4 things we love about Destiny 2's beta – and 2 things we hate

Destiny 2

Destiny 2 (Image credit: Bungie)

Activision recently kicked off its console beta test for Destiny 2, giving players the chance to get hands-on ahead of its official debut this September. As what's become an industry norm for multiplayer-focused titles, the beta provides an early access peek via an in-progress slice of the full experience. Providing a look at the opening story mission, the first cooperative strike and two player-versus-player (PvP) multiplayer modes, the beta encapsulates content from all corners of Destiny 2's sandbox.

Everything you need to know about the Destiny 2 beta

After spending some time with each of these modes on Xbox One, we've been able to get a better feel for the content coming to Destiny 2 this September. And while some much-awaited changes have been made upon its predecessor, the Destiny 2 beta struggles to differentiate itself as a standalone title. These are the four things we're loving about Destiny 2 – and two things we're not so happy to see.

What we love about the Destiny 2 beta

1. Immersive Story missions

As touted during the game's reveal, the significant leaps in narrative-driven content are made clear from the outset of the Destiny 2 beta. Upon configuring some basic settings, players are instantly thrown into their first Story mission, which serves up the basis for the game's premise.

Following the events of the first game, Destiny 2 picks up moments before the Tower lands in peril. Dominus Ghaul, the leader of a brutal Cabal faction known as Red Legion, has launched an attack on the Last City, in an attempt to take over the Traveler. Believing its power fell into the wrong hands, Ghaul and his army attempt to claim the Traveler and commandeer its power for themselves. With Earth's final outpost under siege, Guardians must explore the charred remains of The Tower and clear out hostile forces.

Gunplay mechanics still lie at the heart of Destiny, though building a compelling narrative is equally as valuable.

Taking advantage of plentiful cinematics and scripted events, a level of curation can now be felt through Destiny 2's Story mode. Among the chaos, the opening mission of Destiny 2 manages to convey a captivating atmosphere through an added level of depth. Every aspect of the backdrop feels natural and vibrant, with dynamism both up close and among the distant battles in the skies.

Destiny 2 isn't going to be stuffed to the brim with lore, simply due to its audience already captured from the first game. Core gunplay mechanics still lie at the heart of the Destiny experience, though building a compelling narrative is equally as valuable going forward. By delivering a range of cinematics, compelling character exchanges and looks at the wider scale of the universe, players will find it easier to be engaged with Destiny's world.

2. Improved character development

While the original Destiny delivered some major improvements to its character development through The Taken King expansion, Destiny 2 builds upon this philosophy with a greater focus on creating a strong cast of characters.

Several characters, who eventually became glorified vending machines in the original Destiny, now play a crucial role in Destiny 2's narrative. Interactions with both your Ghost and various Vanguards come off as much more dynamic, with genuine personas formed for key cast members. While these build off the improvements seen in Destiny's later expansions, the game has seemingly grasped a sweet spot between action-packed gameplay and engaging character development.

From the interactions between cast members in both the "Homecoming" mission and the new "Inverted Spire" strike, there's already the early steps toward building a more diverse portfolio of personas. Most notably, putting Dominus Ghaul, an identifiable figure, behind Destiny 2's oppressive Red Legion faction, may establish an intriguing dynamic. Doing so has outlined a much clearer end goal for Destiny 2's Story mode - an element that was absent from the first game.

3. Creative Strike design

One of my unexpected takeaways from the Destiny 2 beta was the new take on Strike design. Being a change I hadn't considered going into the beta, the refreshed structure brings an unexpected level of unpredictability to missions.

In Destiny 2, Strikes are now a closer blend of short-form Story content and the unforgiving Raids. Strikes now leverage some of the more unique mechanics associated with Raids, though in a shorter form, find a great middle ground between the two modes.

"The Inverted Spire," the only strike in the Destiny 2 beta, throws players onto the planetoid of Nessus, in search of Cabal activity. Among the Red Legion operating a mining facility, Guardians eventually stumble on a Vex Minotaur uncovered as a part of their mining activities. The construct, "Protheon, Modular Mind," becomes the final boss for the remainder of the strike, and introduces some interesting twists on the pre-established Strike formula.

Strikes now leverage some of the more unique mechanics associated with Raids, though in a shorter form.

Initially, Destiny 2's Modular Mind boss struggles to offer much to differentiate itself from other high-level enemy types. Simply directing your attacks between lower-level minions and the main boss, the battle sticks to a formula expected from Destiny's boss battles. However, when the feeling of similarity begins to kick in, new mechanics are introduced that shake up gameplay.

During the battle, Protheon will remove the floor below multiple times, dropping players into new locations. Not only does this change up the atmosphere of the battle – the layout of the surrounding environment also changes. Protheon's shield type also changes between locations, requiring new tactics to rock an effective arsenal of weapons. While these deeper mechanics are often reserved for Raids, hopefully we'll begin to see more strikes adopting such mechanics.

4. It still feels so good to play

Still, after all this time, one of the most compelling traits of Destiny is its gunplay. It's rare that the underlying mechanics of a game are such an outstanding features, but three years later, they are still one of Destiny's most redeeming traits.

Destiny is a game that thrives on simply how great it feels to play. Combat feels both fluid and snappy, only complemented by its responsive controls. It's hard to describe to those who haven't gone hands-on, though Destiny 2 stands out for its gunplay alone.

How the Destiny 2 beta disappoints

1. Destiny 2 struggles to justify a sequel

Even with the various changes advertised with Destiny 2, it's hard to justify its existence as a sequel. The first Destiny, which adopted a games-as-a-service (GaaS) model, was followed by four subsequent expansions over the course of its lifetime. And while a sequel to the first game was expected relatively soon, Destiny 2 ultimately does little to justify the need for a new title.

It's hard to shake the feeling you've experienced parts of Destiny 2 before.

While the inclusion of a deeper story, new locations, and changes to certain gameplay mechanics are all welcome, it's hard to shake the feeling you've experienced parts of Destiny 2 before. With graphics on-par with the original, mostly identical enemy types, and even a similar user interface, the original Destiny's roots are still strikingly clear.

Even though Destiny 2 should rely on the strengths of the first game to guarantee success, the franchise's business model is partially to blame here. With players used to seeing significant content drops as a part of major expansions, maybe the jump between Destiny and Destiny 2 simply doesn't feel as significant.

2. The grind is still real (mostly)

Although mission structure is greatly improved across both Strikes and Story, Destiny 2 still serves up the same experience as the first game. While this could be taken as both a pro and a con based on your opinions of the first game, going into the sequel, the journey and end goals are mostly unchanged.

The divisive "grind-fest" returns once again, with bullet-absorbing bosses, the replayable nature of the content and a heavy focus on working for loot. While it's ultimately down to preference, these mechanics eventually led to the polarizing opinion of the original Destiny at launch.

Although these traits lie underneath, the aforementioned changes to mission structure make for a refreshing take on the core Destiny formula. However, with many players relying on end-game content, how well they maintain this delivery will be equally as crucial.

What are your thoughts on Destiny 2?

We've been playing through Destiny 2 for the past couple of days, but what are your thoughts so far? Make sure to let us know what you think of the beta in the comments.

Matt Brown

Matt Brown was formerly a Windows Central's Senior Editor, Xbox & PC, at Future. Following over seven years of professional consumer technology and gaming coverage, he’s focused on the world of Microsoft's gaming efforts. You can follow him on Twitter @mattjbrown.