First Impressions From The DESTINY 2 Beta

Bungie attempts to court newcomers for its biggest release since the last one.

Bungie ran a limited-time “beta test” for its massively-budgeted, massively-anticipated shooter Destiny 2 over the last week. I don't know whether it provided useful test data for Bungie, but it certainly accomplished its true purpose: putting a slice of Destiny in the hands of millions of gamers, many of whom were likely wondering what the fuss was all about. As someone who very much already knew what the fuss was about, I had different priorities: see what’s new, see what’s changed, and see what Bungie is trying to do with the sequel.

Short version: not much has changed, but what has changed is part of an aggressive attempt to court new players.

The Destiny 2 beta opens with the game’s opening mission, seeing player characters defending the first game’s Tower social space against an attack by its least-interesting enemy faction, the Cabal. The mission is more heavily-scripted than those of the first game, though first missions are always the most showy in any game, and as a result, it's pretty spectacular. As a returning player, it's eye-opening just seeing previously inaccessible areas of the Tower - seeing the big door in Tower North opening up is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser for Destinerds. For new players, I doubt it’ll stand out much from most single-player shooters. There are simply too many of them.

As for the story the opening mission sets up: it’s pretty clear that Destiny 2 is a fresh start, in terms of plot, so that newcomers won't have to deal with the first game's overly dense lore. New villain Dominus Ghaul, for example, is a pretty straightforward imperious military fellow with a simpler motivation than any of the first game’s bad guys. He wants to steal the power of the Traveller - the huge sphere that gives Destiny player characters their abilities - for his own, because like John Lennon, he's a jealous guy. Fair enough; it's fun playing with all that space magic.

That hasn’t changed, either. By and large, moment-to-moment gameplay in Destiny 2 is identical to Destiny 1, with a few tweaks. You’ve still got a double jump, a grenade, a melee, and a super ability, now complemented by an additional ability that varies from class to class (largely to the Hunter’s detriment). Gunplay is as strong as ever, with new weapon types like submachine guns and grenade launchers adding to Bungie's spread of well-tuned weaponry. Primary, special, and heavy weapons have been switched out for kinetic, energy, and power weapons, with shotguns and sniper rifles, notably, shifted into the ammo-sparse power category. Effectively, that means energy weapons are just primaries with elemental damage, and it should serve to balance the game a little better. Good. Snipers and shotguns ruined my day in multiplayer far too often in the first game, and having to constantly stay on top of the "meta" weaponry is alienating as hell to any but the most dedicated players.

In multiplayer, team sizes have shrunk from six to four, but the game remains the same. The time-to-kill feels marginally quicker, and matches feel more strategic and less chaotic than they did with six team members. Of the beta's two multiplayer modes, Control retains everything that made it Destiny’s best gametype originally, while gaining a more-detailed UI and proper names for control points. The beta’s new gametype, Countdown, belongs to the infernal “set the charges” model popular in games like Counter-Strike. In my experience, though, most matches were won and lost solely through team eliminations. I will be avoiding this gametype, personally, as I find it incredibly irritating to be knocked out of the action without a respawn. But maybe Counter-Strike fans will disagree (or tell me to "git gud," or some such bullshit).

The beta also contains a strike (Destiny-speak for a tough, replayable mission for teams), featuring a giant drill, a horde of angry space-doggies, and a multi-stage boss. But though it’s grander in scale and more visually impressive than any strike in Destiny 1, and presents a reasonable challenge, it doesn’t reinvent anything about strike design. The boss is still a bullet-sponge, there’s still a humdrum mixture of platforming and combat encounters, you still scan shit with your Ghost, and new players apparently still find it difficult to figure out what to do.

Outside gameplay, little else has changed. Bungie hasn’t monkeyed with its excellent UI design significantly; nor has the visual design been altered. The graphics have improved, certainly, with noticeably prettier lighting and particle effects, but weirdly, that actually makes the action harder to follow. It’s a negligible difference, though; squint a little, and you’d be forgiven for mistaking Destiny 2 for Destiny 1.

If anything, the Destiny 2 beta makes the game’s goals clear. Bungie didn't mess with anything that worked, meaning the game plays essentially the same as its predecessor. What Bungie is clearly intent on is bringing Destiny to new audiences. A clearer story with more identifiable characters definitely helps there; so, too, does the new multiplayer UI, which introducces some e-sports-style readability. It’s hard to tell just how newbie-friendly Destiny 2 is without getting a decent grasp on its structure, its open-world areas, or its inevitable descend into grind, but if the beta’s any indication, players familiar with Destiny will be well pleased. After all, it’s more Destiny, and if there’s anything Destiny players like, it’s more Destiny.

Whether you’re new to the franchise or a veteran, did you play the Destiny 2 beta (or demo, as these things should really be called)? What were your thoughts? As I've sunk more hours into Destiny than I care to say, I’m intrigued to hear how it played for newcomers. Sound off below!