Destiny 2 Campaign Hands-On: The Cabal Crash Homecoming [Preview]
Last week, Bungie and Activision premiered the first gameplay from the highly anticipated Destiny 2. Due out in September, Destiny's first proper sequel comes after three years of tweaking and expansions that fleshed out the world, mechanics, and gameplay elements of the MMO-infused first-person shooter. While what we got to go hands-on with at the premiere event wasn't all that different from where Destiny is now, there are signs that Destiny 2 will have a much more immersive story and campaign.
If you caught the livestream of the premiere, you likely got to see Bungie's walkthrough of the opening campaign mission "Homecoming." In those early moments, we learned that a powerful Cabal force known as the Red Legion had come to Earth to take back the power the Traveler had granted to the planet's inhabitants. Under the command of Dominus Ghaul, a massive warlord that believes the Traveler's powers should be his to wield, the Red Legion launches an all-out attack on the Guardian base, the Tower. With everything imaginable gone south, that's when "Homecoming" tasks players with getting onto Ghaul's ship to end the onslaught.
Seeing the Tower devastated beyond repair is certainly harrowing, as it's really the first time the Guardians have ever looked overmatched. While player Guardians have certainly been up against the odds throughout Destiny's first three years of story, it's rare for us to see the Vanguards pushed to their limits in fending off the Red Legion. Prior to Destiny 2's opening, it was rare to see the Vanguard doing much of anything beyond standing around a table. That's one of the things Bungie is changing with this sequel, as now non-player characters will actually be more than just display stands with quests to fetch.
The opening moments of "Homecoming" have players helping Zavala hold off Cabal forces on the deck of the Tower. Suffice to say, the Cabal aren't just here to take some selfies with the Traveler in the background. As a Warlock with the Dawnblade, we stood strong against three waves of Red Legion forces, with Zavala providing his Titan shielding during particularly intense salvos. Having Zavala there, fighting these enemies with you is an element that was sorely missed from the original Destiny campaign. As much as you wanted to be a part of that world, you couldn't help but feel like an outsider to the rest of the Guardians. In Destiny 2 however, just that small little touch gives the impression that you are actually part of the team, and one that the Vanguards trust with the most important missions.
As you progress through "Homecoming," the banter back and forth between the Vanguard keeps you informed and immersed. These aren't just communiques from your Ghost or from a radio transmission; this is you directly working with Ikora Rey to protect the Speaker, the markets, and the rest of the Tower. Where some of Activision's other first-person shooters do have NPCs interacting within scripted segments, they're almost expected and thus not as impressive at first glance. Now that Bungie's taken the leashes off the Vanguard, it's really great to watch them in action as you mow down Cabal right beside them. It's the kind of world-building that the original story in Destiny never presented, and one that makes Destiny 2 feel even more authentic and alive.
Just because the story elements were a clear focus for Bungie this time around doesn't mean the developer forgot the rest of the game. Destiny already had a strong foundation in the gameplay department, with controls that were near-perfect to go along with powers and weapons that made you feel like a force to be reckoned with. Not much has changed there, and not much had to either. Even if this is your first time playing a Destiny game, the controls will feel familiar, with every button combination tuned with specific intent. Using new abilities like the Dawnblade is a blast too, as that massive, flaming sword gives Warlocks an incredible offensive weapon that offers more diversity to the class.
Seriously, you haven't lived until you've mowed down a cadre of Cabal hulks with the Dawnblade. It's terrifically cathartic.
While we primarily played on the PlayStation 4 Pro, which ran at an expected 30 frames-per-second and delivered some fantastic imagery, we did also give "Homecoming" a go on the PC version of Destiny 2. Even as a player more dedicated to the console version, Destiny 2 on the PC is going to be a hard version to top. It ran buttery smooth at 60 FPS, and using a mouse and keyboard made the PS4 version feel like it was running through molasses. Now that's not exactly news to anyone that's delved into PC gaming for first-person shooters before, but as it's a first for the Destiny franchise is it worth making note that it will be a superior version to the console iterations.
Popping off headshots on the PS4 takes a bit of sighting and patience, but on the PC, they're as so easy to pull off against the AI it almost felt like cheating. In an introductory mission the difficulty isn't necessarily spiked up anyway, but anyone that's ever played just a single game with a mouse before will have so much success taking down the Cabal, it'll be hard to justify going back to the console. Of course, that also requires everyone else you're planning to play with also having the PC version, so leaving the familiar confines of the PlayStation and Xbox ecosystems behind might not be the easy choice. After just a few minutes playing though, it should be the most justifiable one.
At the moment, Destiny 2 doesn't feel all that different from its predecessor, but that's not a bad thing. Many of the elements Bungie introduced as new and improved for the upcoming sequel won't be shown off until closer to launch. Still, the hints at the new approach to storytelling bode well for what lies ahead in September. Plus, that PC version plays so, so well. We obviously have a lot more to learn about Destiny 2 before it releases, but just one mission has already gotten us more interested in what's going on than any of the original base content. That's as strong a start as you can hope for this far out from launch.
Destiny 2 will be out on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on September 8. The PC version does not have an official release date yet.
This preview was completed at the Destiny 2 Gameplay Reveal event. Travel and accommodations were provided by the publisher.