Destiny 2 campaign first impressions

Destiny 2 is out on Xbox One this week, the long-awaited sequel to Bungie's popular but contentious FPS/RPG hybrid.

Fans want it, but what about everyone else? We played several hours of the campaign at a preview event, and these detailed impressions will give you a better idea of what to expect from Destiny 2.

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A bitter Homecoming

Destiny 2 campaign first impressions

Destiny 2 features numerous improvements over the first game, but chief among them is the story-based Red War campaign. Activision and Bungie already shared the first story mission, Homecoming, with journalists at the Destiny 2 reveal event and later to gamers everywhere with the public beta.

To summarize our recap, the game begins with a surprise attack on the Last City (home of the heroic Guardians) by the evil Red Legion. Simultaneously, the invaders capture the Traveler, the alien planetoid that provides the Light (superhuman powers) to its chosen Guardians. Playing as our Guardian class of choice (Destiny 2 sticks with three primary classes once more), we infiltrate the Red Legion's capital ship the Immortal, only to be ambushed by the enemy leader, the villainous Dominus Ghaul.

Ghaul is a hulking alien who wears white armor and a black mask over the lower half of his face. He resembles a cross between a Warhammer 40,000 space marine and the unmasked Darth Vader at the end of Return of the Jedi. His skin is pale and shriveled, his eyes white with malicious intelligence. He makes an imposing opponent, an obvious veteran and victor of numerous past conflicts.

After the dance

Destiny 2 campaign first impressions

Next, players awaken in the ruins of the Last City – presumably having been hurled from Ghaul's ship. Initially, our Guardian can barely walk, injured and limping along. In the distance, we see Red Legion squads patrolling the area. The whole setting drives home how utterly defeated the Guardians are, their connection to the Light (the source of their powers) severed and their home destroyed.

After exploring the area for a few more agonizing moments, we finally collapse to the ground. Thankfully, a nearby Ghost (a floating AI assistant created by the Traveler) recognizes our hero and heals her. At last, we can walk properly and wield a damaged Traveler's Chosen pistol, our only weapon. The Ghost explains that the Guardians are evacuating the earth.

Since it's time to go, we pass through a collapsed tunnel and emerge in an area called the City Outskirts. A grassy region filled with trees and rock-covered mountains, the outskirts are made more desolate by a constant downpour of rain. Even bleaker, we soon discover an abandoned camp littered with dead Guardians. Without their powers, they were easy targets for the Red Legion.

After picking up a submachine gun from the wrecked camp, we proceed onward. Soon a group of Honored War Beasts attacks our Guardian. A new enemy introduced in Destiny 2, War Beasts are red wolf-like creatures with armor on their backs. They have no ranged attacks, simply ramming players with their head spikes.

Destiny 2 campaign first impressions Hawthorne

Having dispatched the pack of nasties, we catch sight of a falcon circling overhead in the distance. We keep following it into the Twilight Gap region, where the mountains are covered in snow. It flies just ahead of us, always slightly out of reach. Traveling around a thin mountain ledge, we spy the Traveler in the distance, harnessed by the Red Legion.

We eventually near the Falcon, who lands on a rock across a gap in the mountain. No, you can't shoot the bird! Trying to jump across the gap to continue our pursuit, we fall to the rocks below. Luckily, the falcon belongs to a woman named Hawthorne, who picks us up and introduces her bird as Lewis. She hands over a gun and we board her ship.

Meet the Consul

Destiny 2 campaign first impressions

During a cinematic interlude, we observe Dominus Ghaul speaking to the Traveler. Ghaul implores it to see what he has done and grace him with its light. The Red Legion will be his true guardians, he boasts. This is what drives the antagonist and his mission against the Guardians. Ghaul is jealous of the relationship between the Guardians and the unspeaking Traveler, and he wants its gifts all for himself.

Soon the Red Legion's second in command, the Consul, walks in. Like Ghaul, he wears sizable armor, though his is red and without mask or helmet. That said, a human helmet hangs from his necklace like a grisly trophy. The Consul is a former high-ranking member of the Cabal elite who masterminded a coup and now works as Ghaul's closest advisor. He updates his protégé on the status of the invasion, as well as a machine that will extract the Traveler's power by force when completed.

As the scene ends, we see that Ghaul has imprisoned the Speaker, an important Guardian, who now hangs with his arms and legs bound.

Social area: the Farm

Destiny 2 campaign first impressions The Farm

We regain control of our hero in an area called the Farm, located just outside of the European Dead Zone. An actual farm fallen into ruin, it now hosts a number of decrepit buildings, a huge Guardians banner, stockpiled missiles, a handful of ships, and other equipment. Roosters wander around a fountain in the center. Like the falcon, they can't be shot.

The Farm is the first social hub area in Destiny 2, where players will interact with Non-Player Characters (NPCs) as well as each other. The most important of those NPCs is Suraya Hawthorne, the woman who rescued us earlier. She wears a white hood and red and white armor, dots form a circle around her face. She's used to living outside the City, not being around people. She leads the camp as its overseer and helps refugees from the Red Legion attack.

Seeking the Light in the SPARK mission

Destiny 2 campaign first impressions

After speaking with Hawthorne, we receive the next quest in the main campaign: SPARK. Our mission is to follow a vision we've been having to the Shard of the Traveler, a piece of the planetary being that fell to the Earth and corrupted the surrounding area.

To help us get there, Hawthorne gives us the Wanderwing, a jumpship. With that, Destiny 2's Director feature now becomes available. We can use it to travel between locations on the earth as well as other worlds.

Destiny 2 campaign first impressions

After selecting the location from the Director, we arrive in the quarantined zone a few miles out from the Shard. It looms ominously in the distance, energy pulsing within it. Approaching a walled off area adorned with warning signs and rusted out cars, we slip through a hole in the wall. On the other side, huge, bent, twisted trees form an arch overhead – signs of the Shard's dark influence.

Entering a dark tunnel, our Guardian's flashlight automatically comes on. Radio communication with Hawthorne goes out. We find ourselves in a subterranean cavern. Light enters from a hole overhead, with water pools down below.

We hear a noise and cloaked enemies attack, becoming visible when they get close. They are marauders, another new enemy in Destiny 2. Marauders are members of the Fallen race who wear purple cloaks. They fight with shrapnel launchers at a distance and wrist-mounted blades at close range.

Destiny 2 campaign first impressions

Having survived this ambush, we emerge pass through an old mine and emerge outside. There we see the Shard, glowing blue and damaged. We also encounter Dregs and another new Fallen unit, wretches. Unlike their four-armed brethren, wretches have only two arms, which they use to wield a deadly electric shock spear. Wretches are fast and powerful, but they can't survive a lot of damage.

At last, we cut through enough opposition to reach the Shard, which is huge and has a small glowing hole near ground level. Our Ghost flies towards it, ecstatic about being close to the Traveler's light. We get our Light back.

In the surrounding enemy camp, we gain our super ability. Playing as a Sentinel (a Void-based Titan subclass), my Guardian gains the Sentinel Shield ability. She can bash enemies at close range with it or throw it as a projectile. The game throws a ton of enemies at players at this point, so we're able to use the super ability repeatedly and really feel the power of the Light. We also level up for the first time before returning to the Farm.

The SPARK mission is unabashedly well-designed and exciting. My only complaint is that regaining access to the Light and Guardian powers so early in the story really undercuts the magnitude of having lost them. The Guardians losing their abilities is supposed to be a big deal, but the developers are so eager to give them back that we don't get enough time to feel the loss. It's a good thing using super abilities is so fun, or it'd be downright upsetting.

Trips to the EDZ and Titan

Destiny 2 campaign first impressions

Upon returning to the farm, all activities finally open up for co-op, including campaign missions. The Crucible, Destiny's player-versus-player mode, unlocks as well. You'll learn about PvP from Lord Shaxx, the returning Crucible manager.

From here, players will visit an open-world region called the European Dead Zone (EDZ) and meet a faction leader who lives there named Devrim Kay. Complete a few campaign missions here and you'll be ready to head off-world to Titan. Since we've already shared extensive EDZ impressions from the preview event, let's talk Titan.

When you first reach Saturn's moon Titan, you'll land on the Sinking Docks. The docks shift up and down in the vast ocean as rain pours down, causing objects to slip off into the water. Our goal is to find the station's control center. To get there, we first have to run and jump across perilous catwalks that have fallen apart. Inside, the station is overgrown with alien organic material. The Hive (a returning enemy race) has spread to Titan.

Destiny 2 campaign first impressions

A pack of ghastly thralls (eyeless skeleton-like foes) attacks us inside the building. Soon we must brave flooded interiors, battling green-eyed acolytes (larger Hive soldiers). Soon we find a group of thralls kneeling in a circle, performing some arcane ritual. A fearsome horned, crossbow-carrying knight appears in the center, though we dispatch him quickly.

Finally we, pass through the Siren's Watch into the outdoor portion of the control center. After clearing out the regular grunts, we must enter a breeding area inside one of the buildings and destroy all the glowing orange sacs littering the walls within. The room is fiercely guarded by thralls, acolytes, and knights. Outside, we fight through more enemies before our Ghost eventually opens the door to the actual control center.

Zavala and friends meet us on the landing platform outside. We still have to power up the place before we can contact the fleet, though. After a thrilling level that concludes with a battle against a pair of wizards, we restore power and meet Field Commander Sloane, the local faction vendor who returns from the first game. The equipment she sells is much better than you can buy in the EDZ, naturally.

An epic campaign is your Destiny

Destiny 2 campaign first impressions

After completing the campaign missions on Titan, the Guardians' next destination is the planet Nessus, where the Vex have captured fan-favorite Guardian Cayde-6. And still more locations await players on the quest to free the Traveler and the remaining Guardians from Dominus Ghaul and the Red Legion.

Along the way, you'll be able to explore several more open-world zones, complete optional side missions called adventures, engage in public events (which now appear on the map, thank goodness), and much more. Activision and Bungie have fixed Destiny's major weakness in this sequel with the addition of a campaign with a real story and memorable level design. Will the rest of the game prove as satisfying as those first few hours of the campaign? Stay tuned for our full review to find out!

Destiny 2 will arrive on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 on September 6. The PC version comes a short time thereafter on October 24. The standard version of the game costs $59.99. Preorder on Xbox to get an exclusive rifle, Ghost, and salute when the game launches.

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Disclosure: Travel to the Destiny 2 preview event was provided by Activision.