Destiny 2: First Impressions (Part 2)

Last week I started my two-part piece on my first impressions for Destiny 2, based on the Beta build that recently closed. In Part 1, I covered general improvements and all-new features, concluding that, despite some small concerns, things look pretty positive on the whole, especially due to the new focus on story. This week, I get a bit more detailed with analyses of the sub-classes, the new weapon system, and PvP changes.

Classes: an in-depth look

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D2’s Hunter, Titan, and Warlock (source: http://www.egmnow.com/articles/features/destiny-2-planets-release-date-guardian-class-updates/)

D1 evoked the classic RPG selection of classes (Warrior, Mage, Thief) with its Titan, Warlock, and Hunter. In D2 the classes have been reworked, and I’m not quite sure how to feel about them. One cool change is the introduction of new class-specific abilities – which I’ll cover in more detail for each class. But another change they all share that I’m not a fan of is the new approach to options for sub-class perks; each sub-class still has the choice of different grenade types and jumping abilities, but other perks have been grouped into one of two trees for each sub-class. My concern with this new system is that it almost eliminates any choice players have in their play-style. In D1, you could really tailor your perk selection to suit your play-style and the number of possible perk combinations was probably huge. With D2 every player is essentially being forced into one of two play-styles for each sub-class, which I think completely removes the whole appeal of picking a class and crafting it to suit you. I think I understand Bungie’s intention – in D1 some perks were just rubbish and no one ever picked them, leading to many players running the same perks because they were considered the best – but the clear answer to me is to simply ensure all perks are viable.

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The new skill-tree layout for the Dawnblade subclass, showing the grouped set of perks that, I feel, removes the opportunity for exploring and customising play-styles

I’ll start my in-depth look at each class with the Warlock, which is my favourite class. Warlocks were arguably the least-liked class in D1 as, in endgame content, their value as team players simply couldn’t match a Defender Titan or a Nightstalker Hunter. In D2, I think their usefulness in a fireteam is certainly better due primarily to their new class-specific ability, Rift, which either heals or improves weapon damage for those standing in it. Initially, however, I found myself torn on playing as a Warlock. What made Warlocks viable classes in D1 for me were the potency of their grenades and melee abilities, which had very useful side-effects both offensive and defensive, and their high Recovery rate. I mentioned the really long cooldown times for abilities in Part 1, and due to this, I simply wasn’t able to make use of my abilities as often, which meant I needed to rely on my neutral game much more. Warlocks lack the Mobility of Hunters, so it’s much harder to get out of gunfire and into cover or close the gap to finish an enemy off. At the same time, Warlocks don’t have the same Resilience that Titans do, meaning I just couldn’t take sustained fire for any period of time. So with no way of moving quickly out of danger or tanking damage, and fewer opportunities to melt an enemy with a grenade’s burning effects or buff my shields with a melee ability, I often found my health depleting rapidly even to the point of death, and not a lot I could do to get myself out of danger. In this situation, my Warlock’s high Recovery rate meant nothing – you can’t quickly recover health you don’t have. However, I think adjusting my Warlock’s stats through different gear – which I touched on Part 1 – will help with this issue in the final game. And, the more I play with the Warlock and get to grips with the new sub-classes, the more effective I’m finding it overall.

On those sub-classes, I’m pretty happy with the Dawnblade, the re-worked Sunsinger from D1. The Sunsinger’s Super, “Radiance”, which allowed you to come back to life after dying, has been replaced with “Daybreak”, where you get a flaming sword and wings to rain fiery devastation down upon your enemies. It’s fun to play with, feels powerful, and really mixes things up by its abilities that help you stay airborne for longer . If I have any complaint, it’s that Daybreak is a pretty shameless carbon copy of the Sunbreaker Titan’s “Hammer of Sol” Super from D1. I suppose if we ever get a return of a Solar subclass for a Titan in D2, I won’t be as bothered if it’s also received a change-up to differentiate it from the new Dawnblade. It’s not a biggie, though, and I already know the Dawnblade will be my go-to subclass as a Warlock.

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The reworked Voidwalker subclass

The reason why I prefer it over the Voidwalker is that I feel the changes to Voidwalker have depowered it. If you knew how to play Voidwalker in D1, you could be an absolute beast maintaining a constant cycle of sucking life-force from enemies to either restore your own or recharge your abilities. Its Super, “Nova Bomb”, was basically a kamehameha that ripped through anyone you came across. In D2, however, that’s all had quite a shake-up. There don’t seem to be the same life-stealing capabilities there were in D1, and with the relative fragility of the Warlock in D2, it seems to me that those types of abilities are essential now more than ever. As for the kamehameha Nova Bomb, it’s now more like a spirit bomb, except not the massive ones Goku makes – more like that crappy little one Krillin made that time and completely missed Vegeta with. In my first real test-run of the Voidwalker, I finally built up my Super and saw an opponent round a corner ahead of me. I instinctively pulled both triggers to let loose my Nova Bomb, expecting the blast of energy to annihilate the poor guy, and instead watched this huge ball just float lazily towards him. My target simply turned around and ran and I watched, dumbfounded, as this beach ball just sailed on into a wall and exploded harmlessly. I’ve now learned that the Nova Bomb can be detonated by firing at it, bursting it into smaller projectiles, which makes me think it could still be used really tactically. My counter to that, though, is that it’s not really consistent with every other Super, which don’t really require a lot of skill or thought. Of course you can completely botch a Super-use, but most of the time you pop your Super and the act alone either racks you up a kill or you’re given free reign to just go ham on everyone around you. It seems stupid to have to launch a Nova Bomb, knowing it probably won’t do anything on its own, then focus on shooting at it. For it to have any effect it needs to travel away from you before you detonate it, and by the time it’s reached a good distance, your original target is probably long gone. When I could just whip out a burning sword instead and run after enemies hurling blades of fire at them, I can’t really see any reason to take the Nova Bomb at all.

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The PoledancerArcstrider subclass

As for Hunters, I feel a bit sorry for them due to the changes they’ve undergone. Their new unique class ability just isn’t as useful as the others; it’s a sort of dodge that either instantly reloads your weapon or recharges your melee. It definitely has its uses, but it doesn’t really buff the player like the Warlock’s Rift or provides cover like the Titan’s Barrier. Most importantly, it doesn’t benefit teammates like the other two do. This fits with the whole persona of the Hunter as a “lone wolf”, but in practice the simple fact remains that the Hunter can’t support teammates to the same extent as the other classes. Luckily, Hunters are still the most agile of them, and controlling a Hunter feels speedy and lethal. As a Hunter, I felt much more efficient at add-clearing and generally making kills than I did as a Warlock, so that was something positive.

Like the Dawnblade, there’s little to fault about the PoledancerArcstrider subclass other than the loss of the ability to turn invisible and its general unoriginality. It’s essentially the same as the Bladedancer, its D1 predecessor, with its Super still putting you in an electrified frenzy and allowing you to leap around the battlefield zapping anyone you come into contact with. Except now with a pole, not a knife. It’s perfectly fine but a little uninspired.

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The Gunslinger

As for Gunslingers, they seem to have also been depowered like the Voidwalker. Although the Gunslinger Super, “Golden Gun”, now gives you six shots rather than three, the time to use it has been cut dramatically and each shot now does way less damage. A single Golden Gun shot won’t even kill the most basic of enemies, which is kind of outrageous. And if it won’t even down a grunt, then you can imagine how rubbish its damage output is on a boss. So it’s useless as an add-clearer, and useless as a boss-damager. What, then, is the point of using it at all? Like the Voidwalker and Nova Bomb, I honestly can’t see any reason to use it over another option, which is a shame. I really hope the damage gets buffed for the final game to at least make it a viable subclass choice.

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The Titan’s Captain AmericaSentinel subclass

Now, onto Titans. For me, they are by far the most viable class in D2. Playing as a Titan was an absolute blast. Their new class ability, “Barrier”, is a game-changer, and can be deployed either as a large barricade to seal off an area and damage any enemy who comes through it or a waist-high barrier to crouch behind that constantly reloads your gun for you. Compare either of those options to the other classes’ abilities and I think you’ll know which one you’d rather have. I still find it hard to believe Bungie even thinks there’s any competition between this class ability and the others, and that’s really my only complaint about Titans – functionally, they’re just better than the other two.

The Sentinel subclass – the reworked Defender from D1 – is categorically the best subclass in the game for pretty much one reason; instead of casting D1’s “Ward of Dawn” – the big, impenetrable blue dome that buffs anyone inside it – for its Super, the Sentinel summons a shield that basically turns you into Captain America. You can one-hit opponents with the shield, throw it at enemies and bounce it off walls, or use it as an actual shield to block attacks. But then, on top of all that, you can still use your Super to cast Ward of Dawn instead if you want. Sentinels basically have a choice of two different, very useful, Supers, which just doesn’t seem fair in comparison to the other classes. The equivalent for Dawnblade would be being able to die and then use your Super to resurrect yourself like you could back in D1.

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The Striker subclass

As for the Striker subclass, it too has a lot to recommend it. Its grenades are powerful, and its shoulder charge seems as potent as it was back in D1. In D1, though, its Super, “Fist of Havoc”, was an all-out, single hulk-smash of electrical energy that pulverised any enemy nearby. And it was single-use for good reason; it was basically unstoppable. So I can’t fathom why in D2 “Fist of Havoc” has become a roaming super; that is, it activates with the same initial hulk-smash, and then you can still run around smashing anything else you can get your hands on for a short period of time. Don’t get me wrong – it feels great to run around obliterating everyone – but it’s just odd that this subclass’s Super seems so much more powerful than the others’. Again, to compare it to another subclass, if the Voidwalker could loose multiple Nova Bombs as part of a roaming super, I feel the two would be on a more even footing. But, of course, allowing a Voidwalker to throw out multiple one-hit-killing attacks would make it ridiculously overpowered. So why, then, has the same logic not been applied to the Striker? It boggles my mind.

In summary, playing as a Titan feels great. It feels like a Titan should; a tank, capable of taking hits but definitely dishing them out as well. The problem is that the other classes don’t feel like this. Playing as them doesn’t evoke an equivalent sense of class identity, they aren’t as viable from a gameplay perspective, and they simply aren’t as fun. It’s a real shame and something I hope Bungie addresses for the final release. I don’t want the Titan to be nerfed down to the others’ level; as I said back in Part 1, it’s the over-the-top abilities on top of the slick gun-play that makes Destiny enjoyable, that makes you feel like a powerful Guardian. Ideally, the Titan stays as is and the other two classes are buffed in some way to bring them up to the Titan’s level.

Weapon changes

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One of the new submachine guns – and an Exotic at that

I’ve said already that Destiny‘s greatest strength is its gunplay – the way each weapon feels in your Guardian’s hands. Despite this, Bungie struggled throughout D1’s lifespan at making every weapon type a viable choice for players, especially in the Crucible, and unfortunately never really struck the right balance. Their answer for D2 though is a thoughtful one that I think will bring the balance most players desire – on one condition.

In D1, weapon types were divided into Primary, Special, and Heavy types and only one of each type was equipped at once. In D2 these three types have been overhauled, replaced with Kinetic, Energy, and Power. Both the Kinetic and Energy types consist of what D1 players would consider Primary weapons (Hand cannons, Scout Rifles, Pulse Rifles, Auto Rifles etc), but the distinction is that the Energy types have elemental damage, such as solar, arc, or void, attached to them. The Power type replaces D1’s Heavy slot, and here’s where you’ll find all the big-hitting weapons that are likely to one-shot somebody (Shotguns, Sniper Rifles, Rocket Launchers etc).

I think this is a clever move, forcing players to make more use of those “primary” weapons and save their more powerful weapons for when it matters. In PvP, this is a welcome change – as ammo for powerful weapons like shotguns and sniper rifles was fairly readily available in D1, primary weapons basically became redundant. Confrontations with opponents weren’t exactly fair when one player just needed to blindly loose a shotgun at everyone they came across – and then when every player jumped on that bandwagon out of necessity to compete the fun just disappeared. So I for one am a fan of the changes to weapon types – I like the idea of being able to mix up my two primaries with one long range and one short, as well as having longer gunfights that require a bit more skill.

My one caveat is that, for this system to work in PvE (Player vs Environment, or basically when you’re playing against computer-controlled enemies), either weapon damage must be higher or ability cooldowns must be shorter – or both. The emphasis on primary weapons works in PvP because it forces a greater reliance on pure skill of gun-play, which is what you want in a competitive environment. PvE, though, is an entirely different matter. Enemies in PvE generally take much more damage to put down than an opposing Guardian in the Crucible, so severely limiting the use of more powerful weapons such as shotguns, sniper rifles, and rocket launchers makes battling through PvE that much more of a chore. It’s just not fun to sink an entire clip of a hand cannon into a single enemy to bring them down, and downright annoying when you’re faced with a wave of enemies to sink multiple clips into. Plus, I’ve talked already about how ability-use is what makes you feel powerful as a Guardian in Destiny’s universe. Buffing weapon damage or decreasing ability cooldowns, or both, will make fighting through enemies less tiresome and more fun, while allowing the double-primary arrangement to remain for the purposes of PvP. There’s a whole other issue at play here that I could write a completely separate piece on, which is radical changes that suit PvP at the expense of PvE, but I think my suggestion is a simple enough compromise.

I have some varying thoughts on the weapons themselves. Already some seemed a bit unbalanced to me; for example, I found auto rifles to be really solid, whereas scout rifles just seemed weak. Shotguns also felt like they had quite a long range, and more than once I found myself being blasted apart by a shotgun-wielding opponent who was so far away I couldn’t actually see them until they ran past my corpse. I can also see a meta already developing with the Nightshade pulse rifle/hand cannon/shotgun combo, and I really hope it doesn’t take off for the final game; PvP needs to allow for greater variety of weapons, not have some so better than others that everyone ends up using them. Again, it should all come down to empowering players to play the game their own way.

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Why… why can’t this be good?!

Finally, there are also some new weapons to play around with – the submachine gun and the grenade launcher. The submachine gun was quite useful to tear apart enemies at short range, while the grenade launcher was terrible. The projectiles have a tiny blast radius and so hardly damage their target, which is strange considering you don’t really intend for a grenade to actually hit its target – it’s the explosion that does the damage. This renders the grenade launcher almost useless in PvP, while in PvE they don’t do enough damage to bosses – if they even hit – to be useful as Power weapons. I hope the grenade launcher improves a little bit in the final game – I really want to rock one!

The Crucible

The PvP side of Destiny is not really my thing. I dabble in it and do tend to enjoy it, but it’s just not what really attracts me to Destiny. Plus I’m a fairly average PvP player, so my assessment of it may not be as useful as a hardcore PvP player’s. That said, I’ll do my best.

PvP’s biggest shake-up is the universal change across all game modes to 4 players v 4 players. I didn’t really know what to expect out of this but was pleased to find I don’t have any strong thoughts either way. 4v4 results in slightly sparser encounters, but more focussed ones. The changes to weapon types also mean time-to-kill is slightly longer, resulting in lengthier exchanges and encouraging focussed fire by teammates.

Distribution of Power ammo is also carefully controlled. It can only be picked up by one player when it spawns, but I’m okay with that. The fewer shotgun-rushing Titans there are on the field the better.

You’re also alerted when someone picks up Power ammo and from where as part of the Crucible’s vastly improved HUD. There’s now so much more information about your match on-screen to help you play strategically – symbols across the top of the screen show the subclasses of every player, whether their Super is charged or whether they’re dead. It’s a great improvement that really assists players in knowing their situation at any given time without being invasive or hindering gameplay.

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The new HUD

The Beta has a new game mode to try out too – Countdown, where teams take turns setting an explosive and disarming it. The winning team will be the one that either eliminates all opponents or successfully detonates/disarms their explosive. I actually like it as a game mode. I do accept the possibility that it could get relegated to one of those modes nobody plays because you don’t have to play the objective (you can win by ignoring the bombs altogether and just killing your opponents), but when played properly Countdown does introduce some new dynamics. Whether you’re holding down your position because that’s where your explosive is or trying to get to that explosive to disarm it, Countdown is all about knowing your map, knowing the explosive locations and how they can be accessed, and trying to anticipate how your opponents will approach things.

The last PvP thing I have to comment on are the two new maps in the Beta: Midtown, an abandoned China-town(ish) district; and Endless Vale on the new planet Nessus. I remember Bungie stating in an interview that for D2 they had designed maps to suit specific game modes and it shows. Midtown, where Countdown takes place, is quite a small map, with a few lanes that complement the locations of the two possible explosives; one is more open, with less cover but the ability to see opponents coming, but the other is much more contained and prone to sneak attacks. Endless Vale is definitely built for the Control game mode (teams have to capture 3 points across the map; the number of points controlled by a team influences the number of points they receive for a kill). Point B – usually the focal point of Control matches – is placed in a wicked location requiring careful monitoring from 3 different directions. There are also a number of flank routes and obstacles to either assist or disrupt you. Overall I like the map design so far and think if these two are an indication of the quality in the final game, PvP players will be happy.

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That’s all, for now

There are probably heaps of other things I could find in this Beta to comment on, but I recognise both parts of this “first impressions” are pretty lengthy. To sum up, D2 is looking good. Its visuals are spot-on, its game design choices are clever and implemented well, and, of course, there’s a story this time – and it seems really good! I’ve been fairly critical of some other core aspects, namely the imbalance between classes and subclasses, and the need to improve a sense of player empowerment, but all-in-all I believe these criticisms are either fixable or not deal-breakers, at least for me. I’m actually quite encouraged and impressed by what I’ve seen in the Beta, and I was likely to pick up D2 regardless of what any reviews or first impressions told me. Now I’m even more excited to play the final product, and if what you’ve read in this two-part piece excites you too, then maybe think about picking up D2 as well – I’d be happy to take you along on a raid!

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