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

The PS4 beta for Bungie’s forthcoming shared-world sci-fi shooter sequel opened its airlock on Tuesday, and though we’ll have to wait until next month to put the PC version through its paces, there’s still plenty to learn about how key systems have been altered. The first thing to note is that the content is roughly the same stuff we played (on PC) at the Destiny 2 reveal event back in May. That means an expanded version of the Homecoming story mission, a co-op Strike called The Inverted Spire (which you can see us play on PS4 here), and two PvP modes and maps. 

Unlike the beta for the original game, which gave players great swathes of mission content and two planets to explore, much of Destiny 2’s mechanics remain locked off this time. Which is probably for the best, given that the game depends on a sense of discovery and Bungie arguably spoiled way too much the first time around. But it does mean the beta is going to be spent endlessly replaying the same missions and maps, which the wags among you will no doubt regard as an accurate representation of the true Destiny experience. 

For now I want to focus on the changes to key mechanics like player movement and how your abilities are balanced. I’ll be talking about the PvE side of things on page one, because that’s my specialty, before handing page two to Austin Wood who’s a PvP baller and was among the top 50 Clash players for much of Destiny 1. This split approach makes sense because the divide between the two play modes seems to have driven many design decisions in Destiny 2, and right now I’m not certain for the better. But hey, the point of a beta is to provide Bungie with feedback. Let’s start with something Bungie has already said it’s going to address…

Power ammo scarcity 

In Destiny 2, the special and heavy weapons from the first game have been aggregated in a new class called power weapons. The result is that sniper rifles, shotguns, rocket launchers and swords all live in the same slot, and your Guardian effectively carries two primaries, one of which has an elemental energy type attached via a weapon mod. That decision appears to have been made so the balance team can keep a closer rein on one-hit-kill weapons in PvP, but in PvE power ammo drops so rarely that it makes using your shotty feel like a special Christmas treat, leading to what feels like severely diminished damage output.

Over the course of one strike playthrough I had a rocket launcher equipped the entire time and fired it twice in ten minutes. It wasn’t even like the rocket’s damage was spectacular either. Game director Luke Smith has acknowledged the issue and says the drop rate will improve for launch.

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Community manager Cozmo said much the same in response to a complaint on Bungie’s forums, and although that’s definitely good news, I retain long-term reservations about whether this new loadout structure can possibly be an improvement for PvE. Pecking away at high-health enemies with a pair of primaries seems antithetical to the whole interstellar warrior god thing. Speaking of which... 

New class abilities are a welcome addition

Each of the three main classes now has a unique ability, available in two slightly different flavours. Of these, the Hunter’s Dodge class ability is a strange outlier in that it feels as if it was designed independently from the Warlock and Titan abilities. While the Warlock’s small AoE Rifts provide a damage or defense buff, and the Titan’s Barricade drops a shield for everyone to use, the Hunter’s dodge roll doesn’t have an immediate team wide benefit. It either instantly reloads the Hunter’s active weapon or recharges their melee ability. 

I can’t imagine a scenario where I call on a fellow Hunter to drop their ability, but I can imagine developing a rapport with Titans and Warlocks for deploying theirs. Looking at the rest of the Hunter’s abilities, it’s clear that they’re being positioned as a DPS class. Emptying your Gjallarhorn equivalent on a boss, dodge rolling, and emptying it again sounds like bliss—for the whole team. More time spent with it should give a clearer sense of the value, but generally the new class abilities have added a welcome extra layer of depth and potential teamplay.

Cooldowns are way too slow 

Destiny’s power fantasy has always been tied to your Guardian’s “space magic” abilities, whether tossing giant purple Nova Bombs as a Voidwalker Warlock or sticking crackling lightning grenades to the ceiling as a Striker Titan. These things are all still very much cool in Destiny 2, and look better than ever, but they happen substantially less often. One of my abiding memories of the beta so far is reaching for the grenade button and coming up dry. Likewise, over the course of the 10-15 minute strike, I was probably only popping my super twice, and even then it was over in flash. 

I’ll let Austin explain why slower cooldowns have been deemed necessary to prevent ability spam in PvP, but in order to keep PvE fun—and to retain Destiny’s unique flavour—it feels like the rate of ability recharge needs to be upped substantially. One important caveat here is that we haven’t seen how armor mods, or exotic gear, might alter recharge speed, and the characters we’re using are entirely unoptimised. Nonetheless, as of now the rates are way too slow. 

There are going to be a lot of Sentinel Titans

Now that I’ve had a chance to sample all three of the new subclasses, I can safely say that the new Sentinel Titan is going to be a smash. (Sorry not sorry.) The Captain America-style void shield is just so versatile. You can throw it once per super and watch it pinwheel between enemies, or hold it in front of you to block fire as you advance, or face bash once in melee range for an instakill. Factor in that, with the right perk selection, it can also still be deployed as the protective Ward of Dawn bubble, and you’re looking at the highest utility super in the game. Expect a purple reign on launch day.

Of the other subclasses, the Arcstrider’s super is more fun than I expected, with the potential to pull off complex fighting game-style combos. But as with Bladedancer before it, a class that focuses on melee combat might be a little too risky for end-game PvE activity where high-health enemies are abundant. On the Warlock side of things, the new Dawnblade solar subclass veers a little too close to the hammer-throwing Sunbreaker Titan from Destiny 1 to be truly exciting. There’s no denying that hovering in midair and throwing flaming swords as a Dawnbreaker feels sweet, but I have to admit I’m going to miss the Sunsinger’s ability to self-res, even though it was kinda like easy mode and caused a lot of design headaches. 

Generally, what I like about Destiny 2’s ‘roaming’ supers is that they each contain multiple possible moves. The Dawnblade also has a ground slam attack, which should enable players to demonstrate some actual skill. Oh, and let the record also state that Warlock’s Nova Bomb becoming a giant homing beach ball of purple death is, well, it’s a thing. Supers are generally in a good spot, we just need them to happen more often. 

The Big Bad is basically Bane 

I mean, c’mon, you can all see this right? If Bane wasn’t up on Bungie’s mood board when they were designing Dominus Ghaul, then I’ll eat my rebreather. Still, he makes for a good villain. It’s nice to have a chatty antagonist after growly old Oryx and his largely silent son Crota. (Don’t even get me started on what the hovering green blob that provided the appalling final boss at the end of Destiny 1 was.) 

Player movement is sluggish 

One of Destiny 1’s defining characteristics was its bonkers player movement. With the right exotic boots equipped Hunters could quadruple jump, Titan players worked out how to ‘skate’ around maps by exploiting jump perks, and Warlocks could teleport. In PvP, that hypermobility lead to a pretty toxic shotgun-rush meta, but in PvE it was one of the things that made the game a blast to play. Being able to bounce around like Tigger in power armor was also pretty essential given the amount of incoming fire you often faced. 

For Destiny 2, the ability to close gaps incredibly fast has been reined in. There’s less forward momentum when you initially hit your jump, and as a result your Guardian feels heavier than before. This was a common complaint when I spoke with some of my regular raid buddies in our clan Slack channel last night, but six weeks out from the console launch it isn’t something I would expect to change dramatically. Hopefully, the improvement to PvP is worth the compromise. It could also be that speccing your gear for ‘mobility’ will improve the feel, though that doesn’t seem to be the case currently.

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Non-random loot rolls 

Loot is extremely limited in the beta, and likely not representative of what to expect from the final game. Currently you get a legendary piece after each Crucible match or Strike mission, but the pool is pretty small. There are 22 possible weapons, three of which are exotics you’ll pick up from the story mission. I’ve already had the same gun drop multiple times, and as we found out at the start of the month, the perks are static rather than randomly generated. 

My initial reaction to this change was horror, because it seemed to suggest a lot less loot to chase overall, which is quite a problem for a loot grind game. But I’ve since read counterpoints from people who prefer not having to rely on RNG to get god rolls and would rather have a clear path to the items they want. I think we’re going to have to wait for the final release to see how this one shakes out, and particularly how deep the item modding system is.

I’m excited to get back into Destiny’s world, but have serious reservations about the tradeoffs being made in the name of PvP balance.

As of now, I can’t think of any reason why you’d want a gun to drop a second time if everything about it is identical, other than as infusion fodder. If Bungie wants us to keep playing long term, they’re going to have to create a metric ton more weapons than they did in Destiny 1 to maintain our interest, which seems unlikely given the time required to create the flavour text, colourways, models and so on.

My abiding feeling from the beta so far is that I’m still super excited to get back out into Destiny’s world, but have some serious reservations about the PvE tradeoffs being made in the name of PvP balance. I’d like to see ability cooldowns and weapon perks work balanced differently between the modes, but this late in the day we’re talking about potentially substantial changes to a game that's six weeks from release on console. In that sense, the PC version might actually benefit from arriving more than a month later, as I wouldn’t bet against some serious patching to fine tune these systems once they’re in the wild.

Next page: Positive thoughts on PvP from an expert.

Austin Wood
Staff writer, GamesRadar

Austin freelanced for PC Gamer, Eurogamer, IGN, Sports Illustrated, and more while finishing his journalism degree, and has been a full-time writer at PC Gamer's sister publication GamesRadar+ since 2019. They've yet to realize that his position as a staff writer is just a cover-up for his career-spanning Destiny column, and he's kept the ruse going with a focus on news, the occasional feature, and as much Genshin Impact as he can get away with.