The first thing to strike (no pun) in the Destiny 2 Beta was how well-worn it felt. Like wrapping up in a comfy blanket that is always waiting when returning to the family home…while it crumbles and burns to ash. The one thing that’s been on the brain is how Destiny would need to pull a Halo maneuver if it hoped to pull itself up from the original launch, and so far, so good. Destiny 2’s beta does exactly what Bungie’s previous title Halo did before it, taking everything it learned from the first game and improving on that at every turn. The gun play is tighter, the environments more stunning (not just visually) and the state of Destiny in a better place than when it started. It’s a shame then that the beta doesn’t offer more, because the sparseness of it all itches at the back of the mind. Why only show the opening mission, a strike, and two crucible maps/modes?
Looking back at the original beta for vanilla Destiny, there was a tremendous amount to do and see, even some leveling involved. The Destiny 2 beta feels like Bungie is keeping their cards close to the chest because anything that could rock the boat might just tip it over. Destiny is successful, but it comes with a reputation, and scuffing up that reputation in anyway could make or break sales numbers once September rolls around. The beta gives enough of itself to put players at ease while also remaining the carrot and the stick. For a Destiny fan, it’s easy enough to digest; take everything learned from Destiny and apply that to this beta, it’s a guaranteed good time. For those who might be making their way back though, this might look more like a shooter than the online multiplayer game Bungie promised. While I can only speculate as to why the amount of content was significantly trimmed down, it’s probably for good reason or it’s just actually a beta.
Jumping in, the beta opens with a great start, showcasing the opening mission which immediately wraps up a story arc for old players and wipes the slate clean for new players. It’s a guaranteed win-win. Unless you’re a guardian, that is, then it’s a significant loss. For a mission showcase, this is an excellent example; this story mission had more feeling in it than all of my time spent with my guardian. Characters are interacting with you. Mysteries as to where other characters went are easy to spot in the environment and it all around creates a sense of awe. Where is Eris Morn? Her glowing green jar half buried in ruble where she once stood. Or the cleaning bot that maintains its programming, casually sweeping up the blood of dead Cabal while the Tower is literally on fire in every other regard. Seeing some of the most famous guardians in action, working with you. Entering a hallway and seeing the very people Guardians are supposedly protecting, scared, huddling together as their home is taken away. Destiny 2 wants to hit with impact, and it does.
After that first mission, though, players are immediately ejected to space, where a limited number of things to do sits in a classic Destiny menu. Like, what? I can’t even land on a planet and just wander around? With nowhere else to go, it’s either hop in the Strike or hop in the Crucible.
The Strike is a good place to start. It reveals a little more of the world players can expect, showcasing great improvements to Destiny. The most notable thing about the Strike is just how open it felt. Instead of running casually down one big hallway that twist and turns, the Strike makes use of all the space available. The number of paths available was astounding and never has it been so easy to get separated from the group, meaning communication (or keeping an eye out) is key. Party members can’t just run ahead to go off and do their own thing; the Strike actually requires some teamwork and that’s a good thing. More than a few times, imminent danger is awaiting any careless Guardian who might think “I’ve got this.” The mechanics of it all also helped with this feeling, giving the Strike enough complexity, but not so much that it felt bogged down. It’s hard to get an exact read, though, because this is only one Strike and without leveling of any sort, it might just seem tough. This is how every Destiny expansion has played out. Things feel like they were getting more challenging, but level up enough gear and light, and those Strikes become cake-walks. I even encountered some of this already, by just breezing past the giant drill without stopping. What looked like a challenging set piece became just a set piece. No interaction required.
As for the Crucible, it seems to be an uneven blending of old and new, and like any good shooter, will probably need a few matches under its belt to see where it stands. I was grouped with teams that either know shooters or know Destiny the first few matches tackled. My team dominating match after match, while hapless players threw themselves at our Guardian-trained reflexes. It almost didn’t seem fair, probably because the other teams weren’t making use of their powers and treating the Crucible like any other shooter. Jumping in on day two, however, was completely different. Being on the receiving end of the stick was just not fun. My team wandering off to play “team deathmatch” instead of the actual objective. At this point, it’s confusing when other players don’t know mechanics. Most games use the same objective-based gameplay with personal slight variations, but to see my team run to the meat grinder, completely away from the very thing we were supposed to be protecting, was disheartening. I had to quit while I was ahead. Not because the other players were bad, they just didn’t seem to care.
Which brings this full circle back to the Strike. With only one Strike to tackle, any Guardian checking out the beta will probably play this a few times. It was with my second group that more problems started to crop up. The beta is a stress test on Destiny 2’s system, so having such sparse…everything…became more noticeable. There is a limited arsenal in Destiny 2 at the moment, and when the party hit the boss, we started to wipe. After the third wipe I began switching out weapons in every combination imaginable, but we just couldn’t land it. Having played Destiny since vanilla, I’d say the skills are there. But here is Destiny 2 presenting itself as challenging, but there is always that inkling that it’s a façade. Again, every Destiny expansion has done this. New encounters, new mechanics, new gear. It makes it all seem like the game has changed, but level up enough, equip the right stuff and that boss that was causing so much grief becomes laughable. One can only hope that this beta is not tricking players into a false experience, but that won’t be revealed until September. So, for now it’s the waiting game.
The Destiny 2 beta is showing positive things, but the cracks are easy to see for any veteran Destiny player and that’s nerve-racking. Destiny 2 should not just be a glossed-up Destiny with a fresh coat of paint, it needs to prove that it is the FPSMMO it always intended to be. When hiding things like the item menu from players, however, those feelings of unease just won’t go away.