As soon as we dove into our hands-on demo of Destiny 2‘s story-driven campaign, our Warlock Guardian’s Ghost asked, “What are the Cabal doing to the Traveler?” The artificial intelligence companion was referring to an enormous enemy craft that’d attached itself, Facehugger-like, to the mysterious, moon-like entity central to Destiny’s mythology.
It was a disturbing image, especially for fans who spent much of their time in the original Destiny socializing beneath this sacred sphere. As that faithful following knows, the Traveler isn’t just one of the series’ most iconic symbols, but also the keeper of the Light, the powerful gift granted to the Guardians. Desecrating the Traveler was a bold move, but it’s only the first sacred cow Bungie sacrifices in the sci-fi sequel’s opening moments.
As we quickly discover, the Tower is also under attack and “Earth’s last safe city” is about to be burned to the ground. A surprise assault by a new Cabal threat, dubbed the “Red Legion”, has returning Titan Vanguard Zavala calling for an emergency evacuation of all citizens. There’s no saving the city at this point. It’s already lost. The only thing we can do is defend ourselves and attempt to make some sense of the chaos.
While the Cabal — led by brand new baddie Commander Ghaul — has seemingly taken everything we hold dear within the campaign’s first few minutes, Destiny 2‘s not about to let players embark on this epic journey empty handed. New sub-classes for Hunters, Titans, and Warlocks come equipped with a fresh set of supers. For our Dawnblade Warlock, this means wielding a flaming sword capable of spitting explosive blasts and shooting long, spreading streams of flame. We don’t get to test them in our preview, but sub-classes for the Titan and Hunter promise equally awesome supers; the former can toss an enemy-belting shield in a fashion that’d get Captain America’s attention, while the latter wields a foe-frying lightning staff.
Class-specific abilities are also new to the Guardian arsenal. Working off a cool-down meter, similar to grenades and melee moves, these introduce an additional strategic layer to combat encounters. In our case, we’re able to trigger rifts that either boosts our health or damage output, depending on how we assign the ability. On top of unleashing hell from behind more traditional weapons, we utilized these new tricks to wipe out three waves of Cabal rampaging from crashing drops-pods at an alarming rate.
These grunts look like grade-school bullies, however, compared to some of the new threats we face. Ghaul, who feels entitled to the Traveler’s powers, has apparently recruited the universe’s best and biggest uglies to help him wipe out humanity. This opening mission sees the debut of both Incendiors and Gladiators, a pair of new unit types hellbent on making our lives miserable. The former wields a flamethrower with explosive powers to rival our fiery new super, while the latter charges us with a pair of over-sized cleavers.
Eliminating the fresh foes is a challenge, but one we welcome thanks to the return of the series’ spot-on gun-play. As anyone’s who’s ever killed Covenant scum from behind Master Chief’s MD6 Magnum pistol will attest, Bungie’s been satisfying itchy-trigger fingers for quite some time. Based on each weighty, reactive, impactful blast we fired though, it seems they’ve upped their game. We expect this to translate to new weapons as well, such as heavier hand-cannons like grenade launchers. Destiny 2 also aims to inject the combat with more freedom and flexibility by forgoing its predecessor’s primary, secondary, and heavy slots for new kinetic, energy, and power classifications.
When not littering the Tower’s scarred landscape with Cabal corpses, we took in the game’s cinema-rivaling presentation. Ample explosive effects yielded stunning displays of smoke, fire, and debris, while whipping winds and torrential rains provided some of the most realistic weather we’ve ever seen in a game. More than pretty effects though, these immersion-cranking elements also informed our strategy; while traversing up a ramp on a Cabal command ship, for example, we had to rely on our sniper rifle’s scope for accuracy, as the driving rain crippled our ability to see clearly.
If this opening mission is any indication, it seems Destiny 2 will also support its renewed narrative focus with highly produced, character-driven cutscenes. During our play-through, the seat-of-the-pants pacing was supported by a scene of Warlock Vanguard Ikora single-handedly crushing a group of Cabal, before mounting the exterior of their ship with cinematic style to spare. We also traveled from the destroyed Tower to the enemy craft via a transport flown by fan-favorite pilot Amanda Holliday.
The most stirring — and unsettling — scene came at the close of our demo, though. In the bowels of the Cabal’s ship, we were about to complete our objective by disabling its shield generator when a menacing presence partially emerged from the darkness. Chuckling at our Guardian, the towering, fearless figure, assumed to be Ghaul, says “Your journey ends here.”
We had no choice but to swallow the antagonist’s statement for now, but based on our pulse-pounding time in the game’s visually-stunning, story-driven campaign, we can’t wait to finish this fight when Destiny 2 pulls us back in on September 8 on Xbox One.