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'Destiny' alpha gives gamers a look at a solid multiplayer online experience

Personal Destiny alpha screenshots-slide0
Photo courtesy of Bungie, used with permission

Over the weekend, guardians from all over were able to step foot into the world of Destiny. Bungie’s upcoming shooter isn’t quite an MMO, but it’s definitely within the realm of a seriously engaging multiplayer online experience. Many players had the chance to play the game for the first time in the limited alpha experience.

The Traveler in the Destiny alpha
Photo courtesy of Bungie, used with permission

The exclusive Playstation 4 alpha test was announced last week at E3. Players had a chance to sign up for a chance to test the alpha, and Bungie handed out many codes for those that did not get a chance to register. On Friday, players were able to log in and create characters that started at level three. The cap for the alpha was eight.

Aside from the level cap, other restrictions were in place. Only a small portion of the game was available during the alpha. All three guardians were available to play each with one subclass to play. One story-based mission and its explorable mode were available without Playstation Plus while activities that were used matchmaking required the service. Matchmaking is utilized for strikes; three-man instances and the crucible; PvP.

Although it can be played alongside others, Destiny doesn’t quite fit the MMO label. It’s more akin to Phantasy Star Online or Guild Wars in its online setup. There is a town where players can gather. It appears to be in shards with only around 20 guardians there at a time. Players can create fireteams here, or while in orbit, to ready themselves to fight the fallen in a party. These fireteams can set off on adventures together and while they’re out exploring, they may run into other players.

There are a few emotes mapped to the D-pad and they are the primary means of communication with strangers. It’s a feature, or a lack thereof, that seems to make the world more pleasant. There’s no incessant rambling chat window, and there’s little way for someone to be completely rude to another player. It’s strict, but it’s a good way to keep things clean and generally less stressful. However, voice chat is available while in a fireteam. In fact, a player’s voice will distort depending on their character’s location.

At its heart, Destiny is a shooter. Of course, being a sci-fi shooter, it will be compared to Bungie’s Halo series, but there are similarities to other games as well. The world feels lived in like Borderlands while the vehicle mechanic could easily bring back Defiance memories. Gamers have guns, grenades, and a super ability tied to their guardian’s subclass. They level up with experience, use glimmer to buy things, earn reputation with factions, and collect materials to improve their gear.

In fact, even though the level cap was eight, players could level up their guardians quite a bit. New unlocks for the guardian’s grenade, melee override, jump, and more are leveled through use. Even at the level cap, players could still level these mechanics to augment the way these features functioned. For instance, a striker’s melee override can be augmented to have a chance to immediately reset its cooldown when used.

As for weapons, the player has three slots in their inventory for guns; a primary, a secondary, and a heavy weapon. Primaries include weapons like hand cannons and rifles while weapons like sniper rifles and shotguns can occupy the secondary slot. Players can carry powerful weapons like machine guns and rocket launchers in the heavy slot. A variety of weapons are available for each slot, and ammo drops in rarity. These ammo drops provide ammo to the appropriate slot rather than a specific gun type. For example, green ammo provides ammo the secondary weapon no matter what it is.

Weapons are rather important, too. Just like a guardian levels up new augments with use, weapons of green or higher quality have unlocks as well and a higher quality weapon will have more features to unlock. A good sample of this in action is a scout rifle that can be fitted with a nicer scope after it’s used in combat. With these unlocks and augments, the game gives players a light RPG experience.

There is a familiarity to it, but that’s not a negative aspect of the game. It does feel innovative when it comes to how the game matchmakes, brings players together in an explorable map, and the third-person segments are a personal favorite. It may not be a completely new experience for shooter veterans, but there’s something about the lore and world that invites the player to keep looking. That’s an important part of keeping a multiplayer online game going.