Destiny 2 — Beta first impressions
Starting on Tuesday the 18th July (for PSN - and 19th for XBL), and running for a little over a full week, the Destiny 2 beta has been and gone, offering players a chance to try the sequel to Bungie’s flagship title Destiny.
The beta offers up 1 story mission, 1 Strike (a 3-player instanced assault), and 2 Crucible modes — with the new social space named ‘The Farm’ opening up for one short hour on Sunday evening.
This article will stop short of a full review — reviewing a beta, designed specifically for testing changes and gathering feedback — would be foolish. Instead, the below offers a stream of first impressions, critiquing the changes Bungie have made to their title and offering some opinion as to what this could mean for the title.
Content with the content
The beta is fairly small. The story mission and Strike can be easily completed within an hour, after which the options shrink to either replaying the Strike (it’s fun, but not a weeks worth of fun) or delving into the Crucible.
However, it’s important to note the purpose of this beta. Bungie want to test (and of course, gain feedback on) some of their new mechanics. They no doubt have proven the viability of many of the core tenets of Destiny 2 through their use in Destiny 1, and so will use this beta to trial those things they need to gather statistics on, and gain feedback on those things they are looking to refine.
They need to show enough to keep the audience interested, but not so much they spoil the surprise.
And what they did show will certainly set some at ease who had concerns hanging over from the previous title.
Amid criticisms of their story telling, Bungie have upped their game considerably since 2014, with The Taken King and Rise Of Iron both being praised for the delivery of their story arc. The beta’s story mission raises the bar again, with long and engaging cut-scenes, and even interaction from NPC’s during the game-play itself — something unseen in the entirety of Destiny 1. A promising start, without a doubt.
The Strike — a romp across Nessus [an icy minor planet nestled between Neptune and Uranus] — is refreshing if only because of the environment; wide, open play spaces with enormous machinery and big-air jumps throughout, before the inevitable (but still mostly enjoyable) bullet-sponge boss to destroy at the end.
If the Story and Strike brought you there, the Crucible keeps you from leaving. Player-versus-player activities always increase replay-ability, and so while the PvE activities can be completed within an hour, the PvP gave a good couple of days of content. And with 2 gear sets to complete (again, one from PvE and one from PvP) there are things for collectors to aim for.
The Class of 2017
Destiny veterans will be familiar with the 3 classes on offer, but each has something old and something new to try. In all 3 classes, their starting subclass returns — Titan’s see the return of Striker, Hunters find Gunslinger, and Warlocks will recognise Voidwalker. The spirit of these three sub-classes are largely unchanged, but a few tweaks will be immediately noticeable.
Striker Titans can now roam the map after their initial Fist of Havoc, able to charge and slam their way around for a limited time until their super energy depletes.
Gunslinging Hunters will notice they have 6 shots, rather than the typical 3, when arming their Golden Gun.
And Voidwalker Warlocks now see a slower but more aggressive Nova Bomb, able to drift around corners akin to an Axion Bolt, splitting off into smaller seekers upon detonation.
However, each class also has something new to try. Gone are the Defender, the Bladedancer, and the Sunsinger. A like-for-like element replacement is found — Titan’s now wield Void in the shape of the Sentinel, Hunters wield Arc in the shape of the Arcstrider, and Warlocks wield Solar in the shape of the Dawnblade.
The Sentinel is — for want of a better comparison — Captain America. With buckler in hand, he can charge or frisbee his way into combat. Or he can choose to place a protective bubble.
The Arcstrider (arguably the most intriguing change) is… well… a Bladedancer, trading invisibility and blink for agility, able to close on enemies lightning fast, and with a staff can deal AoE damage to groups of foes.
And the Dawnblade feels much like a hammer throwing Titan — but with the floatiness of a Warlock is able to rain fire down on their opponents from above.
All 3 are certainly fun, and a novelty for players looking for something fresh. The Sentinel, arguably, is the strongest of the 3; the ability to be either offensive (Captain America) or defensive (drop a bubble) depending on the scenario gives this new Titan subclass some versatility it lacked before. Dawnblade is a refreshing change from the self-reviving Sunsinger Warlocks, who would previously hold onto their supercharge to undo an untimely death rather than use it. They can now unleash that power without regret.
Arcstrider, unfortunately, is the least thrilling. On first impressions, it’s too similar to Bladedancer, and doesn’t offer the refreshing change of playstyle of the other two. Perhaps some mastery of the combo system could change that. Regardless, it is a strong and enjoyable super — perhaps just too familiar for those looking for something new.
In the interests of simplifying class balance, Bungie have decided to remove the freedom to chop and change subclass perks, and instead give you the choice of perk-set A or perk-set B (the beta offered only perk-set A for each subclass). It reduces players' freedom to build their own character, focusing on the perks that compliment their play style, and so on the face of it is an unwelcome change. Perhaps the addition of perkset-B will open up new possibilities for these subclasses — although having read the skill tooltips, the changes between the sets don’t seem particularly significant.
Finally, each class has gained a 3rd ability — Titan’s can place full- or half-height barriers to take cover behind, Warlock’s can heal or empower their teammates by placing Rifts, and Hunters gain some manoeuvrability with an auto-reloading dodge mechanic (essentially Shadestep from Destiny 1, on a longer cooldown). These seem to suggest some role assignment — with Titan’s taking on the role of tank, Warlock’s acting as healer, and Hunter’s dedicated to outputting damage. A welcome step closer to the MMO mould, perhaps.
Ammo Economy Overhaul
Bungie’s next noticeable shakeup is the decision to re-categorise the weapon types. Previously, players could wield a Primary weapon (Auto Rifle, Pulse Rifle, Scout Rifle or Hand Cannon) for which ammo would be abundant; a Special Weapon (Shotgun, Sniper Rifle, Fusion Rifle and latterly Sidearm) for which ammo was less common but never rare, and a Heavy Weapon (Rocket Launch, Machine Gun, or Sword), heavy-hitting weaponry for which ammo was scarce.
With Destiny 2, that is set to change. Players now essentially get 2 Primary weapons — both of which will be an Auto Rifle, a Pulse Rifle, a Scout Rifle, a Hand Cannon, a Sidearm or a brand new Submachine Gun. One of those will fire kinetic ammo (generic stuff with no special use), while the other will be either Solar, Arc or Void damage (which can help take down shields that match the chosen element).
Other weapons — Rocket Launchers, Sniper Rifles, Shotguns, Fusion Rifles and Grenade Launchers — all find a home in the Power Weapons category; essentially reserved for any weapons that deal high damage, and can kill a player in one shot in the Crucible*.
At first, it feels odd. Why bring 2 primary weapons along, as you’ll inevitably favour one and use that until the ammo runs dry? Over time, though, the benefits become clear; now, you can carry one weapon for longer range engagements and one for CQC.
What’s really noticable, though, is how weak it leaves you feeling against enemies with large health pools. Where previously a shotgun, or a few precision hits with a high impact sniper, would help dent the health of a Major or Ultra, we’re left chipping away with Pulse Rifles or similar. It’d be less of an issue if Power Weapons were often available, but the ammo economy in this beta means that Power ammo was even more scarce than Heavy ammo was in the previous game, and so you’d inevitably try to hold on to it ‘just in case’, rather than use it on the pack of enemies currently attempting to end you.
Fortunately, Bungie have acknowledged this and will be increasing the Power Ammo drop rate in the full release.
This is something we agree with and will be adjusting before ship.
In the Crucible, though, it works incredibly well. Weapons that had previously been a frustration (looking at you, long-range-high-impact Shotguns) have a drip-fed ammo economy, meaning combat is mostly focused around these Kinetic or Elemental weapons. It works well, and feels nicely balanced — although inevitably it’d didn’t take long for a meta to be established, with Pulse Rifles and Auto Rifles (namely Nightshade and Scathelock) being the go-to guns this week.
Perhaps the most jarring aspect of Destiny 2 is the rate at which abilities recharge. Presumably in an attempt to put the focus back on gunplay, Bungie have slowed down the ability recharge rate so they are not as readily available and will therefore not contribute as regularly to the kill feed.
Super-charged abilities are noticeably slow. Not just at their base recharge rate, but also through the amount they gain following kills, precision kills, and even Orbs of Light left by other players. It creates an environment where you feel encouraged to hold onto the ability when it does finally charge, for fear you may not get another chance to use it in that activity.
To put some numbers against that concern: In Destiny 1 a super would take around 5 minutes to charge for a level 1 character. As you equipped better gear, that could be reduced to as little as 3 minutes 40 seconds.
In Destiny 2, it takes ~7 minutes 30 seconds.
Put into practice, this means that during the Inverted Spire strike, after about the halfway point it makes more sense to hold onto your super so you have it available for the boss than it does to use it when you’re being overwhelmed by enemies. Some may argue it makes super use more tactical. Others would suggest it’s simply boring.
In the Crucible it’s worse. Rounds of the Control game mode have an 8 minute timer, so it’s common for all players to suddenly reach Supercharged status in the final minute or so of the game, creating a frantic finale to the match. That’s if you get charged at all — there were some matches during the beta where I simply did not because the max score was reached well before the 7 minute mark.
In that same game mode, where players attack and defend 3 objective points, grenades are often thrown within the first 20 seconds of the round as both teams charge the central un-captured point. It then leaves a completely grenade free period of about 1 minute 20 seconds while every waits for the chance to throw another.
What’s peculiar, though, is that player health has been increased (or perhaps damage dealt/taken reduced) so grenades are far less effective even when they are available. Only one or the other of those changes needed to be made to help balance the power of grenades — not both.
Perhaps it does put the focus on gunplay, but only at the expense of what arguably made Destiny 1 such fun to play — the feeling of power; that your character was superhuman, able to dive into a seemingly unwinnable fight and emerge victorious.
Of course, we are yet to learn how different gear may affect these cooldowns. Perhaps endgame gear in Destiny 2 will bring these numbers down to something closer to what players are used to.
This, by far, is the single biggest criticism I can levy at Destiny 2.
The obvious changes to the Crucible — Destiny’s player versus player arena — come in the form of revised player counts. Both game modes on offer (Control and Countdown) play out as 4v4, two players fewer than in the previous game.
In theory, this should encourage less chaotic fights, and instead something a little more measured and strategic. The map on offer for Control, it must be said, didn’t help with this; too small, abundant with flanking routes and no clear direction to attack or defend. As such, Control (although labelled as ‘low-intensity’ on the Director) felt no different to it’s 6v6 counterpart from Destiny 1.
Countdown, on the other hand, was joy to play. Long story short, teams of 4 take it in turns to attack or defend the 2 objective points. The map is well designed, with some clear lanes to storm down combined with intersecting alleys. The 4v4 mode works well in this environment — defending, obviously, tends to require your team split into 2’s until you understand which point the enemy will attack. The offensive team, though, can bait and switch; feign presence at one site, drawing the defenders away before rushing to plant the bomb at the other.
It’s a tactical side Destiny has not seen before. For all the slow and strategic play of Trials of Osiris, it does eventually result in a firefight to the death. Countdown is reminiscent of Counter Strike — although incredibly simplified, lets be clear — but hints at the possibility of teams setting up and executing strats that their opponents don’t have time to counter. Titan flashbang’s could excel here.
Intriguingly, Countdown is listed as a ‘Competitive’ playlist, while Control is promoted as ‘QuickPlay’. Bungie haven’t formally announced how Trials of Osiris (Destiny 1’s endgame PvP mode) will be replaced, and indeed have suggested a ranked mode isn’t to be expected in September. To list Countdown as Competitive, though, gives some hope that they have a plan.
If there is a gripe with the PvP, it’s purely conceptual — a worry that all fo the changes listed so far in this article have been made to achieve or simplify balance in the Crucible. It would strike me as a success. However, the concern from the Destiny community is that this has come at the cost of PvE enjoyment — with Guardians being dumbed down to draw out firefights in the Crucible while simultaneously making story content a chore. Bungie have resisted balancing both sides of their coin separately — hopefully the feedback from this beta allows them to find a common ground where both can thrive.
Reflecting on the beta — or most any event, for that matter — it is easier to find criticism than to give praise. It’s more emotive to pluck out the things Destiny 2 has gotten wrong, as they are the things that get under your skin and linger with you once the game has been closed and the controller has been set down. In truth, this past week did much to raise my hopes that Destiny 2 will be a great game.
For fans of the franchise, it’s more of the same; with what seem to be some interesting but well thought out changes. Tweaks are required here and there, for sure, but I expect this is the kind of feedback Bungie have been keen to garner, and their teams are no doubt studiously digesting the comments and statistics they’ve gathered.
For those that didn’t get on with Destiny, perhaps it isn’t change enough to appeal. Whether the full release does enough to shake the “Destiny 1.5” tag that some are so keep to label it with is unknown right now, although from the limited story that’s been shown, signs are certainly encouraging.
Destiny 2 launches on PlayStation 4 and Xbox on September 6th — with the PC beta due in August.