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Destiny 2 - as the sun sets, three Guardians go on an Adventure

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Destiny 2 offers a dizzying array of things to do

But can the game keep it up over the long haul?

Samit Sarkar (he/him) is Polygon’s deputy managing editor. He has more than 15 years of experience covering video games, movies, television, and technology.

The worlds of Destiny were sprawling but empty. There was little reason to explore them; the available activities immediately felt repetitive and perfunctory, and eventually became all but useless. The makers of Destiny at Bungie worked to improve this shortcoming in the game’s expansions, bolting on new systems like a quest log and sprinkling in secrets such as treasure chests hidden behind locked doors. But I could never shake the feeling that more significant changes might not be possible without a fresh start.

One of the biggest questions surrounding Destiny 2 arises from the presence of that number in its title. Bungie and publisher Activision famously billed Destiny as having a 10-year life cycle, so why bother with a full sequel instead of just continuing to release expansions?

After spending some time with a near-final version of Destiny 2, I have an idea of Bungie’s reasoning: The game’s open-world activities, and the structure supporting them, might be the best argument in favor of starting anew with a separate game.

[Ed. note: This article comes from more than two full days of playtime during a Destiny 2 preview event near Bungie’s offices in Bellevue, Washington, earlier this month. However, due to Bungie and Activision’s embargo restrictions, at this point we can only discuss open-world activities in the European Dead Zone on Earth.]

The bad old days are gone

Destiny had problems galore, but most of the game’s issues stemmed from a fundamental lack of content. In order to level up, players had to repeat the same few activities ad nauseam (and the activities themselves lacked variety or excitement). When you loaded into Destiny’s four “destinations” — technically, the moon is not a planet — outside of a mission or strike, you had two options: roaming the world and perhaps running into Public Events, or picking up Patrol missions.

In a game marked by a soul-crushing leveling grind, players reserved special ire for the drudgery of Patrol missions. They rarely got more interesting than “kill a specific enemy type and pick up a trinket they drop,” which is to say, not the least bit interesting. Public Events were more exciting (and rewarding), but they seemed to pop up randomly, and there was no guarantee that other players would be around to help you complete them.

Destiny 2 offers way more (and more varied) open-world activities than its predecessor, and they provide a steady stream of useful loot. The shallow Patrol missions that existed in Destiny are still around in Destiny 2, but they’re no longer the foundation of what you’ll be doing while roaming the solar system. Patrol missions have largely been supplanted by two new activities — Adventures and Lost Sectors — while Public Events now play a much larger role.

Adventures can be picked up from beacons scattered around the world, and they fall somewhere on the spectrum between a Patrol exercise and a story mission. Each Adventure runs for 10-15 minutes and takes you through a series of objectives, a single one of which might resemble a Destiny Patrol mission. I played an early one named “Calling Them Home,” in which I had to plant a few beacons and defeat the Fallen who showed up. Next, I traveled to a different region to take out three signal jammers that the Fallen had set up. Finally, I headed across a crumbling highway overpass to pick up some supplies for the remnants of humanity.

More notably, Adventures feature fully voiced dialogue from nonplayer characters like Ghost. They serve as a way for Destiny 2’s writers to unspool more backstory and lore within the game, rather than in Grimoire cards. This also happens via scannable objects, where you have Ghost scan an item in the game world to reveal some information about it. Unlike campaign missions, these side missions don’t have any loading screens — they take place within the open world, just like Patrols.

Destiny 2 - Lost Sector graffiti
That graffiti means there’s a Lost Sector nearby. Happy hunting!

Lost Sectors build on the design of Destiny: The Taken King’s Dreadnaught, which was the series’ first destination that felt like it was full of secrets to discover and investigate. These locations are hidden all over the realms of Destiny 2, denoted with a recognizable piece of graffiti in the world that looks like a prehistoric cave painting of a tunnel. You have to find the entrance — it’s not usually that hard — and then head in, killing aliens as you make your way toward the the end. Taking down the miniboss in the final room unlocks a loot chest.

While it’s possible to repeat Lost Sectors and get loot each time through, I was a bit disappointed by them. Calling them dungeons is a bit of a stretch: None of the ones I played were any more difficult than shooting all the enemies until they were dead. It’s possible that they get more interesting and difficult later in the game, since I was playing on the starting destination, Earth.

Thankfully, I got plenty of challenge and excitement out of Destiny 2’s Public Events, which are probably my favorite open-world activity so far. Each one presents a unique problem to solve, so it’s rarely as simple as shooting anything that moves. Ether Resupply pits you against a large Servitor that is not content to fire purple balls of energy at you; it will teleport you to various locations around the area. In Cabal Excavation, you need to occupy the drilling site to override the mining lander — which is no small feat, since laser-guided missiles periodically rain down from the sky.

Every Public Event has a tougher “Heroic” difficulty level that’s unlocked by completing a hidden objective; of course, it provides better loot. Since these mechanics and challenges are layered into all Public Events, I don’t expect I’ll miss Archon’s Forge or the Court of Oryx. Public Events are the basis of Destiny 2’s new Flashpoints, an activity in which a single destination is highlighted every week. The idea is to direct players to a particular place and let them work toward Nightfall-level rewards, except in open-world play as opposed to in those high-intensity strikes. I didn’t see this in action, but I’ll happily complete multiple Public Events for a chance at awesome loot.

Destiny 2 - Injection Rig Public Event: four Guardians taking on the Infiltrator Valus
Injection Rig is one of the tougher Public Events you’ll see in Destiny 2.

Life in the fast lane

It was encouraging to see all the new activities in Destiny 2. But just as important a development is the raft of quality-of-life improvements around them.

Bungie seems to have designed Destiny 2 with speed in mind. You can go to the Director at any point and bring up a map of each of the four destinations. As you play more of Destiny 2’s story and open-world activities, you’ll unlock additional landing zones on each destination. In addition to being able to pick where to spawn into a world, you can use these spots as fast-travel points; the process just involves a loading screen of about 10 seconds.

Thanks to the redesigned Director, I went to orbit exactly once during the entire preview event — and that was just for the heck of it, for some Destiny nostalgia. (As it turned out, I did not have any fond memories of the first game’s cosmic loading screen.)

The in-game map’s usefulness doesn’t end there. As you can see in the screenshot below, the map is marked up with all sorts of icons that indicate activities like Lost Sectors and treasure chests. Public Events are highlighted on the map in real time, and you can mouse over them to get up-to-the-second information on their timing.

No more using a third-party website to chase down a Public Event: You’ll know exactly where and when to expect one, and you won’t even need your Sparrow to get there. This is a crucial design change particularly for Public Events, many of which require teamwork from a sizable group of players. Even if you happened upon a Public Event in Destiny, you might’ve failed to complete it if you weren’t a one-person army. Putting icons and time frames directly on the in-game map should encourage people to congregate around Public Events — it takes the guesswork out of tracking them — which will likely increase the chances that a group of players will be around to team up to take on the challenge.

Destiny 2 - in-game map of Earth
The green badge icon represents Devrim Kay; the orange one is an Adventure; the blue diamond is a Public Event.

Destiny 2’s map also has a neat navigation function. It allows you to highlight activities like story missions, Public Events and Adventures, which will track the item in question and provide a waypoint for you to follow. NPCs will use this functionality as well — each destination has its own manager, you could say, and they’ll occasionally direct you toward a point of interest by marking it on your map.

That includes Devrim Kay, your guide to the European Dead Zone. Kay is a grizzled British sniper who hangs out in the steeple of the church in the Trostland region. In addition to serving as a vendor for early-game weapons, Kay frequently talks to you during Patrol missions, Adventures and Public Events. When you do those activities, one of the rewards you receive is an item called an EDZ Token. You’ll turn them in to Kay to earn reputation with him.

The beautiful Trostland church is the first thing you see when you load into the European Dead Zone, and it’s a great example of how Bungie is doing a better job of environmental storytelling in Destiny 2. Most of Old Russia in the original Destiny’s Earth was barely recognizable as a place where humans would’ve lived — only the game’s opening, with dozens of rusty husks of cars littered along a crumbling highway, comes to mind. But Trostland is an old town in Europe, perhaps in what was once Germany, and you feel a greater connection to its dilapidated structures because they clearly used to be apartment buildings or storefronts or hotels.

It’s a reminder of what the people of Earth have lost, but also an inspiration for them to claw their way back from the brink of oblivion — which, from what we know of Destiny 2’s story, is very much in line with the game thematically. While plenty of questions remain about Destiny 2 and its ability to keep players entertained in the long term, the game’s revamped open world will go a long way toward achieving that goal.

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