What we learned from the Destiny 2 Beta

Perhaps more than any other game I’ve anticipated, what I was most interested in when I threw on Destiny 2 during its recent beta was just how Bungie has iterated on the stuff from the original game. Destiny is a game that, after a shaky start, ended up being beloved of many, having an enormous and devoted community. Will this new game throw out any of what made the original such an eventual success? Will any of the changes rile-up fans? Or has Bungie managed to find the perfect balance in bringing improvements to their formula while preserving what made the original great?

Ramped-up drama

One of the most criticized elements of vanilla Destiny was its story, particularly how it begins in a sedate, less-than enthralling way. As more DLC was released, this problem was addressed somewhat with added lore and far more bombast, but for many that false-start left a bad taste in the mouth. Bungie will be well aware that Destiny’s state at launch will have cost them some players forever.

Throwing the opening mission of the sequel into the beta feels like a massive statement of intent from Bungie, and it pays off. Even from the opening cinematic, you can feel the studio channeling all its effort into engaging the player from the outset. They’re not messing around. There are two gags from Nathan Fillian’s fan favorite Cayde-6 in the first thirty seconds, and within a minute, a massively spectacular attack on the Last City is in full swing. Then, after a limited few more action packed moments of cinematic, the player controlled guardian arrives, and we’re straight into the fight. And what a crunchy, varied fight it is too, feeling more like a well-designed single player FPS mission that the co-op centric flavor of Destiny’s opening chapters.

Variety and spice

Some of the level design that went into the later additions to Destiny’s plethora of story missions, strikes and raids was epic in its scale and variety and judging by this early look, that ethos has been carried through to Destiny 2. Even in this opening level, which ostensibly takes place indoors, there’s huge variety to the look and feel of the level. Tight corridors with limited space to maneuver within give way to large hangars and breathtaking outdoor views out into the surrounding area, and of the ongoing battle, including a glimpse of the Red Legion, the game’s principal antagonists, hijacking the vast orb of the Traveller. There’s a pronounced verticality in this mission, too, which feels refreshing to play. Bungie designed the map in a way that leads players either up to a higher level, or down to further depths, and this breaks up any monotony which may arise from endless corridors. Also adding to the sense of variety are the enemy encounters, which feel comfortably varied in scope, despite the actual enemy types being quite limited. The boss battles, too, add a level of extra fun and difficulty to the proceedings.

Graphical advances

Let’s be clear: there’s an obvious lineage in the way Destiny 2 looks. This game is a continuation of the first game’s style, first and foremost, and it isn’t going to be surprising many people with fresh, bold aesthetics. That said, even on a standard, current-gen console, improvements to how the game looks are immediately apparent in the sample Bungie is showing off in the beta (which itself is likely to be a couple of months old).

Lighting effects, in particular, seemed to have seen a significant improvement from the first game, looking pretty spectacular throughout. Also seemingly given a buff are effects like smoke, fire, and dripping water, which are all paraded in front of the player like a beauty pageant in this opening section, and all look fantastic. Obviously, if you’ve got a tricked-out PC, you’re going to have the best Destiny 2 experience, at least from a technological point of view: the sky’s the limit there, in both performance and graphical fidelity

Gunplay and loot: still the stars of the show

Bungie still clearly know where their series’ strengths lie, and what keeps the player coming back for more, even countless months down the line. The game’s actual mechanics are still on-point, with the movement, and in particular, the way the guns feel, still being the best thing about the whole Destiny experience. The limited selection of weapons available in the beta all handle suitably differently, but each has their merits — exactly as you’d expect.

I played the opening level with each of the three classes and found that, despite their move set being, in some cases, slightly different those in Destiny, they felt broadly the same to handle as in the previous game. The new slot system worked well, too (now arranged into kinetic, energy, and power weapons, rather than Destiny’s primary, special and heavy). Even with the limited armory of the beta, there seems like there will be more scope to bring a greater variety of weapons to the mission.

Also, the grenade launcher is a beast.

PvP still isn’t where it’s at

Bungie seem to be well aware that Destiny’s strengths don’t lie with competitive multiplayer. The changes made to the Crucible in Destiny 2 are an attempt to emphasize this game’s unique differences compared with PvP game modes in other shooters. Now, with all game modes reverting to 4v4 team based games, and smaller, more intricate maps, the Crucible feels more specialized than ever. Unfortunately, for me at least, PvP in Destiny 2 still plays like a less developed version of what many arena shooters do so well (you only have to look over to Bungie’s former franchise to see that Halo 5 has this nailed). Co-op is, and always will be, king, and I’m predicting that the Crucible will become even less essential to players in Destiny 2.

What about Destiny 2 has you most excited? Let us know in the comments!

Andy is a freelance writer for Game With Your Brain. You can follow him on Twitter.