pc

After Hundreds of Hours With Destiny, It's Weird (and Awesome) to Play It on PC

By Kirk Hamilton on at

Say you have a friend who’s always had a moustache. He’s the moustache guy. You’ve known him for like, ten years, and then one day, he shows up with no moustache. That’s kind of what it’s like playing Destiny 2 on PC after three years and hundreds of hours with the console version.

Destiny 2 launched on Xbox One and PS4 back in September. It was (and remains) a good game, though in the intervening months the most hardcore players have run into some issues with its endgame. The PC version of the game was always set to come out a while after the console version, and it’s hung over the community as a big, unanswered question since September. The PC beta was extremely promising, but how will the full game be?

So: Destiny 2 is really good on PC. It’s the best-looking, best-playing version of the game. On Tuesday I rolled a new Warlock and have put in a dozen or so hours since then. I’ve finished the campaign, done some strikes, and competed in the PvP Crucible. Vicarious Visions, the studio Bungie and Activision brought in to handle the PC version, has done a superb job building a version of Destiny 2 that feels custom-made for PC.

It’s also a total trip to play, after so many hours spent playing the original Destiny, as well as its sequel, on console. The console versions of Destiny 2 came out almost two months ago, and I put in more than 80 hours over the course of reviewing and subsequently covering it. I knew I’d likely switch to PC when that version came out, if only because I’d been so impressed by the PC beta. Because of that, I dramatically ramped down my console playing over the last few weeks. Now that I’m on PC, this is where I’m going to stay.

For starters, the PC version looks fabulous. It’s well optimised, running almost flawlessly on my i7-7700k/GTX1080 rig at 1440p resolution with all settings maxed out. Granted that’s a pretty beefy PC, but I’ve seen people all across the internet reporting flawless performance on a variety of rigs. (I gather those with certain AMD CPUs are having trouble with the game, which is an unfortunate exception.)

Emotes and other character animations look particularly good/weird at a high frame-rate.

As I play I’m usually in the 70-100fps zone, and only very occasionally will I dip below 60fps, maybe in an absurd fracas during a public event or something like that. I could probably kick some of my “highest” settings down to “high” and get even better performance. I know I already used a moustache analogy, but allow me another one: playing Destiny 2 at 1440p and a high frame-rate feels like getting glasses for the first time as a kid. Oh, the leaves on the trees look like that? The clouds look like that? There are so many wonderful environmental details and animations in this game that I simply didn’t notice when I was playing at a lower resolution and frame-rate.

The addition of mouse and keyboard controls is the PC version’s other major change, and it’s just as big a deal if not more of one. Destiny 2 has terrific mouse and keyboard implementation, free of the sorts of weird mouse smoothing and acceleration issues that often plague other cross-platform games on PC. Menus are a breeze to navigate, and it’s far easier to quickly change up your gear in the middle of a firefight. And, needless to say, my accuracy has climbed significantly with the precision of a mouse. After so many hours of playing Destiny with a controller, it feels almost subversive to be able to effortlessly line up scout rifle headshots from hundreds of yards away.

As much as I like using the mouse and keyboard for aiming, I actually don’t love that setup as much for getting around. Using the keyboard instead of a controller has taken more getting used to. The keyboard’s buttons are binary in a way that a thumbstick is not, which makes it more difficult to move around intuitively. I had a particularly tough time driving one of the vehicles you get during the story campaign, and I found myself grabbing a controller just to stop dying. Happily, it’s possible to seamlessly switch between a controller and mouse and keyboard and back again, another small but welcome touch of polish.

For example: I never really noticed the details on all that hive crap covering the New Pacific Arcology on Titan.

After switching away from the mouse and keyboard for a while, I was struck by how much of Destiny 2’s memorable “gun-feel” alchemy is tied up in the way Bungie uses the game controller. I’m more accurate with a mouse, but it doesn’t feel quite as satisfying. I can’t tell whether I’m actually moving around more when I play with a controller, or if the comparative speed with which my aim moves with a mouse just makes my feet feel slow without one. Additionally, while Bungie’s constant use of controller rumble may be annoying to some, playing without it has made me realize just how much information it conveys. For example, when my Warlock starts his floating jump, my controller always vibrates to let me know his boost-jets have activated. When playing with a keyboard, I don’t have that feedback, and I sometimes lose track of whether I’m floating or not.

I’ve actually found myself switching back and forth between controller and mouse and keyboard more than I thought I would. Unexpectedly, I’ve actually managed to stay competitive in the Crucible while on a controller. That’s largely because using a controller gives you the benefit of Destiny 2’s generous aim-assist, while mouse and keyboard removes all such aids and forces you to aim for yourself. I get the sense that the mouse and keyboard still has an edge in PvP play, but it’s actually nice that people who prefer to play Destiny with a controller can still compete.

I could probably close by making some grand proclamation like “this is the way Destiny was always meant to be played,” or “the PC version of Destiny 2 makes the console version feel like a port of a PC game.” But my heart wouldn’t be in it. Truth is, Destiny 2 is fine on console. It’s just that it’s excellent on PC. The more I play, the more I’m struck by just how odd it is to be playing Destiny in such a dramatically different way. I’ve never played a game series as obsessively as this one, nor grown as used to the way a single game looks, feels, and responds on a particular platform. My old friend got rid of his moustache, and it’s weird. Fortunately for everyone, he looks great with a clean shave.

Some other stray thoughts:

  • I’ll be interested to see whether a new PvP meta emerges because of the PC control scheme. So far it seems like hand cannons and scout rifles will be dominant. I’ve been doing fine with Uriel’s Gift, a meta-favoured auto rifle that I got (hilariously) on like my second gunsmith drop. We’ll see.
  • The PC version isn’t without some oddness, some glitches that cause me to be instantly killed “by the architects,” other stuff like that that also turns up on consoles. I’ve found some of the usual lag weirdness in Crucible, where I’ll trade kills with a player despite getting the drop on them. And Bungie still hasn’t really been clear about what the hell happened with all those people who reported getting insta-bans, but it’s good to hear they’re overturning more of them.
  • I like that there are text chat options in Destiny, but I do wish there were some sort of opt-in for a public chat. Particularly in social spaces, it feels odd for an MMO not to give you the option to go recruit people in town. Seems like something the developers could probably add down the road, and I hope they do.
  • Due to the PC version’s delayed release, PC players will actually have a lot less downtime before season 2 kicks off and brings a bunch of new gun rolls and other fresh content. Those who waited until now to start this game will probably have a less frustrating time with endgame, simply because it won’t last as long before we get new stuff. An odd, backhanded reward for waiting an extra six weeks.
  • Warlocks are pretty damn good in this game, eh?