Having pumped hundreds of hours into Destiny 1 and 2 on console, giving the PC version a shot was an initially bewildering experience. After three years using a rumbling controller to shoot aliens at 30 frames a second, switching to WASD and a click of a mouse button initially felt like playing with one hand tied behind my back. But as I got used to the mouse and keyboard control scheme, Destiny 2’s excellent PC version began to shine – and taught me a few things about the console version I took for granted.
Bungie games have always felt – to me at least – built for controllers. Destiny and now Destiny 2 is the best-feeling shooter around, with silky smooth controls, sickly sweet character movement and a satisfying aim assist honed through a decade of Halo development. Moving to PC, it’s clear Bungie took translating this Destiny feel to mouse and keyboard seriously, even if it trades accuracy for a dash of the Bungie magic.
After rolling a new Titan I quickly found I was more accurate on PC. Using a mouse for shooting makes hand cannons in particular a more effective weapon than they are on console, especially in the player versus player mode, The Crucible. Yes, there’s recoil, and Bungie has faithfully recreated the ‘time to aim down sights’ on all the various weapon types, but there’s no aim assist. You are in complete control of aiming, and with the extra reticule speed granted by a mouse, popping heads is an easier affair.
So is turning. Turning your character as fast as your mouse will let you is a revelation for the Destiny experience. This helps for when enemy players get the jump on you, or enemy aliens ambush you from behind. The speed and accuracy of aiming combined with your ability to 180 in the blink of an eye makes you feel more deadly on PC than on console, so much so that I find The Crucible a more enjoyable – and satisfying – experience on PC.
I love the aiming on PC, but I still struggle with character movement, even after 10 hours of play. WASD is fine for getting around, but it doesn’t feel as good as using the left thumbstick on a controller. That’s not a particularly scientific descriptor, I admit, but there something soulless about using the keyboard to get your Guardian about the world. There’s a subtlety to Destiny 2’s use of the controller thumbsticks that’s missing on a keyboard. Where Guardian movement feels organic on console, it feels mechanical on PC. It’s a hard thing to put my finger on – almost as hard as it is putting my little finger on the right button for a sprint slide.
I suspect a lot of this Destiny feel has to do with the lack of rumble on a keyboard, which I realise now I took for granted on console. Rumble subconsciously imparts a huge amount of feedback to the player, whether it’s your Guardian bursting into a sprint, getting shot or feeling your auto rifle burst into fire in the palm of your hands. On PC, without this feedback, I feel one step removed from my in-game character, whereas on console I often forget I have a character at all. With Destiny on console, I can close my eyes and still tell which weapon type I’m firing. Doing the same with a mouse and keyboard, well, god knows.
PC enthusiasts will be happy with this trade, I suspect. Certainly those jumping into Destiny 2 for the first time with the PC version won’t miss a thing. And I get that. Fair enough! For me, though, there’s more to a video game than 1s and 0s. Destiny 2 is about finesse, and some of that is lacking when you play with a mouse and keyboard, even when those lovely yellow critical hits pop out of enemy foreheads.
It’s easy to forgive Destiny 2 this failing when you’re smashing through the game at 60 frames per second, though. I had thought Destiny 2 a game designed for 30fps, as if it were the way it’s meant to be played. But now I’ve played the PC version I realise that’s nonsense. For a game that prides itself on feeling seamless, Destiny 2 is ever elevated at 60fps. There’s a clarity to the experience that reminds me of playing fighting games or FIFA. When I play Destiny 2 on PC, it feels like I have a spring in my step.
It’s clear Bungie, with the help of Activision studio Vicarious Visions, has done a lovely job with the PC version on a technical level (for more on this, check out Digital Foundry’s recent in-depth Destiny 2 feature). I haven’t encountered any performance issues, and the game runs flawlessly on my modest i5-6500/GTX 960 at 1080p resolution. Destiny 2 is a lovely-looking game (those sky boxes!), and on PC it’s at its very best. With a PC powerful enough you’ll experience one of the most eye-catching video games around at an unlocked framerate and an ultra high resolution. The particle effects are worth the price of entry alone. On a more functional level, the user interface translates perfectly across to a mouse and keyboard, and navigating Destiny 2’s already brilliant menus is a joy. But there are one or two aspects of Destiny 2 that feel off on PC.
Chief among them is the chat. As a reformed World of Warcraft addict, I was sad to see Destiny 2’s text chat has no public channel. I understand why the console version wouldn’t have such a feature, but on PC it feels like an odd omission and makes the social spaces feel, well, less social then they ought to. How lively would Destiny 2’s social spaces be if players could quickly look for a group or look for a group member for the nightfall or even the raid? Say you spot someone wearing a particularly cool piece of armour. Wouldn’t it be amazing to be able to express your admiration to everyone in the social space? Public chat would just make Destiny 2 feel a bit more alive. And if you don’t fancy it, well, you could just turn it off.
I find myself at a crossroads. Do I stick with the PC version of Destiny 2, or go back to console? It’s a tough choice. The game looks and runs better on PC – of that there is no doubt – and aiming is faster and more accurate. But much of what I love about Destiny 2 – that leaning back on my sofa, almost mindless aim-assist fuelled carnage – is very much a console thing. So, I have settled on a compromise. I’ll play Destiny 2 on PC during my lunch breaks at work, squinting for moving pixels in the Crucible, and I’ll play Destiny 2 on console on an evening, talking rubbish with my clan mates as we soldier through yet another strike. The best of both worlds.
I imagine Bungie will be okay with that.