The Destiny 2 beta is here to pretend to test netcode and gather feedback while actually delivering a marketing hard sell for Bungie's sci-fi shooter sequel into millions of homes. As such, it has quite a big and multifaceted job to do. Destiny gripped a very large community of hardcore players like few games do, but it turned just as many away with its charmless air, its garbled storytelling and its unrepentant grind. Activision and Bungie have many different constituencies to win over with this beta, from the nitpicking superfans, through the players that drifted away, to the players that bounced off it or never tried it in the first place.
We've got representatives of pretty much every one of these constituencies on the EG team, so we thought we'd round up all of their thoughts on the beta to see how it's doing. The results, as you'll see, are pretty mixed. Most of us said we'd play Destiny 2 (most of us will have to play it for work, but for the purposes of this article we're pretending otherwise), but most expressed some reservations. And, crucially, among those who weren't convinced first time around, the Destiny 2 beta doesn't seem to be changing any minds.
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The hardcore fan
Tom Phillips played Destiny for hundreds of hours during its first year. And then he started again from scratch so he could join us on PS4 (he started out on Xbox One). He has played every expansion to death and collected his Moments of Triumph; he's even got into Crucible, despite not being a natural PvPer. He's currently on a quest to see the rarefied Lighthouse social space before Bungie shuts down the timed event which grants access to it.
The most frequent piece of feedback I've seen on Destiny 2 is that Bungie's sequel simply looks like more Destiny. After playing the original game a lot and the beta now for a fair while, I would agree completely. And yet as someone who's also spent the past three years asking for exactly this - more Destiny to play - I don't see that as a huge problem.
Let's call that 2 what it is - a signal that Destiny is opening its doors to new players without any need to have played and stuck with the first game over the past three years. New PC players, lapsed console players, fresh Kinderguardians. Last year's Rise of Iron expansion suggested a need to start afresh. Destiny 2 feels like a way to get more people involved in Destiny's spiderweb of gameplay loops, with three years of learning quietly stashed under the hood.
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The beta itself is a little threadbare; there's a lot less here than in the beta for Destiny 1. But Destiny has never been about finishing the campaign and clocking off. Playing Destiny means exploring everything available after your first runthrough. So, after playing through all of the beta's contents on Tuesday night, I jumped back back in yesterday for a second evening's play with friends. I had a better idea what I was doing, different weapons, and knowledge of the past 24 hours of the Destiny community's learnings and exploits. (Half the fun comes from playing Destiny; the other half is checking its reddit and seeing what others have found or are up to.)
And so my second run at the Strike was spent probing the boundaries of the gameplay area, looking for the secrets fans have found tucked into its level. Mysterious doors, vehicles. Wes could tell you a story about how I blew myself up. Matt and I probed an area we probably weren't supposed to and got stuck, before he made it out by jumping on my head. Trying different classes, subclasses, learning the new strategies and tweaks. Destiny is still a complex and opaque experience for new players; the beta is a beckoning invite to get a small taste.
The lapsed player
For the first year, Wesley Yin-Poole was the most committed Destiny player of all of us, a raid leader, and the linchpin of the Clan most of us belong to. But then real life intervened: after his daughter arrived in late 2015, he realised that babies were incompatible with games you can't pause, and he has barely touched Destiny since.
I want the Destiny 2 beta to convince me to get stuck back in when the game launches proper in September. Unfortunately it doesn't have a great deal going for it in this regard, but I can still feel it calling me, whispering sweet nothings in my ear. "One more Crucible match," the beta breathes. "Just... one... more..."
While the opening story mission is a good start for Destiny 2's under-pressure campaign, it doesn't suggest any great improvement over The Taken King expansion. And while the Strike is big, open and lengthy, it doesn't suggest Bungie has torn up the Destiny Strike rulebook. The Crucible, then, is where I've had the most fun with the beta. By dropping from 6v6 in Destiny 1 to 4v4 in Destiny 2, Bungie has calmed down the game's competitive portion. I enjoyed the chaos of Destiny 1's Crucible, but the more I play Destiny 2's PvP, the more I have faith it was the right call. A friend recently suggested to me that by making Crucible 4v4 and displaying the super availability of your teammates and opponents on-screen, Bungie is preparing Destiny's PvP for an esports push. That's a good shout, I reckon.
The community is worried that Bungie's push to tame PvP is hurting the PvE game. I can see that. Having favourite weapon types like shotguns and sniper rifles relegated to power weapons, with scarcer ammo, makes the gunplay feel blander, as the other weapon types blend into one another. They really need to speed up the rate at which you get a super, too, though that can be patched. Perhaps they'll need to balance PvE and PvP separately in the long run.
Elsewhere, though, the Destiny 2 beta feels very much like more of the same. There are glitches to uncover, cheeses to exploit and more Cabal, Vex and Fallen to shoot. None of this feels particularly exciting to me. And what have they done to my beloved Hunter? It's been nerfed into oblivion, with a class ability that pales into comparison with those of the Titan and the Warlock. The Hunter as it stands is so bad, I can see hardcore raiding groups turn them away.
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But there are always the guns. Already I've picked up a few guns that feel amazing to shoot. A legendary auto rifle called Deathstalker-4AU0 came with a solar damage mod equipped; I feel each bullet as it leaves the weapon, and watch with glee as the solar tracer fires across my screen into the heads of the Cabal. And the sound of it! Say what you will about Destiny's story and grind, but it's got the best weapons of any first-person shooter around.
Will I play Destiny 2 when it comes out in September? Absolutely. But will I play it as obsessively as I did Destiny 1? The beta has yet to convince me of that.
Oli Welsh played Destiny a lot at launch (he reviewed it), but then moved on fairly quickly. He has dipped back in for every new expansion, save last year's Rise of Iron, to play the missions and run Strikes for a week or two. He has been on one raid and has no interest whatsoever in PvP.
With Destiny, I skipped straight to the kind of gaming relationship that it took me six years to get to with World of Warcraft: short bursts of intense enthusiasm whenever there's something new to race through, but able to unhook myself from the endgame before the grind really sets in. With its numerical title and character reset, Destiny 2 talks like a sequel, but it walks like an expansion pack, so I'm looking at it as I would a WOW add-on: will it make me fall in love again like Legion, or leave me cold like Mists of Pandaria?
Based on the beta, I'm sure I'll enjoy playing it, but I've got some concerns. I love character class design and am a serial alt-starter, so the first thing I'd be looking for from this release is a new class, and I'm fresh out of luck. The new and tweaked subclasses don't cut it, and in fact seem more thematically muddled than they used to be.
The bombastic opening mission reminded me of the opening missions of Bungie's Halo games, which is great, but also necessarily reminds me of the last 16 years of overbearing Halo copycats, which is not so great. Destiny definitely needed something to go where its amputated storyline should have been, but I'm not sure that thing should have been chewed-over action movie quips or generic space battle cut-scenes. And why are the new antagonists just a remix of the first game's least interesting enemy? Destiny was a cold fish alright, but it did have an oddball mystique which seems to have been blown away by all the explosions.
The Strike is great fun; as someone who enjoys multiplayer PvE but not PvP, Strikes are Destiny's raison d'être for me, and I wasn't begging for them to be changed. But without any new enemy designs or visual ideas to mix things up, it could have been lifted from any of the last four expansions or the original game. As it stands, the beta fails my WOW expansion test. It's good to have Destiny back, but unless the new planets really blow me away, this year's holiday in the solar system looks like it will be a short one.
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Ian Higton played a lot of Destiny when it first came out, but felt that whatever magic was hooking his friends was passing him by. The repetitive gameplay and rinse-and-repeat loot cycle swiftly killed his enthusiasm and he's not touched it in over two years.
Did the Destiny 2 beta offer any signs that it might appeal to me more? The short answer is: no, it didn't. Aside from the addition of some much-needed personality, the gameplay in the campaign and Strike missions felt identical to that of its predecessor.
I can see why people enjoy the social aspect of the game, sure, but when compared to PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, another team-based shooter I've been playing a lot of recently, Destiny 2 just feels dull. While PUBG gets the pulse racing, Destiny 2's bullet-sponge boss battles seem like nothing more than a mind-numbing grind. I'm sure I'll stick with it for the first couple of weeks after release; maybe I'll even convince myself the hollow, endless shooting is fun. In the end though, I'm confident it'll be uninstalled and forgotten about by the end of the year.
Chris Tapsell didn't play Destiny at launch because his friends were all on PC and he was too busy with League of Legends. He considers himself a noob, though he did play a little campaign and Crucible during the Taken King era. He will have to play Destiny 2 for work whether he likes it or not.
'The best gunplay in the world,' is what I've been told to expect. 'Sort-of-okay gunplay and the worst platforming in the history of video games,' would probably be my reply - or at least that's how I feel after a day with the beta.
Maybe there's a little hyperbole on both sides there. Destiny 2 feels just fine, just like the original did during my brief (apparently 20-odd hours is brief for Destiny) time with it. But fine, of course, is nowhere near good enough for a game of such magnitude. A game crowned as saviour of the industry's lengthy post-Zelda siesta; a game which caused a total evacuation (Knack 2 aside, god bless it) of rival releases from the months in either direction. Clearing the whole launch month isn't enough for Destiny 2, it seems - the entire month before it must be barren too. The hunger must be absolute!
Anyway, after a day or so with the beta I've probably had my fill. Clumsy, irrelevant platforming sections in shooters are self-indulgent at the best of times, but downright unforgivable in a world after Titanfall 2, and I'm also struggling to agree with the more prodigious claims about Destiny's gunplay. Doom and Wolfenstein brought the bellowing feedback to far greater levels of excess. Titanfall nailed the popping headshot's fut-fut-fut - and even Halo 4, I say with absolutely no sense of irony, did that series' own superlative sound design more justice than Bungie has since. These games are the catharsis to Destiny's perpetual motion.
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Basically, I'm not really feeling it. Not yet, anyway. Right now I'll take an Assault Rifle over an "exotic" peashooter any day of the week. But maybe a few hundred more hours will do it.
Johnny Chiodini has never played Destiny before - he wanted to play it on a next-generation console but didn't have one at launch, and by the time he did have one, he felt he was too far behind to catch up. And now he's feeling a bit confused.
The last time I played a new shooter from Bungie was when Halo: Reach launched - alarmingly, the best part of a decade ago - and while I found myself having to contend with a lot of assumed knowledge I didn't have, the Destiny 2 beta reminded me how good it can feel to get a space-age gun in your hand and make it go thumpathumpathumpa. There's such a particular feel to Bungie's first-person shooters that, in many ways, running around The Tower and peppering big brutish aliens (I am told these are called The Red Legion) felt like coming home - albeit a home in which some people I don't know are throwing a party and using lots of slang I don't understand. And doing embarrassing dances. And I'm suddenly in my sixties. How do you do, fellow kids?
So it's a bit awkward, but I'll hang around. Some friends and I played The Division together, and it's clear from the beta this is the natural next game for us to muck around in.