Just over a month after launching on consoles, Destiny 2 finally arrives on PC this week. The open-world sci-fi shooter/RPG has been optimized to look as great as possible and feel completely natural on PC. We attended a preview event to bring you these detailed impressions and developer insights for Destiny 2 on PC.
The decision to create a PC version
The staff at Bungie always knew that PC gamers wanted to play Destiny, and they would have liked to bring it to PC sooner but it wasn't until Destiny 2 development began that they were able to dedicate the time and resources to make a PC version happen.
Creation of Destiny 2 for PC involved a partnership with external developer Vicarious Visions, the same studio that handled the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy for Activision. David Shaw, PC Project Lead at Bungie, helped oversee the PC version while Vicarious Visions performed the actual development. The partnership went so well that Bungie plans to continue working with the external studio on post-release updates and content for Destiny 2.
The PC team had several design goals beyond simply making Destiny 2 look as great as possible on PC. One of those was to make sure that social and multiplayer features such as text chat were well-implemented and felt natural to PC players. It features Battle.net integration (rather than Steam), allowing players across multiple Activision (and Blizzard) PC titles like Overwatch and Diablo III to communicate and see what their friends are playing. The user interface was also a priority as the developers worked to make the menus and other UI elements feel at home on PC.
Next came scalability, making sure the game would play well on numerous hardware iterations. Bungie gathered tons of useful hardware feedback during the PC beta that helped ensure Destiny 2 will play on a good variety of computers. It won't quite run on a potato (in other words, the lowest powered PC you can find), but gamers who built their machines a few years ago should still be able to play the game.
One design-build philosophy, but a staggered launch
Bungie and Vicarious Visions' goal was to build one single game, Destiny 2. They didn't want to make a different game for the PC version. Thus the mandate was to bring Destiny 2 "to the PC in the best possible way," according to David Shaw. This worked both ways, in that the PC team occasionally had concerns that it brought to the primary developers, helping shape the game.
Every decision the Bungie developers (referred to as the sandbox team by Shaw) made for Destiny 2 took into account that the game would appear on both consoles and PC this time. Admittedly, the PC version didn't launch simultaneously with consoles.
Making the game feel absolutely at home on PC took a little extra time. But Activision and Bungie wisely realized that launching a full-featured Destiny 2 on PC was more important than releasing a shoddy version and then updating it over time. The bad press a rough PC version gets at launch can be tough to overcome, even after the launch issues eventually get fixed.
Destiny 2 PC controls
Naturally, a huge part of bringing Destiny 2 to PC involved making sure the game played well with a mouse and keyboard. The developers' first pass at this involved naïve mouse and keyboard controls, meaning they simply mapped the console games' controls directly to the equivalent controls on a mouse and keyboard.
The game was playable with said controls, but it didn't truly feel at home on PC. Thus the team kept iterating, tweaking the controls to feel more natural and responsive. A few of their key-binding choices felt odd to some of us journalists at the PC preview, including the mapping of the switch weapons key to the tab key (mouse wheel performs the same function). Thankfully, all key-bindings are user customizable, so everybody can play with the keys functioning how they want them.
Mouse controls feel very natural on PC, which also involved a lot of development effort. The aiming reticle appears dead center on PC, as opposed to forty percent up from the bottom on consoles. Recoil has been significantly reduced for the mouse as well. This has the effect of making weapons that had lower accuracy and high recoil on console, such as hand cannons, more effective on PC. That certainly creates balance implications, but the PC team is prepared to address those as they arise.
Even though mouse and keyboard are far and away the most popular input devices on PC, Destiny 2 supports controllers as well. Some players are simply more comfortable playing with controllers, after all. When playing on a controller, the menus behave as they do on consoles (though PC-specific settings options don't disappear). Players simply use the analog stick to move a free-floating cursor around to select things. The firing reticle remains in the center of the screen by default, but the PC game does offer the option to move it down slightly to match the console experience.
PC gameplay impressions
During the preview event, we played Destiny on powerful PCs equipped with Razer mechanical keyboards and mice and 4K monitors. Our time was divided primarily between the Red Legion campaign (starting Destiny 2 from the beginning), and higher-level play on Nessus, a planet occupied by the cybernetic Vex race.
Activision asked us not to share story impressions in this article (see this story for those), but we can discuss our time on Nessus. Nessus is a blue-gray planet covered in red vegetation and Vex machinery. There we participated in several public events, story-focused adventures, and patrols. Finally, we hopped off Nessus to play a Strike (The Pyramidion) and a few rounds of PvP in the Crucible.
The two public events I played were Spire Integration and Ether Resupply. In Spire Integration, players must prevent the Vex from fortifying their underground structures by capturing a series of Sync Plates, basically standing within capture zones for a set time, fighting off enemies. The goal in Ether Resupply is to prevent the enemy from gathering Ether by destroying the Prime Servitor, a gigantic floating orb-shaped machine. The Prime Servitor is protected by durable Transport Servitors, making for a challenging battle.
Destiny 2 plays great on PC, with the extremely fast and precise aiming that only mouse controls can provide. The menus closely resemble those of the console version, though they're tweaked slightly to look and feel appropriate for mouse use.
The only control issue I noticed at all occurred on the Character screen. Here players can equip weapons and armor as well as access the Skills screen. Oddly, you have to right-click the Skills icon to get into that menu, even though every other interaction on the Character screen is handled by left-clicks. It seems like a minor UI error, in that there's no reason for that button to require a right click, and it's likely to cause minor confusion when players first access that screen.
PC performance and settings
As for the graphics, Destiny 2 looks amazing on a sufficiently powerful PC like our test units. Running at 4K, it's easy to see that the environmental textures are very high resolution. The extra details add an amazing level of sharpness over the console game. The field of view is adjustable and quite impressive on the rigs we used. The unlocked frame rate also makes for an extremely fluid gameplay experience – I never saw the game slow down at all.
The only area in which the PC game didn't really impress me is grass and foliage. Those two elements look pretty much the same as in any console game you play. The more grass and tree leaves a game has, the more horsepower the game requires. Truly realistic/abundant foliage would obviously require a lot of tradeoffs in other areas, so it's no surprise that developers choose to prioritize frame rate and effects over greenery.
Destiny 2 for PC also features a detailed settings screen in which resolution and various graphical effects can be tweaked for performance. Interestingly, mouse sensitivity can only be adjusted in ten increments as opposed to a more fractional slider as employed by many other PC shooters. Bungie says that players who require very fine mouse control adjustments usually make those adjustments on the actual mouse anyway, but they're open to revisiting the mouse sensitivity option if they see demand for it.
Meet your Destiny on PC
It might have taken an extra six weeks to get here, but the PC version of Destiny 2 was worth the wait. It looks incredible when played on powerful hardware, with tons of detail, effects, and a superfluid frame rate. The menus and mouse and keyboard controls feel just like they should.
PC gamers should be very happy with Destiny's first foray onto the PC platform. Of course, that also depends on Destiny 2 as a game – be sure to read our full review to see how much Destiny 2 improves on the original.
Destiny 2 costs $59.99 on PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. The PC version will arrive on Tuesday, October 24.
Disclosure: Travel to the Destiny 2 PC preview event was provided by Activision.
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