Tuesday night was interesting, and I must say, my resilience paid off as I pushed the “X” button on my DualShock 4 in 2-minute intervals as I was shown one error after another. But I was finally in, and the PS4 Destiny 2 early access beta was finally a reality. The Destiny 2 beta features the first story mission, a co-operative 3-player Strike (The Inverted Spire) and two maps and modes from the game’s player-versus-player game type, the Crucible.
The first story mission is a good setup, and in direct contrast to the first game where you start outside the city walls in relative calm, in Destiny 2, there is already an ongoing crisis. In response to a distress call from the last safe city on Earth, my Dawnblade Warlock (more on the new subclasses in a bit) and his trusty Ghost fly straight into the action. What follows is par for the course.
The gunplay becomes immediately familiar to veterans and is guaranteed to please new players. There’s a fantastic sense of weight to the shooting and the tactile feedback from the rumble on the DualShock 4 is perfect. The new weapons at first feel like they should—submachine guns offer a high rate of fire close range option, while the grenade launcher power weapon does what its meant to do.
It’s when you use your abilities, however, that something feels distinctly wrong. Cooldowns have been significantly increased, meaning you will be able to use your grenade or newly added “Rift” ability (boost either healing or damage in a circle around you) far less frequently than in the original Destiny. Overall the first story mission has enough variety and shooting accompanied by a big-sounding music score and busy graphics effects to give you a sense of what to expect in the final product.
Returning players will find some variety with the new subclasses. The Sentinel Titan’s super ability grants a shield which can be thrown once or used to pound on enemies in similar fashion to the relic from Destiny. An alternative mode of the super (executed by holding down the super button), will see the Titan deploying a Ward of Dawn bubble shield. The Dawnblade Warlock can float around and throw swords of burning flame from above (think Sunbreaker Titan from Destiny, but with a slower moving projectile), while the Arcstrider Hunter is basically the Bladedancer with more reach and combos straight out of a fighting game. All the new supers feel satisfying to use.
The old supers return as well, but with a few twists. The Voidwalker Warlock’s Nova Bomb is now a slow-moving blob of a projectile with insane tracking, while the Striker Titan can now smash multiple times as well as run around the map shoulder charging enemies. Fun.
Sharper Graphics, Good UI Changes
Unlike Destiny, which was held back to a large extent by previous generation consoles, it’s immediately apparent that the PS4 version of Destiny 2 looks sharper than the first game. I haven’t had the opportunity to test it on a PS4 Pro at 4K resolution, but the effort put into that version probably paid off as well. There were two instances where the effects density significantly enhanced the experience—first, in the old social space, the Tower as you, along with Commander Zavala fend off Cabal Red Legion drop pods as they crash to generate all sorts of fiery sparks, and the rain which lashes across the flight deck of an enemy ship.
Destiny’s already impressive 2014 user experience is brought into 2017, with UI elements looking sharper and less obtrusive (such as smaller enemy health bars), while giving out crucial information such as active Supers in a Crucible game. The original’s UI is one of the great console UIs, and Destiny 2 surpasses it in every way—the addition of new features and menu options in the full release is sure to be easily navigable given what we’ve seen in the beta so far.
‘The Inverted Spire’ Strike
Just as with Destiny, the game’s prologue is a single player-only experience. The first taste of co-operative gameplay we get in Destiny 2 is with the Inverted Spire Strike. Lore aside, the Strike feels like most strikes from the original with an epic three-phased boss encounter, only it feels a tad longer for a couple of reasons. First, there’s a lot of traversal involved—the environments are wider and more open, and your character seems to move slower. More importantly, the fact that you’re mostly using guns with vastly limited killing potential since shotguns, snipers and fusion rifles are now power/heavy weapons, combined with longer ability cooldowns means that you literally must tickle your way through every fight. While that is a slight exaggeration, the idea of a power fantasy which Destiny brought to players in 2014 seems a little less of one in 2017—fortunately, Bungie are aware of at least a part of this problem, and will issue fixes before the final products ships in early September.
Agreed. We're still tuning those numbers and the uptime Power Weapons in PVE has been improved for ship. https://t.co/4aDILPspcv
— Luke Smith (@thislukesmith) July 18, 2017
The Destiny 2 beta features a “quick play” mode and a “competitive” mode. The former is a classic Control/Domination mode with three capture points and respawning, while the latter is a Search & Destroy style mode (“Countdown”) with two teams, offense and defense—one having to plant charges, and the other having to defuse them. The biggest change, of course, is the fact that both modes are 4v4 rather than the 6v6, 3v3 and free-for-all modes previously seen in the series.
The changes to the Control mode are great—spawn flags are auto-captured, forcing teams to directly engage the enemy (most commonly) at the “B” flag. The idea of neutralizing a flag before capturing it is gone, and multiple players are no longer required to capture flags faster—a single player will capture one just as quickly.
The increased ability cooldowns mean that encounters are all about individual skill and picking the right weapon for any situation. There’s a lot more shooting in Destiny 2 than in the original, and the higher time-to-kill means that there’s more emphasis on skill and movement as well as team-shooting. Grenades and abilities play an infrequent-but-crucial role in fights, and the fact that they are no longer throwaway abilities means than players aren’t spamming them constantly. Super use is even rarer, and you’re unlikely to see more than one from a player during a match of Control, often being deployed in an effort to turn the tide of a fight.
With some weapons (Pulse rifles, for instance) clearly outclassing others, there’s more required to offer a more balanced experience, of course, and I’m more than sure that Bungie have this in the back of their minds—they struggled to produce a consistently balanced Crucible experience over the lifetime of the first game. Spawns probably need work as well, as there were quite a few times where I could defeat players just as they had spawned, while the reverse was quite common late in a game. The fast pace of the game means that spawn-flipping is likely to occur often, and players need to be aware of this as well.
Most impressively, however, connections seemed extremely stable and I hardly encountered more than a handful of “red bar warriors” over the course of several hours in the Crucible.
Closing Miscellaneous Thoughts: CliffsNotes Edition
- There’s nothing surprising in the beta overall, which plays to its strengths
- PvP-focused ability and ammo balancing could be a problem, but Bungie is aware of this, and addressing it with the final product
- Weapon mods and skins will be in the final game, and it seems a like great way of granting utility to gear which players are attached to
- The Hunter Gambler’s Dodge and Marksman’s Dodge abilities feel underwhelming compared to the Warlock’s Rift and Titan’s Barricade