Here is my report after a few hours! I’ll update it with more thinking if and when it occurs to me or if I want to show off a particular quadrakill and pretend it’s news or something. There are mild spoilers ahead but a) I don’t think it’s anything you won’t have seen on various livestreams or at events if you've been paying attention to those and b) Bungie have set the whole story bit of the beta up so it cuts off before you get any answers - only questions.
Something curious is that once the game had downloaded I actually paused to savour the feeling of being about to play a game I’m excited about. I’m noting it because that doesn’t happen often - I actually shut the curtains and turned off my second monitor so I could focus, then cranked the sound up. It’s just a beta and it’s not like I can make any meaningful progress and the guns aren’t going to be balanced or ANYTHING, plus I’ll remember that about 90% of people who play Crucible can’t actually play Crucible efficiently BUT for the moment, there was a frisson of anticipation.
Having spent...four hours in the beta I’ve played through that initial story segment where you experience the destruction of the Tower (the primary social and commercial hub from the first game) and then board a dreadnaught, only for the game to leave you on a cliffhanger/cliffdropper. I’ve also done the three-person strike mission a couple of times, and played a bunch of Control - the 4v4 team capture point mode in the arena known as the Crucible.
The first thing which really stuck out was how much this game feels like Destiny. That might sound like a no-brainer given it’s a sequel to that exact game, but the similarities are such that the conversation around it has a tendency to focus on whether this is more like an expansion or whether it’s the same game reskinned/with some different class abilities/whether it’s Destiny 1.5/whether it’s worth the money.
The truth is, it's tricky to answer right now. The story suggests the beta cuts off before potential changes would kick in - to go full beta spoilers, the big baddie, Ghaul, essentially switches off the source of your magic power and takes it for himself, deactivating your Ghost (that companion cube which follows you about), and rendering you weak and feeble. Without the benefits the Light brings there’s scope for a whole different playstyle to kick in as you struggle to defeat Ghaul. Whether it does or not is impossible to tell. Outside the narrative component (based on the strike and the Control games I’ve played) what you actually do is much the same.
Strikes are sort of co-op replayable side quests which exist outside the main story missions. You can go as a team if you’re partied up with friends or just join a pick-up group. In the original you could just play through a playlist of strikes if you fancied some PvE. There was also a specific quest with particular modifiers applied which came out each week - you could take that one on as a challenge to earn reputation and fancy loot.
The Inverted Spire strike plays out similarly to the original game - there are enemies to shoot en route to a jumping puzzle (actually, more of a DO NOT WALK INTO THESE ROTATING DRILL BITS BECAUSE THEY INSTAKILL YOU puzzle that you learn to navigate pretty fast), and then a boss fight. The boss fight had some cool moments. but what I’m getting at here is that you were running and shooting and casting grenades and using your super ability when it was charged as you did in the original game so even if there’s some interesting switcheroos in the narrative it looks like the non-narrative stuff is Destiny business as usual.
It’s the same story with Crucible’s Control mode, although there I felt the changes to how guns are grouped in your weapon slots more acutely than in the narrative modes, plus you need to learn a) a new map (Javelin-4) and b) new timings for getting the ammo for your big gun which gives a slightly different tempo and etiquette to the game. Oh, and it felt weird having 4v4 instead of 6v6 - that makes it easier to feel victimised by one particular enemy player if they're on a kill streak, but also increases the likelihood I can kill them in return and scrape some of my dignity off the carpet.
The point I’m getting to here, though, isn’t whether this stuff is good or bad - I loved Destiny and thus more of the same is no bad thing as long as I continue to have fun. The point is that the beta feeling so much like Destiny makes it incredibly hard to evaluate whether this game is better, worse or significantly different from the original as I play the beta. That’s because the thing about Destiny which really gets under your skin is all the little ways you can alter your character to fit you. And the beta isn't going to let me play with all of that.
I loved playing as my Warlock because over the course of the original game and all its expansions I tweaked everything I could until it worked how I wanted it to. I had weapon and armour combos which affected how quickly my abilities charged, I had guns whose perks covered my own shortcomings slightly while augmenting my strengths. I had a helmet with antlers coming out of it because I wanted a damn helmet with antlers coming out of it and a colour shader for that armour which made me look a bit like a slightly unripe banana.
Stepping into a beta where I keep reaching for things I know my character could do no problem and finding that they aren’t at my disposal is uncomfortable. It’s like wearing a pair of those generic shoes at a bowling alley instead of your own comfy trainers. I can’t tell how good Destiny 2 will truly feel because I can’t build this Warlock properly in the beta, only mess with the armour and guns a bit and get a sense of an outline for a character.
I mean, one thing which struck me is how slowly I feel like my character is moving - it's downright sluggish - but I have no idea if that's a thing which will persist or whether I'll find ways to turn it up, focusing on mobility and other related perks? Same with how fast my super ability and grenades charge - JUST LET ME THROW SPACE MAGIC AT PEOPLE. I won't know whether I can manipulate those charge times significantly myself or whether it's a deliberate change of pacing. And if it is a deliberate change, will it be a positive in the long-run, making the abilities feel more significant thanks to the wait for them to charge, or will it be a negative change that takes away some control? Until I have full context, I can't be sure.
Without that full context I also can't tell whether the opening scene of the story campaign works. I mean, generally it sets the scene and lays out the main conflict, but it hinges around the destruction of the Tower and starts by focusing on characters who aren't the player. That means initially you're just watching NPCs play out a cinematic and then joining in. I think I'd prefer to start with a really basic mission for my character in the Tower so I can get a glimpse of it in this game pre-disaster. That'd allow me to anchor myself in that universe before the action kicks off. That might well be what the full game does, it just doesn't do it here.
In terms of Control, the weapons are also not exactly balanced yet and you’re already able to see a lot of complaints about x type of gun being an instakill noob weapon, but I think that’s only partly a balance problem. I’d suspect there’s also a grumpiness related to that feeling of never quite being able to get comfy in your character’s skin so there’s added temptation to not accept the blame for doing badly*. I’d also say that Destiny PvP has always felt absolutely horrible when you’re on the losing team. The only other game that’s made me as cross about a bad run of games is Dota and that’s saying something.
If I’m honest I’m only writing this feature right now because I grump-quit** Crucible, feeling distinctly like I’d slumped back to the very bottom of the learning curve. If I’d been on a winning streak Adam would have had to actually come to my house and disconnect my internet until I’d written the bare minimum.
The other thing I’ve realised which makes it hard to assess Destiny 2 in beta is that such an enormous part of the pull of Destiny - beyond the moment to moment play which is rooted in the character and how you bend that to your playstyle - is the way the community would pick it apart to discover secrets or cool weird things and share them. With the vast majority of the game gated off, so are the secrets and without a raid to smash your head against there’s also not that weird FPS team building mystery outing to bond over.
The beta currently feels like a continuation of the original game and has the same excellent feel to the gunplay and the same satisfaction from being in a big playground where you get to experiment with that gunplay. I am also enjoying the Dawnbringer stuff which is the new Warlock subclass where I use a flaming sword to fling fireballs at people I don’t like. But I don’t feel the beta offers enough for me to generalise to the main game because of where it cuts off storywise and because of how it clips its own wings when it comes to the areas in which Destiny excelled. What of the hidden treasure chests or the weird references to mythic figures in gun biographies…?
There’s also the added complication that the original game had kind of a mixed response when it came out but The Taken King expansion (the third), made some big changes and improvements and added a whole bunch of content - to the point where it ended up being hailed as Destiny 2 because of how markedly it changed people’s relationships with the game. That means that Destiny 2 is also being judged against an expansion which was aimed at fixing a lot of the problems or criticisms of the game as it existed. Destiny 2 now has to feel like it provides as big an upgrade as players remember TTK doing to be seen as worthy of a separate game rather than as an expansion.
All this is to say that I’m not trying to get out of giving an opinion, it’s just that I’m wearing a bowling shoes Warlock for a couple of days. I'll collate some more specific thoughts over a little more time.
*I’m currently blaming the fact that my muscle memory is for the PS4 pad and so on PC I have to choose between using mouse and keyboard but scrambling for keys OR using a PS4 pad and having the reaction speed of a jellyfish stuck in glue. I’ve gone with the mouse and keyboard and keep hitting my super instead of shove. I also only found out I now have an AoE healing or empowering option in my kit by accident when trying to hit the shoving button.
**I don’t rage quit anything except Gran Turismo driving license trials. Grump-quitting is more my speed and involves diligently reaching the end of the PvP match, closing the game down properly and going to have an angry cup of tea while scowling and hoping someone asks what’s wrong so that I may list out my grievances against Hunters.