29 Aug 2017

Destiny 2: PC Beta First Impressions

Previously, I was cautiously optimistic about the Destiny 2 beta on PC. Unsurprisingly, after hitting it for a few hours yesterday, I’m much more enthusiastic. I’ve always felt that good first-person shooters are played best with a mouse and keyboard, and Bungie’s latest served to reaffirm that opinion. Even so, I can’t help but think that this was less of a beta, and more of a teaser for the full game.

It wouldn’t be a launch without some kind of mishap, and Destiny 2 managed to throw up a few errors when the horde of players tried to log in. I got caught by the ‘saxophone’ error message myself, but kudos to the teams at Blizzard, Activision and Bungie for crushing it quickly. I’d barely lost 30 minutes to the issue before the announcement came across Twitter that the problem had been resolved.

Ultimately, it ended up being an evening of highs and lows as I chewed through the single-player scenario/mission, and teamed up with friends to stomp through the Strike. At the end of it, we all agreed that the beta was more of an advert for the classic FPS crowd than a lure for MMO players. However, with Destiny 2 securing a spot next to World of Warcraft on the Battle.net Launcher, gamers may be lured to the sci-fi magnum opus purely out of curiosity.

The Great

For most people playing on desktop, it seemed as though performance was perfect, with the auto-configuration algorithms hitting the sweet-spot for most. Running at 4K resolution on a Nvidia GTX 1080Ti and Intel 4th generation Core i7, I was able to hit ‘High’ graphics settings without dipping below 60FPS. At that point, the game looks gorgeous – but that seems to be the opinion wherever you stick the slider. Not everyone was cheering though, with Belghast hitting issues on his gaming-grade laptop.

The intro mission served as a great way to demonstrate how Destiny 2 is going to deliver the story, although it’s worth bearing in mind that the scenario was cherry-picked to deliver a hefty impact. Being pragmatic, I’m expecting to spend as much time planetside or delving into a Strike as playing through a set-piece like then one we experienced.

As someone who played Destiny on the PS4, I also had an instant familiarity with the control scheme and abilities. Even though, much like Roguetrooperz, I was making the hop from controller to keyboard, I knew what abilities I was supposed to have and how it all roughly worked. Running and gunning was instantly portable, and my aiming accuracy got an uptick from using a decent mouse.

The Not-so-Great

If Bungie was hoping to convert a ship-full of newcomers, the PC beta we played was not the best way of doing it. A complete lack of tutorial meant that many I spoke to were bewildered or confused, and didn’t understand how to unleash the full power of their character. Even though the intro mission was simple and straightforward, the 3-player strike could be punishing if you’re not familiar with the game, particularly the end boss.

Control was also a little iffy at times. In order to cram every useful binding onto the keyboard, melee and other special attacks could be awkward to tap, requiring more dexterity than my meaty claws can manage. Luckily, it’s possible to remap almost every control, or use an Xbox controller instead. Unfortunately, the vibration is almost constant with this option, kicking in every time you fire your weapon, and desperately needs shutting off in the options.

And, as Scopique mentioned over at LevelCapped, there’s a lingering tinge of ‘so what?’ It’s a criticism that I got from speaking to a few franchise newcomers, that this supposed epic feeling just wasn’t present. I was reminded of Emperor Zarkon of Voltron fame a few times in my conversations, where the deep and prosaic villain serves as cartoon-based popcorn fodder. (Update: I’ve since been informed that Neil Kaplan does the voice acting for both!)

The Hoped-to-See

What I experienced in the Destiny 2 PC beta was a thin slice of the eventual game, but containing all the right elements for a shooter fan to make up their mind on preordering. For MMO and online gaming veterans, it did a poor job of demonstrating the vastness of Bungie’s galaxy, and showcasing the wondrous environments we’ll be taken to. Sure, there’ve been teaser videos and lore deep dives, but it’s not the same as experiencing it yourself.

Even so, there’s one ace us PC gamers have up our sleeves. With the console launch almost two months before ours, there will be plenty of time to read reviews, pick through the criticism, and make our own judgements. If we think of the Destiny 2 beta as a test of how it runs and plays on our gaming rigs, we’ve got plenty of time to decide if the content is something worth paying for.

That is, if you didn’t get it free from Warcraft gold. Or with your graphics card.

In the end, though, Destiny 2 really does feel at home on the PC. The precise gameplay of mouse and keyboard, paired with rich 4K visuals at a high frame rate, means there’s no contest. If I end up buying in, I’ll be leaving my console friends behind.

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