If there's at least one positive trend in the games at the moment, it's that studios finally seem to be paying a little more attention to their single player modes again - particularly when it comes to shooters. After the mech-heavy sci-fi shooter Titanfall scuppered its own chances of becoming a blockbuster smash by launching without anything in the way of a single player mode - something they rapidly corrected for the sequel - more and more developers seem to be realising that to the vast majority of their audience, single player (or at the very least, the story) matters. And while it may not get everything right, Destiny 2 does do a lot better with its single player offering, giving you a much more substantial, story driven campaign to chew over, either alone, or with friends.
Picking up where the last game left off, Destiny 2 opens with the Guardians - those tasked with protecting the last city on Earth - kicking back after a job well done. However, no sooner have they looked to the sky than a giant chuff-off fleet of alien ships appears, helmed by the dastardly (and incredibly beefy) Ghaul. While it's not entirely clear quite what's made Ghaul so angry (we reckon he's just upset that his race, the Cabal, seem to have had their mouths fitted upside down), he's a man on a mission to take over the city. What follows is a blur of words that'll mean nothing to you if (like us) you haven't played the original - lots of talk of "the Light", "the Traveller", and other potential indie band album titles - showing that despite having put much more effort into the story, Bungie still haven't learnt how to keep a plot nice and simple for those picking up the game for the first time. But luckily, it all gets a lot better from here-on in.
Being the jealous guy that he is, Ghaul isn't very happy that the Guardians (that's you) have received all sorts of magic powers - not to mention immortality - from the amorphous existence known as "the Light". And so, he decides he's going to take it away. Launching an attack on the Light's vessel, he effectively strips the Guardians of their magic powers, and takes over the city, before trying to figure out how to harness its powers of immortality for himself. Finding yourself battered, bruised, and a little bit broken (there's even a dilapidated boat), it's up to you to set out on a journey across the corners of the universe, as you rebuild, regain your powers, and prepare to get your revenge on the guy with the upside down mouth.
So, while it may not be all that well explained, the story here at least does its job - Ghaul is a decent baddie, with more personality in his little finger that 99% of the rest of the cast (including, sadly, your voiceless Guardian), and if nothing else, it's a bog standard tale of good versus evil. What's unusual with Destiny is how it's told. While you may have been convinced that Destiny 2 is an MMO, a multiplayer game, all about co-op, and basically has nothing in the way of a story, that's actually not true. Despite what the advertising and general chatter would have you believe, Destiny 2 has a pretty substantial (10 hour plus) campaign that can be experienced either entirely on your lonesome, or as a group of three friends - and it's one that's well worth playing.
As you set out on your journey to recover your powers, you'll come across a surprisingly diverse range of enemies, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. From the burly Legionary, who have surprisingly tough weapons, often carry shields, and have a solitary weakpoint on their back, to the fire-weak Thrall, who attack in hordes by the dozen, and look kind of like you'd imagine Groot would if he went working out with Drax only for a zombie apocalypse to strike, each will require a slightly different approach to defeat. Particularly concerning are the named enemies that sometimes appear - usually recognisable thanks to their differently coloured health bar, the named characters are usually the uber tough "leader" enemies that are pretty high level, and as such, can both do, and take plenty of damage.
Unusually for a first person shooter, Destiny 2 lets you create your very own character, choosing from one of three character classes, and a poor selection of faces (no beards?!). While all the default male heads may make your character look like a particularly bad drag act, the class you choose to play as will make a real difference to how your game plays out. We chose to be a Warlock, effectively the game's equivalent of a support character mage, who specialises in both casting healing/buffing spells, and can pull a flaming sword out as his limited-use "special move" Super Ability, to dish out the devastation - although where he keeps it when he's not using it, we don't know. While the vast, vast majority of your attacks use your bog standard weapons (and melee attacks), your character class of choice offers a powerful backup when things start to go wrong. Each class can further be specialised into one of three subclasses as you level up, giving you more flexibility if you think you picked a duffer from the off - we're particularly fond of the Titan Sentinel, a specialisation of the all round Titan class who gets a Captain America style shield to twat bad guys with.
If there's one thing Bungie have always done well, it's creating sci-fi vistas and environments that you'll just want to explore, and Destiny is no different. That's why it's a shame that there isn't more reason to do so. With so much effort having gone into creating the spectacular scenery, from snow covered mountains, to stalagmite-strewn caves, and even ships at sea, where the flow of the waves sends canisters and containers sliding all over the place as the boat rocks in the waves, it's a real pity that the game keeps you so much on the straight and narrow, rather than letting you venture off to look around. With no true collectables, you're never really encouraged to explore - instead, killing enemies is the only real way to get rewards.
As a game based around gunplay, it should be no surprise that Destiny 2 has a veritable arsenal for you to get to grips with - but rather than talking a few dozen, we're talking hundreds, if not thousands of weapons. Killing enemies, completing missions, and doing side quests (more on these later) will sometimes see you rewarded with random new weapons or equipment, which you can choose to have your Guardian use. With each having a power rating, the better the equipment and weapons you equip, the stronger your Guardian will be, with higher power Guardians having access to tougher challenges and side-quests. There's a huge variety of weapons on offer too, from pistols and machine guns to revolvers, shotguns, sniper rifles and lasers, with an almost unlimited number of variations on each. With every weapon you pick up having a different rarity rating and a different set of stats, from the damage it does, to the reload time, rate of fire, and sometimes even some extra status effects, it's well worth replaying earlier levels to see if you can find some better guns.
What makes Destiny stand out, though, and where it gets its "MMO-lite" stylings, is from the stuff you can take on beyond the main story driven campaign. With four hub worlds to explore, each full of things to do, from Adventures, which are essentially story driven mini-missions that take you off the beaten track, to random Public Events, which are often timed challenges that ask you to defend a point, take on two huge tanks, or chase down a mining crew, there's a lot of stuff to get stuck into outside of the main game, with each rewarding you with extra weapons and equipment upon completion. However, outside of the story, every single thing you do in Destiny 2 will be alongside other people - either in a group of three friends, or with a handful of strangers fighting alongside you.
This approach has both its advantages and disadvantages, although to be honest, for us, it's mostly a disadvantage. For starters, from a story standpoint, having so many other players around in certain missions doesn't make sense. In one Adventure, we had to fit a relay in order for a communications channel to work - but we ended up following two other players, doing the exact same quest. Having just sat and watched someone fit the comms relay and scuttle off, it made no sense at all from a story perspective to have the characters breathless congratulating you when you go through the motions yourself, as you've literally just seen that you weren't the first to fix it.
Similarly, sometimes you just want to explore on your own, or at least only with a group of friends. If you don't have a group of Destiny 2 playing friends, you'll find yourself constantly being grouped together with randoms - which can sometimes be OK, but at other times can spoil the game. End up on an Adventure or other side quest with a hardcore Destiny fan (and there are a lot out there) when you're just starting out, and you'll likely find them rushing on ahead, killing everything in only a handful of hits while you struggle to even find a target to shoot. With Destiny not making any effort to group by skill or experience, this happens more than you might expect, and kind of makes you feel like a bystander on someone else's adventure rather than setting out on your own.
Similarly, the always online requirement brings with it a whole host of other issues. First, the game requires a constant online connection - even if you only want to play the campaign in single player - to the point the game won't even get past the main menu if you aren't connected to the internet. Secondly, if you leave the game alone for a while - even if you're playing on your own - you'll find yourself being disconnected and booted out of the level you were playing. While you rarely lose too much progress when this happens (you'll mostly be able to rejoin the level from the nearest checkpoint), it seems beyond ridiculous to kick someone from a single player game for inactivity - especially considering that life has a tendency of throwing things at you when you're just trying to relax with a good game. And finally, it's also beyond disappointing that Bungie's insatiable focus on making everything online has meant they've completely neglected split-screen play. From the studio that effectively set the standards for others to follow with Halo's incredible split-screen mode, it's sad to see Bungie decide that the only type of multiplayer that matters is online. If we could take on Destiny with a friend in split-screen, we'd be a lot more likely to play the multiplayer.
Still, on the most part, Destiny 2 is a big improvement over the original, with a story mode that's well worth playing through. The only question is, how much value you'll get out if it. If you're the kind of person that absolutely has to have the best weapons and equipment, the replaying levels, challenges and tasks until you get the very best will likely keep you busy for a long, long time. If you're like us, in that you're mostly here for the story, and will dip into the co-op stuff from time to time, it's a much harder question. While what's here is undoubtedly very good, there's not all that much replay value to either the story, or the adventures/side-quests if you don't really care about getting the very best weaponry. For players like us, Destiny 2 is well worth a look, but you may want to wait for a price drop first.
Format Reviewed: Playstation 4