The first moment I touched down in the European Dead Zone, it was chaos. The Fallen, bipedal alien scavengers with four arms and a lot of guns, swarmed around me, firing lasers. Another alien faction, the Cabal, made up of warlike mole people with big suits of armor and a society inspired by the Roman Empire, had claimed a beachhead by the water and ruined cars nearby. Here I am, a lowly level one space hero in training, and I’ve walked into the middle of a full-blown war.
The European Dead Zone is one of the four major “patrol” areas in Destiny 2, wide swaths of open space that serve as a launching point for the game’s various activities. Like its predecessor, Bungie’s Destiny 2 is a big, complex game, full of moving parts and ideas, meant to keep players engrossed for longer than the average experience. It’s essentially a massively multiplayer online game grafted onto the bones of a single-player shooter. Which is to say that you spend your time flying around the solar system, doing combat-oriented activities to get equipment, weapons, and bits of narrative. But the hook is that you’re doing it alongside other people, in a world that’s supposed to persist and grow alongside your experience.
It’s difficult to evaluate that kind of game in a week, and so this likely won’t be the last piece I write on Destiny 2. This isn’t a review; more a reflection on an experience partially had. But so far, that feeling I had when I first landed in the European Dead Zone, of walking into a full, unstable world, has never quite gone away. And that’s a good thing.
That feeling I had when I first landed in the European Dead Zone, of walking into a full, unstable world, has never quite gone away. And that’s a good thing.
Destiny takes place in an interesting world that didn’t get nearly enough honest attention in the first game. Every player is a Guardian, a dead warrior-soldier resurrected by the magic powers of an inert, possibly dead machine god called the Traveler. Your goal is to protect the last human city and try to reclaim the solar system from a horde of alien races that have overtaken it. This is a bizarre yet provocative setup, but the first Destiny had little in the way of concrete storytelling and deliberately seemed to detach you as the player from its fiction.
One useful question to ask about a game is, “Where does this game live?” Or, to put it another way, “Where does the core of this experience reside?” What part of the game, if removed, would cause the reset to fall apart? The first Destiny lived in a menu screen, a hub that displayed the various activities in the game as options that you jumped from, one at a time, with lengthy loading screens in between. This menu-oriented design created a sense that Destiny‘s world was nothing but a thin series of playsets with no connective tissue between them. It punctured the fiction and made it impossible to play Destiny while simultaneously imagining the on-screen action taking place in a fictional space.
Destiny 2 has that menu screen, but it’s a guide instead of a destination, a means of seeing the activities but not the primary means of getting to them. Instead, Destiny 2 lives in places like the European Dead Zone, or a sprawling offshore rig set up above the roiling seas of a futuristic Titan, or the alien-infested ruins of Io. To access most activities, you first have to land in one of these patrol areas and go there on foot, fighting through enemies, seeing other players, and taking in the scenery.
What that means is that, for the first time, Destiny‘s excellent moment-to-moment action, its superb combat and movement, now feels like it’s been set into a game space built to support it. Destiny 2 is a place now, a setting filled with rolling battles and space opera excess. I’m not yet sure how long I’m going to want to spend in that place. But I’m gratified to find it there, waiting for me.