Destiny has been playing catch-up ever since its hugely anticipated launch in 2014. Even its most dedicated players would likely admit that the game it started as didn’t come close to living up to its potential, but thanks to a number of corrective updates and expansions from the developers at Bungie, it has been inching its way toward that promise ever since.
Destiny 2 is being touted as a fresh start, a chance for the game’s creators to take everything they’ve learned with the original and funnel it into a bigger, fuller experience that can appeal to new and veteran players alike. Activision recently held a “beta test” (read: limited-time demo) to give players a taste of what this sequel is all about, so we grabbed three A.V. Club staffers with varying levels of Destiny love to play through its offerings and discuss whether this appetizer has them looking forward to September 6 for the main course.
I have been waiting to play Destiny 2 since I completed Destiny in the span of a couple days and sat wondering where the rest of the game was. The seemingly infinite promise of Bungie, makers of a handful of the best games ever (Halo, Halo 3, Halo Reach, don’t @ me), setting their sights on a pseudo-MMO turned out to be a pretty cold, unfulfilling reality. It had a handful of intriguing single-level stretches, a surprisingly cynical Call Of Duty clone for multiplayer, and… that was it?
I had pored over its evocative concept art, envisioned the vehicular glory of Halo stretched across a solar system, and imagined those hundreds of hours spent trudging through The Library feeding a glorious RPG-style progression. What we got instead was a notorious, immortal grind for loot, doubled down with each expansion over the course of a couple of years. More types of currency, more grinds, a handful of new locales, but generally, you knew what you were getting: a reason to run the same couple of levels over and over on the off-chance of finding a better pair of gloves. Bungie has discussed Destiny 2 as an opportunity to give the series a clean start, but, going off Destiny 2’s beta, it’s very much more of the same, down to its menu designs. A short intro level comprises the sort of scripted, Nathan Fillion-core action they’d occasionally funnel you toward, and the two available multiplayer levels could’ve been plucked directly from the original game. They haven’t learned anything from recent forward-thinking shooters like Overwatch or Splatoon, or even the charming throwback action of Halo 5. It’s twitchy, class-based objective shooting all the way.
The best of the beta’s offerings, to my mind, is the strike, which holds the extremely Destiny name of “The Inverted Spire.” It was a sort of baffling patchwork of different locations and ideas, but all of them worked, including some interesting verticality in the opening stretch and a war-torn, trench-filled desert-like landscape. A whole level set in those dips and valleys would be a dizzying, paranoia-inducing grind. Here, you blast right through it on your way to the next attraction, but I’d happily spend an hour or so making my way through them. Whether or not Bungie’s level designers have that confidence remains to be seen.
Anyway, if all that sounds disappointed, it’s not. I’ve got the beginning of September set aside for another frenzied grind. I remain stupidly sold on the potential of the base idea, and the game still feels terrific, its guns differentiated enough that I have grown to know, and hate, the entire armory on-hand in the beta. That’s a good thing—I yearned for an upgrade. Head shots remain pneumatic little wonders in the game, and if the levels can stretch out a bit—and commit to any coherent sense of mood, architecture, and landscape—they’ll be a wonderful place to grind in, at least until I grow incandescent with fury at its Skinner-box machinations and swear the whole thing off forever, only to recant when some DLC promises me a new scarf.
What’d you guys think?
Anyone familiar with my writing on this site knows that I have a very special relationship with Destiny. It’s my first-ever first-person shooter, essentially. Every time I had previously attempted one, I started it, immediately sucked at it, and quit. With Destiny, I committed to playing every day for a month, and slowly worked my way up from hopelessly incompetent know-nothing to barely passable noob, under the guidance of my watchful tutor. I continued to play the multiplayer Control levels for a time afterward, but still have yet to translate that into an attempt at another FPS. (Which one would get me addicted?) So I was very excited for Destiny 2. And after spending a good portion of my weekend playing it, the best that I can say is it… seems to be more of the same? Which I thought was initially a good thing, but after hearing Clayton rag on it so hard, I’m wondering if my impression is irrevocably colored by a) my lack of a point of comparison, and b) my intensely personal relationship with the first one.
I had a grand time running through the introductory level, which is basically the exact opposite of how the first one began. Rather than a slow, simple beginning to the universe, this one throws you into a full-scale world-ending invasion, every step forward just plunging you into a new crisis with no time to catch your breath. If the rest of the game continues that breakneck pace, I’ll have no problems with it.
But that’s not why most people are here, right? It’s the multiplayer that functions as the main attraction for this game. (Or at least that’s what I had learned from my earlier Destiny experience, a view also being challenged by Clayton, who seemed to anticipate our several multiplayer outings together with a level of enthusiasm he usually reserves for dental appointments.) And to that, I can only say Destiny 2’s multiplayer is almost note-for-note identical in terms of play. It’s a nonstop orgy of head shots and tactical maneuvering, as teams run pell-mell throughout a small architectural hiccup, trying to unload their clips into the other side. I had fun, but I confess to a bit of disappointment that there wasn’t something new in the mix. (The one alteration I approved of was some variance in the supercharged weapons, mine being essentially a thunderous lightsaber that I quite enjoyed slamming down in the middle of enemies to vaporize several at once.)
I agree that the strike mission was enormous fun, an opportunity to alternate between high-octane shoot-outs and perilous attempts to simply navigate from one end of a cliff face to the other. And even though we couldn’t manage to crack the code of defeating it in our three-man team, I later joined up with a few randos online and successfully brought down the boss. I’m still not very good at first-person shooters, and spent a while just recapturing the basic skills I had lost since the last time I played Destiny, but I’m very ready to pick this up when it comes out. Matt, help me out here: Is this just the clueless ranting of someone ignorant in the ways of a better first-person shooter?
First things first: I’m coming into this as the most skeptical of Destiny skeptics among us. Where Clayton was able to hang in there and grind his way through the first game, I gave up after a few hours. I just could not be bothered to worry about all the different numbers and levels and material gathering all for the sake of advancing through a well-crafted but completely soulless game. Everything I’d heard in the months and years after launch, as the game wracked up expansion after expansion, made it sound like Bungie’s developers were figuring it out as they went along and slowly turning the game into what everyone wanted it to be. I always had an itch to give it another shot, but by then, the time to jump on was long past. Naturally, Destiny 2 seemed like the perfect opportunity to see what I was missing.
Now that my cynicism has been established, I’m going to go ahead and say, no, Alex, I don’t think you’re crazy for digging what this “beta” was putting down. The cinematic tutorial level it puts you through, while not much of an actual tutorial—which would’ve been helpful for a relative newbie like me who had no clue how to use his class ability or what the descriptions on the high-level weapons meant—was a pretty enjoyable, explosive start. I think most Destiny fans, not the hardest of the hardcore but your average player, would agree with Clayton that the game is really about these scripted story levels, strikes, and raids, rather than the competitive multiplayer. When you get down to the substance of what was on offer in this preview, it’s not all that different from the action-movie spectacle you’ll find in a Call Of Duty, but Bungie’s best-in-class artists sure do make the proceedings infinitely more interesting to look at. Destiny 2 embraces color and scale in a big way, making great use of open skies, distant vistas, and streaks of eye-popping color. It’s something Bungie has always excelled at, but it’s cranked to a whole new level here.
Not everything about this modest taste is getting me excited to give the sequel a chance in September, though. As an outsider looking in, it seems like Bungie has doubled down on a few things that some of its dedicated fans celebrated in the past but that entirely turn me off. I know a little bit of platforming worked its way into the original Destiny, bringing some diversity to a tedious game that badly needed it. There was a ton of it here. The Destiny 2 beta’s introductory level had a really irritating platforming sequence and the strike is full of it, from bouncing between floating platforms, to dodging giant mining blades (something that killed both me and Alex a few times). It changes up the pace between firefights well enough and can provide a dizzying sense of verticality, but it’s just not very fun to actually do. The platforming even worked its way into the strike’s boss fight, making what was already an arduous battle cross into frustratingly unpredictable territory.
And if my biggest beef with the original game was a general lack of personality, a deficiency uncannily embodied by Peter Dinklage’s apathetic robot-orb sidekick, then Destiny 2 has swung back around to having too much of the wrong kind of personality. It’s not bad enough to make me quit outright, but the game’s sense of humor rubs me the wrong way. In the story missions, your Ghost loves spewing cutesy little lines into your ear, and in competitive play, the pompous announcer never stops bloviating. The game definitely needed more flavor, but this is not a flavor I enjoy. Then again, if I’m just chatting with friends and burning through the missions, it’s not the kind of thing that’ll end up souring the game too much. The mindless repetition is what’ll do that, and this demo definitely wasn’t enough to give me a sense of how bad that will be the second time around.