What is Destiny 2? It should be a simple enough question. There shouldn’t be any reason to think too deeply on it. The simple answer should be that it is the sequel to Destiny. That should be the answer, but one of the biggest criticisms still surrounding the game is that it isn’t a sequel at all. There are many out there calling the game “Destiny 1.5” and saying that it’s really just another expansion. I used to be one of them. After taking a closer look at the game and what it offers, however, I was convinced that I was wrong. Destiny 2 has all the hallmarks of a full and proper sequel, at least as I understand it. It offers a new story, characters, environments, activities and refinements to the core gameplay experience. This used to be more than enough to distinguish a game as a sequel, but that doesn’t appear to be the case anymore. This begs a question; a big one I think really needs an answer: if games like Destiny 2 can no longer be called sequels, then what can?
Determining what a sequel is and isn’t used to be such an easy thing to do. Only two conditions needed to be satisfied. If a game was on its own cartridge or disc and had its own title, then it was a sequel. Thanks to the likes of DLC, expansions and the whole “games as a service” mentality however, that definition is now laughably obsolete. Still, the waters haven’t been completely muddied; sequels still occupy a distinct place in the gaming landscape, so all we need to do is re-learn how to see their borders and boundaries. To do that, we just need to ask two questions.
Is it a distinct experience? A real sequel must distinguish itself from its predecessor. It needs to feel like its own game. Love it or hate it, Destiny 2 does manage to do that. It offers a new campaign with new characters, new missions, new gear, new music and several new features. It plays similarly to Destiny, but everything else is new. There are plenty of celebrated sequels out there that don’t do nearly that much; just look at the Uncharted games. The biggest difference between each of our favorite everyman/treasure-hunter/assassin/one-man-army’s adventures is the adventures themselves. The characters have largely stayed constant, as have Nathan Drake’s weapons and abilities. The Pokèmon games did (and still kinda do) even less and they’re still considered acceptable. They were functionally identical for years before Pokèmon X/Y came along and finally shook up the formula. They all played just like every other Pokèmon game, but that was okay because their new regions, stories and pokèmon were enough to keep each game feeling new and different. They did what we all know a sequel is supposed to do (if only just barely), and we accepted them because of that.
Does it require ownership of the previous game? This one is obvious, but it’s still an important distinction to make since DLC and expansions are now mainstream practices. If one needs to own the old game to play the new content, then it’s definitely not a sequel. I suppose the real question though, is whether or not something could have instead been accomplished as an expansion or DLC. This is always an iffy area to wade into, but it should be okay if we just get our feet wet, right? Weapons, stories, maps and characters can all be added as DLC or expansions, so we’re not going to get anywhere talking about such things. Instead, one should look at the suite of features being offered and consider whether or not they could have realistically been included in the previous game. In the case of Destiny 2, I really don’t think it could have been made as an expansion. A great many systems and features have been added, removed, and overhauled in Destiny 2. They’ve changed how weapons work, how the director works, how multiplayer is handled and added a live map system, just to name a few. Add to all of that the desperate need to throw out the original Destiny’s terrible, user-unfriendly, engine and you get something that would very likely have been impossible to accomplish as an add-on. For examples of the opposite, look no further than the yearly sports game releases or perhaps even Dishonored: Death of the Outsider.
Even though the criteria have changed, it’s still not that difficult to define what a proper sequel is in this era of gaming. For a game to be considered a real sequel, it needs to offer an experience distinct from its predecessor and cannot require ownership of another game in order to play it. Figuring out whether or not a sequel should have been a sequel in the first place is what’s really tricky. It’s something each of us will have to decide on a case by case basis through looking at the full suite of content and features on offer and considering whether or not the game truly could have been feasible as an add-on. The game’s actual quality aside, I think Destiny 2 meets all the qualifications of a true and necessary sequel. Whether or not this will be true of future Destiny games remains to be seen, though.