Destiny 2 is a PC game. I do not mean this only in the technical sense that it is finally (nearly) out on PC, but in the deeper sense that our platform feels like its natural home, and is undoubtedly the best place to play it.
It could have gone either way. Bungie’s last PC game was 2001’s Oni. Later that year, they would release Halo, the game that made their name and began 16 years of console exclusivity. PC project lead David Shaw says that, despite rumours and demands, Bungie simply did not have the capability to bring the original Destiny to our towers.
And yet, as those rumours indicate, it always made sense. Whatever the original’s faults - and there were many - its look and feel were never among them. Indeed, these were the two aspects that even its harshest critics agreed were at the forefront of the shooter genre. Destiny 2 doubles down on those core strengths, as we saw at the PC press event last week, where Bungie gave us powerful machines and allowed us to capture the game’s most visually impressive moments.
You can see the results on our YouTube channel. There is a potholing section in the Utopia story mission that shows off some superb lighting effects; the Pyramidion strike boasts one of the most wondrous sci-fi environments you are likely to see in gaming; and Nessus is probably the prettiest of Destiny 2’s four planets, with rivers of white Vex fluid running alongside fields of red grass under turquoise skies.
Freed of the shackles of the last console generation - it is easy to forget that the first game also had to run on Xbox 360 and PS3 - these environments are bigger and busier than their equivalents in the original. Textures are more detailed, as are lighting, particle, and weather effects. The overall look is sharper, and with a greater range of contrast. It all looks pretty enough on console, but the difference on PC is radical, especially on the 4K monitors, 4.2 Ghz i7s, and 1080 Tis at Bungie.
Beauty on every rig
Much of this is to be expected. It is news to precisely no-one that PCs are more powerful than consoles, and games that sell themselves on their looks will always shine on our platform. But the attentiveness of Destiny 2’s PC version - not a port, Shaw insists, but built from scratch with PC in mind - means it impresses, even given these expectations. Set the field-of-view slider to maximum, and more of the game’s gorgeous vistas fill your screen at once, creating a sense of sci-fi majesty that consoles cannot imitate.
But it is important to Bungie that this experience is available to you even if you cannot match the horsepower of their show rigs. Part of this process has been adding settings to turn down - rather than simply cut - features like shadow detail, depth of field, and ambient occlusion, which are fixed on consoles. There are more such options than in most PC games, so you can precisely tune Destiny 2 for your machine.
“We kinda did it in both directions,” Shaw says. “On high-end rigs - people running SLI, or HDR monitors, or a 63:9 aspect ratio because they’ve got three 21:9 panels - we wanted to support those investments that they’d made and take advantage of these crazy-ass capabilities, but we also wanted to accommodate more modest rigs that maybe five years ago someone had spent $2,000 on… our lowest spec still looks pretty good.”
“And going lower isn’t just, ‘what can we cut out’, but ‘how do we make this look as good as possible on these lower-end machines?’,” adds Vicarious Visions’ Thomas Gawrys, whose team are assisting on the PC version. “It’s not just turn everything off. There are settings to turn everything way down, but we do want everyone who plays this game to have this amazing experience.”
Appreciating your input
The same mix of expected and surprising boons is true on the input side. I had not realised how much friction there was on console between my thoughts and my in-game actions, but it disappears on PC thanks to the immediacy of mouse input. It is like a fog has lifted between my brain and my gun.
It is a refreshing tonic for Destiny’s grindy PvE and for its Sparrow rides - your jetbike becomes much more intuitive to steer, making commutes between public events a joyous cruise - but it is fundamentally transformative in PvP. Console players can kid themselves that adjusting their thumbstick sensitivity gives similar functionality, but the best they can hope for is a binary choice between shotgun-friendly twitching or snipe-friendly dragging. The mouse enables both at once.
This not only means more immediate and effective gunplay, but faster escapes and directional changes. Crucible games are instantly more exciting, but it is not the kind of artificial excitement generated by COD’s low times-to-kill and quick respawns. There is still skill at play here.
It is like the difference between 30fps and 60fps - the better option does not feel necessary until you adjust to it, after which, you cannot go back. Speaking of which, consoles are limited to the former, whereas PC’s frame rate is uncapped. The impact this has on competitive multiplayer, and the smoothness of the overall experience, is well understood by now.
The myth of the console shooter
Forgive me if I am stating the obvious on a couple of these points, but it has been a while since I played a shooter on both console and PC, and been able to get a sense of their contrast. I was raised on PC shooters, but have since allowed myself to be convinced that some are as good or better on console - mainly the twitchy, arcadey ones, like COD.
I had considered Destiny a case in that point, but no longer. Indeed I am reconsidering whether any shooter is optimal on console, though that is a question for another day. And for the record, I am about as committed to Destiny 2 on PS4 as it is possible to be: I have 600 hours in the original, I have three characters to carry over, and I have earned every veteran’s reward emblem. Sony’s exclusive content deal, while gross, is nonetheless enticing, and I have a character at the 305 power cap on their box already. And I am still going to switch to PC.
If you are not quite sold on Destiny 2 yet, then look out for our full PC review tomorrow. But if you are only wondering which platform to choose, make no mistake - ours is the best. That is no surprise. The surprise is that it is not even close.