Three years ago, the beta for the first “Destiny” launched. It was a big deal — the first chance for the public to play the brand-new blockbuster franchise from the folks who created the massive “Halo” series. Hype levels were sky high, as were fans’ hopes.
When the beta arrived on July 17, 2014, it was… underwhelming. When the game came out a few months later, it was clear that the beta content was much of the full game. “Where’s the rest of the game?” some players wondered (myself included).
In the case of “Destiny 2,” the story is much different.
The beta for “Destiny 2,” which went live on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One earlier this week for those who pre-ordered, has been met with near-universal praise; and now, it’s available today for everyone on both consoles, for free.
I’ve been playing the beta since Wednesday, and am glad to say that it’s convinced even me — a spurned “Halo” fan who was tremendously disappointed by the first “Destiny” — that “Destiny 2” could be something special.
Allow me to explain.
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One of the biggest complaints about the first 'Destiny' was that the story was a mess. It's barely there, the dialog was full of clichés, the voice acting was done poorly, and it was hard to follow. To further confuse things, much of the game's story was offloaded to a website, where you could presumably read about it if you even knew it existed.
The very first thing in the 'Destiny 2' beta is the game's opening campaign mission, and it feels like an honest-to-goodness story mission. Major characters are introduced, the plot of the game is laid out, and environmental storytelling is everywhere -- the foundational stuff for any good video game campaign mode.
We're still talking about a blockbuster video game here, so the dialog isn't exactly comparable with David Simon screenplays -- think second-tier Marvel movie.
There are a few different things you can do in the 'Destiny 2' beta.
- The game's first campaign mission, which is the very first thing you'll do when you start it up. It automatically booted for me before I could choose anything else.
- A 'strike' from 'Destiny 2,' which is a co-operative mission that you take on with other actual humans over the internet.
- The game's 'Crucible' mode, which is online multiplayer. There are two different options here, each of which offers its own map and game type.
Of the trio, the beta's strike mission is by far the most impressive. It's a lengthy mission that you play co-operatively with other actual human players (the game matches you up easily and quickly). It's got vast areas where you'll need to navigate insane jumps while avoiding enemies. It's got huge boss fights that demand team cooperation.
Most importantly, the strike mission delivers on the promise of 'Destiny' from the start: It feels as though you're actually venturing out into the wild with a crew of friends, in a massive world with hostile alien creatures.
In the first 'Destiny,' there was a lot of replaying missions. In order to get better gear, you had to replay missions to 'grind' your character's level up. As your level increased, the better the gear you'd find while playing those missions. It's a loop.
That concept is likely to return in 'Destiny 2,' but the strike in the beta was the first 'Destiny' anything I've played that I wanted to immediately play again. There were areas I hadn't explored! Maybe we could beat the boss faster next time! What if I want to play it with friends instead of random internet people?
If the strike in the beta is anything like what the full 'Destiny 2' has, that's great news. It's a lengthy and thrilling strike, and a dozen or so of those would make a pretty killer game.
The shooting in 'Destiny 2' is top-of-class. Each weapon feels distinct, and how well you aim really matters.
Of all the faults with the first 'Destiny,' its shooting was not one. In the case of the 'Destiny 2' beta, the same level of care is evident.
Shooting feels precise, with each shot and where it lands mattering greatly. It's reminiscent of the excellent shooting from the 'Halo' franchise, which Bungie created years ago. For example, one enemy type I repeatedly encountered is a fire-shooting alien. On his back, there's a massive gas tank -- thus, if you can flank him, that gas tank can be shot for a far quicker dispatch (the explosion hurts other nearby enemies as well).
It's little touches like those that endear players to the kind of game that 'Destiny 2' is -- one where you'll play the same missions many times over as a means of finding new loot. Put simply: The base mechanic, shooting, had better be good. 'Destiny 2' seemingly nails this.
Something that put me off the first 'Destiny' was how repetitive the story missions were. You'd show up to a place, activate a marker, and fight several waves of enemies as you waited for something to finish so you could progress -- maybe your robot had to activate something that required processing, or needed to download something, or whatever. The structure was obvious, and repeated many times over.
The first mission I played in the 'Destiny 2' beta demonstrated far more variance in activity. Again, it felt far more like a 'Halo' mission -- where I was battling through enemies as I progressed toward something. It's a subtle change, but one that made me want to play more of the game.
Unlike the first 'Destiny' beta back in 2014, I'm actively excited to play 'Destiny 2' when it launches on September 6 (on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 -- a PC version is planned for launch in late October).
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