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DESTINY 2 BETA: IS MORE OF THE SAME A BAD THING?

The DESTINY 2 Beta launched with much fanfare for PS4 fans on 7/18, and Xbox One players were able to get in on the action on 7/19.  Since I am of the latter ilk, my impressions will be solely for the Xbox One platform.  Unfortunately, for as much as I wish I had screenshots and video of my playthrough, my house was far too busy last night to record or stream, but hey, that’s family life and I’m good with that.

The beta starts you with your choice of the usual: Hunter, Warlock, Titan.  Each class has two sub-classes available.  For the Hunter, you can be an Arcstrider (which I will always and forever refer to as Poledancer) or the holdover from Destiny 1, the Gunslinger.  Warlocks have Dawnblade, which gives you a flaming sword you can hurl at your enemies, or a slightly tweaked Voidwalker from Destiny 1.  Titans get Striker back and have added Sentinel, which replaces Defender’s bubble with a Captain America-like Void shield you can use to bash enemies and can even throw.  I started with the Gunslinger Hunter.

Weapons have seen some changes, and the details for those can be found elsewhere so I won’t go into too much of that here, but in a nutshell they’ve replaced Primary/Secondary/Heavy with Kinetic/Energy/Power.  Kinetic weapons do bullet-only damage, Energy weapons add elemental damage (arc/solar/void) to primaries, and Power weapons now include Snipers, Shotguns, and Fusion Rifles as well as Rockets, Swords, and the new Grenade Launcher.  It does mix things up a bit, so let’s just say you were a Hunter who ran with a Pulse Rifle, Fusion Rifle, and Rocket Launcher in Destiny 1. Now you have to pick what are essentially two primaries, one that does kinetic-only damage and one that does elemental, and either a Sniper or Grenade Launcher (just for the beta).  I don’t know whether I like this or not just yet, but it will definitely change how the game plays, at least to a degree.

As soon as I selected my character I was dropped immediately into the first mission, which starts with the cutscene we’ve all seen multiple times already, with the Tower and the Last City under attack.  Someone has betrayed the Guardians, and a ruthless enemy has come for them.  You come in, help to repel the invaders, find out your enemy is the Red Legion of the Cabal and led by Gary, I mean Ghaul, who is apparently put out by the fact the Traveler chose Earth to gift its people with Light, instead of him.  Gary is not a nice individual at all, and let’s leave it at that.  The mission ends with you powerless and, maybe dead?

Enough about the plot, but let’s at least acknowledge Destiny 2 at least appears to HAVE a plot.  Let’s talk about the gameplay in PvE.  There were, frankly, some things I liked and some things I didn’t.  The loadout system they use now works better than I thought it would.  As a Hunter, I started with a Hand Cannon/Auto Rifle/Sniper combo, but I quickly switched the somewhat underwhelming Hand Cannon for one of the new Submachine Guns.  The SMG was a fun new addition but very limited in damage output, at least when it came to some of the Red Legion enemies you face.  Not long after the start of the mission, Lord Shaxx (bless our hard-assed Crucible quartermaster) gives you your first Exotic, which for the Hunter is the Sunshot, a Hand Cannon that causes Solar damage AND has the ability to make your enemies explode when they die.  It’s nice, but the area-of-effect damage from the explosions is very limited.  Still, I had a lot of fun with it.  It kicks like an angry mule, though, so there’s a learning curve involved.  It absolutely WRECKS in Crucible though, once you get the hang of the thing.  The one weapon I didn’t bother using was the Grenade Launcher.  I’d seen enough footage of it on YouTube and Twitch to make me think it’s pretty useless.  Weapons overall felt like they had a bit more punch than from the first game, and they sound so much better.  Aiming them did feel a bit “twitchy” though, but I’m not sure if that was the game or just me.  I didn’t change the default sensitivity, which may have played a part.

Enemies felt a bit more bullet-spongy than before, but I’m not sure if that was just due to me feeling like an angry Deity of Death in Destiny 1 after hitting 40 and 393 Light.  I did note headshots were not a one-hit kill in most cases with a Hand Cannon, and shot accuracy was a bit off (see my note about aiming).  Higher-tier enemies now have a segmented health bar which I found nice, but also kind of pointless.  The biggest problem I found in the PvE portion of the beta was it can be difficult to determine where damage is coming from.  I had a few cheap deaths during the mission simply because I couldn’t tell which direction I was being shot from.  THAT is a real problem for me, because clear shot-detection was a staple of Destiny 1.  Fortunately, the mission didn’t seem to have the “Swarming enemies from all directions, including areas that were ALREADY CLEAR” mechanic I’ve come to despise, so it minimizes the issue, but it does illustrate an issue with the HUD, which I don’t feel is quite opaque enough.  There is a point in the mission where you’re fighting in the rain, and the rain effects on your visor do tend to obscure your HUD.  It wasn’t as prevalent in Crucible, so it may have been merely a product of the environment.  Also, your jump is quite different.  The double-jump doesn’t have the same sound as Destiny 1, and it’s honestly difficult to tell if your double-jump is even active.  It also very much requires you to hold the A-button longer to jump higher or float longer.  The sound really needs to be louder, in my opinion, just to give the player a better indication it’s WORKING.

It only took one Crucible match to realize the game is really geared toward PvP.  Crucible Control was fun, fast-paced, and very fluid.  Weapons are not as balanced as I’d like; Energy weapons and Auto Rifles seem to have a clear advantage over Pulse and Scout Rifles, and Hand Cannons don’t appear to be the Crucible mainstay they once were.  Shotguns absolutely wreck, and so do Fusion Rifles.  Basically, if you can grab Heavy (which now appears on wall kiosks instead of in boxes) you’re golden for a few minutes.  Heavy no longer drops an extra purple box, so it’s a first-come, first-serve thing now.  There are no green ammo pickups any longer; greens now drop from fallen enemies exclusively.  I only played Control, and I can tell you it’s a fun ride now.  It’s mostly the same as it was, with the exception it no longer takes two steps to capture a zone from the other team.  Pacing was fantastic; the match moved much faster than they did in Destiny 1, and overall it was more fun because of it.

Twitter friend Nevin Douglas (@NevinDouglas) expressed concern the new loadout system is balanced for PvP at the expense of PvE:

2017-07-20_9-35-20

After playing both, I think it’s a valid argument. PvP players in Destiny forums and groups complained long and loud about shotguns specifically, and it appears Bungie felt the best solution was to move them to the Heavy slot. Given the rarity of Heavy ammo and with no clue as to whether we can buy Heavy Synths in-game, I don’t think that is a good move and as Nevin said, it’s CLEARLY designed to address PvP issues that really AREN’T issues at all. Ideally, the best way to handle this has two steps:  First, increase PvE Heavy ammo drops and/or put Heavy ammo kiosks in areas where the player is about to have an “encounter,” i.e. LOTS of enemies and a mini-boss or boss battle coming up and second, hope Banshee-44 survived and still has Heavy ammo Synths for sale.  Otherwise, the new loadout system causes problems:

2017-07-20_9-46-502017-07-20_9-47-12

THIS is something that could really be a problem in PvE environments.  We all know from Destiny 1 that bosses are absolute bullet-sponges (if you don’t believe that, watch people play The Inverted Spire Strike) and not being able to maximize your damage output like before will be an issue.  But it absolutely WORKS in PvP like a charm.  The net result from this is I think anyone who wanted to play the game for the PvE and story is going to have to work a LOT harder than those who primarily focus on PvP.  This won’t quell my excitement for the game by any means, but I’m also the type of player who doesn’t like it when the game’s mechanics cause frustration during gameplay (hence why I can only play Dark Souls for about 30 minutes before I’m DONE).  We’ll see how it “plays” out (Puns!) in the final version of the game.  Ultimately I think it’ll be ok.

One final note: In the mission, you start out at 200 light with all 200 weapons/armor.  I’m fairly certain that’s by design in the game, and after Gary does his thing you’ll lose it all and start from ground zero.  We will see when Destiny 2 launches on September 6th!

As always, let me know YOUR thoughts in the comments section!

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