Republished on Wednesday 29th August 2018: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of September's PlayStation Plus lineup. The original text follows.
Three years after the release of Destiny, here we are with a whole new title that's framed as a direct sequel. Hopping to a fresh release was Bungie's best bet when it came to enticing new players into the fray while also catering to the wants of veterans, and so we're left with a very familiar but much improved follow-up.
It's safe to say that the developer has learned a lot since September 2014. Destiny 2 is a sequel that oozes confidence – something that the original game lacked at times as it stumbled through its storytelling and awkwardly tried to convince players that its convoluted progression systems weren't a complete waste of time. Fortunately, both of those issues have been pretty much eradicated here.
Let's start with the main campaign, which sports a coherent story and actual characters. Okay, so we're being a bit cynical here, but it's no exaggeration to say that everything to do with Destiny 2's narrative is in a different league when compared to its predecessor. The actual plot isn't anything to really write home about, but it's nicely told, and a small cast of secondary characters carry it well.
There are some great looking cutscenes included throughout, and the story missions themselves are generally of a very high quality. There are a few in particular that absolutely nail what a sci-fi shooter's campaign should be, and overall, the level design is top notch. Huge gunfights in sprawling, immaculately lit locations are the order of the day, although some downtime is also welcome as you gawk at Bungie's unmatched sky boxes.
We say this a lot, but Destiny 2 really is the bigger and better sequel. It expands upon and refines much of what the original did right, and as a result, it feels like a complete package from the off – there are no gaping expansion-shaped holes or core systems that will soon need to be pulled apart and put back together again.
Speaking of which, one of the sequel's biggest improvements is its streamlined loot and levelling system. It takes the tweaks that were made in the later years of Destiny and sharpens them further, giving way to a rewarding sense of progression, particularly during the first 20 or so hours of your adventure.
In fact, Destiny 2 as a whole is more respectful of your time than the first game ever was. The follow-up is much better at dishing out loot and rewarding your efforts, constantly dangling that all-important carrot. It's absolutely the kind of release that you'll start thinking about when you're not playing it, wondering what cool weapons and armour await you at the end of your next session.
Outside of its undeniable improvements to story and progression, the game's most notable step forward comes in the form of its sandbox environments. The title has four of these open world-esque locations, each of them allowing you to find your own fun as you explore a diverse selection of planets.
These locations are now stuffed with things to do, whether you help your fellow Guardians fight off hordes of enemies in big Public Events, or you purchase some treasure maps from the superbly voiced Cayde-6 and go hunting for precious loot. Newly introduced Adventures also help spice things up, essentially providing a large selection of story-driven side quests, and there's some enjoyable dungeon-delving action to be had thanks to Lost Sectors which can be found scattered across each map.
For the first time, it feels as though Destiny's sandboxes are an integral part of the experience. Whether you're looking for loot or you just want to relax with a little intergalactic exploration, they're lovingly constructed and provide plenty of entertainment.
On top of all this, you've got your endgame co-op content, and your player-versus-player Crucible shenanigans. On the co-op side of things, Strikes make a return. Each Strike lasts around 20 minutes or thereabouts, and task three players with battling their way through hordes of foes in order to eventually face off against a boss.
Much like the game's story missions, the six Strikes on offer at launch are very well designed, both environmentally and in terms of enemy encounters. Boss fights in particular have been reworked for the better, taking a step back from bullet sponge design and opting for more dynamic clashes that see swarms of lesser foes take to the battlefield at set intervals. We'd go as far to say that these Strikes are some of the best that Bungie has ever crafted – it's just a shame that there aren't a few more of them.
Moving on, the competitive suite of Crucible modes doesn't offer any surprises. The big change here is that the player count in all modes has been reduced, with the developer opting for slightly more personal four-on-four battles. The smaller scale skirmishes do have a nice dynamic to them – especially when you're working as a team – but only having a total of eight players sprinting around reasonably sized maps does result in some perhaps unwanted downtime.
The tension of a good Crucible match is still present, and ripping the opposition apart with a well-timed super or a perfectly placed grenade is still incredibly satisfying, but we find ourselves missing just that little sprinkling of chaos that so often defined the player-versus-player experience of the first Destiny.
After all of this, it would be remiss of us not to at least touch upon the gunplay, which, while seemingly yanked whole from the original Destiny, is still phenomenal. The way guns bounce and the way heads pop, Bungie remains a master of moment-to-moment action.
Last but not least, the soundtrack deserves a special mention. The first game's orchestral score was for the most part fantastic, but it was a tad underused. Here, the music ebbs and flows depending on your current activity. The slower tracks that play as you wander around alien worlds are a joy, and the booming boss themes are exhilarating. For our money, it's one of the best soundtracks of the year.
Destiny 2 takes the core gameplay of the first game and surrounds it with a much more confident, cohesive experience. This isn't Destiny reimagined but it is Destiny refined, and while that may not be enough to win over those who were left disappointed by Bungie's efforts three years ago, it doesn't change the fact that this is without a doubt one of the best shooters on PS4.