Follow the light.
A not-small part of me was hesitant when it came to "Destiny 2." After spending countless hours traversing the universe of the first "Destiny," a science fiction action-shooter in the mold of "Halo." I had found myself getting more bored with each expansion. A higher level cap? Done. More loot? If I have to. A big boss fight? One and done. After so many rinse-and-repeats, there just wasn't much reason to feel invested in whatever followed next.
And while the beta for "Destiny 2" left me worried that players were going to be getting more of the same, I was thrilled to discover that isn't the case. With the exception of a few minor elements, "Destiny 2" is a fantastic improvement over its predecessor - and this game actually comes with a plot worth exploring.
Finding the light in the darkness
Since I'm a story gamer, I was pleased to know there's more to the world of "Destiny" than developer Bungie presented with the first game. You're quickly introduced to "Destiny 2's" overwhelming villain, Dominus Ghaul, a creature with such violent strength and need for power you can't help but want to take him down as quickly as possible. However, that's not in the cards for our silent protagonist and his Light-powered warriors, as Ghaul strips everyone of their Traveler-given powers, leaving them defenseless in the face of his onslaught of Earth.
Obviously, it doesn't take long for us to return to at least some of our former glory, but how the game gets you there is far more engaging than the first game's paint-by-number experience. Characters have depth, plot elements actually matter, the goal is clear, if difficult to reach. All the elements of a worthwhile story find a place here, whether it's the humbling and empowerment of a primary character, friends and foes who truly participate in the story, or an ending that didn't ruin everything. (Hey, not everything was perfect.)
And it was nice to see characters from the previous game, such as Titan leader Zavala and Warlock leader Ikora, given some agency. No longer are they simply quest- and loot-givers; well, they still do that, but the campaign illuminates them with emotion and backstory that simply wasn't there in the first game.
The series' three main classes - Warlock, Hunter and Titan - return, though you don't have as many customizable perks as you did in the first game. When you create your first character, you're locked into certain subclasses depending on the main class you pick (Dawnblade for Warlock, for example).
And here's something that irks me: You don't simply unlock the other subclasses as you play the game. Each class has three subclasses, but you can only find the other two by finding Relics, which are random chest drops. It's completely ridiculous that major parts of the character build are locked away and left to random chance as to whether they will unlock. (Admittedly, it didn't take but a few world events to find both of my extra Warlock classes, but that's beside the point.)
Each class and subclass offers something unique to bring to battle, so it's generally a good idea to have multiple characters and all the subclasses unlocked. It's a tall order, I know, but being able to fill a void can go a long way later in the game. If nothing else, you'll want to be familiar with all the options your character does have; don't be afraid to adjust your character customization on the fly if it helps you succeed.
So much else to do
The main campaign doesn't take long to complete, but that's only if you don't get distracted from the numerous optional adventures you can take part in. It's no joke when I say it took my friends and me multiple extra hours to finish the story part of the game simply because we kept getting distracted with Public Events, Adventure side quests, Vanguard missions, Strikes (three-person missions), Exotic Quests and so much more.
At just about every opportunity, you can partake in something that isn't the story. You see a Public Event? Jump in real quick for the chance to get some good loot. You see a beacon alerting you to an Adventure? Load it up and head on out.
Basically, these events offer one of the quickest ways to level up in "Destiny 2." The game splits your character into two aspects: Level and Power. The first is increased through experience gained from competing quests or defeating enemies/opponents, which has a current cap of 20. Every level's worth of experience you obtain after that will net you a Bright Engram, which offers customization options. (You can purchase them with real money, as well, if you feel the need, but the game is fairly generous with them. Unless you want something from the in-game store in particular, you don't need to spend a dime.)
Power, on the other hand, refers to how powerful your gear and weapons are. The higher power your gear is, the higher Power you have, which allows you to better take down non-player enemies and unlocks other activities. For instance, you can't participate in most end-game activities without having reached the mid-200s for your Power level.
But by that point, you'll have to work on that end-game stuff if you want to keep leveling up. The game is generous with loot that will power you up until about 260, you'll need to jump into the Nightfall (a more difficult Strike), the Leviathan raid (basically the toughest of all Strikes) and Trials of the Nine (a player-versus-player mode that pits the toughest players against each other for the some of the game's best loot).
After the story
Once you've made your way through the campaign, a great deal more of "Destiny 2" opens up for you. Strikes offer more challenge and a touch of lore to help beef up the "Destiny" universe. The Strikes basically play as tough three-player story missions (matchmaking is forced here) that offers some story elements and the chance to earn some decent loot along the way.
Also, additional missions pop up on the four world maps that you worked your way through earlier. And by this time you should have your Sparrow (a jet-like bike), which should allow for much faster travel and exploration. That is completely necessary if you want to continuing exploring areas you may have missed while focusing on story missions. I know there were plenty of areas I didn't find the first time through zones like the European Dead Zone on Earth or the moon Io.
The game's biggest player-versus-enemy modes, Nightfalls and Raids, also return. The Nightfall is basically a super-tough Strike with modifiers that can really put in a kink in your plans. They're timed, so you don't have the luxury of messing around or taking your time to explore. Your goal is to get in and get out as efficiently as possible. Also, no matchmaking, so you'll need your own three-person team.
The Leviathan Raid is the first Raid for "Destiny 2," and it's a six-person beast of a mission. From platforming to puzzle-solving to out-and-out fighting, you're going to have your hands full in this intense mission. Teamwork is key (any screwup can cause major setbacks), which is why you need to come with a team ready to go, preferably with microphone-equipped headsets. Also, you'll probably want to set aside a few hours to accomplish it.
If you're looking for others to play with on "Destiny 2," the game does offer a couple of ways of helping out. First, Clans return, and it pays to be in one since rewards come to the whole group for completing objectives. Plus, being in a Clan tends to ease the way into meeting new people online to play with. Also, there's Guided Tours, which basically allows more experienced players to queue up with novices or single players and help them along the way to complete more difficult challenges, like the Nightfall or Leviathan Raid.
Fighting for fun
Crucible, the game's player-versus-player mode, returns, though in much more restricted form. A couple of major changes include the fact that you can't pick what game mode you want to play (you can choose between light or heavy competition, and that's it) and the number of players in each match.
Trials of the Nine, the renamed Trials of Osiris from the first game, still serves as the game's premiere PVP element. Its modes rotate weekly, and it also comes with a four-man-team requirement. (There's no matchmaking for Trials, so you'll need to come with one of your own.) Winning (or even losing a lot and then winning) grants some of the strongest gear in the game, so it's worth checking out even if you find it to be too competitive.
In the end, "Destiny 2" offers much of what "Destiny" did, but with a nice upgrade all around. From a more interesting plot to better loot mechanics, the sequel streamlines some its more tedious actions without removing the challenge behind them. And while there are some not-so-clamored-for changes, such as restricting Crucible or locking away subclasses within random loot drops, the game as a whole is a big improvement. There's plenty to do, whether you want to jump into PVP or PVE, simply explore or take the time to enjoy the story; at times, it may actually seem like too much. There are worse problems to have. VIDEO GAME REVIEW Destiny 2 sss Rated: T for Teen for blood, language and violence Price: $59.99 Reviewed on: Xbox One (also available on PlayStation 4 and PC) Publisher/developer: Activision/Bungie