of friends for a few hours every week, then, yeah, it’s mostly worth it. In all other cases, though, Destiny 2 has a ways to go.

Mike's Take

Destiny was a fine shooter, but it was riddled with glaring flaws that were eventually ironed out by its expansions, most notably The Taken King. The "Year Two" Destiny experience was probably my favorite time with that game - the Dreadnought was filled with secrets, the Taken were an interesting enemy to fight, and the King's Fall Raid was just as good as the original Vault of Glass. It was by no means perfect, but Destiny had gotten to a really good place from which you could launch a sequel.

What's surprising to me, is that Destiny 2 chose to walk back a lot of the positive things about the original game. Story-wise, there's no mystery to be found; everything is explained to you in rather direct fashion. The nature of the Darkness in the galaxy isn't questioned, you're simply Guardians shooting the bad aliens. Even when exploring the vast ruins of dead worlds, there's... nothing to figure out. I suppose that the original game leaned too hard on trying to preserve the mysterious ("I don't have time to explain..."), but Destiny 2 moved too far in the opposite direction.

On the co-op front, shoving almost all of the bigger co-op activities to the endgame seems like a mistake as well. The Strikes that unlocked over the course of the Destiny campaign aren't introduced until you're almost at the end of Destiny 2's. This had a curious effect of me not even running a Strike until I did the weekly Nightfall for the first time. While the original Strikes roughly fit into the campaign, the Destiny 2 Strikes feel like they're simply side missions included as an afterthought. The inability to directly replay Strikes you like really hammers that feeling home.

The lack of randomized stats/perks on weapons is probably what upset me most in Destiny 2. Part of the fun of the original was finding a "god roll" weapon, with both good stats and relevant perks. Now, all you need to do is pursue specific weapons, rather than enjoy the surprise of finding one with unexpected power. Exotic weapons also feel lackluster this time around, and outside of the Prometheus Lens being broken for a while, the decision to balance skills and weapon stats around the PVP mode is not a welcome one. Other MMOs have figured out how to deal with this, and Destiny 2 needs to learn that lesson quickly.

So what did I like? For the most part, I think that the open world areas are a lot of fun to run around in, and the new system for Public Events is really nice, especially when you're on a map with players who know how to spawn the Heroic variants of them. Movement and gun play still feel incredibly tight, and the PC version feels even better. I like the small stories that Adventures offer, and I hope they lean more into them in the future.

I capped off my original review of Destiny by talking about how much potential it had, and over time Bungie really did improve it. Destiny 2 is currently in a very similar place, but now has very different expectations hanging over it. The question is is whether or not Bungie is up to meeting them a second time.

The Co-Optimus Co-Op Review of Destiny 2 is based on time spent with both the PC and PlayStation 4 versions of the game. Codes were provided by the publisher for review purposes.