(Very) Early Thoughts on the Destiny 2 Beta

Posted: July 21, 2017 in Sci-Fi and Fantasy, Tech
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Destiny 2I’m a late comer to the video game Destiny, starting just last year near shortly before the end of Year 2.  However, in that short time I have become a solid fan of the game, it’s mechanics, and its outstanding player community.  It has outstanding gunplay and movement, it is incredibly immersive with amazing visuals, and has a unique “more open” world that supports team play, solo play, running around making things go boom, and excellent player v. player options.  Also in something that at least seems unique, it has no swearing or graphic sex.  In short, the game was just plain fun.

While it has held up well over the last 3 years, it is getting a bit dated and due for a refresh.  Enter Destiny 2.  This new game updates not only the mechanics, but continues the story as humanity struggles for survival and finding its place amongst the stars.  This week, the developer – Bungie of Halo fame – has released the beta for the new game.  I was lucky enough to be given an early access code for the closed portion of the beta release.  My son and I both spent some time with our fingers on the controller giving Destiny 2 a workout.  What follows after the jump are the very first impressions after only a very short time playing.

Bear in my, there is no effort to avoid spoilers, so don’t click to continue if you don’t want to read details.

The first thing one must keep in mind is that this is a Beta release, not a Preview release.  Features and function are going to be restricted to what Bungie is wanting to stress test.  Functionality – especially in game balance – is going to be something I expect to be rather fluid between now and the release.  That has to be kept in mind during the evaluation.  I am also going to assume that if you clicked through to read this, you have also been following the changes Bungie has talked about introducing.  I will be focusing on how these changes translate into play rather than giving a detailed list of what they are.

Since I main a Warlock, I decided go with that option and started with the new Voidwalker.  Perks are arranged differently into clusters and there are two “subsets” as to how you fine-tune the Voidwalker with respect to the Super.  In the beta, only the slow Nova Bomb tree is available.  There is a lot that we don’t have access to here yet, but my first impression that this may actually be more flexible than the skill trees in Destiny 1 (D1).

What also stands out is that the old stats system of Intellect, Discipline, and Strength is gone.  Now we have Armor, Recovery, and Agility.  I will assume that these will be a combination of intrinsic attributes of the armor pieces as well as “mods” that can be applied as you build up your character.  The gear available is limited and the stats are all essentially the same, so we don’t know much about this as yet.  All we do know is that these are self explanatory and they will be a focus of “gearing up” your character as he/she advances.

Over on the weapons side, it has been well known that Bungie is dropping the old Primary/Special/Heavy weapon categories for Kinetic, Energy, and Power categories.  Kinetic and Energy largely represent the old Primary class of weapons.  The most significant difference is that the former is kinetic damage (e.g. slug) only and the latter has either elemental solar, arc, or void energy component, as well.  Special and Heavy weapons have all been collected into the Power category.

While controversial, I don’t have much of a problem with this move, except I do not believe that either shotguns (which I rarely use) or sniper rifles belong as power weapons.  Both of these more accurately reflect the primary role a character plays rather than the “high power” options that machine guns, rocket launchers, or fusion rifles met.  I would have much rather seen both sniper and shotgun in the Kinetic/Energy categories with a bit their weaknesses a bit more emphasized.  I.e. a sniper rifle is next to useless at close range, while a shotgun loses utility when it gets past 30 yards.  Both use ammo that is much bulkier and heavier than an auto rifle.  Again, much of this is personal.  What mattered, is that I was still able to kill the baddies.

That said, I do think the new weapon structure will be good for the game.  It gives both more flexibility for most play, yet requires careful thought in planning for the high dps stages of play.  There is also a lot of room for expansion.  For example, the heavy machine guns are gone from D2.  At.  This.  Time.  There is no reason they couldn’t be brought back under the new system as Power weapons.  Likewise with rocket launchers.  In fact, I rather expect to see that happen.

Another change to the weapons system has also drawn a lot of comment.  Word had come out that the D2 weapon perks will be fixed rather than random as in D1.  Yet, Bungie claims at the same time we will have more flexibility.  This doesn’t make sense until you look at a weapons’ detail page.  Yes, it does look like there are less perks and choices between perk options.  However, it there has also been added a Mods tree for each gun and armor piece.  In the game, the gun mods are for the weapon shader and, if elemental, the element mod that it gives a gun.  There are also empty slots.  A lot of empty slots.

I would expect this to mean that there are basic stats/characteristics for each piece of gear and the focus of the grind will shift dramatically.  Rather than grinding for a particular weapon roll, we will be working to find, acquire, or have built specific mods we want for that weapon.  If this is correct, then we will likely have much more control in our ability to customize our gear.  The RNG grind isn’t for the actual weapon, but for the collection of mods we want.  If this stays within actual gameplay, I look forward to this.  However, it does occur to me that there is a lot of room for abuse if that cursed Eververse survives the fall of the Tower.

Oh?  Yes.  The fall of the Tower.  That is basically the first mission and is included in the Beta.  I’m going to avoid the story details since they have been discussed everywhere.  Instead, I’ll focus on how it felt to play the game.

If you do play the public beta, you need to remember something important.  Your character is, in many ways, starting over.  The gear in the beta is all 200 level gear.  I know it’s a poor analogy, but considering my Warlock and Hunter are both 400 Light, with a wide range of exotics, you are coming into the game at least half as strong as you leave Destiny 1.  It will take more shots to kill these elite troops of the Cabal.  You need something to build towards and as I say, there are a lot of mod slots available.

The game play kept all I liked of Destiny 1 and built upon it.  I really had no problem with the Kinetic/Energy paradigm.  In fact, I’d say it made me more flexible.  A scout rifle for my Kinetic weapon and an elemental exotic submachine gun for my  Energy had me set up for some serious add control.  I tried both the grenade launcher and fusion rifle options for the Power weapons.  Personally, I liked the fusion rifle much better.  It seemed to have a tighter grouping and better range than the D1 crop.  Making it through the first mission was not all that difficult.  The hardest part was getting the tweaked jump mechanic to bring down the shield generator, and even that only took a few tries.  What was most different was the story integration.  I really cannot comment regarding the weapon selection more than this simply because they have been rather limited in what they have made available.

There was a lot more interaction between actual game play and cinematics.  I don’t really want to call them cut scenes because they contributed to a single smooth story.  If the transition between the cinematics and mission objectives is this clean in the release, it will be a true pleasure.  It really gave a sense of being a part of the story as you fight side-by-side with Zavala and Ikora, or Amanda flies you to the Cabal command ship.  One of the complaints of D1 was a lack of story content.  If what we saw in D2 carries through the entirety of the mission mode, then I believe that problem has been solved.  If you really prefer to grind, farm, and blow things up like my son does, don’t fret; you will be remembered, too.  While it wasn’t in the beta, there is still going to be the joys of patrol, raids, strikes and even more public events to shoot and loot.

There were two notable dislikes about the game mechanics, however.  First, the Nova Bomb type in the provided Super subtree.  It was essentially a giant purple dust bunny that drifted towards my target at about the same rate as a normal dust bunny caught in the airflow from my ceiling fan.  I know you can shoot it to create the old Shatter effect, but this seems rather pointless.  Nova Bombs are basically shoot and forget attacks.  Powerful enough that you can blast this problem while you turn your attention elsewhere.  I understand that a more traditional Nova is available in the other tree, so I’m not going to be too concerned at this point.  And, with experimentation, perhaps shooting the drifting fuzzball will has some tactical use found, so I will hold off passing judgement until I get the full abilities of the Warlock at my disposal.

Much more concerning is the cool down times for all the class abilities.  Grenades and melees did seem a bit weaker, but I’ll attribute that going back to half the power of my current Warlock in D1.  I can live with that.  But the cool downs?  Even without any attribute modifiers these are simply atrocious.  A bare bones grenade/melee recharge in Destiny 1 is on the order of 1′ 10″ and the super recharge is 5′ 30″.  In Destiny 2, grenade/melee is at a base 1′ 30″ and super recharge is an incredible 7′ 30″.

That’s right, a full two minutes longer for your Super.

Yes, I’ve heard the defense that we will be able to shorten this with gear.  However, this is equally true in D1, so the argument is weak.  The whole “space magic” concept is a fundamental concept of Destiny.  The baseline changes made here greatly undermine one of the key appeals of the game, in my opinion.  The changes made are too extreme to simply be considered balancing, or even nerfs.  They feel and play more like a complete shift in paradigm for the game.  The way my son put it after playing was that Destiny 2 feels like all the other games now.  In the weakening of class abilities, I have to admit he is right.

The intent was (according to interviews) to get players to think about the use of these special skills.  The actual result is to make players ask, “What’s the point?”  This paradigm shift is going to be particularly important in the story.  The plot here is that we have been cut off from the Light and our struggle to regain our powers.  The change rather undermines that plot point.

They have added additional class abilities.  For example, Hunters now have a dodge ability that is very similar to the Nightstalker’s Shadestep.  This is good, unfortunately, it suffers from the same problem as all the other abilities: cool down.  Shadestep had something like a 3 second timer – about half the double charges of Blink’s 6 seconds.  In D2, this has been extended to 17 seconds.  Again, it is way too long for good game flow in a space magic shooter.  And I will say one last time, I do take into account that this is prior to any gear perks.  I still rank up new gear in D1, so I do know what it is like to have no gear bonuses.

One last element that has had a lot of discussion has been movement and game speed.  This one is probably a matter of taste more than anything.  Me?  I am a more deliberate player, class perks focused more on armor and recovery, aiming down sights, more deliberate in my actions.  My son, however is a run-n-gun player.  The game speed has certainly nudged in my direction, but he’s less happy than I am about it, especially in Crucible.  Honestly, though, I think the biggest issue here is also connected to ability recharge.  If your innate skills were still viable, the game would definitely feel faster, even though it was paced slower.

Since I’ve gone rather long, I’ll summarize and close up for now.  There’s a lot of good things done in Destiny 2 and it is promising – good weapons system changes and more story.  However, the biggest problems are in areas that are a part of the unique fun of the game – space magic.  The good news is that these are elements that are particularly easy to balance.  It’s just a matter of whether Bungie has the desire to do so.  Even so, after playing the beta for a couple hours, it has shifted my position.  Rather than being a Day One player, while I will still get the game it is now a matter of when.  If the issues described here are addressed, it will be sometime after the first week or during the first month.  If they aren’t addressed, then it will be when I can get a discounted price after the game is out and they bundle in DLC, as they did in the original game.  No matter what, I will still be playing a lot more of Destiny 1 than I originally expected.  I will play some more of the Beta release over the weekend.  This may change my mind.  Either way, I’ll write a final follow-up of my thoughts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *