Game Recs

You need to play the best free first-person shooter of all time ASAP

Seven years in, it’s never been better.

Imagine your car’s glove compartment is full of crumpled-up lottery tickets. Maybe you go in there looking for a napkin and randomly check one or two to see if you’ve got a winner. Or maybe, every once in a while, you get into the habit of deep-cleaning your car to check every single one. Most of the losers get thrown away, but the thrill of hitting a minor jackpot every now and then is addictive. Playing the greatest ongoing shooter feels a lot like that — and that’s only one small part of the video game I’ve been intermittently addicted to for seven years.

I’m talking about Destiny 2.

Like Stardew Valley or Animal Crossing: New Horizons, elements of Destiny 2 make it feel like a satisfyingly easy chore game. But instead of growing vegetables, you are defending humanity from a neverending onslaught of big-D Darkness-powered aliens. You wield immortal space magic granted to you by quirky little AI drones that were created when a huge primordial robot sphere died. There’s an overwhelming amount of depth to the lore, but if all you want is a shooter that feels good, you can just follow the objective marker and destroy everything you see with snappy gunplay and some totally rad abilities.

As part of this potentially brainless fun, you get a lot of armor and guns — more armor and guns than you’ll ever know what to do with. Therein lies the whole lottery ticket analogy.

In Destiny 2, you can equip primary, special, and heavy weapons. For armor slots, there’s the helmet, gauntlets, chest, leg, and class item. On each of your up to three characters, you can hold up to nine additional items for each slot. Then you’ve got a storage Vault with 500 more slots. So you can hold up to 580 randomly generated items (ignoring Ghost Shells, Sparrows, Ships, Emblems, and Emotes).

Humanity’s defenses are left up to these three heroes ... and you.Bungie

Destiny 2 offers an immediate and gratifying sense of accomplishment for anything you do, and you can pursue whatever the heck you want. The most passionate players will do it all, but Destiny 2 offers a healthy mix of casual and competitive game modes in the real of PvE and PvP. There are even super-intense Raids designed in the style of full-on MMORPGs, with lots of platforming, puzzles, and shooting. Even the easiest of kills gets you experience, every activity showers you with loot drops, and it only takes a few hours before you’re drowning in gear. Most of it is specific to whatever activity you’re doing.

That’s where the organization porn truly begins. For a lot of players, a maxed-out Vault is a frequent nuisance. For me, it’s a form of soothing self-care. I want to reach my hand into that Vault to pull out a fistful of lotto tickets.

This Scathelocke auto rifle deals bonus damage for each kill AND each kill auto-reloads extra ammo from reserves.Bungie / DIM

Every weapon in Destiny 2 gets a random “roll,” with the most important variation coming from two perk slots drawn from a pool of dozens. “Shoot to Loot” lets you shoot ammo bricks on the ground to pick up ammo. It is dumb, and I hate it. “Surplus” boosts the handling, reload speed, and stability of the gun based on how many fully-charged abilities you have. It is also dumb. Why would you incentivize not using your abilities, which might include magic singularity grenades or superpowered throwing knives?

A hand cannon with “Kill Clip” (reloading after a kill grants increased damage) and “Outlaw” (precision kills grant increased reload speed), however, will create a feedback loop of raw power, finesse, and speed — assuming you can hit those headshots. Most guns feel great in Destiny 2, but when you get a roll perfectly suited to your playstyle, it’s one of the most satisfying feelings in games. And let’s not even dig too deeply into armor, which has six randomly generated stat values that influence ability and defensive cooldowns.

Here’s a look at all of my guns as of January 6, 2022.DIM

Now let’s talk about one of my favorite apps ever: Destiny Item Manager. It’s a third-party inventory management system made possible because developer Bungie allows app-makers to fiddle around with the API. Essentially, anybody can make an app that manipulates your Destiny characters and items. You can’t delete items, but you can move them around between characters and your vault — even when you’re in the middle of a firefight. You can browse rolls from your computer and leave yourself notes, even tagging weapons for deletion.

Casually spending brief bursts of time or even hours assessing weapons and armor based on Reddit suggestions or aggregated community rankings on light.gg does feel a bit like homework, but it’s so satisfying when the results pay off in-game.

I bought my PlayStation 4 in August 2014 just so I could play the original Destiny even though I couldn’t afford it. In the years since, Destiny and its 2017 sequel Destiny 2 have felt like an old flame I can’t get over. Sometimes toxic, often awesome, and always exciting, the relationship will exhaust and exhilarate me in equal measure. There’s something comforting in the sense of familiarity every time I come crawling back. It helps that I’m a crack shot with hand cannons and scout rifles and can clear out lesser enemies faster than anybody else I know. The chase trying to increase your overall power level is always exciting, and the intensity of endgame content usually leads me to burnout.

I got back into Destiny 2 in late 2021 well ahead of the February 2022 launch of The Witch Queen, the next big expansion, and I can confidently say this is the best the game has been since the glory days peak Destiny 1. The balance updates and story just keep getting better and better. I haven’t felt the pang of burnout strike just yet, but I’m sure the biggest and best new story content in more than a year will help with that.

Destiny 2’s base game is available for free on all platforms.

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