I played Destiny 2 today. To be more precise, I played a Destiny game for the first time today. I gave the original a pass not because of complaints surrounding its threadbare storytelling or dislike of any particular game mechanic. No, my reasoning was supercilious, much like the word supercilious: it wasn’t on PC.
I’m an agnostic gamer. Great games are great regardless of whether I click, press, or tap to interface with them. I am also a creature of habit. My first FPS was id Software’s Catacomb 3-D. I went down the Darwinian-like evolutionary chart of shooters on PC from there, graduating to Wolfenstein 3D and Doom—which I played using only a keyboard, my right hand on the arrow keys, my left pinkie braced over Control, my thumb poised over Space—to Duke Nukem 3D, Quake, Unreal, and the WASD era of arena shooters.
Halo never clicked with me. I appreciated what it brought to the table for console shooters, but twiddling my thumbs to play Mario felt natural in a way that twiddling them to pull off circle strafes and rocket jumps never did and never will.
Within seconds of launching Homecoming, one of Destiny 2’s campaign missions, I felt more at home. I jumped while circle-strafing and peppered enemies with bullets, slid along rain-soaked ground to take cover as I reloaded, and generally moved spasmodically, my character spinning and whirling in response to the slightest twitch of my mouse.
Destiny 2 set the stage for Homecoming by introducing characters and plot points through cutscenes, transmissions as I hit checkpoints, and the occasional scripted event. Which is to say, through storytelling devices common among narrative-driven games rather than by reading lore on digital cards, apparently (and understandably) a sticking point among fans and detractors of the first game.
What I found refreshing about Homecoming’s progression, however, was that I never felt herded down a path. I followed an objective marker on a minimap, sure, but I was free to take my time rounding up dropped ammunition and marveling at the setting, a verdant surface carpeted with grass and peppered by trees topped with orange leaves, as a fleet of starships crawled across a starry backdrop.
I steer clear of contemporary shooter campaigns that punish you for exploring by banishing you back to a checkpoint, like a teacher scolding a student for running by sending them to the back of the line. Bungie seems to have fashioned a balanced narrative, splitting the difference between story trappings designed to guide and inform me as I move through environments, and old-school FPSes that grant me the freedom to move in a direction other than in a straight line.
Homecoming outfitted me with three weapons that fit classic examples of the genre’s shotgun, SMG, and sniper rifle types. Shooting faces felt great in Destiny 2, but conventional bullets paled in the face of my Dawnblade, a fiery Super Ability unique to the Warlock class. A charge meter filled slowly as I played. Killing enemies gives the meter a nice jolt, but energy dripped into the meter even outside of battle. Once it topped off, I could activate Dawnblade, pulling the camera out and engulfing my character in flames. Instead of opening fire, clicking attack sent my Warlock into fluid slicing and diving motions.
I got into the habit of saving my Super Ability for bigger baddies that burst onto the scene with an entourage in tow as I pushed deeper into the level. I’m interested to see how or if players will mix and match classes to take advantage of varying abilities on levels with a larger variety of enemy types to take down, although I wouldn’t be opposed to forming a posse consisting only of ninjas armed with flaming swords that carve through hostiles like the proverbial hot knife through butter.
I couldn’t tell you what happened at the end of Destiny—although I suppose I could look up the lore card on YouTube—and I won’t have to. No characters or progress will carry over to the sequel. While I sympathize with players who invested hundreds of hours in the first game, that decision is for the best. Even the most ardent Destiny fan seems willing to admit that Bungie, a developer renowned for crafting a deep and compelling history in an era when stories in shooters were about as remarkable as plot in porn, stumbled out of the gate with its inaugural shooter MMO. Destiny 2 is a clean slate, one I look forward to drawing on—with a keyboard and mouse, of course.