Just a few minutes into the opening cinematic for Destiny 2 and it's clear that priorities have shifted. That's not to say that the first game started with a whimper, but rather that this sequel opens with a story-driven roar. Cabal forces descend on The Tower en masse, and the world we knew oh so well from Bungie's last game is turned upside down in what feels like the blink of an eye.
Without wanting to stray into spoiler territory, at least not too far, Bungie has set up an epic showdown via the plot points revealed during the opening mission, that sees you - once again playing as your class of choice, for us that means a golden gun-wielding Hunter - fighting against an invading force that calls itself The Red Legion, described during in-game dialogue as an elite Cabal force and clearly not to be taken lightly. Dominus Ghaul and his minions are rampaging through the city, and come the last cinematic we're left in no doubt: humanity is on its knees and is staring into the abyss.
Story is up front and centre in Destiny 2, and Bungie has carried on in the vein of The Taken King, a turning point for the first game where the expansion reworked the base game and refocussed the story, adding much needed personality via recast characters and a more entertaining script. After playing the first mission - the aptly titled Homecoming - and witnessing the opening of the story unfold, we're very much looking forward to seeing where Bungie takes things next.
After that stunning introduction to the story campaign, we're sent (via The Director) to a Strike. We played with a pair of randoms and tackled the solitary co-op mission - The Inverted Spire - at full speed, blasting away at both Vex and Cabal enemies. There's a sequence with platform hopping reminiscent of the one in The Vault of Glass, and a boss battle where the ground literally vanishes from beneath your feet, sending you tumbling into a new encounter as you whittle away a giant health bar whilst also fending off waves of smaller Vex enemies.
Throughout this mission and the campaign opener, we got to enjoy Sunshot, a legendary pistol that has an ever-so-helpful passive ability whereby enemies explode when killed by it, making it great for controlling crowds of low level enemies. Elsewhere we didn't get too much time on an old favourite of ours, the shotgun, since it has been reclassified as a heavy weapon, as Bungie looks to mix things up, particularly in multiplayer, where there should be less one-shot deaths to endure.
The Strike itself is quintessential Destiny, so players will probably find it reassuringly familiar, and the campaign mission reaffirms the studio's dedication to improving the narrative aspect that so hindered the launch of the first game. In the beta for the original game we got a whole open-world area to explore, but this time around it's a much more focussed affair, and once the campaign and co-op mission are completed (however many times you want, this is Destiny after all) the only thing that's left to do is head over to the Crucible and test your mettle against human adversaries.
We got to sample two new maps, and two modes to go with them. The new mode we saw was Countdown, a round-based offering where each team takes it in turn to attack one of two objectives, activating a charge and then defending it for a set time. Teams swap between attack and defence, and players have one life each (although there is a limited number of revives if you can reach a downed friend), which leads to some tense moments. The action takes place in Midtown, which is set on Earth, and it's the more expansive map of the two with interlinking streets separated by enterable buildings.
The other mode is more traditional. The new-look Control mode is, while similar to the first, subtly different, for example, each team's home base is already captured at the start making first contact come a little sooner, and capturing takes the same amount of time regardless of how many players hold the point. Endless Vale is the new map designed to showcase this returning mode; it's set on Nessus, and its art-style, combined with some twisting and turning corridors and confined spaces, felt instantly familiar.
All told the beta for Destiny 2 impressed. Bungie hasn't tried to reinvent the wheel, and instead they're looking to build on what they did right in the post-Taken King era. The single-player campaign opening has certainly whet our appetite for more and we're very much looking forward to seeing how this new narrative plays out, and the Strike was a typically engaging co-op mission that looked good and felt great to play. The only question mark remaining hangs over the eventual scope of this sequel, and what it will offer to returning Guardians chomping at the bit for new content to play in the months ahead. On that front, we're going to have to wait and see, but with Destiny 2 hitting PS4 and Xbox One on September 6 (October 24 on PC), we don't have long to wait.