Destiny 2 only came out on PC this week but, and I hope you can forgive us, we have been playing it for little while already. On the consoles. We know! We have been giving ourselves the customary 40 lashes each night as punishment, but in the process have learned something worthwhile. Which is: Destiny 2 can not only be played casually as a co-op campaign shooter, but in fact - whisper it - is actually more fun that way. Allow us to explain.
Looking to start playing Destiny 2 yourself? Here's how to get going.
Jeremy Peel [features editor]: Hi Matt. How long have we been playing Destiny 2 for?
Matt Purslow [games editor]: We’ve done around ten hours now, which means we’re in the final act of the campaign. We’ve seen all the planets, found all the Vanguard, and now it’s time to make our final move to help save the galaxy from big ol’ evil.
Jeremy: I can’t wait to sock evil right in its familiar face, half-covered by a Vader-style rebreather. Except I sort of can wait, ‘cos that’s what we’ve been doing - taking this at a pretty gentle pace. I didn’t mark the date, but I think we’ve been playing the campaign on and off for about a month now. It’s been a lovely, slowburn introduction to Bungie’s world for me. But you played it before that - and pretty differently, right?
Matt: Yeah, during Destiny 2’s console launch I was preparing a lot of our guides and features in anticipation of the PC release, and it meant throwing myself full-force at the game. I finished the campaign in three days, hit the level recommendation for the hard-tier Nightfall activities by day four, and by the end of week one I was geared up to take on Destiny 2’s biggest challenge: the Leviathan raid.
Doing all that in a week burnt me out. To be honest, when you suggested we played I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to. But playing through at a much slower, more casual speed has reignited my appreciation for Destiny 2. Soaking up its beautiful planets, enjoying its sci-fi tropey script, and revelling in its perfectly engineered gunplay has been amazing.
Jeremy: That first experience you’re describing is exactly why it took me so long to try a Destiny game. The reduction of a lavish and lovingly-written story campaign to ‘levelling content’ - a necessity you rush through to reach an MMO-style endgame - makes me wrinkle my nose in disgust a bit. That’s partly because I’m a bit of a single-player snob. But I suppose, too, I was made wary by the clash of Bungie’s history as sci-fi storytellers and the skinner box shooter everyone described. I didn’t see how the former would escape compromise at the hands of the latter. But I think we’ve discovered that it’s just a matter of approach?
Matt: Absolutely. Destiny 2 can be played as simply a co-op, or even solo, shooter with little regard to min/maxing and worrying about when your next legendary hand cannon drop will be. The campaign itself is sort of a halfway house between Halo and Borderlands, and aside from a level restriction on the final chapters, you don’t have to acquire anything in particular to play and enjoy it. That means no grinding; you won’t need to harvest rare loot drops or repeat the same activities over and over in order to progress. It’s happy to take you and a pal along for a bit of a rollercoaster ride. Albeit a rollercoaster that has lots of slow scenic track sections. And it constantly rains guns all the time.
Jeremy: This is it. We’ve indulged in the odd side-quest, but I haven’t felt forced to play anything with XP as my main motivator - or indeed anything not swathed in expensive voiceover. Often in open-world games, you can feel the budget drop as you step further from the main plot - and in MMOs especially, those cheap outlands are where you spend a huge chunk of your time. But we haven’t had to bother with any of that. Instead, like you say, we’ve played an action-RPG Halo in which we occasionally bump into other people.
It’s almost weird how well it’s worked - given that the prevailing attitude seems to be that, if you don’t log in every week to badger Xur for top-level gear, you’re a filthy casual who never deserved the Last City anyway.
Matt: That prevailing attitude simply isn’t true and our playthrough is testament to that. If you’re not interested in endgame or exotic loot or reigning supreme in Trials, that doesn’t mean Destiny 2 is pointless. There’s plenty to do that doesn’t require you to treat the game as a second career; story quests, adventure missions, Lost Sector treasure hunts, and lots more.
Importantly, as you’ve touched on already, we’ve been playing simply because we like the game, not because we’re in hunt of a specific weapon or reward outcome. At the moment we have clear momentum: the story is ramping up and will soon hit its incredibly cinematic finale. The big question, though, is will you still want us to play after the story is all over and done with? Without the loot obsession, will you be interested in playing endgame content?
Jeremy: I dunno. The way you’ve described Strikes to me - almost like Left 4 Dead reimagined as sci-fi dungeon crawling - is incredibly appealing. And I’ve played enough that I can sense that layer of complexity just beyond the threshold of mostly-mindless shooting - a world of revolving resistances to prepare for and counteract.
But I also worry that the elements of Destiny I’ve come to enjoy most - the transcendent art direction, with planets that dazzle and blaze with colour, and that gently funny writing that burbles away in the background - might fade over time. I’d hate to get fatigued and become one of those people that just screams joylessly at Xur on Reddit every weekend.
What feels good is knowing that, if we walked away from it next week, I’d feel satisfied I’d had a full Destiny experience. Maybe not the one Activision would like to sell - that keeps you coming back and paying more for, like an RNG-fuelled addiction - but a fun shooter with a sense of wonder about it. It’s helped to have you as an expert to guide me through it, but I reckon anybody could play Destiny 2 the same way and have a good time.
Matt: I’m pleased that’s how you feel, and I hope that our experiences ring true with other PC players out there. Destiny 2 doesn’t have to be your Warcraft or Counter-Strike replacement. You’re not excluded from the game if you hate the idea of hobby games. There’s genuinely something here for everyone.
However, if I’m honest, I think our approach is the best one: by playing slower and more casually we may never ride the endorphin waves of completing the raid, but in six weeks when we log back in to play a Strike or a few Adventure missions, the shine of Destiny won’t have been eroded by never-ending exposure. I’d like Destiny 2’s galaxy to be a source of amazement and enjoyment for many months to come, but I don’t want to be there every hour of every week. By making it an occasional stop-off rather than daily ritual, I suspect we’ll be singing Destiny 2’s praises long after its die-hard fans have become exhausted by it.