Together alone: a misanthrope’s guide to Destiny 2

destiny-2-singleplayer

Destiny 2 [official site], Bungie’s game of unblinking science-fictional loot acquisition, is due on PC later this month, but it’s already enjoyed a few apparently very successful weeks of online robot-bothering and gun-collecting on console. The Destiny games are most heavily associated with players working together to take down big bosses and obtain the hardest-won loot, but there’s a certain sect of us who aren’t as comfortable communicating with strangers over a microphone. What does Destiny 2 have for us, the folk who like to think of ourselves as too-cool-for-school loners but are considered to be miserable, uncooperative gits by everyone else?

Bad news: you can’t avoid people entirely, even if you want to. After an introductory hour or two in which you are The One True Hero, there’s an abrupt and disorientating switch that sees you go from a series of apparently singular adventures and impossible accomplishments to being dumped unceremoniously into a pleasantly rural hub. Here you’re surrounded by other players, all of which also boast the same superheroic powers as you and also queue up to take tasks from the major NPCs. You Are Not Important After All, Destiny 2 seems to declare. And you’re not. You’re just one more shmoe on the commuter train, like everyone else.

This is fine: this is Destiny, and if you bought it expecting a solo shooter then I don’t know what to do with you. I would say, though, that this transition is very badly handled. None of the achingly earnest and generally over-long cutscenes and conversations mention, let alone seek to explain, your suddenly reduced status, and subsequent missions maintain the You Are The Chosen One lie, hoping that you’ll just go along with it.

This is a Forever Problem in MMOs, of course, but the elaborate singleplayer funnel that Destiny 2 throws you down at first just makes it a little more jarring than usual. As does the FPS structuring – our solo shootin’ and our multiplayer shootin’ are usually siloed off into discrete modes. Here, everything happens at once – but, importantly, there’s one specific place where the apparently contradictory values cross over beautiful. I’ll get back to that later, though.

First, let’s talk about some other good news. Despite the poison presence of other actual human beings, with their callous disregard that all videogames are made for you and you alone, this is not an insubstantial singleplayer videogame.

Even after the point at which Oz pulls back his curtain to reveal a world of hopping players queuing up to buy new spacehats (N.B.: just like me), he keeps on feeding you lengthy, exciting missions designed for you and you alone. Unless, of course, you transgress against all that is right and proper and specifically invite a friend or two to join you.

At any point during this, you can also pursue a number of explicitly co-operative or competitive activities, but if you want to mainline Destiny 2 as if it were essentially a new Halo campaign (as well as a developer, Destiny 2 shares with Halo the collision of cool space structures with a dry and tiresome excess of spacemagic lore), you pretty much can. Depending on your particular metric for what constitutes a substantial FPS campaign, and depending on how much of a headshot crackshot you are, I’d say Destiny 2’s missions wind up offering somewhere between two-thirds and three-quarters of the singleplayer norm. 8-12 hours: fairly comparable to a Call of Duty or Battlefield, really, but not as generous as, say, a Wolfenstein: New Order or Doom 2016.

You might see other players in occasional sections of your missions, and certainly you’ll run past a fair few between tasks as you run to grab your next objectives from a questgiver, but they’re never during fights or setpieces, and they cannot join in with your tasks unless you invite them to yourself. So long as you can put out of your mind the occasional sighting of someone standing around with weapons four times as good as yours, you can somewhat maintain the pretence that the whole game is about you.

The corollary question here, of course, is “is Destiny 2 a good singleplayer game?” Well, two things there. The first is that playing it this way is scarcely unusual – pretty much everyone tackles the missions on their own, watching cutscenes, unlocking all their class abilities and working out which powers and weapon types they most enjoy. They are therefore designed to be played this way.

The second thing is that, again, it depends on your personal metric of what makes a good shooter campaign. If you want something that regularly switches things up like Wolfenstein: New Order, then no. Despite being set across a variety of planets, Destiny 2 essentially loops the same 15 minute experience again and again. It has some spectacular backdrops, some of which – huge otherworldly landscapes, vast crashed spaceships, mossy cityscapes, and even some lovely forests – gave me the ‘I kinda want a bigger TV’ urge, which I’ve not had for a half-decade by this point.

Those backdrops are just there though, the world’s most expensive set-dressing. If you’re lucky, you might jump across a chasm or float down a gravity well to the next shooty bit, but there’s no meaningful use of these dramatic environments bar some deeply-misjudged first-person platforming sections. Destiny 2 is really only about what’s inside your targeting reticule and the numbers on your gear. Luckily the shooting is reliably great – the fights are an intense barrage of aiming, reloading, taking cover to regain health, activating recharging superpowers to turn the tide just when all seems lost. It is never not exciting, never not seat of the pants.

The story and writing are, I felt, more to be endured than enjoyed, rife with exhausted tropes such as “we’re much the same, you and I”, hollow posturing and essentially being told to be impressed by someone rather than their doing anything to deserve it. It stutters between the impressive science-fictional sight of vast space stations under siege and simmering Christian overtones about the ill-defined concept of the ‘light’ which blesses all it shines upon with great power. Plus the baddies are as Videogame Baddie as it gets. If you love lore you’ll get more from it, and I should point out that the tales told by the environments, packed with little details as well as grand landscapes, are superb even if the main story is one big wibble. Destiny 2 goes to great pains to be a story game, but no, I don’t think it works as a story game. Not unless you’re already a fan or have a low bar for characterisation in your big, noisy sci-fi tales.

Where all aspects of Destiny 2 come together, where it works best as a more or less singleplayer experience within a multiplayer framework, is the public events. These have been an MMO stable since the ill-fated Warhammer Online, and they remain a great concept. Essentially, every few minutes a horde of baddies invade a particular area, culminating in some manner of giganto-boss, and anyone passing can join in the fray. Where the ‘solo’ missions can be long and repetitive, public events are condensed and kinetic, a capsule version of Destiny 2’s most compelling fights that mean a real sense of achievement in addition to whatever rewards you get for it.

Better still, from a misanthropic point of view, is that zero interaction with anyone else is required. A few people will be there, but it’s not hard to treat them as little more than NPC support – there’s no mic chatter unless you specifically enable it and there’s no grouping actions required. Unless you’re totally cack-handed, these events end up feeling like most any boss fight does: that it was all down to you. The health bar goes down as you fire, and even if that’s in response to other people’s shots too, the look and feel is as if it’s all you.

Best of all though, it’s the superior core of Destiny – excellent gunplay, evolving on the Halo-style two-weapon/different tools for different enemies formula, and big robo-bosses in big sci-fi surroundings – with none of the fluff and none of the faff around it. My life (or, let’s be honest, personality) is not such that I can resolve to embark on some hours-long raid or two with a coordinated group for an evening, but knowing I can grab twenty minutes of shooty-bang fun with a climactic encounter, and a new toy at the end of it, suits me down to the ground.

When I think about if and why I will play Destiny 2 on PC, it’s these that answer that question. I don’t want to go on raids. I don’t want to talk to anyone. I don’t want any more of these dreary cutscenes. I just want to spend a little chunk of my evening shooting great big things with great-feeling weapons, and then exit the game feeling like I’ve achieved something. Destiny 2, I’m glad to say, supports that. Be as grumpy and sociophobic as you like: there is a still a game for you here.

Destiny 2 is due for PC release on October 24.

42 Comments

  1. Fry says:

    So, it’s actually just a bad video game featuring a limited gameplay loop which exploits addictive behavior. Good to know.

    • mavu says:

      To be fair, Destiny 2 is much less exploiting addictive behaviour than the first part.

      It is rather easy, and not that much time consuming to basically get everything.

      Unfortunately (or luckily) this also makes it much less of a long term activity.

      On the plus side, after some weeks you will probably only play it if you want to, and not if because you feel like you need to get X or level Y.

      • April March says:

        To be fair, Destiny 2 is much less exploiting addictive behaviour than the first part.

        “This new cocaine is much less addictive.”

        • Ragnar says:

          If you don’t want to be addicted, what are you doing snorting cocaine in the first place?

          Here, have an apple instead.

    • fish99 says:

      That describes most games though, including single player games. If the moment-to-moment gameplay is satisfying, then it works and it’s enjoyable, and Destiny definitely qualifies.

    • Zhiroc says:

      No, actually, the gameplay itself is extremely solid and fun. Even people who don’t care for the whole package (see videos by Angry Joe and SkillUp) tend to praise the actual FPS gameplay. It all depends on what you want. I am addicted to the gameplay, not the rewards/progression.

    • poliovaccine says:

      I mean, you only become addicted to something if it provides you gratification and pleasure. In the case of videogames, whose success is measured in terms of your own enjoyment, I think that’s actually fair play.

    • Maxheadroom says:

      I hate myself for enjoying it.

      The minute to minute shooty stuff is solid enough but my god is it the definition of a soulless, passionless, designed-by-committee-box-ticking experience that advances the franchise less than your average yearly CoD iteration.

  2. Thats no moon says:

    “I just want to spend a little chunk of my evening shooting great big things with great-feeling weapons, and then exit the game feeling like I’ve achieved something. Destiny 2, I’m glad to say, supports that.”

    Well, it supports it for the first week or two. Once you hit a certain level it is next to impossible to progress as the loot drops are subject to a hard cap.

    After that your only way of advancing/achieving something is to wait around for your weekly tasks. They will reward you with an item which is higher than your current level, allowing a bit of progression.

    Unfortunately once they are done you have very little incentive to play until the next reset. Considering most of the tasks are based around group activities, a solo player is at a severe disadvantage.

  3. Darkz0r says:

    Judging by this article/review, it seems to me that Warframe has more to offer. Being free and having a huge progression if you want to level everything.

    Yes, it suffers from the 15 minute loop, but I’d say its a bigger loop since there’s a few different mission types and different boss fights/events. Specially with PoE this or next week.

    I was really looking forward to Destiny 2 since my peasant console friends went nuts with Destiny 1, but it seems there’s not much “substance” to it…I wanted something similar but different from Warframe but I guess I need to wait for D2 to be more “fleshed out”.

    I wonder how much gameplay I can get out of D2? Since endgame is raids, but after you get the raid gear is there something else to do?
    If its worth 100-200 hours I can probably justify the purchase!

    • Stevostin says:

      Warframe is a TPS hence a rotten shooter by design. No one in their right mind should play that.

      • The K says:

        Warframe, as much fun as it is, has some problems.

        It being a TPS is not one of them, and the sheer gall to state that this makes it automatically not worth playing is..i dont know what to say. I expect the worst from internet comments, boundless stupidity and ludicrous thinking processes, and still i am always disappointed: Yes, it can always get more stupid.

        • Stevostin says:

          The only (only) advantage of TPS over FPS is for some ppl with motion sickness (and ego if you’re really there). OTOH TPS guarantee:
          – no gun feel (in a shooter)
          – part of your vision is obstructed by your own ass
          – also no immersion whatsoever, in a game with its own world
          – inclusion of a form of wall hack (looking around corner) so that an essential game mechanics induced by shooting is neutered

          That’s four major bullets in the feet. It’s like everything that’s wrong with cover system, but way worth. Any gamer that even remotely accept this kind of dumbification in a shooter isn’t worth his salt IMO.

      • mukuste says:

        That’s nonsense. The shooting in Warframe is very satisfying and crunchy. Add to that the highly expressive movement model as well as the option of melee combat, and you have a very fun core gameplay loop.

        • Stevostin says:

          Maybe when in ironsight but by design, any shooting in TPV is less punchy than in a FPS view. I have never played Destiny but it known for its gun feel. Warframe (or any, really any TPS for that matter)? Not so much.

          • laser-gods says:

            Dumbification of shooters by TPS’s such as Warframe? HA. Warframe is fast paced, movement focused, with stealth and melee elements including combos, channeling etc. It’s FPS that’s been dumbing down shooters for years now with health regen and on-rails corridor nonsense, Destiny is just another lump on that pile.

      • Ragnar says:

        Enjoy your soap box. The rest of us are gonna go play some games and have fun. We’d invite you, but some of them might be third-person-shooters, so…

    • dskzero says:

      >Judging by this article/review, it seems to me that Warframe has more to offer.

      It’s also a bad, half baked game though

      • April March says:

        Both can be correct.

        I’ll say that comment makes me want to play Warframe more than the article makes me want to play Destiny 2: Destinier.

  4. Jac says:

    I hope the PC version has the same implementation of chat as other battle.net games.

    Other than the raid (at least initially) I don’t think there is any group activity in the game that can’t be tackled just by typing a couple of lines in chat to the random people you join up with. And one of those lines will hopefully be asking if any random person wants to do the thing you want to do but can’t because there isn’t any matchmaking for it.

    I’ll be seriously tempted to get this on PC again down the line if they have this magical typing feature. Easy communication without using a mic and using external sites to find random people would dramatically improve the game for me.

    • Moraven says:

      The Raid has encounters that requires instant communication, where then people have about a 5 second window to react and to nut punch the correct psion or shoot the right gate arrows. You could get by with just 3 people having mics. Typing could be potentially to slow.

      Nightfalls, usually require a dry run to learn it then an 2nd better run to beat the timer. I could see getting by with only chat, but really, things are shooting at you quick and a mic is a better communication tool.

      People since Destiny 1 have used external sites for finding groups, since there is no built in LFG tool (or text chat system). Social spaces were not very social when you had no way to talk seamlessly (oddly no proxy voice chatting). the100.io is a great site for finding groups, either temp or permanent. You would join a permanent group that does not require mics and has people who play around the same time as you do.

  5. MushyWaffle says:

    Yup, agreed, I’m a misanthrope gamer. Which is why I will pick up D2 on PC in a year with a GOTY edition… just for the single player content.

    • welverin says:

      That worked really well for me with the first game and The Taken King edition, should be just the same for you. The expansions should add plenty of single player content to make one playthrough worth the price.

      • Ragnar says:

        Did it feel like a good use of your time?

        I’m not a huge fan of first-person-shooters on console in general, and I have a hard time believing that Destiny would compare favorably to Wolfenstein or Doom or Prey on PC.

  6. digital_sneeze says:

    Despite being pretty social in real life I’ve always had weird anxiety about online gaming, dunno why. I’m a sucker for big sci-fi vistas though so was considering this game heavily and it sounds like I might do ok with it.

    • poliovaccine says:

      I wouldn’t say I’m very social myself, but I’m still more inclined to social activities in meat life than I am towards gaming online. That’s cus I have a specific, learned anxiety about online gaming: that people will be sniveling assholes who make you feel embarrassed to be playing the game alongside them. The problem is that, even if they only make up a small percentage of the overall group, they can do a disproportionate amount of damage to your enjoyment.

      Of course, that stuff varies by community. I’ve noticed recently on Youtube there seems to be a broad, expensive ad campaign in progress that’s designed to invite new players to League of Legends, and to reassure them that it’s noob-friendly, so I can only imagine what kind of noob-bashing assholes lurk in that world.

      Not that noobiness is ever the only issue, sometimes communities are just toxic, I mean every game is different and so is the community each one attracts. If Stardew Valley had an online component I wouldn’t be too intimidated of potential dicks coming thru my mic. But terms like “griefers” and “gank squads” and “spawn campers” and “bot hackers” and “shrieking racist children” are all demographics you just plain avoid entirely when you play a singleplayer game… or, well, I sure hope you do haha.

      I used to really like Counter Strike, like, up until the year 2000. I feel like it was taken from me by a band of orcs.

    • eljueta says:

      I don’t like letting people down. There is no punishment but I kinda get anxious for being a noob at an coop online game. That’s why I like to play Quake Champions deathmatch and get whacked because nobody depends on me. Very therapeutic.

      The other part is time constraints, I like to enter and leave as I please, not commit to a raid (those were the WoW days in the uni).

      tl:dr, happy that Destiny is also good to play alone.

    • welverin says:

      As I mentioned to MushyWaffle right above you, an eventual all-in-one edition at a reduced cost will be well worth the cost for any devote solo players.

      I will add if you do get the game, don’t avoid the strikes. There’s automatic matchmaking for them, but everyone just everyone just goes about the process with no need for real cooperation, just like the public events Alec discussed. This doesn’t include Nightfall however.

  7. Stevostin says:

    I am glad you wrote this article just for me!

  8. fish99 says:

    I’ve spent the last 2 months diving into the first Destiny (called ‘Destiny’ by some, or even ‘Destiny 1’ by the deeply misguided) on console, and absolutely loved it. And I’ve never once come across someone using voice chat despite doing plenty of strikes and seeing people regularly in the open world and hubs.

    The good thing about the PC version (of D2) is you won’t find bits of the game locked behind the paywall that is PS+, so there’s no reason not to enjoy the full game. So you may be bad at the game and die a bunch of times or even wipe doing strikes, well guess what – so does everyone else. There’s no reason to avoid the group activities and the game seems to have a very friendly community.

    And the story does have its highlights, despite such lines as “I don’t have time to explain why I don’t have time to explain”.

    Yes the game is grindy, but it’s an enjoyable grind thanks to the always satisfying gameplay, which is the one thing arguably missing from other MMOs.

  9. bill says:

    Is it just me or are the character designs terrible?

    Not sure why I just noticed, but scrolling through the article the screenshots all just screamed “This would be really awesome if I was 12!”
    Especially the one with the space warrior in power armor and a cloak with a hood! with a sword!! and on fire!!!

    • mukuste says:

      I mean, this is coming from the company that (apparently unironically) named their most famous main character “Master Chief”.

      • Ragnar says:

        I always believed that was a typo. Someone accidentally added an ‘i’ to the proposal documents and was too embarrassed to admit it during the pitch. Then they had to rework the character to make it fit.

  10. fray_bentos says:

    Really nice, balanced article for me as a Destiny 1 hater. I certainly enjoyed reading this, and made me think that I might possibly consider getting it in a sale at some point, as you described my own approach to gaming perfectly and how that might mesh with the game. NB/ “most any” isn’t English.

  11. Gothnak says:

    The things i liked about Destiny 1:

    The combat,
    The setting was ok,
    The fact you could play missions co-op with random people.

    The things i hated about Destiny 1:

    The loading times,
    The fact it shipped with about 5 co-op missions which often you’d have to play some of them right after each other, and they weren’t varied AT ALL. The one with the demon underground could last ages, and based on your team-mates, you’d just die a lot. Whereas the one with the metal ball thing was easy. The end game just got boring.

    So, with 2, is there a lot more content at the end, or is it the same 6 missions over and over again as that’d make me play it for about 1 evening and get bored?

    And no, i never want to play PvP online, never i tell you….!

  12. dreadguacamole says:

    I’ve always thought Michael Moorcock perfected the way to have your MMORPG cake and eat it alone as well:
    You’re the eternal champion, and have all these world-shaking quests to complete by yourself. However, every now and then, you meet with all the other incarnations of eternal champions from the multiverse (alternate timelines work!). Sometimes you can even band up with them to beat up some big bad or another.

  13. LagTheKiller says:

    Is it me or is it yet another article “D2 sucks cock and is only for dedicated MMO(notRPG) masochists, but hey its not so bad and i feel lonely grinding”?

    Did somone pay you for articles full of not-so-bads?

    There are lotsa guides on RPS but attempt to sell us “story meant to be ENDURED” for single player users (12 hours)?

  14. Ragnar says:

    Thanks for this article!

    While I love the idea of co-op raids, the reality of my life is that finding an hour to play a night is already a challenge – and ride with interruptions.

    Glad to hear there’s something there for us busy folks, even if it doesn’t sound like my preferred cup of tea.

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