Destiny 2: First Impressions

When I first started Tihema’s Dilemmas I wrote in the “About” section that one of the things I might write about was gaming. I haven’t made good on that yet, so I’m trying something new. In September this year, one of my most anticipated games is being released: Destiny 2, the sequel to Destiny, one of my all-time favourite games. This week, the Beta for D2 (as I’ll call it from here on out) was launched; it’s essentially a very limited version of the near-final game, almost like a demo, that allows players to get a handle on things and for the developers to test how it runs with the public. So while the game is practically finished, the Beta allows the developers, Bungie, to see players’ reactions, monitor how things work, and then tweak them before final release if necessary. Having had early access to the Beta and plenty of time to milk all of the limited content, here are my thoughts (in two parts) on how D2 looks so far and what we can expect for the final release in September. It’s important to remember that the Beta is, in many respects, already a dated build of the game and there are several minor matters, such as varying weapon damage and low frequency of ammo drops, that will not be an issue in the final release. I’ve focussed my comments more on the fundamentals of the new game, which aren’t likely to change too much by September.

A crash-course on Destiny

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Destiny cover (2014)

To first bring those unfamiliar with Destiny up to speed, D1 released in 2014 for PS4/PS3 and Xbox One/Xbox 360. It’s a game that doesn’t neatly fit into a particular genre, as it contains aspects of first-person shooters (FPS), role-playing games (RPG), and massively-multiplayer online (MMO) games; you run around shooting aliens with an array of unique, powerful guns, you create your own “Guardian” and customise their abilities to suit your play-style, and the game is always connected to the internet, meaning it doesn’t stop to pause or save and you are, most of the time, sharing the game’s overworld with other players. At the time of D1’s release it was an entirely new style of game that virtually established its own genre, which has since inspired others such as Ubisoft’s The Division and Bioware’s upcoming Anthem. Although there were issues with D1’s initial release, particularly relating to an incomprehensible and barely existent story, balancing problems, and an unforgiving “grind” for gear, over time Bungie addressed much of these issues (to an extent) and a dedicated community developed around the game. At its core, D1’s genuinely fun gun-play, supported by interesting powers and abilities, shone through, keeping its players coming back time and again for its cooperative and competitive features – mainly the lengthy, six-player raids, and the challenging player vs player (PvP) modes of the Crucible.

Finally, a good Destiny story

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The Cabal Invasion (source: https://store.playstation.com/#!/en-hk/games/destiny-2-pre-order/cid=UP0002-CUSA05042_00-ASIAPLACEHOLDER0)

Now, onto D2. The first, most obvious and most welcome change is D2’s focus on story. This was something severely lacking in D1 and, despite efforts to improve it with subsequent expansions, story always remained a sore point among players. Bungie has clearly learned its lesson, evident from the moment the Beta opens with a great cinematic of the invasion by the Cabal’s Red Legion that sets D2’s events in motion. The mission that follows is a lot of fun, both functionally and dramatically. It was definitely a nerdy thrill seeing the Vanguard – the leaders of the Guardians – in action with me, and there are a few moments where the scale of the game’s set-up is really sold; devastating views of the Cabal fleet laying waste to the City and attacking the Traveller, which gives Guardians its power, and the incredulous comments of your Ghost as you fight your way through the ruins of the Tower. This all culminates in the arrival of D2’s villain, Ghaul, who is unlike any Destiny villain before him. He’s not a vague, faceless force nor a vengeant space-God; he’s a character like you, with motive that is believable and frightening.

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Dominus Ghaul (source: http://www.playstationlifestyle.net/2017/07/19/destiny-2-ghaul-villain-series-always-needed/)

Based on this first mission, it’s clear Bungie is really pushing its ability to tell a compelling story and that alone is enough to win me over. The Destiny universe is packed with potential for great story-telling, so I’m stoked to see it being explored. Bungie clearly wants us to have more of an incentive to play this game, to feel something about what we’re doing and why. It’s an emotional investment that was almost completely absent in D1 and one that I am excited to be able to make in D2.

My only gripe is it’s a little disappointing to see our Guardian still doesn’t have any dialogue of their own. I think that decision has been made quite deliberately by Bungie based on a philosophy that our Guardians are templates for us to project our own characters onto. That said, I disagree with it completely. It’s hard to feel like my Guardian is a real part of this greater story Bungie is telling when they have no agency, when they’re basically just a puppet being strung along. I don’t need a whole set of Mass Effect-style dialogue options, but some arbitrary comments here and there would really help me feel like my Guardian truly inhabits this universe.

An evolution of the Destiny experience

D2 looks fantastic. Doing away with last-gen consoles has enabled Bungie to really push themselves visually, and it shows in almost every aspect. The general art direction of Destiny has remained, but it’s shinier and sleeker, and small things like particle effects really pop with colour and texture. The new settings are amazing – Nessus, an entirely new planet, looks awesome, with a stark palette of grey, stone Vex architecture, waterfalls of glowing white Vex-milk, and bright scarlet flora. It feels like a vast world waiting to be explored, which brings a sense of scale new to Destiny.

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A view of Nessus during the new Strike, The Inverted Spire (source: http://www.usgamer.net/articles/22-07-2017-destiny-2-inverted-spire-strike-guide-full-mission-walkthrough)

The new  3-player Strike that takes place on Nessus, The Inverted Spire, is pretty cool and actually feels a bit like a mini-Raid; there’s a pulse-pounding sequence involving a giant, multi-armed drill, and the final boss battle occurs in stages, each requiring you to think differently about how you engage the boss. Running solo and mic-less, I wished I could communicate with my teammates to strategise our approach to the boss in its final stage, something I’ve just never really needed to do in a Strike. I was actually surprised by the difficulty in places, and my fireteam and I wiped more than a few times during that final fight.

As for the new Cabal enemies, the Red Legion, they’re pretty fearsome, with some upgrades to their weaponry as well as entirely new soldiers to deal with. The Gladiators are dual cleaver-wielding Cabal who are surprisingly agile and very dangerous up close; the Incendiors utilise flamethrowers, and while challenging to defeat, they do have the cliched weakness of a big gas tank on their back that will detonate if you shoot it. The most unique addition to the Cabal are their War Beasts; ravenous dog-like creatures that will mess you up if you allow them to outnumber you or back you into a corner. Aside from them, the classic Legionnaires, Phalanxes, and Psions have been given upgrades; the Legionnaires can now make use of a retractable blade to damage you up close; while the Phalanxes’ shields can expand to provide cover for a number of their allies. The only dumb thing about this change is that these shields have a glowing central point that can be shot at to deactivate the shield. It makes no sense to me why any intelligent, heavily militarised space army would use a shield that can be deactivated by being shot at. As for the Psions, they seem to be way more deadlier than before as they can now snipe with some real damage. And their Psionic Blast now throws you into the air, which makes you very vulnerable. It’s good to see them offer a bit more of a challenge as I’ve always considered them fairly easy to deal with.

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The upgraded Phalanx shields (complete with bulls-eye target to deactivate it) with one of the new dual-cleaver wielding Gladiators in the background (source: https://gamerant.com/destiny-2-reveal-trailer-easter-egg/)

What’s new?

D2 has done away with the Intelligence, Discipline, and Strength stats (which affect cooldown times for Super, grenades, and melee abilities respectively) and replaced them with Resilience, Mobility, and Recovery. Resilience governs how much damage you can take, Mobility dictates your movement and jumping, and Recovery is about how quickly your health regenerates after taking damage. These stats actually existed in D1 but they were never really noticeable nor did they seem to really affect gameplay. I think I prefer that they’ve been given preference rather than cooldown times for abilities, but in saying that I haven’t really noticed any change that adjusting them makes to my Guardian, for example, building a higher mobility stat hasn’t made me feel any faster yet. To be fair, adjusting these stats is tied to armour and the different values that individual pieces of armour apply to them. So, as this is only a Beta, the range of armour with different stat values is very limited, meaning the change in stats actually possible is quite limited. Maybe in the full game, with much more gear to choose from that will change stat distribution more drastically, the associated changes to those stats will be more noticeable.

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The character menu, showing the new stats on the right-hand side

With the old stats that governed ability cooldown times now replaced, those cooldown rates now seem to have been applied to all classes universally. The way this has been handled is an issue for me; it seems that cooldown time is now really long, and I know, based on online forums, that a majority of players feel the same way. This affects some classes and some game modes in quite specific ways, and I’ll cover those in more detail in Part 2, but across the board longer ability cooldown times means less of what makes Destiny what it is – although gunplay is Destiny‘s strength, it should be complemented by frequent and effective ability-use. It’s the explosive combination of cool guns and awesome abilities that make you feel like a powerful Guardian. So when grenade, melee and Super usage is so rare, and most of your combat has been reduced to gunfights only, what is there to differentiate D2 from any other shooter out there? Again, this may change in the final game with gear that affects ability cooldowns, but I really believe ability cooldowns on the whole could be reduced – I explore this more in Part 2.

One change I’m really stoked about is what seems like greater customisation options, both for play-style and vanity. Weapons and armour now carry modifier-slots; the Beta doesn’t allow any use of them, but I expect in the full game we will be able to acquire mods that alter an aspect of how the weapon can be used, and apply them as we choose. This, for me, is an awesome change. One of the things I hated about D1 was its random rolling of gear; you could spend hours running a particular event over and over again to get a particular item to drop for you – dictated by a random-number generator (RNG) system – and that would come with a “roll” of different perks – also dictated by RNG. It was an immensely frustrating process that would lead people to spend hours chasing a “God roll” of particular perks on a particular item – this is the “grind” I referred to earlier. I know some people enjoyed this aspect of the game, but for me it took valuable time away from actually playing the game for its own fun. In D2, all guns and armour come with the same stats and perks, which removes the need to grind. By the looks of it, D2 players will be able to customise their gear to their own liking, removing the randomness and putting control of every piece of gear into players’ hands. Admittedly, we don’t yet know what the mods will actually be like, but I’m hopeful they’ll be an effective change.

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One of the new weapons, showing the “weapon mods” that will hopefully allow for some unique customisation

Tied to this is the apparent introduction of shaders – items that change your gear’s colour – for each piece of gear, including both weapons and armour. D1’s shaders were applied to your whole character, so being able to apply different shaders to individual pieces of armor allows for so much more customisation. Changing the colour of guns was something that only came about recently in D1, and even then it was limited to a few select weapons, with only one or two different options. D2 appears to allow shader application across the board, and it even looks like shaders can be applied to ships. It’s a simple change but I think all players will greatly appreciate the opportunity to customise every detail of their appearance to their own liking.

Still to come…

I’ll end the first part of my Destiny 2 First Impressions there. D2 is going to be a massive game, and even from the limited Beta, there is plenty to chew on. Part 2 of this piece will cover my breakdown of the different classes and their subclasses, the new weapon system, and some feedback on the pretty big PvP change-ups. Based on what I’ve covered so far, there is a lot to look forward to with D2, but the second half of this piece finds a bit to be critical about – stay tuned.

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