Movie Sleuth Gaming: Destiny 2 - Beta Impressions

I would be lying if I told you that I left my time with Destiny on a positive note. It wasn’t a bad game per se and I do defend it, especially after the The Taken King expansion’s myriad of improvements, but it was not, and continues not to be a game for me. I spent the better part of a decade playing World of Warcraft, and I just cannot play anything with MMO-hooks these days without a twinge of anxiety and a quick loss of interest. That being said, by the grace of the internet and my own painful curiosity, I dove into the Destiny 2 Beta with renewed vigor. With the promise of an improved story and systems I was willing to give it a shot, and I set aside my storied past with games of its ilk to try it out.

What I found upon diving in was simply more Destiny, but better. I don’t mean to be obtuse, but that was really what Bungie delivered with this beta, and all things considered I was pleased. The beta starts off in an intro sequence after a story setup cutscene and the player is thrown into an Earth invasion in progress. While nothing I or my character did was exceedingly different than in the previous title, the presence of NPCs addressing the player directly and narrative exposition was a pleasant addition after many hours of listless alien murdering in the original Destiny.

Don’t get me wrong, I know there was a story and characters there in Destiny. Most of it involved reading cards on a phone app or piecing together bits from the repetitive questlines, and I did not feel particularly compelled enough to engage with it. Having more cut scenes and story playing out in the intro sequence made the world feel much more lived-in. This small story addition honestly shouldn't be worthy of praise considering Bungie is a studio historically competent with stories in first person shooters, but with how disappointing Destiny was in this aspect, seeing any amount of movement in that area was heartening. The sequence was exciting and added some (previously not present) flavor to the gameplay that provided enough context to pique my interest in continuing to play outside of the standard RPG skinner box and remaining unseen content.

This quipping robot is voiced by Nathan Fillion, further proof that nerds will engage with anything he does.

The gameplay itself feels just as good as I have come to expect from Bungie. The gunplay remains phenomenal. The weapons have a futuristic feel without loosing their kinetic weightiness that the Halo series has always done well. The usual suspects of rifles, shotguns, and my personal favorite the hand cannon, are all back, and the gameplay loop of ‘shoot alien in weak spot and move forward’ continues to be satisfying.

From the outset you are given a full set of gear and a level 20 character, so class mechanics and gear were present, but not too much could be grocked from it. There was loot, both an exotic gun in the intro sequence and some loot at the end of the one available strike, but I wouldn’t expect too much disruption in these systems for the sequel.The strike itself was quite fun. After taking several attempts to actually get a group of people following the directions and not leaving within the first five minutes, I was able to complete the strike, and color me impressed.

The difficulty felt like a good balance, and the no-respawn zones added and appropriate, but not pushing level of difficulty. (something that I felt like some of the strikes in the first game didn’t always do well) I was particularly impressed with the multi-phase final boss fight. In addition to just being a well-designed fight, the spectacle of changing spaces between phases added even more excitement to an already tense fight. In general, the whole strike succeeded with adding exciting spectacle. I’ll spare the details but big machinery is cool. And can kill you. And they find a way to still make that feel cool, and not just frustrating.

I'm feeling an odd burning sensation. Hopefully its nothing...

I also dipped my toes a bit in the the only other feature in the beta, the PVP, but I was notably less impressed. I have played a lot of Halo and plenty of good online shooters over the years, and most of them play and feel better than anything I have done in the crucible. I appreciate its existence, and I am led to believe it has its own niche of hardcore fans, but it just did nothing for me. The gunplay still felt good, but just didn't feel like it translated to fighting other players well. I also noticed a significant lack of heavy weapon ammo, I am not sure if it was just me or an issue with the game, but I was disappointed by how little I was able to use my grenade launcher as a personal pet peeve.

Considering how impressed I was with the original Destiny beta, and subsequently how unimpressed I was with the finished product, I think Bungie was smart to keep this beta relatively content-light. I was disappointed to not have any variety of open-world patrol area, but what I saw was polished, if a little predictable.  If you hated the first Destiny, I don't think the changes to Destiny 2 will swing you too much in a positive direction. But on the other hand, if you are like me and you just left Destiny feeling lukewarm, the sequel’s improvements just may give you that last push needed for a truly enjoyable game.

-Justin Wicker