A year ago, I had the privilege of being one of the first people in the world to check out Destiny, the new game from makers of the legendary HALO franchise. Along with a group of game journalists, we got a chance to hear from the creators of this new world that they were building, ranging from the writers to the engineers to the sound curators to even the heads of the studio. All the while though, we kept wondering if we were actually going to get a chance play the game. Nope, it wasn’t happening and it didn’t happen at last year’s E3 and I missed out on a chance to play it at this year’s E3. So if you think that your wait to play Destiny for the first time was excruciating, imagine how I felt for almost a year and a half.
Over the weekend, I had a chance to finally play Destiny as part of Bungie’s alpha test over the weekend. It was everything that I thought it would be along with some parts that I did not expect and some parts that I hope will get better as well. Basically, this alpha was probably the best thing for the game.
Even though the game has been in the public consciousness for quite some time now, Destiny was still a mystery to everyone outside of Bungie. Was it a first-person shooter that played just like HALO? Nope, it plays a little like Call of Duty (the controls felt very similar right down to holding the left trigger to aim) with floaty boost jumps and vehicles that were not unlike riding a Warthog. Is the world like Borderlands without the cartoon filter? A little bit, but the world of beaten down Old Russia was much more bleak (in a good way), which is quite the accomplishment considering how crazy Borderlands can get. What about the MMO part but isn’t really an MMO according to Bungie? The game’s online features, from the hub world (where you switch to third-person perspective) to the way you teamed up with anonymous people to the way you got caught up in helping total strangers felt like nostalgic trip down Phantasy Star Online lane. And then there’s the loot even that has a touch of Diablo because you would occasionally run into gear that you needed to lug around with you until you got a shop keeper to decrypt what it is you found.
So the game is a mixture of various games that we know and love from the past but it manages to own it by injecting their own personality into the world. The character designs are well done and nail the balance between futuristic that also have mysterious magical trappings. Peter Dinklage is currently getting a lot of heat right now for his voiceover work as the game’s “Ghost” companion, but that seems like more of a problem with the lines of dialogue that was given to him more than his performance as a (we’re assuming that what’s he going for) soulless machine.
Where Destiny shined during my run through the alpha was in knowing that I’m not the only “one” in the world that gets to be the savior of everything. Going through the one available map in the alpha in a sort of open world mode (well, with ghost Dinklage, who also allows you to call up a vehicle in almost any open are on the fly in the coolest way possible), but as I making my way to the Wizard/boss, I was seeing other players just pop up in my game doing their own thing. These occasional teammates then either tagged along with me for a second before dropping off to do their own thing. It felt a lot like Journey where it felt like you were free to do whatever you wanted without any obligation to others. That is of course, a public event happens and a giant tank drops from out of the sky and you have to team up with others if you even want a shot of beating it.
There are also bigger more structured missions that take 30 to 45 minutes to complete and you have to team up with two other players while staying close to each other as you make your way through the area, beating bosses both minor and big along the way. Since we were unable to communicate via voice, the alpha does a fine job of not making things too complicated because any mission that would have required some form of tactics would have made this a not too pleasant experience. It was easy enough to figure out what each class (Titans, Hunters and Warlocks) was able to specialize in, although it did not seem to be too consequential as we played through the map because there were no specific moments where you felt like you really needed a Warlock (my class) to bail you out. And when were able to power through the final boss in the mission, it was such a satisfying moment that everybody in our party danced in a moment of spontaneity. It is those moments that Destiny is going to have deliver on a consistent basis if they want to keep everybody who was so hyped for the game engaged.
And then there was the Crucible which was your standard multiplayer shooter frag fest. In all honesty, I didn’t have any time for that because I am awful at those modes. The map was your typical dilapidated city block fair and didn’t do much to separate itself from the hundreds of other maps of that type of game out there besides looking so much better on the current generation of consoles.
When Destiny comes out in September, my hope is that there is going to be plenty more variety in the worlds that we are going to see. The promise of being able to play in a universe that allows each player to basically do their own thing while having the option to participate in events and challenges that are far bigger than anything they could ever handle on the fly is amazing. While Old Russia is a nice way to introduce us to the world of Destiny, the hope is that it won’t just be destroyed frontier land the rest of the way because that can get real old fast. Bungie is trying to bring together the companionship of an MMO, the loot-driven madness of games like Borderlands and Diablo but also still having that coat of HALO paint on it but not driving too hard in one direction or another. Let's hope that the alpha is just a taste of what's to come and not something that already filled us up.
The following preview is based on a code of the Destiny alpha for the PS4 that was sent to us by the publisher.