The original Destiny may not have lived up to expectations upon reflection, but there's no denying it broke new ground for the industry.
For the past three years, the game has managed to retain audiences in a way that no console-based shooter has managed before, thanks primarily to a steady string of expansions and in-game events. With the fully-fledge sequel finally upon shelves, the pressure is on for Bungie to show marked improvement on the journey they began in 2014.
The evolving nature of the game, the delay to the first Raid, and the inherent need to judge Destiny as much on its community as its content mean that most reviewers opted to reserve judgement until the game had found its feet post-launch. With more than a week of alien-slaying behind them, media outlets have now begun rolling out their definitive Destiny 2 verdicts.
"Destiny 2 feels like an apology," Wesley Yin-Poole writes as he opens Eurogamer's review. "It is the righting of the wrongs committed by the divisive Destiny 1, a game I couldn't help but pump a thousand hours into despite it often feeling like pulling teeth. The developers at Bungie, with Halo-fuelled egos dented from the mediocre critical reception that enveloped Destiny's delayed 2014 launch, have wiped the slate clean like a raid boss swatting away a troublesome fireteam. This respawned shared-world shooter sequel is the game Destiny 1 should have been, free from frustration, respectful of players' time and inspired in its level design."
"This respawned shared-world shooter sequel is the game Destiny 1 should have been, free from frustration, respectful of players' time and inspired in its level design"
Wesley Yin-Poole, Eurogamer
Much of the praise centres around the main campaign, dramatically beefed up when compared to that of the first game. Although there are a few who deem it to be lacking something - such as GameSpot's Kallie Plagge, who cites the "derivative conqueror figure of a villain" and tired save-the-world plot as low points - most agree its enough to satisfy fans who have been disappointed by the somewhat stunted storytelling in the series so far.
"What we have in Destiny 2's story campaign is almost incomparable to the first game's narratively-linked series of escalating arena fights and dungeon crawls," says David Houghton of GamesRadar. "It still makes use of such things, of course. But what we have here is also a full-blooded, immaculately paced, pure FPS campaign, built with all the story, scale, and set-piece insight Bungie perfected over the 13-year period of its pre-Destiny shooter work.
"Destiny 2's campaign is a hell of a good Halo game, basically."
The Guardian's Alex Hern agrees that, while by no means perfect, this story is more befitting the studio's reputation: "Even for an MMO, it's fairly thin, lacking the epic sweep that players of more traditional online games like WoW or FFXV have come to expect. But it's the first time in the three years of Destiny's history that you can reasonably say to the sort of person who bought the Halo series to play through the single-player campaign that the Bungie they know and love is back."
In his Telegraph review, Sam White calls Destiny 2 "the best story that Bungie has told since Halo," adding that it "evokes memories of the Master Chief's heyday, from the great mission design to the way it uses an amazing score to punctuate its most intense action set piece moments."
"It's the first time in the three years that you can reasonably say to the sort of person who bought Halo that the Bungie they know and love is back"
Alex Hern, The Guardian
However, Yin-Poole points out that Bungie "still seems to struggle with straight-up storytelling", pointing to cutscenes that are crammed with too much exposition and limited character development that "boils down to re-powering the de-powered Guardians - a well-worn trick that doesn't have the impact Bungie would like it to."
He continues: "The theme of mortality bubbles under the surface of Destiny 2's campaign, but it never reaches boiling point. I would love to delve deeper into Ikora's character as she struggles to come to terms with the loss of the light-giving Traveler and her newfound mortality. In the end she, like all the others, seems to have learnt a valuable lesson without having gone to class."
There remains debate about how well Bungie is building out the fiction of its universe. Matt Miller of Game Informer says he is "mystified" by the studio's decision to lock the story content away after the campaign has finished. Once done, fans are only allowed to replay a few randomly selected missions per week under the 'Memories' system. (Similarly, Strikes now seem to be limited to a playlist, another point of confusion for the critic). Meanwhile, PlayStation LifeStyle's Chandler Wood is disappointed the Grimoire cards have been removed in favour of scanning objects for more information.
Reviewers agree that the post-campaign endgame is much better handled this time around, with the confusing Light system revamped and explained more clearly to players.
"It's a far smoother introduction than that of the first game, which unceremoniously dropped you from the end credits back in the game world with no real explanation of how to progress, what the next goal was, or why you were still playing," writes Hern. "Now, in the midst of the campaign, the game takes the time to introduce the activities you'll spend the next few months repeating, once the story is over: the patrols, the strikes and the crucible. By the time you do finish the campaign, you'll likely be champing at the bit to sink some real time into these things.
"By the time you do finish the campaign, you'll likely be champing at the bit to sink some real time into patrols, strikes and the crucible"
Alex Hern, The Guardian
"It's no longer a toxic fruit machine, and the number of guaranteed rewards in the game is at a level where it's possible to avoid huge levels of frustration entirely. There's a chance, in fact, that it may be too generous: a game with a level cap of 300 should probably not see players reaching 293 within a week, before the raid was even released, as a member of my clan did."
White agrees, adding: "The multiplayer aspects are better structured so you don't feel alone if you don't have a roster of friends to party up with at all times. Activities and tasks are administered to you at a far better rate, too, resulting in a game that doesn't just draw the curtains on its own campaign and leave you to figure out what it is you're supposed to do next."
There is also the consensus that Destiny 2 better caters for solo players, or those unable to commit to playing through Raids and Strikes with the same fireteam, with Houghton saying: "Destiny 2 is the game you want it to be, whether that's a rambling, single-player, open-world FPS with a levelling system, a gear-grind focused MMO, a welcoming, co-op hangout, or anything else in between."
Wood says that, as a result, Destiny 2 is a game that caters to a much broader range of players than its forebear: "Every individual piece feels like a complete package all its own. Only care about the story and want to charge through everything solo? You can do that. Want a great competitive PvP that requires player skill, but has a curve that allows people to learn and grow their own talents? 4v4 Crucible is for you. How about an amazing endgame set-piece unlike any that Bungie has done before? [You have] the Raid. For those of us who want all of these things, Destiny 2 feels like a smorgasbord of activities to complete."
"Destiny 2 is the game you want it to be, whether that's a single-player, open-world FPS, a gear-focused MMO, a co-op hangout, or anything else in between"
David Houghton, GamesRadar
Combat is, once again, a high point for Destiny, with almost every critic saying Bungie remains unrivalled for delivering satsifying gunplay. Houghton describes it as "constantly surprising, demanding, and exhilarating experience, even to those of us who spent upward of 800 hours with the first game."
The game's art and visuals are also widely praised, with Miller saying that each of the four explorable areas are in equal parts "majestic, beautiful and vast" with plenty of surprises to enjoy.
Yin-Poole adds: "Playing Destiny 2 is a bit like driving a brand new Audi along a quiet country road, its engine quietly humming, its steering wheel an extension of your hands. Then a stunning environment, a gorgeous vista or a level twist jolts you out of your comfort zone and all you can do is stand motionless in awe. Bungie's incredible art team has produced its best ever work with Destiny 2, creating a virtual world - well, four of them - that rekindles memories of the science fiction you imagined while reading books as a child."
Some concerns were raised with the use or microtransactions - or rather the way they may be used in future. With changes to staples such as shaders, which are now one-use consumables, and Sparrow hoverbikes, now cosmetic items, there's the concern that Bungie could exploit this system going forward.
"I just can't get past the feeling this sequel is a hugely successful refresh, but doesn't realise Destiny's potential"
Wesley Yin-Poole, Eurogamer
"[The changes are] not the end of the world," Hern writes, "but it's a small preview of where you're likely to feel greatest irritation most rapidly. Ultimately, how it plays out in the long term comes down to how free the game is with these drops: currently, it looks like the intention is only to soak those who really want one specific exotic emote, or set of shaders. If that remains the case, I'll get over it."
Miller adds: "The system discourages experimentation, since shaders are consumed on use. A rich equipment modding system is also sadly looped in with the microtransactions, diminishing an otherwise compelling power customization tool."
For all its strengths, Destiny 2 has also left some critics wanting, disappointed that the reinvention isn't as significant as they hoped.
"I just can't get past the feeling this sequel is a hugely successful refresh, but doesn't realise Destiny's potential," says Yin-Poole. "It is as good a quality of life upgrade as Bungie could be expected to deliver, with almost every change unequivocally for the better. But where is the new class of Guardian? Where is the new alien race? Where are the six-player fireteam patrols? Perhaps we'll have to wait for an expansion or - gulp! - Destiny 3 for Bungie's Halo killer to achieve true greatness."
Miller agrees: "I relished the adventure, but some of the magic and mystery I've come to expect is absent. Some of the most troublesome and cryptic story elements from the earlier game also made its universe feel bigger and stranger, and I'm not sure Bungie has managed to replace characters like the Awoken Queen, or design concepts like the Grimoire, with equally curious alternatives. Most enemy types return from Destiny 1 with only minor alteration, diminishing the disquiet of facing a new threat."
Nonetheless, all agree that this effort far surpasses the original Destiny and its earliest expansions, now offering a more optimistic look into the future of this ambitious series.
"[Destiny 2 has] a much stronger foundation than the original and one that's enough on its own to keep people coming back week after week"
Kallie Plagge, GameSpot
"In true Destiny fashion, if you do something once, you'll probably end up doing it many more times," notes Plagge. "The difference with Destiny 2 is in the variety and accessibility of what's available, which cuts down on a lot of the frustration associated with grinding. And even after you've leveled up, there's still more you can do, from keeping up with daily and weekly challenges to just hanging out with friends. It's a much stronger foundation than the original had and one that's enough on its own to keep people coming back week after week."
White adds that "the current launch build of Destiny 2 is already well beyond where the original was three years ago", later writing: "Years ago, when Bungie first announced the series, they promised a 10 year journey. The first game failed to deliver that dream, but with Destiny 2 we have moved a hell of a lot closer."
Houghton agrees: "This isn't Destiny. This is something new. Something bigger, cleverer, richer, and much, much better. It's the idea of Destiny evolved and elevated into something it has never been before."
For all the optimism, critics agree this goodwill can only be maintained if Bungie delivers the goods post-launch. Destiny's launch really is just the beginning, with not only the basic game of Destiny 2 evolving but also the expectation of events to keep players engaged and the inevitable release of expansions to draw back anyone who gets distracted by the myriad of AAA titles launching in the next few months.
"Ultimately, Destiny 2's end goal is succeeding in the long game," says White. "Who knows if all of this content, while vastly improved and more varied, will keep players entertained in a month, or three months time? It's now up to Bungie to keep up the momentum. Destiny 2 is more accomplished, more rewarding and more fun than its predecessor ever was and that's a hugely impressive achievement."
Wood concludes: "In some places, it feels like Bungie is catering to the casual audience and making things a bit to easy for the hardcore players to achieve. The best thing about Destiny 2, though, is that the game will be evolving and changing. The game that I'm reviewing right now will have vast changes and improvements three months, six months, even a year from now. It's not a static product. It's a growing world, and wrinkles will smooth out as Bungie gathers data and understands how people play their game.
"After 1300 hours of experience with Destiny, it's difficult to imagine how grand the sequel might feel for a brand new player. As a returning Guardian, Crucible master Lord Shaxx has found the best words to describe my experience with Destiny 2 and its many improvements over the first: This is amazing!!"