The European Dead Zone, the first of Destiny 2's open-world destinations, pits players against some familiar foes: the Cabal, the Fallen, and the Taken. This is where the first significant stretch of your Guardian's quest will take place, and you'll know the territory if you've played a Bungie game in the last 15 years. Here's a planet Earth besieged by hulking aliens in suits of armor; your job is to take back the region for any survivors.
"Destiny 2 is a story about loss and recovery," says project lead Mark Noseworthy. "That feeling of homecoming, losing everything you've got, and the journey you would go on to get it back." With the Tower – the Guardians' home in the Last City on Earth – destroyed in the game's opening mission, it makes sense that players will be spending a lot more time in the world beyond the confines of the City and outside the areas you explored and plundered in the first Destiny. When the original game launched in 2014, players felt encouraged to venture off the beaten path on planets like Mars and Venus for a time, collecting dead Ghosts to unlock Grimoire cards and gathering materials like Relic Iron and Spirit Blooms. But the "Patrols" – small missions offering low-level loot, vendor reputation, and other rewards – quickly grew obsolete, leaving players with little incentive to just hang out in the game world.
In Destiny 2, it won't matter what level you are, or how experienced the people you're playing with are in comparison to your own Guardian. You'll always feel encouraged to band together and roam the patrol zones, which now offer "Adventures" (fairly robust real-time missions) and "Lost Sectors" (hidden mini-dungeons, complete with boss fights and treasure chests) in addition to traditional Patrols.
"It's always valuable to play the content in the world," Noseworthy says. "Everything you're doing in the destination is giving you these tokens, right? And you can bring them into the vendor there – and the vendors have awesome gear. You can see, like, if I do all the things for Devrim on the EDZ, then I can look like that." Devrim Kay is a grizzled ex-militiaman devoted to taking back the Dead Zone, and you'll be getting to know him well in Destiny 2. He enjoys a good cup of tea, but he might enjoy sniping Fallen Dregs from his lookout even more. "I did make tea for you," he tells you at one point, "but I seem to have drunk it all." Devrim has taken sanctuary in a church that looks an awful lot like the overgrown temple in the Crucible map Widow's Court, from the original Destiny. You'll run into lots of Fallen who want to claim it for themselves.
"We always want to make the sandbox, the action game, relevant," Noseworthy says. "Because it's fun, right? It's fun to put your fingers on the sticks and to aim and get the headshots, and if you just looked at enemies and they just fell over because you were so powerful, that's not fun. So we try to keep you in a range where it's always fun to play the monster-shooting game."
Having spent a good 16 hours or so with the game during my recent trip to Bungie in Bellevue, Washington, I can confirm that it is indeed very fun to shoot aliens in Destiny 2. The new-and-improved Director system allows you to hop from one point of interest to another with astonishing ease, and you never have to leave the planet to go to orbit while you're gathering your fireteam to slay the next monster or space wizard. The only time you'll see a loading screen, it seems, is when you're traveling from one planet or moon to the next (from Earth to Io, for instance). You also now have a regional map, showing all of the available activities in your area, and Public Events are now marked right there for you to see, well in advance. And they're assigned a timer, so you'll know how fast you need to get to the waypoint in order to battle the next wave of Cabal, Fallen, or Taken invaders.
There are so many details in the open-world portions of Destiny 2 that lend themselves to a relaxed, reward-driven experience. Loot chests are highlighted whenever there's one nearby, and you'll want to be sure to collect them, as they'll contain EDZ Tokens that can be put toward your reputation with Devrim, which translates to plenty of legendary engrams in the long-term. Defeating a Lost Sector boss (marked by an easily recognizable symbol graffitied onto the environment by a Hunter who found it previously, according the in-game lore) will grant you access to that boss's supply cache, which will give you another shot at better loot.
Throughout the EDZ, you'll also find region-specific chests – remember the gold loot crates in Destiny 1? – and special collectibles called Dusklight Shards. The Shards, too, can be handed in to Devrim for reputation, though it's unclear how many times you'll ultimately be able to do so.
The most promising aspect of free-roaming destinations like the EDZ, in looking toward the inevitable endgame, is how much fun Public Events have become. Veterans of Halo 3: ODST are likely to regard them as a bona fide horde mode, similar to that game's Firefight, and I suspect players will feel compelled to participate in them over and over, given how easy it is to find them on the map and sync up with other players in what is effectively a new kind of social space in the world of Destiny. In the hours I spent playing a nearly complete build of the game last week, I returned to the Farm no more than two or three times total; the open worlds, full of sorcerers to be felled and enchanted forests to pillage, is where you'll want to spend your time in Destiny 2.