Editor’s Note: Salutations, readers! You are about to read some hands-on impressions of the Destiny 2 Beta from my partner, Al Valentín. Al is the shooter and huge Destiny nut in the relationship, so I figured it would be fitting for them to provide their thoughts on the beta.
And if you want to watch TVGB play the beta, check out our own Joel Campos and John Hansen’s Let’s Plays here, here, here, and here.
Bungie knows how to create epic moments. Since the days of Halo, they’ve proven that they understand how to create deep connections with their characters, build universes that feel expansive and lively while also ensuring that you have enough drama, action and heartbreak to keep things interesting and keep the player emotionally engaged. Which is why for some fans of Destiny, like myself, there always seemed to be something missing. For a team that’s proven they can do epic, why has Destiny so far felt ultimately underwhelming?
I’ve always enjoyed the gameplay of Destiny for its subclasses and abilities that allow you to strategize in a bunch of ways, for the way you must work as a team and achieve a goal and for my addiction to the sweet, sweet, deliciousness of getting a beautiful new piece of gear. Still, the story has always fallen flat. While I’m a sucker for some of the truly great lines peppered throughout, as well as the generally badass flavor text on guns and gear, most of the story moments that felt like they should have been big, have always left me feeling underwhelmed.
In fact, I’d argue that my favorite moments have been about the actual mechanics of the play, the moment a strike becomes that much more intense and has you yelling or when a new round in Prison of Elders starts up and pushes you to the brink. That’s always been what made the game supremely playable and replayable despite its flaws. Reflecting on this, there’s a lot of reasons why this is the case.
Kotaku’s Jason Schreier wrote an excellent article that investigates how Destiny was slated to have a much more complex and ambitious story that was ultimately scrapped right before the game was slated to ship. It’s a good read if you have the time. Indeed, the concept of grimoire (additional text content that gives the player more backstory on the world) seems to come from the remains of that original plot and mythos.
While grimoire accessible through the Destiny companion app initially seemed a unique and perhaps ballsy move, and while much of it is beautifully written and interesting, it is a project that has ultimately failed. In a medium like gaming, which affords so many other possibilities via cutscenes or cinematics outside of the game, not taking advantage of that means we’ve loved characters despite the storytelling and not because of it. For comparison’s sake, look at Overwatch.
Overwatch is an incredible example of a game where the story is told mostly through outside content but in a way that is exciting, engaging and feels like a treat. And I’d argue that’s as much about the writing as it is about the means through which the information is communicated to the player. Destiny has never been able to accomplish the same type of storytelling success. It has never recovered from the way it seems that late development changes shook things up and messed things up in the process.
But Destiny 2 seems to be taking a few steps towards correcting this massive problem. In Destiny, there’s a moment where Cayde whispers to the player, “Take me with you.” With the newest installment coming in a few months, we might be able to do just that. Through playing the first story mode in the Beta, we’re offered a chance to not just hear or read about characters like Ikora Rey, Commander Zavala, Cayde-6 and Amanda Holliday, but instead actually see them in action (Speaking of which, where’s my girl Eris Morn at?). Throughout the story mission in the Beta, there’s multiple moments where we meet up briefly and get to see them wrecking Cabal. This is rad.
While some players might find these moments cheesy as there still isn’t much interaction between us and them (aside from Zavala), I’m intrigued by the possibilities. Will Destiny 2 allow us more opportunities to team up with some of its most beloved characters? I hope so. Based on other information released by Bungie via their YouTube, it seems that each of our main guides through Destiny (Zavala, Cayde and Ikora) have settled on different planets which promises to take us to new locales. However, to move from the hype and glory of working with them in the first story mission back to having them simply remain on their respective planets so that we can hand quests in would be a colossal waste. Let’s hope they manage to keep our interactions with the NPC fresh throughout and that the first mission is just a taste of what’s to come.
In terms of the actual plot, I’m genuinely intrigued by the direction that they are going in with this latest installment. The Beta gets us asking lots of questions. What will happen to guardians in a world without light once it’s been taken by the Red Legion? What more will we learn about the Cabal that can make them interesting and unique foes? How does our Guardian manage to survive and restore order? Who are those other Ghosts talking to us in the strike? Just how much am I going to have to listen to Nolan North talk (#teamdinklebot)? And just how evil is The Speaker? He’s like, totally got to be evil, doesn’t he?
The game, most obviously, looks gorgeous. The brief glimpse we get of Nessus through The Inverted Spire strike has me pumped to see what the rest of the worlds are going to look like in depth. The strike itself feels far more involved than some of our previous ones which will (hopefully) prepare us far better for the raids that will come with Destiny 2. The gameplay feels pretty smooth and fun. There’s an introduction of a lot of new types of enemies, particularly within the Red Legion. We have the introduction of Incendiors with long rage incendiary projectiles as well as Gladiators whose heavy melee attacks are fun and challenging to guard against at close range. We’ve also got the introduction of War Beasts, or as I will call them Red Legion puppers, though they are significantly less cute than Far Cry 5’s Boomer.
There’s also a lot of smaller cosmetic changes that are welcome. It seems we’ll be afforded a new level of customizability in terms of our gear and weapons via mods and shaders that seem to be usable on individual items of gear. Because let’s be honest, I’m like 40% just here for the gear drops and shaders. I’m also super pumped that according to the The Worlds of Destiny 2, Destiny 2 Gameplay Premiere, we will no longer have to go to orbit in order to travel from planet to planet. These seem like little changes that will make the more mundane aspects of the game a bit more fun and interesting.
All this being said, there are still some things that might turn players off. For one, weapon loadouts have changed pretty dramatically. While I’m stoked at the new inclusion of submachine guns, we essentially have two primary weapon slots. Submachine guns and sidearms both round out six choices including our older options of hand cannons, scout, pulse and auto rifles. Your first weapon slot are kinetic weapons that obviously deal no void, arc or solar damage but your second slot, now called energy weapons do. Your last slot, power weapons, will now include fusion rifles, shotguns, sniper rifles and grenade launchers (in addition to rocket launchers and swords) which will also deal one of the three energy damage types.
This stands to make PVP a bit more balanced by disallowing people from only moving between their heavy and special weapons but may have the affect of dulling PVE play for some. I’m not particularly bothered by this change yet but it may be far more irritating once I embark on the full campaign. Still, it does seem fairly silly that fusion rifles and shotguns are now in the same class as rocket and grenade launchers.
The new exotics mostly had me drooling. Riskrunner, the Exotic submachine gun you gain access to via the Warlock handles beautifully, looks sickening and can chain lightening damage between enemies which is super satisfying as well as useful for crowds of enemies. Sunshot, the exotic handcannon unlocked by Hunters in the Beta, allows kills to deal explosive solar damage to nearby enemies which is incredibly useful. The Titan option of an exotic auto rifle, Sweet Business, was my least favorite. It boasts increased accuracy when firing from the hip, a large magazine and an impressive rate of fire but felt a bit too unsteady for my tastes. I’ve certainly heard a lot of other players sing its praises however, so you may have better luck with it.
In terms of the new subclass options, my one big issue is that they don’t necessarily feel more and exciting than our old options. It seems a lot of what we’re seeing is reworked versions of old favorites and that’s certainly useful but perhaps may not live up to the desire for new options for some of us who’ve been playing since the start.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m genuinely happy with the reworking of the Striker class as somebody who fell in love with Destiny first through my Titan. And Sentinel seems like it would actually get me into playing a defensive class. But the Hunter and Warlock options don’t feel different or tweaked enough to be super pumped about. Rather than the double daggers of Bladedancer for Hunters, we now have Arcstrider which equips us with a staff that we can strike enemies with repeatedly. Warlocks now have Daybreak through the Dawnblade class which essentially gives Warlocks a modified version of the Titan’s hammers from the last game that allows a bit more range via its more airborne focused design. I found the ability a bit unwieldy at first but found it easier as I went on. Recharge rates definitely do feel a bit sluggish so it felt hard to really develop a flow with any of the subclasses but I’m sure this kink will be ironed out once the game ships.
Furthermore, what seemed like new levels of customizability in terms of weapons and gear seems to come at the expense of customizability of subclasses. While there are definitely a host of perks that seem like they’ll be incredibly interesting and useful, I’m also struck by just how few options there were to choose from in the Beta. Hopefully things do seem more once September comes. Still, for somebody who has genuinely enjoyed the combat thus far, I don’t think that this amounts to enough to warrant too much worry. I still had a ton of fun playing and the addition of new class skills like Dawnblade’s rifts, for example, are going to be interesting to incorporate into our gaming styles along with the other changes. I do hope however that the third subclass options will more radically shift things.
All in all, the Destiny 2 Beta definitely has me ready for the upcoming release of the game. The gameplay feels solid but streamlined, if not a bit too simplistic. All the things that Destiny has done well thus far seem to be largely intact: amazing weapons, cool enemies and gorgeous worlds. The strike feels epic and intense in a way that many of the old strikes never quite managed and the story mission highlights what could be a wonderful new direction. The changes we’ve seen thus far, if implemented correctly, stand to breathe new life into the game that has maintained a ton of diehard fans despite consistent (and justifiable) criticism. If Bungie is able to include more meaningful and exciting interactions NPCS as well as anything that resembles the actual character development that is currently nonexistent rather than relying on the constant barrage of Northbot dialogue and grimoire to tell a story, Destiny 2 just might be able to get the missing puzzle piece that will have made all of our loyalty worth while and bring new players into the fold.
Al Valentín is a PhD student in Women’s and Gender Studies living, loving and nerding in Brooklyn, NY. Their research brings game studies and gender studies together to think through questions of subjectivity, affect, emotions, difference and social justice. While they grew up on games like Sonic, Streets of Rage and ToeJam and Earl in Panic on Funkotron, Al’s gaming love now mostly revolves around shooters, role playing games and dating sims. In addition to gaming, they enjoy baking, selfies and designing their next tattoos. You can read more about their work by visiting their website or following them on Twitter.