When you're not ploughing through Destiny 2's storyline, or grinding out cooperative Strike missions with friends, you'll spend much of your time goofing about on four large planetary destinations that are peppered with side-missions, timed events, and hidden loot caches. In Destiny parlance, this is called "patrolling", and I recently had a chance to do a bunch of it at an event held by Bungie in Seattle. With the PC version still , I played on a near complete PS4 build, which gave me a chance to gauge the amount of content we can expect from the game's open world activities when it comes to PC on October 24th (at a more agreeable framerate).
Given that plenty of you probably haven't played the first game, I figured it might be best to present my impressions in the form of one of those faux Q&A things. Shall we begin?
Sure. So how open are these worlds?
Don't go in expecting The Witcher 3-style expansiveness, but they are big. The game's four destinations, of which we're going to be talking about Earth's European Dead Zone today, each work like a single, enormous level, with wide open areas linked by corridor-like stretches (due to the way the game is ).
New to Destiny 2 is the ability to beam down at different locations, once they've been discovered, and also fast travel between those points without returning to orbit. It's a nice quality of life change, and of course once you've acquired a Sparrow—think the speeder bikes from Star Wars—you'll be able to zip around looking for aliens to bother.
Aliens, you say?
The European Dead Zone is overrun by a couple of factions. There are The Fallen, a race of scavengers who once enjoyed the protection of The Traveller (which is Destiny's ) but were abandoned as part of some great calamity and are understandably pissed about it. Also pissed, but in a more organised militaristic manner, are the Cabal. These guys are rhinos in power armor channeling the Roman legion, and provide the sequel's main antagonists. Having blown up the guardians' homebase (called The Tower) at the start of the game, they've slapped The Traveller in shackles until they can work out how to siphon its immortality-granting power.
OK, enough scene-setting. What's the European Dead Zone like?
Firstly, let's agree it's a sweet name. European Dead Zone sounds like a place from a lost Cronenberg film. The EDZ, as we shall now call it, is a classic 'collapsed civilisation overrun by greenery', recalling the likes of I Am Legend and The Last of Us—all abandoned vehicles, derelict buildings, and nature finding a way.
It's also the location where the guardians are regrouping after the Cabal sneak attack, and as such provides the starter area in the game where you get to grips with its various systems and economies. Speaking of which, pop open your Destination map in the game's Director menu and you'll be presented with icons indicating different kinds of activities to head for.
What should we do first?
Let's go with the stuff that returns from the first game. Patrol missions are the simplest activity. Grab a beacon and you'll get a message from one of the NPCs telling you to do something like collect X number of items from a particular enemy type or scan a certain location with your Ghost, (which is the hovering AI buddy who keeps you company and provides exposition throughout, in addition to reviving you when you die).
More interesting are Public Events. These are set pieces which occur on a timer and must be beaten against the clock to earn the best rewards. Some, like taking down a Fallen Spider Tank, will be instantly familiar to players of the original. Others, like fending off a Cabal drilling operation that bombards you from the air as you're trying to hold the ground underneath it, or disrupting an ether hunt by a Fallen Servitor, are entirely new. All the public events also now have a secret condition which, once met, will trigger a harder 'Heroic' version, with commensurately better loot.
In the Spider Tank example, in order to unlock the Heroic version, you had to use Arc Charges to detonate shields protecting Scorch Cannons that you can pick up and use. Do so and a second Spider Tank drops in. The events are hard enough that trying to solo them will leave you tight on time. Of course, in the full version of the game your loadout will be better optimised, and there should be plenty of other players floating around. I wasn't able to work out what all the criteria for triggering the heroic versions were, but rest assured Reddit will be groaning with guides by the time we get our hands on the PC game, and I imagine the Heroic option will become the norm for all but the noobiest of players.
In another quality of life improvement, the location of Public Events are now marked on your map, with a countdown to when they're going to happen. (Previously players relied on third party websites for a schedule!) The one thing I didn't like was how limited the dialogue was. Each time I did the drill event my Ghost was amazed—amazed!—that the Cabal blew it up rather than let us capture it. Dude, they've done that every time.
What do I get in return for all this heroism?
Loot, of course. Public Events will reward you with engrams of varying rarity, which will decrypt into weapons and armor. You'll also receive EDZ tokens for a lot of activities, and these can also be found in chests that are tucked away in buildings, caves and so on. Each planet has its own type of token, and these get turned in at the local vendor NPC, who in the EDZ's case is a guy called Devrim Kay—a British gentleman sniper who probably smells like pipe tobacco and upper class despair. It takes about 20 or so tokens to rank up your reputation with him, and when you do so, provided you've reached level 20, you'll be given a legendary engram in return.
I like this system a lot, because it means there should theoretically always be a reason to go out on patrol, plus you're naturally encouraged to hop between planets. Just ranked the EDZ guy up? Hop over to Saturn's moon Titan and do some work there. Each of the destinations also has three global challenges, which are set by the Warlock mentor Ikora Ray, and involve stuff like killing a set amount of a certain type of enemy or looting a specific Lost Sector, which will again award additional tokens.
Uh, what's a Lost Sector?
These are new to Destiny 2, and I found them fun if not quite a deep as hoped. Essentially they're dungeons tucked away on the map which you have to discover, each of which contains a powerful enemy 'Champion'. Beat him and you'll retrieve a key for his chest, which will spit out more engrams and tokens. Finding a secret entrance to an underground lair is always sweet, but I couldn't shake the feeling that (so far at least), these are little more than the gussied up versions of the VIP Patrol missions from Destiny 1.
I also wonder if they could do with being a bit more elusive. The rough location of a Lost Sector is actually marked on your Destination map by the Hunter class symbol. Head there and you'll find the same symbol sprayed on a wall or rock, meaning the doorway is near. It rarely took more than a few seconds to ferret out the entrance, which robs some of the thrill of discovery, but I suppose Bungie isn't about to start locking away swathes of content where most players can't find it.
Also something of a disappointment along similar lines are the 'Treasure Maps'. These are bought from the Hunter mentor Cayde-6 (the game's robotic banterlord, as voiced by Nathan Fillion) and I had assumed would be bespoke missions looking for particular rare items. But all they actually do is mark all of the planet's existing treasure chests on your HUD when you bring up your Ghost, an effect which lasts for a few hours after activated. It's handy thing to have if you're grinding for tokens, but I wouldn't call it an actual activity. Much better are the Adventures, which have some actual meat on their bones.
How do Adventures work?
These are mini-questlines which string together successive objectives. They’re still a similar sort of busywork—go here, kill them, collect that—but enlivened by the fact each tells a discrete story, with accompanying NPC dialogue. The Adventures also serve to flesh out detail that's missing from the understandably more focused arc of the campaign, expounding on particular plot points and giving more insight into the characters involved. A typical adventure might take 10-20 minutes to complete, and the EDZ had about six on offer. I'm not entirely clear whether you can replay them, though.
During my hands-on, they disappeared once finished, but it could easily be a daily refresh—or a matter of finishing the main story to make them reappear. More telling will be whether the rewards remain relevant in the endgame. Planetary Tokens will only hold their allure for as long as vendors are able to hand out engrams at power levels that match or surpass your own. As soon as that stops happening, I worry that patrolling will become pointless.
Hopefully, Bungie has considered that, because right now as a destination the EDZ feels bustling with things to do and I want to spend more time there. At its best, the action flows naturally from one activity in the next, and I usually felt like I had a shopping list of things I wanted to tick off, rather than obligated to grind out. It's also particularly relaxing when you're with a buddy, debating what to tackle next, and inevitably getting salty about each other's engram drops.
That's good, because last time you seemed a bit down on how Destiny 2 felt.
True. I came away from the PlayStation beta with about how the game was being balanced, particularly with regards to the impact of the PvP mode on PvE. This substantially longer playtest has allayed many of those concerns: I can't precisely tell you what they've done to player movement, but it felt less heavy than before.
Easier to pinpoint are the changes to power ammo, which now drops noticeably more frequently, and is guaranteed to be left behind by elite enemies. The only time I really felt thirsty for power ammo was against boss-style targets. The build we played had no consumable ammo 'synths', so my guess is those are gone, but overall I'm not concerned about the ammo economy. Particularly as rocket launchers, sniper rifles and grenades have all had their damage output tuned up. Grenade launchers remain an absolute lottery, but perhaps that's the point.
The design decision switch to having all of the one-hit-kill weapons in the power ammo slot of your loadout is also starting to click with me. I had worried it would limit build diversity, and make you feel underpowered, but that wasn't the case in the wilds of the EDZ. Whether I was vaporizing the Fallen with one of the new Linear Fusion Rifles or carving up the Cabal with a sword—legendary ones no longer glow, sadly—using power weapons felt powerful. And choosing which kinetic primary to pair with which secondary weapon definitely made for some interesting loadouts.
I pretty much fell in love with a scout rifle I found that had explosive rounds, a stability perk, and the kind of airy, open sight I like. So I didn't unequip that much, but whether it was paired with an SMG, hand cannon, or pulse rifle dramatically altered my play style. I do still worry that extended play, by which I'm talking 100s of hours, will reveal the limitations of having static rolls on the weapons, but I can also see some benefits now in terms of ensuring guns have synergistic perks. Particularly if, as hoped, the modding system adds another layer of depth.
C'mon, what about exotics?
The character I played didn't find any exotics on patrol, and in the absence of the Three of Coins buff from the first game you aren't likely to, but I was able to bring a couple into the EDZ. Playing as a Warlock, who are essentially the battle mages of Destiny, I was wearing an exotic helmet called 'Eye of Another World'. In addition to giving priority targets a glowing red outline, it also speeds up the recharge rate of your grenade, melee and rift (a Warlock-specific AoE buff) abilities—not a dramatic amount, but enough to be detectable.
More impactful was my exotic void pulse rifle, the Graviton Lance, which was a thing of absolute joy. It fires three-shot bursts, the third of which has higher recoil and damage, and on kills releases what looks like a mini black hole that travels past the target wreaking additional havoc. Oh and when you pull the trigger it makes a "BZZZZZZZZZZM" sound like a guitar amp being flicked on. To fire the Graviton Lance is to know true love.
I'm not sure if it'll be included as part of the , which runs next week from 29-31 August (and starts a day earlier if you've pre-ordered), but there should be at least one exotic to try out in as part of the Homecoming story mission. Our hardware team will be running some performance analysis tests around the same time, and I'll be back in early September to talk a bit more about how the campaign is shaping up.