It's taken three years to get to this moment. Guardians have trudged through all of the content of Destiny over and over and over again to prepare. This journey has, for the most part been an enjoyable one with raids aplenty. First there was Atheon. Finally, there was Aksis. Not to mention Iron Banner after Iron Banner. I'd rather not talk about Trials of Osiris. Now, we're here, at the dawning of a proper sequel, to quote Bungie. Wo what did we get from the fine folks at Bungie?
What we got
Well, my guardian friend, we got a beta. Well, at least that's what they called it. Naming what we got Destiny 2's network stress test using a months old build of the E3 demo with all kinds of flaws we already knew about is a bit longer but more accurate. In fact, this whole week has led to a salt mine's worth of debates on Bungie's forums and Reddit as to whether this was a beta at all. One of the issues about this split personality beta/not really a beta is that those who pre-ordered were promised they would get early access to the beta. It's hard to say that Bungie really delivered on that part. But I'm also trying to look at this without having been biased by the much larger and more complete Destiny beta from three years ago. Still, I felt like we were playing more of a demo. A demo we already saw at e3 and twitch and youtube for the past two months.
What is a beta anyway?
Beta, that catch-all name people give to software that's never finished or never works but you're still expected to pay full price. Betas are expected to have bugs and the beta testers are expected to find them. At least that's the way it used to be. The issue I've had with Destiny 2's beta is that it came with bugs that Bungie already knew about but didn't bother to share up front. The charging of supers is too darn slow. The grenades and melee's are too darn weak. The warlock's nova bomb is too darn slow. The titan skate is too darn nerfed. The guardian is too darn quiet. The ammo drops are too darn far apart.
Two days after the beta was released, Bungie said the following:
The PVE game tuning has changed pretty significantly since the Beta build was deployed. The nature of a Beta of this scale requires that it’s based off a build of the game that is now months old. So, in many cases, your feedback is helping us validate changes that were previously made based on internal feedback and playtesting.
If I'm reading that correctly, we beta testers validated what Bungie already knew. Mainly, that the beta was broken. While I'm happy to read that changes have been made, it puts a bad taste in my mouth that we were given such an out of date build. As parents, we don't give our kids months old milk to validate it's gone bad (at least, I hope you don't - bad parent if you do). It's just a baffling miscue that a) Bungie could have been upfront about before the beta was released or b) put some effort into producing a better beta.
You'll never get a second chance to release a first beta
One of the common arguments against all of the negative feedback of Destiny 2's beta is that it is a beta and that Bungie will fix these issues prior to launch in September. I agree with that, but it also misses the point. Regardless of what Bungie's goal was for the beta release, be it stress testing, network analysis, or whatever, betas also serve as a first taste of what the game will be like. The original Destiny beta served quite well in that role in addition to bug testing and the like. The beta sold a lot of people on the game precisely because they liked what they were playing and wanted more. In other words, Destiny's beta started with "eyes up here guardian" and introduced us to its world. Bungie probably assumes that you are already familiar with the world now. But still, contrast the original with Destiny 2's beta opening scene where Cayde-6 essentially asks Ikora "is this a joke?".
I really think Bungie should have put more effort into the beta itself. Yes, it may have taken resources away from the final product. Yes it may have in fact led to a launch delay. But taking the time to put forth the best beta experience you can would have paid for itself in the long run. The number of people on Bungie's forum posting that they're cancelling their pre-order based on what they experienced in the beta is something you can't easily ignore by saying "It's an old beta". People try the beta not only as a bug finding expedition, but as a try before you buy opportunity. With that in mind, the issue with beta build was also completely avoidable by releasing a beta more closely related to the finished product, which is by definition, a beta. First impressions matter, especially for sequels.
Why Are Journalists Getting Better Content?
I was starting to think that perhaps Bungie is just that busy and that Destiny 2 is really going to be that big and expansive that the resources are simply too thin to do anything better with the beta. Maybe, just maybe they're focusing on getting the actual game up and running. I was both disappointed and excited to read articles from several prominent gaming sites that some of their journalists were getting access to new patrols modes, public events, and even new crucible modes. I wasn't disappointed that there are new patrols, events and crucible modes, but rather I was disappointed that none of that was included in the beta given to the players. You know the ones that actually support the game.
But this whole experience tell us that Bungie is dedicating resources to allow people access to certain parts of the game outside of the beta. I would assume this access is in some sort of controlled environment. This new content was not included in the beta even though it contains new modes not even in the first game. New game modes would need the most thorough testing. I mean, where else was Bungie going to find a small group of people to showcase and test new content in a controlled environment?
Was it really that bad?
All of which brings me to my final point. Amid all of the controversy surrounding the age of the build, the supers, and ammo drops, the beta was good. It sets the stage for the story with the introduction of Darth Ghaul, I mean Gary, and the bleak start from which your character will begin, assuming your character survives the fall from Gary's floating castle (not that the story matters all that much). Even though we'd seen the mission before, even though we'd seen the strike before and even though we'd seen the crucible modes before at E3 and on countless streams, it was still fun to actually play the game. I'm a warlock main, but I wanted to try out a titan first. Then a hunter, and finally back to warlock. Destiny friends were reunited to run the strike, get killed in the crucible and just have some fun. I encountered no serious bugs while playing and all of the issues I had with the beta had already been reported to Bungie in very large quantities. Overall, I found it to be a lot like Destiny, which for me, is a good thing. I'm not completely happy with the weapon loadout changes, but I'm willing to see how it plays out.
The crucible, on the other hand was a bit of an acquired taste. I was not happy when Bungie announced 4v4 only for the crucible. Some of the most fun I've had playing Destiny was when we got a group of 6 together for Iron Banner or even some custom crucible matches. In fact, one of the most common complaints on the forum was that friend would be left out with the change. With so many other games having larger PvP teams, this one seems like a large step backwards. All of the previous strategies in a 6v6 encounter, such as flanking, hiding out for some long range snipes, or splitting into two groups of 3 for a pincer attack all go away for the most part. The first night, the winning strategy was stay as group and shoot at anything that moves with auto rifles. Supers, grenades, and melees were too few and far between to make much of any difference. It was a mess that usually ended in a very lopsided victory. My first round's efficiency rating was 0.23. I was not having fun.
Yet, I persisted. Mainly because there was no other content available to play. I tried my hand at hunters. The arcpole is a rather comical version of the arcblade. Guardians can outrun it and you can be easily gunned down before you do any damage. Gunslinger is a much better option. I still don't know what a power play is in either the crucible or hockey (with apologies to Mechwd and hockey fans everywhere). But strategies started to evolve. Pulse rifles, at least full-auto rifles are quite good at distance. The people I matched with would have two or three go in and fight up close and I would stay back and pick people off with my pulse rifle. In other words, things started to improve. Although I'm still not sure why Shaxx screamed at me for what I thought was a horribly placed nova bomb.
I had just died, I wasn't on any streak, but Shaxx thought it was cool. I still hope, I really, really hope that Destiny 2 will allow us to turn Shaxx's voice off . He's still annoying even when your side is winning. I also hope that there will be more variety and more fun to be found in the Crucible. It's one of the reasons I stuck with Destiny in the first place.
In conclusion, the gameplay was good. If you like Destiny, you'll most likely enjoy the sequel. If you didn't like Destiny, I'm not sure the changes Bungie has made will change your mind this time around. The build of the beta was old and broken and the way Bungie handled it is a bit of PR mess in my opinion. Also, gaming journalists are playing way better versions of the beta right now, and you can't. I think that was a bit rude to those who played the beta, especially those who pre-ordered. All in all, we're really not that much closer to knowing that the game will be like, except that Gary's a jerk.