Bungie has pulled back the curtain on Destiny 2, and at the same time, it has offered some of its most engaged enthusiasts and press the chance to experience the game firsthand with three separate hands-on gameplay demos. After checking out the Homecoming story mission that helps to open the game, a cooperative strike called The Inverted Spire on the new planetoid Nessus, and playing through some of the new Countdown Crucible game type on a new map called Midtown, there’s a lot to break down and dissect.
Homecoming makes for a bombastic opening scene, and I like the way it is a clear connector to the core experience of Destiny 1. Remember all that time you spent in the Tower? That place is getting blown up. You’re literally watching your vault collection go up in smoke.
I also enjoy the integrated storytelling and character development that’s going on. Destiny 1 was always reticent to integrate NPCs too deeply into story missions, but if Homecoming is any indication, that won’t be a guideline in Destiny 2. We see some great action scenes with Zavala and Ikora weaving in and out of the fight, and part way through the mission, a scene cut with a cinematic in which we see our old shipwright, Amanda Holliday, as she pilots us up to one of the Cabal Red Legion ships.
Shooting and movement feel great, which isn’t a surprise – that’s always been a strong suit for Bungie. Returning weapon types have some new tricks up their sleeves, and I’m looking forward to more in-depth time with the guns to see how they each feel differently. But I focused my attention on the new submachine gun weapon type, which feels just the way you’d want it to – a high rate-of-fire monster at close range. I also tried out the new grenade launcher power weapon, which offers some of the same fun of a rocket launcher, but with a more nuanced shooting arc.
Getting to play with the new solar-based Dawnblade Warlock is certainly a blast, no pun intended. While grenades and jump mechanics feel familiar, the flaming sword super is an exhilarating experience. The subclass, and especially the super, feel like they’re focused on aerial superiority and raining down death from above, which is very satisfying.
The Inverted Spire strike wasn't shown during today’s live stream, but it offers an excellent glimpse of some of the ways strikes are continuing to evolve. Red Legion troops are in the midst of a pitched struggle against the Vex over the course of the strike, so in many of conflicts I encountered, grenades and gunfire were already flying everywhere.
Nessus is a gorgeous area, and in an odd way, more lively and active than some of the other Vex-controlled machine areas (like Mercury) that we’ve seen before. Waterfalls of Vex milk flow everywhere, and the descent into the planet makes for some gorgeous vistas, including several launching gateways that send you careening across long distances. Along the way, I fought some of the Red Legion’s new battle beasts, along with new variations of Cabal troops, like a Gladiator wielding two cleaver-like swords who was deadly at close range.
The Inverted Spire’s most striking moment is the drill. The Cabal are trying to dig down into the Vex infrastructure by using a giant spinning drill machine, and in order to progress, my fireteam had to leap down and around the drill's spinning bits. It reminded me of a Mega Man platforming sequence in some ways, and I laughed a lot as I died repeatedly until I was able to learn the pattern.
The final boss of the strike was very cool – a towering Vex that we slowly took to pieces by shooting off body parts. As its health bar dropped, the boss would regularly drop the floor out from underneath, leading to a multi-stage battle that never allowed my fireteam to get lazy or fall into a pattern. In short, especially thanks to the drill sequence and the boss, The Inverted Spire was great fun.
The last hands-on experience on display was a chance to play Countdown ( a new Crucible mode) on Midtown (a new Crucible map). Countdown is an objective-based attack-and-defend mode, and it became apparent quickly that communication is central to success. Countdown unfolds in rounds, with your role trading each round. First team to six round wins takes the match.
Right away, as a round starts, decisions must be made about where you move on the map. There are two potential sites for the bomb. If you’re on offense, you have to decide whether you’re going to swarm one site, or send a distraction to one site so you can actually head the other way. Since every small area of the Midtown map has a descriptive name noted onscreen, it’s easy to call out where the action is happening.
It’s here in the Crucible that I really noticed the changes to weapon classes. The new kinetic, energy, and power weapon split means that sniper and shotgun play appears to be far less viable than it was in Destiny 1. If you’re especially devoted to that style of play, you can certainly grab the power ammo when it spawns, but you’re putting yourself in danger to grab it, and the ammo only drops for yourself, so you’re denying that power ammo to another player on your team.
The bomb setting and defusing leads to a lot of compelling tension. Once a bomb is set, the defending team must find a way to defuse it in time. Often, that means a tense few moments of waiting (no timer shows on the defuse) to see whether you’ll turn off the bomb in time.
No matter the game mode, Destiny 2 looks great in action. The visuals are crisp, the sound work is up to Bungie’s normal standard of excellence, and the overall feel of play is spot-on. Returning players are likely to find that moment-to-moment shooting feels as good as it always has, but the surrounding systems are going to take some adjustment, especially the new organization system for weapons. As a longtime Destiny player, I came away very excited about what I’d played, and eager to see whether Bungie can make good on its promises for a deeper story, richer grouping system, and compelling progression systems; those and other elements will only be made clear as we get closer to launch.
Today also brought news from Bungie's live stream, details about Destiny 2's appearance on Battle.net, word that the PC version will release after the console versions, a first gameplay trailer, and a bevy of screenshots. Suffice to say, it's been a big day for Destiny fans.