The Destiny 2 Beta – From a First-Time Destiny Player

Ever since the Destiny 2 reveal event in Los Angeles in May, Destiny 2 has been subjected to criticism by fans and pundits alike for being too visually and mechanically similar to its predecessor. While unfortunately, I cannot confirm whether these claims are accurate, I can instead offer my perspective on the online-only multiplayer first-person shooter as a complete newcomer to the franchise.

The original Destiny was a game that completely sailed past me. While I actually have quite a few first-person shooters under my belt, I’ve almost always gravitated towards the more story-heavy experiences  – Bioshock, Resistance 3, Call of Juarez: Gunslinger, Bulletstorm, and Spec Ops: The Line, to name a few. As a result, Destiny, which did little to intrigue me story-wise prior to its release, and became the subject of much ridicule online for its nonsensical story following its release, failed to garner my attention. Nonetheless, Bungie’s continued support of the title over the following years constantly kept the game at the back of my mind – and so when I was given the opportunity to play the sequel’s Beta on my PS4, I figured I’d toss it a line, and see if I got hooked.

Destiny 2 Beginning.jpg

Upon booting up the beta, I was prompted to choose between three different character classes: Titans, Warlocks, and Hunters. Fearing that playing as a Warlock would require some time to fully come to grips with how to properly use the class’ abilities, and that the Titan would be a little too slow, I decided to play as a hunter. After a short cutscene that depicted enemy forces assaulting “The Last City” (players’ home-base from the original Destiny), I was assigned with liberating the city from the alien invaders.

Right off the bat, I was struck by the intuitiveness of Destiny 2‘s control setup – while not surprising, considering Bungie’s long pedigree with critically-acclaimed first-person shooters, I felt almost immediately at home with the ins and outs of how to control my Hunter. And better yet, it felt good – tearing apart enemies was fast, and yielded a satisfying blend of visual, aural, and sensory feedback (thanks, rumble!). The game’s menus also proved intuitive; while I was unfamiliar with the meaning behind certain terminology within, I found it easy to review and customize a weapon loadout to my liking.

Destiny 2 Opening Level.jpg

Perhaps my most satisfying moment came when I learned, after scouring the menus, that pressing R1 and L1 at once enabled me to perform some sort of powerful physical attack. In the midst of a intense firefight against a swarm of enemies, I hit the button combination – and suddenly, I was in third-person, and gripping two massive, holographic blades. Bursting with confidence, I approached my would-be aggressors and slashed relentlessly, making quick work of them. Having previously only thought of Destiny as possessing standard first-person shooter mechanics (with some semi-fantastical firearms), it came as a rush to learn – and experience – that Destiny 2 offered more exotic mechanics than it superficially suggested.

Less exotic were the story and characters featured in the mission. Ever since the original Destiny‘s development, I’ve often remembered Bungie’s pledge about wanting to make the Destiny series “as deep, tangible and relatable as that of the Star Wars franchise.” In Destiny 2, this “relatability” might as well be replaced with “vanilla.” Outside of a rather quippy cybernetic character present in the beta’s opening cutscene and mission, I couldn’t remember a single one of the game’s bald, trope-y heroes and villains as they clashed for control of the Tower. In particular, the foot soldiers of the invading army proved to be little more than bland, hulking brutes of flesh and metal, complete with a throwaway backstory about being some sort of “rumored,” elite task force. I think.

Destiny 2 Inverted Spire.jpg

After completing the opening mission, I was given the option between playing two different competitive multiplayer modes, and one cooperative multiplayer mode. The cooperative mode, Strike, paired me up with two other (most likely) veteran players as we explored “The Inverted Spire” In search of…something. While taken aback by the beauty of the rugged alien environment me and my compatriots were exploring, and satisfied to fight a more diverse cadre of aliens than in the opening mission, I was mildly frustrated to see one of my video game pet-peeves rear its head: uninspired enemy names. Goblins, hobgoblins, phalanxes, legionaries, gladiators, harpies, and many other names from the candy bar aisle of the high fantasy supermarket presented themselves on the game’s HUD as we mowed our way through the level.

Look. I understand that the Destiny franchise aims to accrue a larger, more casual audience of gamers than the average action game, one that might not be familiar with the sort of esoteric conventions more experiences gamers like myself have come to expect from years of experience playing games. Labeling your enemy a “harpy” or a “goblin” gives it an easy and unembarrassing name to remember it by, while also cluing the player into how it is that said enemy will likely behave in battle, giving neophytes a slight advantage in battle. All the same, I can’t help but feel as if my ability to be able to learn new, unconventional names is being slighted – if grade-schoolers can wrap their heads around dinosaur names, why can’t a video game Rated M for Mature Rating Pending throw us something a little offbeat?

Destiny 2 Control.jpg

The cooperative mode ended in a climactic battle against a giant, robotic enemy on a series of descending platforms. It was satisfying, but I must admit that my two assistants (which, again, were most likely veterans of the first Destiny) did most of the legwork. Similarly, the two competitive multiplayer modes I played, Control (in which two four-player teams were tasked with capturing and holding flags across a map) and Countdown (in which two four-player teams are charged with either attacking or defending a point of interest for a set amount of time), were dominated by everyone but myself. Of course, because this was a beta in which A) all players started at the same level (20), and B) most players were returning Destiny players, the disproportion in skill level between myself and everyone else I played with made sense. I fully expect that once Destiny 2 properly launches, differently-skilled players will have access to much more balanced matchmaking. All the same, this disparity discouraged me from playing said modes for too long.

Completing Destiny 2‘s multiplayer modes did offer “Legendary” weaponry as a reward for my work. I understand that, to hardcore players enmeshed in the competitive ecosystem of Destiny, the prospect of getting a gun that offers even an incremental difference over a previous one, or that can be dismantled for parts that will be able to aid the player overtime, is probably both exciting and addictive. However, being both completely new to Destiny, and with few modes to test my new drops in, I found myself unmotivated to continue playing to earn any more.

The Destiny 2 Beta was intuitive, fun to play, and beautiful to look at, while being largely bereft of anything resembling an inspired story and cast of characters, and lacking a strong “hook” right off the bat (as someone completely new to Destiny‘s beat). To myself, this is reason enough to forego the sequel when it launches on September 6 on the PS4 and Xbox One (and October 24 on PC). But to someone looking for a shooter that attempts first and foremost to deliver a comprehensive suite of social experiences predicated on collecting and micro-assessing endless loot, and looks and plays as good as this generation can offer, Destiny 2 is probably the perfect fit for you.

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