After the Beta: Concluding Thoughts

After completing the limited-time taste preceding the wait for D2, I wanted to follow up with some final thoughts…

Classes

After playing on all three classes, reading thoughts from people who have played all three classes, and talking to people have played all three classes, some very obvious trends of thought emerged. I’ve broken them down here by Guardian type:

Titans feel great. They, more than the other classes (perhaps only slightly more than Warlocks) feel powerful. Combined with the most versatile movement ability in the Beta – the strafe jump – the Titan wall ability is a force to be reckoned with. Teams of four Titans, all deploying shields on bombs or capture points, are difficult to overcome.

In particular, the Sentinel subclass feels impressively versatile, which is a very welcome change from the one-note – albeit entertaining – style of the Destiny 1 Defender. The super is arguably the best in the game, while the grenades and abilities all feel strong and useful. The Sentinel’s suppressor grenades are perhaps too strong – considering that Supers currently arrive once per PvP match maximum, it seems absurdly easy to shut down most classes.

Additionally, the intrinsic 2-grenade perk on the Striker makes it feel noticeably powerful, even with a nerfed shoulder charge. While the lighting grenade cones seem to have been reined in, they’re still deadly – as are pulses and, incredibly, flashbangs. Shoulder charge remains a great movement ability, and with 4v4 PvP it’s more effective as a flanking maneuver and fight-finisher than a go-to, and it allows for a 2-melee kill.

The new Warlock abilities make them feel far more involved in team-play than they were in Destiny 1. The melee continues to seem far and away the most powerful – I’ve seen plenty of Warlocks rubber-banding across the map. Additionally, the “rift” ability is incredibly powerful: Warlocks can throw down a well-placed healing rift and almost single-handedly capture a control point because of how slow shield recovery times are.

Even if the new Nova Bomb is…interesting, Voidwalkers have a fantastic neutral game. Chaos accelerant is a fascinating new ability that could lead to some very interesting strategic play, and blink remains a very strong defensive ability

Similarly, Dawnblades have both a strong Super and a strong neutral game – although it’s interesting that a class based around shooting from the air doesn’t have weapons with in-air accuracy to support it. Few weapons outside of hand cannons seem viable when floating above your enemies.

Hunters feel – well, bad. Where Titans have walls (go figure) and Warlocks have rifts (I see what u did there, Bungo), Hunters get a… worse Shadestep? The fact that Strikers retain shoulder charge and strafe jump – even if it is a less-effective method of Titan-skating – and Dawnblades get an intrinsic Twilight Garrison simply adds insult to injury.

In addition to offering no team buffs and no grenade-altering perks, the Hunter dodge takes far too long to cool down and offers minimal bonuses – a Voidwalker’s blink is much more effective at escaping danger, and a Titan’s strafe jump is almost as effective as a movement ability. Yes, it’s nice that you can either reload your weapon or your melee ability, but when you’ve already taken shots in a firefight, neither of these options improves survivability.

While it’s certainly stylish, dodging to recharge you melee while near another player-character has the anticipated effect: they punch you again, and you die. Similarly, quickly reloading your gun is hardly as useful as healing your whole team or throwing down a shield to defend a point. The new exploding throwing knife doesn’t come close to offering a suitable tradeoff, and although Golden Gun now can offer six shots, you’ll be lucky to find anyone in PvP in time to use it with the reduced duration.

Perhaps most ironic is that the Gunslinger – the “lone wolf who lives for the perfect shot” – is the class least able to operate alone, especially in PvP. As there is no way to defend, heal, or buff yourself, the lone-wolf approach is effectively a death sentence.

Based on feedback I’ve seen all across the internet, Beta testers seem fairly unified in the opinion that Hunters need something more to bring to the table. I myself have been a Gunslinger since day 1, and have remained so throughout all the nerfs my favorite class received. I’m now having a true crisis of faith, as Titans seem to be by far the most powerful class, but more importantly, the most fun class.

I worry that playing my favored Hunter will hamstring me throughout all aspects of the game, especially when fireteams comprised of Titans and Warlocks are so powerful in both PvE a d PvP. This, to me, seems an incredible oversight.

What’s interesting to note is that despite all the class changes, most of the online (primarily Twitter) polls I have seen still show Guardians in an even split in their choice for starting class. I suspect that this has a great deal to do with Bungie’s excellence in building character mythos: after 3 years with a favorite class, it’s not a given that any of us will happily trade in our favorite so quickly.

Abilities

Cooldowns on abilities – grenades, supers, melees – seem to be universally regarded as too slow, and this is one area in which it appears that Bungie has balanced the game with PvP in mind. While Destiny 1 has long been lamented as the proverbial Ability Spam Simulator, it seems to me that the needle has swung too far in the opposite direction. Remember that PvP, in all likelihood, will comprise only a fraction of the Destiny 2 experience, and that reduced Space Magic means a reduced number of PvE enemies you can leave as dust in your majestic wake.

Similarly, movement speed has been reduced across the board. With the exception of the Titan strafe jump, movement seems focused on getting you up in the air. This means no more Titan-skating, Warlock-surfing, and a much more ‘locked-in’ Hunter jump. In my mind, part of what made Destiny 1 so much fun was the movement. Yes, it created balance issues – when a Titan can close a fifty-foot gap in half a second and shotgun you in the face, there’s not much you can do – but it also made the game a joy to play. Unfortunately, jumping straight up seems to have the same effect in D2 as it did in D1: you become an easier target.

Instead of feeling spry, the way a futuristic space warrior might, all the classes feel slow and cumbersome. While the internet as a whole has certainly noticed this change, the jury appears to be out on opinions. I can only say that for me, reduced movement abilities mean reduced fun in every in-game activity.

Set Class & Weapon Perks

It’s not hard to see why Destiny 2 is streamlined: many perks in Destiny 1 went entirely unused, and the system for assigning them was both cumbersome and unintuitive. In D2, Bungie is giving us a choice between two pre-allocated perk trees, and is similarly moving away from randomly-rolled weapon perks.

In the case of the former, these pre-built trees move the game away from the mini-MMO that Destiny had flirted with becoming. Personally, I had hoped that we would see more flexibility with perk loadouts, not less – allowing devoted Guardians to experiment with and develop interesting and unique playstyles. It’s hard to tell, based on the information we have, which trees will end up being better for PvP or PvE.

Similarly, while in many ways set weapon perks seem a fantastic idea, it does mean that Bungie will have to drastically increase the size of the loot pool if Destiny 2 is to have any longevity as a looter-shooter. Imagine getting your twentieth Nightshade pulse rifle, and not even needing to bother to check the perks because you’ll never get a version better than the one you have. Of course, in Destiny 1, weapons lacking the perfect perk-set were dismantled immediately, so I’m hopeful that simply presenting a best-of version of each will help to limit, rather than increase, loot fatigue.

Again, however, the question of flexibility looms. One of my favorite weapons to use in Destiny 1 was a Panta Rhei fusion rifle with Icarus – hardly a meta weapon, but a really, really fun one, and I worry that the amusing setups that allowed me to, say, spend all my time in the air, bouncing off the walls with a fusion rifle, simply won’t be there anymore. Besides, out of the perks that are swappable, it seems impossible that we, as a community, won’t quickly discover which barrel mod is the most effective anyway.

Among the hardcore players I polled (who, at this stage, can’t be called hardcore?), this lack of flexibility wasn’t exactly celebrated – “restrictions” was a word used more than once. If Bungie is able to construct pre-defined trees and that are fluid and fulfilling, so be it, but I don’t think we’re quite there yet.

PvE and Story

Right now, it’s the story and PvE component of Destiny 2 that has me excited – with some caveats. Despite Luke Smith’s assertion that this game is not about the Darkness vs. the Light, or about the mysterious themes that underpin the Destiny universe, I’m still looking forward to exploring beautiful new environments and conquering foes with my fireteam. Nessus looks absolutely beautiful – I hope that what we’ll experience is an entire world that channels the majesty and mystery of the Vault of Glass, and the teasers of Titan and Io that we’ve been shown are equally compelling.

However, the Inverted Spire strike felt perhaps too familiar. Despite the new mechanics on offer – by which I mean, primarily, a giant drill to dodge; a ‘mechanic’ that was essentially featured in the “Homecoming” mission as well – the progression felt a little too familiar for my tastes. We ran along a path, killing adds until we reached the bullet-sponge boss, whose only real addition to the game was to present a fatal version of “the floor is lava.”

On the plus side, I love how fleshed-out the enemies and the world both are. Seeing the helmet-less face of Cabal Psions, complete with bizarre screws apparently attached to their skulls, makes me incredibly excited to learn more about the main foes of this game. I like that we have more creative ways to combat foes, such as shooting Legionnaires in their jetpacks, blowing up Incendiors by destroying their fuel tanks, or ‘crit-ing’ Phalanxes so that they drop their shields.

Our brief taste of The Farm and its bizarre combination of rusted, pre-Golden Age agriculture and post-Collapse tech has only contributed to the fact that I’m looking forward to Destiny 2’s PvE experience more than anything else. Ultimately, even if I’m disappointed at the suggestion that Destiny 2 will be a more traditional story experience, I’m happy that Luke Smith has stated that Bungie understands they owe their player-base answers to Destiny’s larger questions in the long run. I really loved the Taken King, and my hope is that Destiny 2’s story will be an extension of everything that made the final chapters of Destiny into the game it should have been from the start.

PvP

Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for PvP, in which I’ve had wildly differing experienced. Some of you may remember from my “Randomized Crucible” article that I am by no means a powerhouse of a PvP player. Even so, I spent 400+ salt-encrusted hours spent dying in the Crucible before finally calling it quits on D1, and I do play with several people who are pretty damn good at stomping other players, and are more willing than I am to let things get sweaty.

First, the switch to 4v4 is a mixed blessing. While it absolutely serves to tighten up the chaos that 6v6 offered, there are some major tradeoffs. In particular, the new PvP modes – both quickplay and competitive – seem particularly unfriendly to solo players. I think that one of my most competitive (as in, top 1%) fireteam members summed it up well:

“Everything emphasizes team shooting so much that neither playlist feels particularly casual, You have to run with the team, you have to team shoot, you have to work together. Those are all things I like doing, those are all things I love about being on a team, but when I’m by myself, those things that I love make the game painful to play. While your random team members are running around every which way, the other team is moving in a tight formation to take your territory. There is no way to win in that situation – you don’t have the firepower, your abilities don’t one-hit kill, and you can’t outplay them alone. You can only run away.”

This mirrors everything that I have experienced and read. Challenging a capture point, lane, or bomb alone results in immediate death. Yes, the new PvP is fantastic as a squad-based shooter, and seems to shine particularly well in the new Countdown mode – at least, if you have a 4-person fireteam. However, in quickplay, it is very easy for things to fall apart.

Whereas 6v6 was more balanced due to its random nature, and was a (usually) enjoyable way to blow off steam after work, test a new weapon perk or just have a good time, 4v4 is none of those things. I had one friend remark that to him, control felt more competitive than countdown, because of the minuscule margins for error and the fact that there are no breaks in the action.

At the very least, there absolutely needs to be a freelance playlist. While this won’t alleviate the innate intensity to 4v4, it will at least (I hope) mean that solo players can have some fun. My worry is that for teams of casual PvP players – around whom the Destiny 1 Crucible was largely built – there won’t be an easily-accessible option.

As an additional note, the slow Super cooldown period means that in most games I’ve gotten a max of one use. In addition, they all arrive at the same time, resulting in a chaotic, entirely unenjoyable situation in which I’d like to think there might be a Super ‘economy,’ but seems to be instead simply madness that results in disappointment on both teams. When you’re a solo player already getting crushed by a full team of four, the fact that you likely won’t get a super while the other team will absolutely destroy you with theirs means that you don’t feel much of incentive to keep playing.

On that note, many of my games – in both Control and Countdown – ended prematurely when members of my team or the other team decided that enough was enough and dropped out. This happened so regularly that it’s impossible to ignore as a factor in review. In my mind, it’s a sign that quickplay in particular is lacking something: this is the Destiny 2 Beta, and people should be ecstatic to play. If they’re regularly dropping out after a third or a half of the match, it means it’s not fun enough – for whatever reason – for them to stay.

Finally, while I understand that the current Beta build is old, I worry about weapon balance. The fact that there are such obvious outliers – specifically the Nightshade (pulse) and Main Ingredient (fusion) – does little to reassure me of Bungie’s ability to balance weapons effectively, even given the move towards ‘Power Ammo.’ The state of Destiny 1 after its final sandbox patch.

Conclusion

Personally, I am vacillating wildly between excitement and despair. I have some serious issues with the way the game feels now, both in PvE and PvP. The gunplay is crisp, the environments are beautiful, the story is tantalizing – all of this is true. However, I no longer feel like a hero. I don’t feel powerful. I don’t feel – in any situation – that I can ‘Pull it off.’ And I’m afraid that is less of a ‘complaint’ and more of an observation of how the game has fundamentally changed.

Rather than being ‘The Guardian,’ the hero who destroyed Atheon, who challenged the Prison of Elders and stopped the genocidal Hive and their God-King in their tracks; I feel like ‘a Guardian’ – one of many soldiers with no direction or purpose who now can’t accomplish anything on their own.

In PvE, this feeling is most apparent in how poorly my character handles. In addition to the too-slow ability cooldowns, the reduced movement speed means that exploring those beautiful environments I mentioned doesn’t feel tantalizing – it feels like a chore. I have no desire to road-trip through the expanded universe of Destiny 2 on my sparrow, taking breaks from holding the left trigger to explore interesting map-markers; I want to immerse myself in stunning alien worlds and explore them piece-by-piece. And, frankly, I don’t want to farm mobs for hours just for the chance to use my super ability.

In PvP, these factors are exacerbated by the renewed focus on team play. Gone are the days when a lone Guardian could turn the tide of battle by outwitting or outplaying their opponents – or simply jump into a game of control to test a fun new weapon. Instead, solo players are punished for the audacity to play without a fully-linked fireteam. When, at the D2 reveal, Luke Smith described Destiny 2 as a game in which “I can always find someone to play with if I want,” I didn’t realize that it would be impossible to do otherwise. When considering the lessened emphasis on Space Magic alongside these changes, it’s difficult not to feel as though Destiny wasn’t just a three-year Beta experience, but a failed one.

I pre-ordered Destiny 2 long ago, and it’s clear that Bungie has crafted a polished, considered shooter that will make many people – particularly competitive PvP players and those who grew up with Halo – very happy. What’s less clear is whether the soul of Destiny remains intact.

Jasper L
Jasper is obsessed with three things: throwing knives, flavor text, and the Ahamkara. Although game lore is his true love, he now spends most his time dying in the Crucible. Despite repeated attempts, he has not yet managed to git gud, and he will never forgive Bungie for nerfing tripmines. You can find all of his Destiny writing @ themothyards.tumblr.com