Destiny 2’s PS4 beta points to a game with a split personality

Bungie has definitely doubled down on PvP for Destiny 2. From the new weapon loadout to how the classes have been revamped, many fundamental systems have been changed for the sake of better PvP balance, often at the expense of PvE. Speaking as a huge fan of Destiny’s PvP, I’m actually quite pleased with many of those changes, though I also have reservations about how they may bleed through into the main game. For now, let’s look at how PvP has improved. 

The shift to 4v4 

Destiny 1's multiplayer leaned heavily on the 6v6 format, and it could get a little too hectic and hard to follow. Paring Destiny 2’s matches down to 4v4 has made matches less chaotic, if only because it’s easier to play around the movements of four enemies rather than six. Maps are less cramped, too. I’m almost never getting spawn-killed or abruptly shot from behind. When someone does get the jump on me, it’s because I don’t know the maps, not because the spawning algorithm decided it was time for me to die. 

Destiny 2’s smaller teams also enable individual players to have a greater impact on the flow and outcome of matches. In my games so far, it feels possible to lead my team to victory if I play well enough. Being able to turn the tide motivates me to try, even when things look bleak. Which is more than I can say for Destiny 1, where I could single-handedly earn half of my six-man team’s total points but still lose a game of Clash (ie team deathmatch).

Maps and modes

Although the beta only comes with two maps—Endless Vale for control mode (capture and defend points) and Midtown for the new countdown mode (plant or defuse bombs)—it’s plain to see Bungie hasn’t gotten rusty. With smart sightlines and powder keg choke points, both maps are fun and varied, not to mention visually distinct. 

Control feels familiar, but markedly less tedious thanks to several quality of life changes.  The speedier capture process (you no longer have to 'neutralize' a point first) means solo players can sneak in and steal points, and smart point placement, coupled with class abilities like the Titan's deployable shield and the Warlock’s AoE heal, makes for exciting team fights. Countdown is a welcome addition too. It delivers the same sort of tension we get when planting and defusing bombs in Counter-Strike, and its elimination-style life pool benefits from having four-man teams which encourage players to work closely together. 

The new super meta 

Destiny 2 fixes every problem I had with supers in PvP. Crucially, they take far longer to charge up. I’m averaging one super per match in the beta, compared to the three to five I saw in Destiny 1 matches. And you really have to earn that one super. The default recharge rate is pitiful, so if you aren’t getting kills, you aren’t getting any space magic.  

Destiny 2 fixes every problem I had with supers in PvP.

Just as importantly, you can effectively anticipate supers thanks to several new tells. When someone has their super charged, their player icon below the score counter lights up. Whenever someone pops a super, you’re warned by a chat message telling you which player activated it and what super it was. You always know what's coming, so you can play around enemy supers by keeping your distance, and likewise play to the strength of friendly supers by pushing up with them. 

There’s also effective counterplay to supers in the form of energy weapons, which deal bonus damage to players in roaming supers like the Gunslinger Hunter’s Golden Gun. Instead of tucking my tail and running away, I’m reliably killing them using only my energy weapon, and it feels great. Finally, supers feel super—like proper ultimates instead of frustratingly unpredictable insta-kills. 

The reduction of ability spam  

While I’m glad to see supers charge more slowly in PvP, I’m a bit iffy on the new grenade cooldown. Grenades were overused in Destiny 1, no doubt—almost every engagement opened with one. But it feels like Bungie has overcorrected. I keep catching myself trying to throw a grenade when my cooldown is still hovering around the halfway mark, which is every bit as disappointing in PvP as it is in PvE. Melee abilities are more plentiful because several subclasses have skills which help recharge them, so it’s odd there isn’t an equivalent for grenades. Hopefully the full game does something to make them more accessible.  

Better weapon balance  

After playing with Destiny 2’s overhauled weapon system, I can’t say I miss the old model. With shotguns and sniper rifles relegated to the power weapon slot, there’s a greater focus on primary gun skill, which at least for PvP makes combat much more dynamic. Being able to swap between a pulse rifle and a submachine gun or a scout rifle and a hand cannon really opens up how you can approach and respond to engagements. Paired with Destiny 2’s higher health and shield caps, and the scarcity of one-shot weapons, fights are more intense and skill-based. Plus when you do grab a power ammo spawn and load your heavy hitter, it feels more meaningful. 

I do worry for a few weapon archetypes, though. Grenade launchers are absolutely laughable, and sidearms are totally outclassed by submachine guns. But we’re working with a limited weapon pool, so I’ll reserve judgment.

Latency

This is the big one: is Destiny 2’s PvP stable despite its lack of dedicated servers? Remarkably, so far it seems so. Your mileage may vary, and I obviously can’t speak to the PC experience yet, but Bungie’s tinkering with its peer to peer netcode appears to have improved performance on PS4. How that'll translate to the PC, I'm not sure. Dedicated servers would be preferred, certainly, but I haven’t seen a single lag spike or teleporting player in all my beta matches. Weapon damage feels responsive and crisp, and I’ve never felt cheated by a death. It’s certainly head and shoulders above Destiny 1’s laggy connection. At the very least, I’m far more concerned with the lack of a ladder mode and private matches at launch, both of which are vital for a healthy competitive scene, and which would go a long way in justifying Destiny 2’s PvE compromises.