Destiny was a mess. Even its most ardent supporters will only talk about it from The Taken King onwards, dispensing with anything that existed before the 2.0 update. And that’s because there isn’t a lot to dispense with before that.
The biggest problem with Destiny is just that there isn’t enough of it. And once there was more of it, they still somehow managed to gut huge amounts of the game, turning the entire thing into a triple-A, full-priced beta. This makes both the release and current ongoing beta for Destiny 2 an intriguing proposition. Currently in early access for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One (the open beta starts tomorrow), it offers both a clear and hazy picture of what Bungie wants from its continuing series.
Compared to the first game’s beta, this one is a tad leaner, but its single mission makes a hell of a first impression. Entitled “Homecoming,” it sets up the entire story by showing the Red Legion attack The Last City with you doing your best to repel the assault. And it’s pretty much a banger.
You see quite a bit of it in the gameplay reveal event from May, but playing through it yourself is a damn fine way to experience. The biggest difference is that you finally see NPCs actually doing things. Cayde, for instance, pops up at some point to pop off some shots and jaw a bit. It makes the world actually feel inhabited and something worth exploring and fighting for.
It’s remarkably scripted, too, encroaching on Call of Duty‘s staple interpretation of “cinematic” action. Drop pods keep crashing into the Tower, Ikora straight-up punches a spaceship, and in a quieter moment, a door is simply held open for you. These little vignettes help to keep the level feel varied all the way through, doing its best to mitigate any monotony.
Of which there is incredible risk for. Despite this striking presentational upgrade, the game continues to fall back on old habits. You stake a claim, for instance, at the Tower’s main courtyard to fend off multiple waves, all three of which tick up in your objective counter. And you fight through a crowd just to get your Ghost to scan a thing, which was basically one of two different objective types in the first Destiny. They are definitely frown-inducing considerations.
It’s also worth noting that though this is a fantastic setup to the rest of the game, the original game also had a great premise with which it used to crawl at a glacial and incoherent pace towards something resembling a story over the course of two years. But this first level does also show that Bungie has a better understanding of its loot value this time around, as evidenced by you straight-up getting an exotic right out of the gate. It may be predetermined, but it still triggers that same dumb little dopamine hit of seeing an exotic in your inventory.
They’re damn cool exotics, too. The submachine gun one has convinced me that submachine guns aren’t totally shit and the minigun exotic (the same one you see in the trailers ripping dudes to shreds) is probably my favorite gun in the entire beta. Nothing, however, will ever convince me to use a hand cannon, not even an exotic one. They all do, though, categorically feel great to shoot. The gun handling is one thing they absolutely should carry over, and they sure as hell did.
As you may have heard, though, weapons are equipped differently this time around. It seems geared towards the PvP crowd, pushing things like shotguns and sniper rifles into the power category so their use is more limited. They open it up on the other end by making sidearms and submachine guns into primary weapons and divvying up your first two slots by either kinetic or energy damage. This means you can effectively just rock two scout rifles as both your primary and secondary.
And it doesn’t feel great. For one, it’s slightly confusing, though I’m sure it’ll eventually become more intuitive as you put more hours into the game. But it also just isn’t as satisfying in PvE situations like this story mission to dump out your primary rifle and switch to a shotgun as baddies close in on you before pulling out your rocket launcher as a final last ditch effort. It turns encounters into just a dull drone of rounds peppering walls and armor rather than anything interesting. (Grenade launchers, though, are a great goddamn addition regardless.)
You’d think—or at least hope—that the new class abilities and subclasses would help mix it up on the battlefield, and to an extent, it does. The Warlock auras and the Titan walls are super cool and feel cooperative and immediately impactful in the way Borderlands did it, but the Hunter’s dodge move is pretty weak. It’s fascinating in a solo perspective, enabling you to either reload your weapon or refresh your melee cooldown with a dodge, but in a teamwork scenario, it’s wholly underwhelming.
While the layout of the class skills screen is unequivocally improved, the new subclasses themselves are fairly bland. There are only two per class and still only three classes themselves, a rare one-two combination of disappointment. Moreover, the new subclasses are flavorless considering what’s already there. Arcstrider, for example, is Blade Dancer but worse. Whereas before I was mildly engaged in my subclasses, I am now actively disinterested.
Of course, there needs to be some balancing done. Cooldowns are painful and charging supers takes an egregious amount of time, but that’s what betas are for, after all. And we still have no idea what actual character progression looks like or how clan support really works. Based on these past couple of days playing this early access beta, however, has my hopes a bit higher than when I started.
Destiny 2 comes out for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox one on September 6, 2017, and for PCs on October 24, 2017.