This is the right time to give Destiny 2 a second chance

How much do you like theorycrafting sweet loadouts? Given that you're already on this web site, I hope the answer is 'show me the sigils, and I will slot them'. Whether you're min-maxing for optimal DPS or creating meme builds around some ridiculous combo, games like Path of Exile, Dota 2 and Guild Wars 2 offer the kind of depth normally expected from the Marianas Trench. I'm not about to tell you that Destiny 2 offers that kind of creative flexibility, but I will say that this week's patch, which made big changes to core systems, was substantial enough to prompt me to create this Google doc to track all the loadouts I wanted to test.

The most important change affects the way weapon slots work. Sniper rifles, fusion rifles and shotguns have all been moved out of the heavy slot and into the primary and secondary slots, essentially giving you more uptime with powerful weapons that were previously ignored since they had to compete with rocket launchers. 

There are a couple of exceptions to the new system in the form of top-tier Exotics like the Whisper of the Worm sniper rifle and Legend of Acrius shotgun, which have stayed in the heavy slot. Bungie also slightly dialled down the damage on weapons that changed slots, but the overall result is a sandbox with a dizzying array of loadout options. Finally, players are no longer required to plink away at high-health enemies with scout rifles because they ran out of ammo for their only big gun.

Swords are still in the heavy slot but have been given more ammo to compensate.

Swords are still in the heavy slot but have been given more ammo to compensate.

As soon as the update went live, players rushed to try what looked like the most OP new builds. For the most disgusting damage output, that meant pairing the punchy IKELOS shotgun with the Whisper of the Worm sniper rifle, which is the current boss-melter of choice. Both weapons are best-in-slot and relatively tough to obtain, so the chance to use them together was mouthwatering for those of us who've stuck with the game. Combine these with Midnight Coup, the hand cannon from the Leviathan raid which stacks bonus damage on successful kills, and you've got what many players would agree is the best loadout on paper. 

But to borrow the old football cliche, the game isn't played on paper. That loadout is powerful, but it's also obvious. I've been having fun with fusion rifles instead. These blast a gout of fizzing energy that vaporises the target, but were largely relegated to hipster status due to being stuck in the power slot. Now that fusion rifles have moved to the energy slot, it's a different story. I pulled The Wizened Rebuke out of my vault and was startled at how good it felt. Its 'Backup Plan' perk means that when you swap to it the weapon readies instantly and has reduced charge time. The Rebuke dropped from the Iron Banner PvP event, so it's no surprise it feels especially crispy in Crucible. Flipping to it and deleting a shotgun rusher just doesn't get old.

In the space of one patch the Telesto has gone from being barely used to S tier.

In the space of one patch the Telesto has gone from being barely used to S tier.

Speaking of Crucible: another fusion rifle, Telesto, is everywhere right now. Telesto is an Exotic that the community had already nicknamed 'The Besto,' and it's even more of a beast after the update—partly because its sticky purple projectiles essentially ignore damage falloff, but also because its signature perk reloads your kinetic and energy weapons on multikills. Which means Telesto can actually reload itself now. Probably a bug, but a lot of fun while it lasts.

As for the overall health of Crucible, though it's early days, I think it's fair to say that the team-shooting meta that saw teams travelling around nut-to-butt and using long range weapons like Vigilance Wing and Graviton Lance to dominate lanes is over. That said, laning will likely be replaced by shotgun and sniper one-hit kills, which may or may not ultimately be a good thing. But for now it feels fresh and exciting, though I'm wary these were the weapons that Bungie spent the entirety of Destiny 1 struggling to balance in PvP. Honestly though, I kinda don't care. I'm too happy that PvE has been revitalised.

A bold gambit

Despite begging for these weapon slot changes in my list of things that would help bring people back to Destiny 2, I didn't have much hope it would actually happen. Making fundamental changes to integral systems doesn't happen often in this sort of 'live' game, so kudos to Bungie for being brave enough. The harsh truth is that, as with many of the quality of life changes that have come since Destiny 2's troubled launch, these weapon slot changes are good because they bring back the feel of the first game. I'm talking about the core power fantasy of killing stuff with space magic, which is that much spicier when you don't have to painstakingly ration firing your favourite guns.

You can see for yourself this Saturday with a one-day free trial of the new Gambit mode.

But hey, don't take my word for it. I'm well aware that I'm the boy who cried "sweet shared-world shooter" at this point, and the truth is that even in its darkest days I kept playing. Instead, see for yourself this Saturday by diving into the new Gambit mode this weekend, which is having a one-day free trial. It's a unique hybrid of PvE and PvP that captures the thrill of competing as a team with (theoretically) slightly less of the salt that comes from being constantly domed and bagged by human opponents. You can also watch some of the game's top players compete in a Gambit show match today at 1pm PST via Bungie's Twitch channel.

It's not all sweetness and ability-enabling light though. The patch came with a number of known issues, including one affecting recoil of hand cannons on PC. Hopefully it is just a bug and not a misguided attempt to align weapon behaviour across platforms. Bungie said it expects most of these problems to be ironed out in time for next Tuesday's launch of the Forsaken expansion, so we'll know soon enough.

With Forsaken will come more systemic changes, the most notable of which is the return of random perk rolls across most weapons and armour. Again, this rights another baffling design wrong. Chasing 'god roll' combinations of perks in Destiny 1 could seem like a chore, but it at least gave hardcore players a reason to keep logging in. By contrast, Destiny 2's weapons, which previously had static perk rolls, meant that duplicate drops (of which serious players saw hundreds) were irrelevant beyond power bumps.

Random rolls means players will receive genuinely bespoke gear which they can use to create builds that suit their play style. Combined with new and more interesting weapon and armor mods, additional subclass trees, and a revised Masterwork system that enables more granular stat refinement, this means the level of customisation that many of us craved is finally coming to the game. In that sense Forsaken represents the culmination of Bungie's year-long volte face, which has gradually added depth and grind back into a game which had swerved too hard toward appeasing the casual end of its audience.

Making Destiny weird again

If you are thinking of dipping back in, know that it won't matter if you haven't got any of the weapons I've recommended above. Thanks to random rolls and the souped-up mod system, gear that drops in Forsaken will quickly outpace what's currently available, and all the Exotic stuff will still be available. As with games like World of Warcraft, new and returning players will also be able to jump straight to a relevant power level on day one by using a one-off consumable that comes with the DLC.

No good comes from flying triangles. This is likely to be 'The Darkness' (and worse than the band).

So yeah, I think now is the right time to return. A ton of painstaking improvements have been made over the course of many updates, filling in what was initially a painfully anaemic endgame. The Destiny 2 of today has multiple raids to play, which I maintain are some of the best team-based shooter content on PC, plus a new one going live on 14 Sept. Forsaken will also have the series' first-ever proper endgame destination in the form of the Dreaming City, which we are promised will be packed with quests and mysteries much like the Whisper mission. The expansion will also make the game's surprisingly rich lore browsable in-game for the first time.  

"We want to make Destiny weird again," says game director Steve Cotton at the start of the vidoc Bungie released this week (see below) detailing what will be included in the new annual pass. The three DLCs coming after Forsaken, in conjunction with the seasonal updates that all players receive, seem like a better plan to avoid the yawning content droughts that have dogged Destiny throughout the years. I'm also hopeful they're building up to the big reveal of The Darkness, the series' ultimate antagonist, so far only hinted at in the form of some menacing pyramidal ships. Certainly that's what the dataminer detectives on Reddit think.

We probably won't see that stuff happen until the Penumbra expansion arrives next summer. Before then, I'm most looking forward to hunting down ultra rare weapons from the Golden Age as part of the Black Armory content in December. Is that a sword that's also a sniper rifle in the footage? Or perhaps it's a sniper rifle that fires swords. Either way, sounds like the kind of thing I need in my Google doc.