There was a moment early on in Destiny 2 when I lost everything.
Stripped of all my powers, I stumbled through the fiery remains of Earth's last city while somber orchestral music haunted me in the background. After surviving some tense, desperate firefights, I met up with a ragtag group of survivors who made it clear just how bleak our battle against the Red Legion would be.
It was a surprisingly emotional moment that, in one hour, got me more invested in the world of Destiny 2 than the entirety of the original game did. Before long, I was back to blasting enemy heads off, wielding awesome superpowers and earning loot — you know, the things that Destiny is already good at. But Destiny 2's focus on providing a tight, enjoyable story has stood out the most during my first week with the game.
Of course, Destiny 2 (out now for PS4 and Xbox One) is a massive game, and I've barely scratched the surface. That's why I'll be documenting my journeys through Bungie's epic new space shooter week by week, from campaign and competitive multiplayer all the way through the upcoming Raid and the eventual PC release. Here's how things are going so far.
Week One: A new beginning
Destiny 2's campaign is a tremendous improvement over the rote, repetitive missions of the first game, offering huge set pieces and fun enemy encounters that channel the best parts of Bungie's Halo games. While Destiny 1 gave me little to do besides scan objects, tackle dull waves of enemies and listen to a monotone Peter Dinklage, Destiny 2 had me wading into epic wars between enemy factions and escaping a cave in a thrilling tank ride — and that's just in the first few chapters.
Destiny 2's story mode is dripping with personality, largely thanks to the returning trio of Ikora Rey (Gina Torres), Commander Zavala (Lance Reddick) and Cayde-6 (a lovable, goofy Nathan Fillion), as well as some new resistance-fighter friends on Earth. But they're all one-upped by Failsafe (Joy Osmanski), a half-charming, half-menacing AI that has some wonderful back and forth with your personal Ghost robot.
The actual plot of Destiny 2 is pretty standard sci-fi fare: A hulking new villain named Ghaul and his army of drones destroy Earth's last city (and steal the source of your powers in the process), leaving you and your fellow Guardians to fight back before your foes can eradicate the entire solar system. But this simple setup sets the stage for a playable summer blockbuster, with well-acted, engrossingly cinematic cutscenes that kept me hooked, wanting to find out what happens next. And you don't need to know a thing about Destiny 1 to enjoy it.
While Destiny 2 provides a much-needed narrative overhaul, it doesn't mess too much with what made the original game special: the gameplay. Destiny continues to offer some of the tightest, most satisfying first-person-shooter action out there, with a variety of pistols, rifles and power weapons that all feel impactful, and squishy aliens that are a joy to blow up. Destiny's three classes (the bruising Titan, the nimble Hunter and the mystical Warlock) all get some fun new abilities to play with. I still haven't gotten tired of hurling balls of fire at my enemies with my Warlock's flame sword, or being able to set up a healing field for me and my teammates.
Even after just a few hours, I found plenty of fun stuff to do outside of Destiny 2's story. The game's freely explorable worlds feel more seamless and interconnected than ever, thanks to new navigation tools that eliminate a lot of the busywork from the first title. I constantly stumbled into spontaneous public events where I teamed up with strangers to take down big bosses, and I took on a few surprisingly meaty side quests in between missions.
I also spent plenty of time getting crushed in Crucible mode. Destiny 2's multiplayer is still a blast, and is bolstered by some new competitive game types that provide limited lives and demand good teamwork. The new Survival and Countdown modes add an exciting layer of tension and strategy to Destiny matches, and that should strike a chord with folks who take their player-versus-player action seriously.
I'd be remiss not to mention how absolutely beautiful Destiny 2 is, both visually and sonically. The game's environments are striking and varied, from the stormy oceans of Titan to the red trees and green skies of Nessus. Every world I've visited felt truly lived-in, whether I was listening in on the chatter of my fellow fighters in our lush farm headquarters or hearing a radio announcement from a once-flourishing science center.
But the music truly steals the show. From the game's hopeless early moments to its most bombastic firefights, Destiny 2's sweeping orchestral soundtrack is darker, more emotional and ultimately more triumphant than that of the first game, adding a ton of weight to every key moment.
While it'll be weeks before I have a definitive verdict on everything Destiny 2 has to offer, I can say with confidence that it leaves an incredibly strong first impression. The story is tight, cinematic and filled with heart; the gunplay is great; and the beautiful worlds are more fun to explore than they ever were.
But true Destiny fans know that the real game begins once the story ends. Will I be able to gear up in time for the challenging, six-player Raid mission? Will I survive any of it? And will the grind to get there even be fun?
I'm eager to find out. Stay tuned.
Image Credit: Activision
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Mike Andronico is Senior Writer at CNNUnderscored. He was formerly Managing Editor at Tom's Guide, where he wrote extensively on gaming, as well as running the show on the news front. When not at work, you can usually catch him playing Street Fighter, devouring Twitch streams and trying to convince people that Hawkeye is the best Avenger.