Hands-on with the PC version of Destiny 2: Campaign, Strikes and PvP

Tim, James and Tom S have been hammering the game all day. These are their initial impressions.

We’ve had a fireteam of three writers at the Destiny 2 gameplay reveal event in Los Angeles today, sampling all the modes on offer multiple times on PC. Here’s our instant reaction to what we’ve played so far. For the rest of today’s coverage, including the less welcome news that the game will arrive late on PC, head here

Campaign

More Destiny 2

Everything we know about Destiny 2 - All the major details from the reveal.

How Bungie plans to make Destiny 2 on PC "legit on day one" - An interview with PC lead David Shaw, talking about FOV, 144 fps, etc.

A complete guide to Destiny lore for PC gamers -
Catch up with that juicy backstory.

Tom: The most surprising thing about Destiny 2 is how little Bungie have had to change Destiny to get it feeling good on PC, and heck does it feel good. The handcannon pops Cabal skullcaps with a glorious crunching ‘ka-choom’ noise. Instead of blood Destiny 2 rewards you with the violent gush of the Cabal’s decompressing spacesuit. I stayed in the first area killing endless waves of enemies until I ran out of time and had to come back to complete the mission later. This answered a fundamental question I had about Destiny 2 on PC: does it feel great to pop heads? Will it give me the same endorphin rush? It does. In fact, at 60 fps it feels markedly better. Oh god. This is a disaster for my free time.

Tim: I am going to have to rein myself in here, but the truth is I’m feeling an almost euphoric wave of relief. I sank an ungodly amount of time into the original, but having played Destiny 2’s first campaign mission and Strike through multiple times, and dabbled in some PvP, there’s absolutely no question in my mind now that the PC version is going to be the definitive one. Yes it sucks that we’re getting it later, and doubly so that we don’t how much later, but if the final version retains the polish we saw today, it’ll be worth the wait.

What was notable about Homecoming, the introductory story mission Bungie was showing today, is how they’ve integrated key NPCs like Zavala and Ikora into the actual action. Despite the co-op aspect, playing solo Vanilla Destiny’s missions was a fundamentally lonely affair. But here in Destiny 2, the mix of power fantasy and fan service from seeing Ikora Nova Bomb a Cabal ship clean out of the air, or Zavala popping a desperate Ward of Dawn bubble, was great. And like Tom said, the fact Bungie has been able to implement mouse and keyboard without losing any of the gunplay’s signature Bungie feel is close to voodoo. In fact, bullseyeing sniper shots onto the Cabal’s explosive backpacks and strafing between incoming fire felt gloriously crisp. 

James: Weirdly, I didn’t recoil every time Cayde-6 spoke. It seems Bungie is finding a nice balance between self-serious sci-fi-fantasy and cooperative space romp hijinks in Destiny 2. There are more characters, a lot of dialogue, and more cutscenes, from what we’re told. Granted, the campaign level we played was just the beginning of the game, but the environmental detail also spoke to a stronger, more confident identity for Destiny 2. Once you pop enough Cabal heads to escape the burning Tower, the horizon shows a city under siege from a sky littered with incoming Cabal ships. And then suddenly you’re on one of those ships as is shakes and lurches its way towards the Traveler. The scale of the world and the Cabal threat clicks here in a way it never did in the original Destiny, where every planet and campaign mission (before The Taken King) took place on a lonely, quiet planet. It’s big and loud, and oh my God, it looks so crisp on the PC.

After playing it and then walking back through the PS4 area, everything looked a bit more compressed and digital.

The scale of the world and the Cabal threat clicks here in a way it never did in the original Destiny. It’s big and loud, and oh my God, it looks so crisp on the PC.

Tom: Mission length is still a concern. The mission ended with a cutscene introducing the big bad, and you can run it in ten minutes second time through. It's possible there’s more to do after that point in the final version but I got flashbacks to Destiny 1’s slim early expansions. In those days I’d take in every minute of time in a new mission, and savour it, knowing that there would only be a few more missions to enjoy before the story was over.

Having said that, the prospect of hitting Earth’s European Dead Zone and three new planetoids is very exciting. Bungie have a knack for bringing concept art to life, and this opening mission was full of spectacular vistas and cool sci-fi stuff. You zoom into space mid-mission and board a Cabal vessel by hopping up inside its massive railgun as it fires huge discs of mass at Earth. Destiny 1, for its faults, was a bright colourful game about futuristic space wizards and crusading knights (also in space). That scope and sense of spectacle are intact.

Tim: As a Warlock main, I was delighted by the new Dawnblade class.  I’m not sure whether this will replace the previous Solar class, Sunsinger, but I can confirm that raining red hot phoenix sword death down on the Cabal is as fun as it looks. I also had a little poke around in the skill tree, and was most interested in the Empowering Rift and Heal abilities, which are used to buff teammates. The implication here, particularly for raids and other more complex activities, is that teams will be able to come up with strats to maximise DPS and survivability that involve more than just picking the correct Titan bubble to use.

Strikes

Tim: The Inverted Spire Strike felt like the collation of a lot of lessons Bungie has learned from Destiny’s four years so far. It switched up enemies regularly, with the Cabal and their intergalactic attack dogs replaced by the relentless Vex robots towards the end, climaxing with a face off against Protheon, The Modular Mind—a three-storey, multi-part Vex boss who we fought in an arena that changed dynamically during the battle. Twice the entire floor fell away, dropping our team of Guardians and the boss to a new area below. Along the way there was also a mild jumping section, and a less mild encounter with giant spinning sawblades which almost felt like the kind of connective tissue found between raid bosses.

For Destiny 2’s Strikes to remain as replayable as they will need to be, Bungie absolutely needs to double down on mechanical complexity and dramatic moments, but this feels like a strong start. One other thing to note was that our Ghost was talking with a female AI called Failsafe on the way in. Interesting.

James: The biggest surprise of the strike for me was when the first section of small stone corridors opened up into a massive battlefield, pockmarked with artillery craters and overrun with Vex fighting Cabal space dogs. It looks amazing, like genuine, wondrous, ‘other’ sci-fi. Destiny had some massive open arenas, but this one felt like a real planet ravaged by war. And then you start up the drill, which requires taking on a few waves of space dogs, and those suckers like to hunt in packs of, well, a lot. At one point, there were at least 10 of the buggers on me, which I took care of with some point blank grenade launcher blasts. Ended up offing myself on accident.

My one concern is that beyond the space dogs and sword-wielding Cabal gladiators, combat didn’t feel much different than the first game, just a bit more hectic.

My one concern is that beyond the space dogs and sword-wielding Cabal gladiators, combat didn’t feel much different than the first game, just a bit more hectic. 

Tom: The spinning sawblades section is just the sort of interlude that Bungie puts into raids to create moments of haphazard comedy. I got squashed. The guy who came to rescue me got squashed. Tim bravely left us behind and rushed to the next checkpoint, sailing between upper and lower levels to avoid the huge churning blades. A moment of true Destiny heroism.

Tim: Ooh, I forgot to mention that Riskrunner, the Exotic submachine gun I tried, was sweet. It was kinda like a baby Zhalo Supercell, except it gets juiced up by taking Arc damage. I was less struck by the minigun, which felt like it ought to be a Power weapon rather than a Kinetic one. My favourite, though, was the Solar Exotic hand cannon called Sunshot, which makes any targets killed explode. Mmm, fiery Fatebringer! I really hope Bungie doesn’t end up spoiling too many of the Exotics before release though, because discovering them fresh in the wild is so much more exciting. The game’s director Luke Smith seemed to totally get this when we spoke with him, so fingers crossed for more Black Spindle-style secrets buried in Destiny 2.

PvP

James: The Crucible is a different case than campaign. Like the PvE play, the controls translate perfectly, but in a highly competitive environment, giving what are already quite accurate weapons even more accuracy through precision mouse control could change how Destiny is played. We played a mode called Countdown, a snappy 4v4 contest where one team has to plant one of two bombs and defend them, or vise versa. Killing the entire enemy team also ends the round, which means close teamplay is a must. We didn’t have headset comms on, so it was a bit of a mess overall.

The other unknown quantity is whether the Crucible will get a ranked mode, which was sorely lacking from Destiny 1.

On the PS4, accuracy is a more arduous skill mountain to climb, which makes the guardian abilities far more important when it comes to controlling territory and taking out other players. But on PC, everyone (who’d played PC games before) was shooting one another across the map, no problem. Once the pros get their hands on it, PvP might be much harder to get into than it is on consoles.

Tim: I’m not a Crucible guy and sucked hard at Countdown, even though our team clutched out a comeback, five wins to three, after having been 3-1 down. I only had two kills to everyone’s double digits. To me the interesting thing here is Blizzard’s involvement—Destiny 2 is going to live exclusively in the Blizzard launcher—and what that means in terms of anti-cheat software. The other unknown quantity is whether the Crucible will get a ranked mode, which was sorely lacking from Destiny 1, leaving only the decidedly noob-unfriendly Trials of Osiris mode for competitive players. I would expect cues to be taken from Overwatch here, and unifying all the multiplayer modes around 4v4 also makes sense.

James: I wonder if the Blizzard partnership means we’ll get a D.Va police skin offer in Destiny 2. Seriously, I’d grind out some Heroes of the Storm if it means I get a cape for my hunter with Winston on it. Oh god. Oh no. 


Tom: PvP is always hard to judge at hands-on events. Map knowledge and voice comms teamwork always help to clarify what feels like a shambles at first encounter. The rounds are quick, but you can still spend a lot of time out of the action if you go down early and no-one decides to revive you. It's quite a contrast to Destiny 1’s control point capture mode, which swung back and forth and featured quick respawns that kept everyone involved. I'm sure equivalents will be revealed for Destiny 2.

Competitive multiplayer can be a minefield on PC. Cheaters can ruin the fun for everybody, and the high skill potential of mouse and keyboard PC players could make PvP an elite-only zone. There's nothing wrong with elite multiplayer of course, but Destiny is at its best when you’re hanging out with friends and casually dropping into different modes. I hope that the game’s matchmaking will create space for less dedicated fps players. Moving shotguns and sniper rifles to the heavy slots, with limited ammo, may help to stop top players in those disciplines from ruling the map.

Tim: I’m curious to know whether the move to all modes being 4-player signals part of a push to turn Destiny 2 into a serious esport. Activision bought MLG last year, and I would imagine it has ambitions beyond CoD and Overwatch. What’s less certain is whether Destiny can ever truly be a competitive game given its reliance on space magic ‘supers’ and the inherently asymmetric balance between multiple subclasses and the use of randomly-rolled weapons. There’s also the issue of the servers. We spoke with David Shaw, Bungie’s senior producer on the PC version, who told us Destiny 2 definitely wouldn’t have dedicated servers. I also pressed him on whether it would have a better tick rate than Destiny 1 which was abysmal, but he couldn’t go into any additional detail beyond saying it would still be some form of peer to peer. We’ll keep chasing for more info.