Destiny 2 Beta: Initial Impressions

Early access to the Destiny 2 Beta unlocked at stupid o’clock in the morning for PlayStation 4 players, and I managed to sneak in a few hours before heading off to work. Here are my thoughts after around 2 hours of playtime. Some spoilers, of course, but if you are averse to spoilers I doubt you would be reading this in the first place.

Story Mission: Homecoming

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The story mission does a few things really well, but most importantly it sets the tone of Destiny 2, and as a result should instil a strong desire for retribution by the end of the 20-odd minutes it takes to play through. It has its good and bad moments – one notable bad moment is the clumsily implemented “jumping puzzle” towards the end (where players are asked to destroy turbines, but it’s not evident where these turbines are… and when you DO finally discover them, they’re quite annoying to gain access to) – but overall, there’s a new sense of scale to Destiny 2 that eclipses what was experienced in the original game in a single mission. The tower itself feels larger than ever, and you start and end in places not seen prior, and will also travel through well-known areas that have been thoroughly destroyed. The second half of the mission plays out on Ghaul’s ship (Ghaul is the primary antagonist for Destiny 2), and while this area is also large, it’s the ending that impacts most. Here, you meet Ghaul face to face, and he is IMPOSING. Far larger and grander than any Cabal enemy we’ve seen before – and that voice is just amazing. I wasn’t initially impressed by Ghaul based on the preview trailers, but the speech given at the end of the first mission is dripping with doom. And yes – Ghaul personally strips you of your light and kicks you off his ship (or at least he is present when you are stripped of light – exactly how it happens is unclear, but likely tied to the mechanism attached to the traveller and not to Ghaul himself). I was speechless. An utterly brilliant way to kick off both the beta and the game itself.

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Strike: The Inverted Spire

I was less impressed here (but don’t get me wrong – I wasn’t disappointed either). The Inverted Spire strike is pretty much a lot of what we’ve seen before. Move through an area until you encounter a boss, and then take it down. This is not a bad thing – this is what a strike is (basically a story mission that requires a fireteam to complete). However, what WAS impressive was the scope, yet again. In the space of around 30 minutes or less, players traverse great distances across Nessus, passing “Vex Milk” waterfalls, light platforming sections, a huge drilling area replete with environmental hazards, and multiple levels down deep into the ground (hence the title of the strike). What’s more, the boss itself is approached in three distinct phases of increasing difficulty, and when you finally take him down, expect to release a deep sigh of relief…

Crucible: Quick Play (Control)

I was initially apprehensive – the changes made to the crucible overall are MAJOR: switch from primarily 6v6 to entirely 4v4, weapon loadout changes, decreases to super and grenade recharge time; not to mention the changes made to control, specifically (A and C precaptured, no reduced capture time for multiple team members on point, removal of the need to neutralise of points before capturing them for your team). However, after several rounds, I’ve realised these issues were coming from the wrong place – I was trying to compare Destiny 2 to the original game. In reality, in order to fully appreciate the changes, you need to drop your expectations and play this as a new game. Where the original Destiny was essentially a forum for ability spam, Destiny 2 puts more of the focus on pure gunplay, and this results in a much more enjoyable game overall. Matches are more tactical, and there’s more of an emphasis on team play and the objective as compared to overall individual performance. There’s a lot to go into here, from increased time to kill, through reliance on team shooting, to reduced reliance on abilities, through likelihood of only one super per round, and so on, but overall, the changes have resulted in a PvP experience that I’m really looking forward to as opposed to something I would play somewhat reluctantly, which was the case for the original game.

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Crucible: Competitive (Countdown)

There were a couple of “competitive” modes in the original Destiny – Elimination, Skirmish, Salvage, and of course, Trials of Osiris, but these were enjoyed by the few hardcore competitive types. This was mainly due to the reliance on one-hit-kill weapons and abilities, which skilled players used to their advantage, and those of lower ability were just unable to compete. It wasn’t very satisfying (clearly I fit in the latter bracket). With the near removal of one-hit-kill abilities/weapons, the crucible is obviously already a different beast, and the inclusion of a dedicated “Competitive” mode demonstrates the direction Bungie is looking to take. Countdown, the new competitive mode offered in the Beta, is a take on attack and defend – one team is on offence, and looks to detonate one of 2 charges deployed on a map. The other team defends these points, and either needs to take the other team out before they set a charge, or defuse the charge before time runs out. Each team has a limited number of respawns available to them, which requires manual revival from another team member. For the most part, if you die, you’re out, so the challenge and requirement for teamwork is high. I really enjoyed this mode, and I’m really looking forward to what else Bungie has in store for us as part of their competitive offering. That said, I’m slightly disappointed that the competitive modes won’t be ranked (at least at launch). I was really hoping for a system similar to Overwatch – not only does such a system ensure you play with people of your own skill level, but it also provides a real impetus to play from season to season (of course, it’s not without its own issues, but nothing’s perfect)…

General comments

The new weapon system: I expected this to work well, because I always preferred the feel of primary weapons in the original Destiny, but in practice it will take some getting used to. Trying to remember which weapon you have active (kinetic vs energy), and remembering to switch to energy to take on enemies in their super will require some vigilance, and even just remembering to switch weapons instead of reloading when under fire is a bit of a headache! That said, the reduced reliance on heavy (power) weapons is a godsend – no more will you be consistently killed by a sniper rifle or shotgun. Now players need to practice primary weapons head-to-head, and this is a really good thing. But I did find that perhaps shotguns and fusion rifles are a LITTLE unbalanced, simply based on the amount of ammo in power ammo stations (for example, there is only one rocket in a power ammo station, but three or four fusion rifle “bullets”).

Grenade launchers: crazy fun in PvE, but completely useless in PvP (but I expect there will be better PvP grenade launcher options at launch). Or perhaps I’m just crap?

Exotics: so far, I’ve only used the Riskrunner submachine gun, and I have to say, it’s pretty bad.  Stability is terrible, so it’s useless at long range, and the perk (which relies on incoming arc damage) means it’s only useful in certain situations. That said, the Sunshot handcannon (available in beta to Hunters) and the Sweet Business auto rifle (available to Titans) both look pretty schmick.

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Weapons and armour: I’ve grouped these together because, well, I haven’t really had much exposure to either. I can say that both weapons and armour now take shaders individually (that’s awesome), as do ships (and I would assume sparrows by extension, but that remains to be seen). While they do have set perks, it would appear that they have a random intrinsic perk as well as the ability to utilise weapon and armour mods. It’s this last point that I find most interesting, but the method for this is undefined – the tool tip says that you need to use a piece of legendary equipment to modify a weapon/armour, but what this does is unclear, as is where these mods come from. Are they drops? Do they come from dismantling legendary gear? Not sure. As there seems to be multiple slots under “weapon mod” for each weapon, it would appear that these can be switched out on the fly, but it also clearly mentions that using a mod will consume it… Still, colour me very interested.

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Loot drops: loot is dropping after strike completion and at the end of crucible matches, but I’m unsure if this reflects how loot will drop in the final game. In fact, I doubt it will drop in this manner (or ONLY in this manner, I should be clear). Personally, I think this is just a way that Bungie can restrict the amount of loot drops (to a single item per completion, with no engrams dropping during strikes), and provide players with a restricted set of weapons and armour for stats. I haven’t received anything AMAZING, and when I’ve received two of the same item, so far they’ve been identical, so I’m not 100% certain that what I’ve said above is even accurate (in regards to intrinsic perks – these may well be static as opposed to random).

Anything else? Well, it’s beautiful – from a design perspective, it blows the first game away completely. In terms of the scope, what I’ve seen so far reflects very well on what I would expect to see from the rest of the game (keeping in mind this is only a very small slice of the game itself, and not representative of everything that will be on offer). In terms of how Bungie has approached complaints about the first title – this is about as good as it gets. I can only base this opinion on what I’ve seen so far, but all the changes employed in the beta address a number of primary concerns – from the haphazard, unbalanced gameplay of the crucible, through the lack of story, through the tedious grind and reliance on RNG, so far everything I’ve seen would suggest that Bungie has created a title worthy of being both part of the series AND a successor, but again, all of this remains to be seen. In the end, what us dedicated Destiny fans want is the end game, and there just isn’t enough information here for me to even hazard a guess at that. I’m hoping it’s as deep (or deeper) than the original Destiny, but let’s face it, in Year 1 it was TEDIOUS, and towards the end it felt unrewarding, so I’m hoping they’ve found that happy midpoint.

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Overall, I’m very pleased with Destiny 2’s beta. They’ve included enough to give players a good taste of what’s to come, without giving away too much (I’ve heard some people saying online that it’s disappointing or lacklustre, but I really don’t know what people were expecting if that’s the case). There’s 30 mins to an hour of story-based gameplay on offer for each class (for each of which two subclasses are available), along with two PvP modes that players can play as much as they like. The main point of the beta is for Bungie to test their systems prior to release, NOT to give the game away. I’ll be playing quite a lot of the beta, and can’t wait until the full game releases on September 8.

The beta will be open and available to all PS4/Xbox One players from 3am Saturday 22 July to 4am Monday 24 July (Bungie will also open up access to the new social space, the Farm, for the last hour). The PC beta is expected late August. I recommend giving it a look if you’re at all interested.

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