The Destiny 2 beta - available for download now on the PS4 and Xbox One - has you ducking for cover, popping out and shooting aliens, lobbing grenades, and every now and then, slaying giant armoured space rhinos by summoning a black hole or using a sword of fire.
This pattern of play is par for the course for long-time players of 2014’s Destiny and similar to anyone who has enjoyed first-person shooters in recent memory. If the Destiny 2 beta is any indication, you’ll be doing a lot of the same when the full game hits on September 6 for the PS4 and Xbox One.
Reason being, the mandatory segment of the Destiny 2 beta is the opening story mission for the game. Dubbed Homecoming, it has you in the role of a guardian - Bungie’s take on Power Rangers albeit powered by space magic provided by an otherworldly-being known as the Traveler. A group known as the Red Legion has assaulted the Last City of Earth. Led by the sinister Dominus Ghaul, the Red Legion has kidnapped the Traveler, and laid waste to the Last City. You’ll play a part in the proceedings, helping fellow guardians stave off the attack and eventually meet Ghaul.
Between reclaiming your powers and putting a stop to Ghaul, there’s enough of a hook to keep going, and it's all presented with stunning detail. Graphically, Destiny 2 is one of the better looking games of the year with great weather effects, slick textures, and an inspired art direction that extends to its menus and skill trees as well.
All along the way you’ll partake in firefights in a fairly linear fashion, much like the original Destiny, though the emphasis on story and characters makes it feel like a cousin to the 2015 expansion, Destiny: The Taken King. From gargantuan foes that serve as cannon fodder to elite opponents with names such as Brann, the Unbent Blade, you’ll use every pulse rifle, sub machine gun, grenade launcher, and sidearm at your disposal, in addition to your special abilities which, depending on your class choice - Titan, Hunter, or Warlock - include the aforementioned sword of fire. New powers like the Titan being able to summon a shield that lets you knock down foes akin to Captain America are nice, but they’re not exactly a major step up from what we saw in Destiny. After a few tries, we simply went back to what we were comfortable using from the earlier game.
It’s not just what you do that’s similar to its predecessor, it’s how you do it too. Barring a slightly less lenient auto-aim and a little more recoil, the core gunplay is par for the course if you’re a fan of Halo or Destiny 1. Nothing has really changed in terms of using ultimate abilities either - simply press the L1 and R1 triggers to let loose. Though you can tweak the sensitivity in the game’s settings, we found it good enough with the default preset to get through all of the Destiny 2 beta’s game modes. Your powers take a lot longer than usual to cool down after use too. Nonetheless, we won’t be surprised to see these minor gripes ironed out when it releases.
If you thought the linearity and predictability was limited to Homecoming, you’re mistaken. Even the Crucible - Destiny’s multiplayer mode hasn’t been spared. Sure it has a new game type in Countdown, one that borrows from Counter-Strike, what with one team planting a bomb and the other having to defuse it or kill all the attackers. But it does little to stave off the feeling of familiarity even if you haven’t played Destiny before.
Although the Destiny 2 beta also includes the Inverted Spire strike - a co-operative mission on the alien world of Nessus - it does nothing to abate the formula set by the previous game and even MMOs of yore, what with the last boss being a gloried bullet sponge.
What’s more is, the beta lacks the content we saw in Destiny’s first public outing three years ago with the absence of a social hub (which for some odd reason is only accessible for one hour from 10:30pm IST on July 23), just the solitary story mission and no other worlds to explore.
Despite the Destiny 2 beta’s near insurmountable amount of downgrades versus the original’s pre-release demos, this is exactly what is needed. The first Destiny was a sci-fi shared-world shooter with a lot of potential, but it was let down by some ridiculously poor execution.
With a spectacular opening week of sales - thanks to an alpha and beta that promised more than what Bungie could deliver - it left a bitter taste for many due to its threadbare story and lack of regular content updates. Some of these concerns such as its narrative, took nearly a year and a $30 expansion in Destiny: The Taken King to rectify.
By putting out a predictable, somewhat anaemic Destiny 2 beta, Bungie is hopefully shipping a product that is representative of what to expect. It might not have the wide, sprawling shipyard of Old Russia, or the eerie, claustrophobic vibes of being on the Moon like the first game, but it isn’t committing to a level of interactivity or vibrancy that many expected from these locales when Destiny 1 finally hit retail.
At the same time, Bungie fails to recognise what made Destiny so memorable for its core user base - a sense of character progression. There’s no loot unless you include a gun you find in the first minute of the Homecoming level. Through out Destiny 1’s alpha, beta, and retail release, your character levelled up and obtained gear, which gave one the feeling of improvement even you were simply acquiring a new piece of armour in a random skirmish. None of this is present in the Destiny 2 beta yet, though it might well be when the game comes out eventually. Given how central this is to the experience, you’d think Bungie would play up those aspects, but so far the evidence points to the contrary.
In its stead, you get stellar visuals and a story that could be capable. If Destiny 2’s level design plot evolves over what we’ve seen in the beta, it could be a serious contender. Based on the evidence so far, it seems like the Destiny 2 beta is playing it safe and you can very well do the same by holding off your pre-order. More so when you consider the game's obnoxious India retail price of Rs. 4,499 ($60 in the US).