Thanks to Sony and Activision’s announced deal at E3 I was lucky enough to be sent a code for the PS4 Alpha version of the forthcoming Bungie game Destiny. I’ve played it and I’m about to go into details about my experience with the demo build, but I wanted to paint a picture of where I was at prior to booting the game up so you can understand my motivations and appreciate my observations a little more clearly as I move forward.
As a gamer I like to play alone. I love narrative driven game experiences and single player RPGs. I rarely, if ever, partake in co-operative play and although I genuinely really wanted to like it, I just couldn’t get on with the MMORPG Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. I’m not opposed to first person shooters on the whole, but I am that guy who buys Call of Duty for the campaign rather than the multiplayer. Taking this into consideration, playing the Alpha build of a massively multiplayer online first person shooter, from the publisher of Call of Duty and the developer behind Halo, I had what I felt were realistic, if somewhat negative, expectations.
I imagine I’m not the only person in the world in this position and I’d like to tell my fellow lone wolves – I’ve played the Destiny Alpha now and I’m going to enthusiastically pre-order at my local game store at the beginning of this coming week and wait patiently for the Beta. Anyone who was already looking forward to Destiny should have already pre-ordered and if you haven’t, seriously, do it now – it’s your Destiny … Terrible pun aside, let’s move on …
So how did I end up with such a shift in what are two polarizing opinions? It’s a balanced combination of solid and exciting gunplay, an acutely detailed world, non-intrusive multiplayer and co-operation and a tantalizing carrot and stick upgrade system. There’s no one single feature of Destiny that makes the game stand out, but rather a selection of well crafted and well put together mechanics which add up to an exceptionally fun experience.
Let’s start with the gunplay – the absolute core of the game, given that it’s a first person shooter. Fighting enemies is a blast in Destiny – the guns handle uniquely and heavier weapons like a shotgun feel like they’re packing a punch. Two things I’ve noticed so far add to the tension in the heat of a gunfight – firstly, ammo isn’t hugely available, I’ve ran out of ammo entirely on more than one occasion and secondly, it’s really easy to wander into a gunfight with enemies of a significantly higher level than your own character. Both of these elements directly affected the way I approached the fight, for example, in the latter scenario I’d take cover more, wait for the health bar to regenerate before going on the offensive again.
Similarly, different types of enemies required different approaches with some more inclined to take cover and hide while others launched power attack after power attack between recharging. In the Destiny Alpha there is only one “level” per se, Old Russia on Earth, so to see this level of intensity and variation from battles already promises great things from the finished game.
The scope of Destiny in its final form will be truly stellar but if all of the environments and worlds are as acutely and lovingly detailed as the Earth location playable in the Alpha, then Destiny is going to be a fantastically interesting place to explore. Again, it’s not one key component which makes the terrain enjoyable. There’s a real sense of freedom, particularly in the exploration mission in which you can wander freely or pick up a mission. You do genuinely feel as if you can go anywhere – some of the areas are a little barren at the moment, but it’s hard to tell if that’s because it’s an Alpha build of Destiny or whether I had wandered into an area reserved specifically for a mission I wasn’t doing at the time.
Old Russia is sparse, with derelict old cars and planes scattered throughout. There are a number of key structures, and some of the underground areas are surprisingly sprawling – it’s very easy to get lost although I do have to say Destiny‘s objective marker is a joy to use – if you’re going along a particularly winding route the marker will show you to the door/turn you need before moving itself forward, preventing you from getting too lost. There are little nooks and crannies everywhere in Old Russia, including one particularly well hidden cave that can only be reached by launching yourself from a broken plane wing and carefully timing your jump. The key benchmark for me is that the world is fun to explore, you actually want to explore and see what’s round the next corner waiting for you, even if it’s much higher level enemies and you end up running away to hide.
Naturally with Destiny being a massively multiplayer online game, it’s going to have a lot of elements that FPS fans aren’t used to seeing, but thankfully they’re well implemented and feel very natural in the game. Based on the Alpha alone, it appears you could play Destiny as a lone wolf which is reassuring although there are areas that greatly benefit from playing with others. The most obvious MMO area is The Tower which serves as a sort of central hub – it’s filled with people to talk to and plenty of shops for armor, weaponry and upgrades. I’m not 100% sure why, but Destiny changes to 3rd person in The Tower – it’s not too intrusive or off-putting although the rest of the game is first person, so it does feel a little oddly alienated and disjointed from the rest of the game.
Everything you do earns you XP, as you’d expect, and levelling up allows you to wield higher level weaponry and armor. Destiny goes a long way in motivating you to keep levelling up – there’s always a cooler, stronger or more badass weapon or armor set waiting for you on the next level up – it’s similar in a lot of ways to Borderlands, where there’s so much to choose from and loot.
The other key MMO experience within Destiny is what I’d suggest was the highlight of my experience playing the Alpha – the co-operative Strikes. The Strikes allow three players to form a firing squad and work co-operatively towards a shared goal, within a given time limit – it’s strangely similar to Monster Hunter’s online hunts in that respect. In the Alpha Strike, two strangers and myself teamed up to firstly infiltrate a base, hack a computer and then defend the position while three epic waves of enemies storm the location before moving on to fight a massive boss that looked like a huge mechanical spider complete with the ability to fire rockets. Like I said, I’m not much of a co-operative fan but the intensity was cranked right up and I found myself tactically placing myself and reacting to my team members, as well as risking my own life to heal them when they got gunned down. It’s difficult to explain the massive sense of urgency that Destiny created during the Strike but it really worked and let to a massive sense of achievement as we began to work together to wipe out the enemy forces.
There’s so much I’ve not been able to cover comprehensively here – such as going into details about the huge selection of upgrades, and the implications of choosing a specific weapon over another. I’ve also not gone into detail about the awesome transport in Destiny and the fact that 99% of the time, you can launch into Orbit and change what you’re doing almost instantly. I’ve not discussed how cool it is to summon a hover bike and speed across the level in search of your next target. Destiny is going to be huge if there’s this much to do in the Alpha, the Beta will be even bigger and the final game will be colossal.
As I said right at the beginning of this article, I was a Destiny doubter and now I’m desperate to get my hands on the game at launch and immerse myself in its fantastic universe. See below for an hours gameplay footage from Destiny to whet your appetite, showing off some exploration, travel, upgrades and a few missions. We’ll definitely be bring you more about Destiny as we get it!