Destiny – Alpha first look
Gamers are passionate and intelligent people, and because of this, we quite often know what games we like and don’t like. Gamers will often try to refer their friends to a certain game, only to be told by a friend “Nah, I’m good. I don’t like shooters” or “That sounds cool, but JRPGs aren’t really my thing.”
This frame of mind often extends to publishers and developers as well, and that’s fair enough. Certain developers have certain creative styles that some of us simply can’t enjoy, or find hard to embrace. For example, I’ve played every Halo game except ODST and Halo Wars, and I just simply didn’t enjoy them. I’ve been critical of Bungie and Halo games in the past, and I didn’t think I would ever truly enjoy a Bungie game. How incredibly wrong I was.
Since its announcement, there has been information slowly trickling forth about Bungie’s upcoming multi-platform game, ‘Destiny’. The game never really became a priority for me (or even something I followed closely) until recently, and even then you could have labeled me as “cautious” about the game. I recently received an invite to a public alpha of Destiny (a playable build of the game still in development) and I’m not ready to say goodbye to the game yet. I can’t get enough of it.
It truly is a fantastic game, even in alpha! Before I get ahead of myself though, I should probably do a quick introduction for those of you unaware of Bungie and their upcoming masterpiece, Destiny.
Bungie Studios was formed in 1991 by Alex Saropian who later brought in developer Jason Jones after publishing his game, Minotaur: The Labyrinths of Crete. They released Marathon in 1994 for the Apple Macintosh computer system, and the game would receive two sequels in the following years. Bungie’s big break, however, would be when they completely re-worked a third-person shooter they were developing for Apple and turn it into a first-person shooter for Microsoft. That game was Halo: Combat Evolved. Since Halo’s first title in 2001, the series has grossed over $3.4 billion, breaking a number of sales records and being compared to Star Wars by experts, due to its cultural impact.
Bungie was bought by Microsoft in 2000, but split from them in 2007 to return to their independent roots. In 2010, free from the pressures of being Microsoft’s go-to developer for Halo, they were able to set their sights on a new intellectual property – Destiny. Now, finally, a playable build of the game has arrived, and not only has it made me a Destiny addict, it’s made me a Bungie believer. Here’s what Bungie are saying about Destiny:
- Bungie and Activision describe Destiny as a “shared world shooter,” stating that the game really does not fit squarely into other genres such as FPS, RPG, or MMO. “Shared world shooter” means that the game can be played solo or in small groups, and player advancement does not necessarily rely on other players.
- Destiny will feature a persistent, dynamic, online world that includes realistic changes of light and weather.
- Destiny’s story will unfold like a series of books and chapters.
- Destiny will have several game modes. Bounty resembles a “raid” in a traditional MMO and successful bounties can result in rewards of weapons, armor, and items. Competitive multiplayer will occur as well, though players will have to voluntarily enter into it.
- Music will be by Martin O’Donnell in collaboration with Michael Salvatori and Paul McCartney.
- Bungie describes Destiny as resting on seven “pillars” essential to creating a great video game:
- A world players want to be in.
- A bunch of fun things to do.
- Rewards players care about.
- A new experience every night.
- Shared with other people.
- Enjoyable by all skill levels.
- Enjoyable by the impatient and distracted.
Destiny is currently in “alpha” state, which means the game could change radically before entering beta and reaching its final build (the finished game). Some content mentioned in this hands-on preview could be altered or completely removed from the game. If it is, you can be sure it will be replaced with content that’s somehow even better.
What is Destiny?
Destiny takes everything Bungie has previously learnt from all their other games, and combines with fresh ideas, and the features of an MMO. I say “features of an MMO” because Destiny is not an MMO, but is instead being called a “shared-world” shooter. There won’t be thousands of other players running around and butchering the game’s frame rate, but there will be dynamic events, drop-in drop-out co-op missions and events and loot. So much loot.
Destiny is set 700 years after a catastrophic event has pushed mankind to the brink of extinction. During the “Golden Age”, mankind was able to colonize different planets in the solar system, which led to a great time of prosperity and exploration. An event called “The Collapse” however saw these colonies destroyed, and the only survivors being left on Earth.
A mysterious entity known as “The Traveller” helped Earth’s inhabitants survive, and now dwells above Earth’s last city. Those who inhabit the city are now able to wield a power known only as “The Light”.
Earth’s inhabitants discover that sinister alien races have taken over the collapsed human colonies throughout the solar system, and that they are rapidly approaching Earth too. The player takes on the role of a “Guardian of the City”, and is tasked with investigating and eliminating the alien threat before humanity is wiped out forever.
Your Character (Races, Gender and Classes)
Destiny offers players three different races two choose from, each with two genders. Here’s a brief rundown on each race:
The Humans – The humans are tough, reliable and uncomplicated. Bungie apparently took inspiration from real-life solders and combined that inspiration with the aesthetics of their Spartans from Halo.
The Awoken – The Awoken are based off of mythological creatures such as elves, vampires, ghosts, and angels. They are “exotic, beautiful, and mysterious.” They, along with the Humans, survived the Collapse, though they were “deeply affected”.
The Exo – The Exo are robotic in appearance, though not much is known about them at this point. “Sinister, powerful, and tireless”, the Exo are a mix of the robots from The Terminator, and Master Chief from Halo. As you can imagine, they can be quite intimidating. They are self-aware machines created during the Golden Age, but have lost all memory since the collapse.
When you’ve settled on a race and gender (which at this point is purely cosmetic), you will then pick a class for your character. The classes are as follows:
The Titan – The “Faceless Knights” who protect people from countless enemies. They sport the best armour and shields, and have lightning-charged fists. They can harness the Light to either deliver a powerful energy smash to the ground, or to create a strong defensive energy shield to protect them and their allies.
The Warlock – Able to harness the Light in ways never seen before, the Warlock is a powerful and “mystic” warrior. Their abilities include throwing a energy bold at their enemies (which is extremely devastating) and enhancing all their abilities by enveloping themselves in the Light.
The Hunter – Quick with a gun, and even quicker with a blade, the Hunter stalks the battlefield as though his enemies are mere prey. They’re able to create a solar gun of immense energy, which disintegrates their enemies. They can also charge their knife with electric energy, which devastates crowds of enemies.
Each class has unique weapons, armours, challenges and many other things associated with it, so the player would be best advised not to rush into choosing their class too hastily. You can though, have multiple characters and classes, and I would advise making one of each to help you find your calling in the game. Thankfully, the alpha dropped me into an action-packed mission instantly, so exploring the classes was painless, unlike other MMOs like World of Warcraft and Guild Wars where it might take you a few hours and experience levels to discover how your class plays.
The classes also have an advanced or upgraded class that can be reached once the player hits a certain level. Though the alpha was locked to level 8, I was able to catch a glimpse of the armour and weapons used by the advanced classes through some shops and NPCs. If you thought other MMOs had impressive advanced class gear, just wait until you see what Destiny has in store for you. One armour set I saw was an intimidating crimson colour, with a matching cloak and unique pattern for the chest, arms and legs. While my initial armour was impressive, it had nothing on the advanced armour.
Starting out, an Introduction to Destiny’s Main Campaign
The alpha began with my character immediately being dropped into a mission. When the full game releases I’m sure this will change, but for now, the experience is light on story and instead focuses on action. The mission itself is a story mission, but the exact what’s and why’s are left in the dark for now.
Upon getting dropped into the mission, it’s immediately noticeable just how gorgeous Destiny looks. Comparisons to Bungie’s previous game series, Halo, wouldn’t be fair, but Destiny benefits from more than just a raw hardware leap. Indeed, Bungie have learned a lot since Halo: Reach in 2010, and everything from the game’s environments, weapons and characters to the use of colours and lighting is infinitely better than anything seen in a Halo game. Truly, it is a stunning game from a visual perspective.
The story mission available in the alpha was a curious choice. Neither the beginning nor the end of a series of events (which was good as it didn’t spoil anything), it didn’t flesh out the overall story, or even stand as an introduction to your enemy. With that being said, it provides a decent amount of variety, and instantly displayed just how much Bungie have grown, and what they’re now capable of as a developer.
The mission takes place in Russia, where dilapidated buildings and ruined aircraft litter the scenery. The ground is patches of overgrown grass and dirt met with craggy cliffs. The Collapse has ruined the Russian countryside. It is broken, decayed – it is desolate. Compared to the bland environments of the Halo games, Destiny’s environments area huge leap forward for Bungie. They’re huge, detailed and unique, and not one area feels like a repetition of an earlier one – they impress the hell out of me.
I set out on foot towards a group of armed aliens walking nearby. My crosshair turns red indicating they aren’t friendly, so I look down my sights at them. They’re “Fallen”, an alien race that are very animalistic in their appearance. One thing that impressed me was how well the aliens functioned as a unit. They moved from building to building, wreckage to wreckage, scavenging as they went, and always keeping an eye out for any outsiders or intruders. I watched them for a few minutes, and judged which might be the best way to attack. Do I attack the leader (the biggest one at the back), or do I attack the little guys who I might be able to pick off with my scout rifle?
My thoughts are soon made irrelevant, as one of the smaller ones spots me and begins to attack. At first, the cautious ducking and weaving of the enemies reminds me of many a shootout in Halo, but once again, I’m shown just how different and better a game Destiny is. The enemies begin to co-ordinate, calling in reinforcements and attempting to flank me. Each enemy has their own strengths and weaknesses, and they are well aware of them, their behaviour reflecting that. Thankfully, I’m a decent shot and although I was in danger, I manage to dispatch my foes with a few carefully-aimed headshots.
Not knowing where to head next I use my Ghost companion to locate my current objective. The Ghost is a hovering drone, an A.I. companion who will follow you on your adventures and provide you with intel, as well as share their opinion of how the mission is currently going. Game of Thrones fans will recognise Peter Dinklage as the voice of the player’s Ghost immediately. As “cool” as it sounds having Dinklage involved with Destiny, something about his voice acting just doesn’t quite nail it. Sure, he’s playing a robotic A.I., but Halo’s Cortana should stand as proof that A.I. can have a personality, and be a highly entertaining character. Perhaps Destiny’s directors and sound department just failed to find that balance of robot and personality that they have in the past. In any case, it’s nice to hear a “different” kind of voice in a game, when you compare Destiny to other games.
After locating my objective, I summon my speeder bike. Gamers and other geeks will appreciate how thrilling it is to do this. Part Star Wars, part Halo, using a speeder bike in Destiny never gets old. You can use it to escape an intense battle, deal damage to enemies, or simply shorten the travel between objectives. It sounds amazing and handles brilliantly, and is integrated perfectly.
The feel of the mission dramatically changes after reaching the final objective’s location. Where I was once running around and taking in the beautiful-but-barren sights of the Russian landscape, I was now entering a dark and claustrophobic underground facility. The only thing the building had in common with its surrounds was that it was in a state of complete disrepair. A few more Fallen are inside, the resulting fire fights feeling similar, but different at the same time as the Fallen now have more objects in the environment to use for cover, flanking maneuvers and other strategies.
Somehow, the building grows even darker as I make my way further underground. Suddenly, Ghost informs me that something isn’t quite right. Before we can gather our thoughts a shrill scream echoes throughout the area. “It’s the Hive!” cried Ghost, as a number of faceless enemies come bounding and leaping from the darkness. Where the Fallen used weapons and military strategies, the Hive are attacking with raw brutality, sprinting, crawling and leaping towards me with absolute ferocity. They scratch, bite and kick like monsters out of a creature horror movie, and almost completely overwhelm me. Once I dispatch the smaller, more agile Hive members, I am encountered by Hive Knights, who shoot energy projectiles at me from a distance and in cover. There is no safe place to hide, I have to fight, and fight well to survive. My Ghost informs me that the Hive hasn’t been spotted on Earth in hundreds of years. The threat facing mankind, it seems, is far greater than imagined.
Ghost then tells me that if I see a sinister alien that can fly, I have to find a way to defeat it. Sure enough, in the next room there is a large group of Hive being led by a truly intimidating and frightening foe, a Hive Wizard. The Wizard commands his minions to attack me en masse, whilst he hurls large energy bolts that explode with splash damage as they collide with my character and the environment. My shields are a nothing more than a memory as I frantically hurl grenades and use my Light ability in vain to combat the Hive menace. Eventually, I think their numbers enough to focus my attacks on the Wizard himself, and just as I am an inch from death, I manage to shoot two successive headshots on the Wizard with my Golden Gun (the Hunter’s Light ability), disintegrating him. His minions are scattered, most fleeing and the few that remain unable to co-ordinate an attack. They are easily taken down, and the mission ends.
Overall, the mission piques my interest. Clearly, I was there to gather intel, but learnt far more than I had planned. The aliens I encountered kept me on my toes as they both looked and fought extremely differently from each other. I’ve played nearly every major (and minor) shooter released since I started gaming some 25 years ago, and I’m stoked that Destiny will be delivering a frantic (but fair) shooting experience that will see experienced gamers having to adapt and learn how to combat its alien enemies. It isn’t like Call of Duty, where Soldier-X in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (released in 2007) fights identically to Soldier-Y in Call of Duty: Ghosts (released in 2013). You can’t predict the outcome of an encounter with your enemies in Destiny, and that’s great.
After the mission completed, I found myself upon my ship. Basically, the ship acts as a menu where you can decide to go to the Tower, Earth, or the Crucible. The Tower acts like a city in World of Warcraft, where you can pay for a number of good and services, store items, send or receive mail, receive rewards for missions and challenges completed, as well as a number of other player services.
When I first arrived at the Tower, I was given a tour which rewarded me with new gear for my actions. I imagine this will also take place in the beta and full release of the game, as it was a great way to get introduced to your base of operations. In the exterior plaza, there are three entrances, each one taking you two a specific set of vendors. There’s the hangar, which takes you to the shipwrights and other related vendors, who can sell you a new ship or speeder bike, or upgrade or improve your vehicles. There’s the class vendors, known as the Vanguards, who can offer you rewards or sell you exclusive armour and weapons depending on your class (most has to be unlocked through challenges and specific levels though), and there’s the miscellaneous vendor area, where outfitters, emblem sellers and other vendors dwell. Outside in the starting area, are the mail service, gunsmiths and armour sellers, as well as an item appraiser who will unlock rare items found on missions so that you can equip them (if you meet their prerequisites).
The Tower is also home to various NPCs, who are going about their everyday lives, conversing with both you and each other about various events and life at the Tower, giving an insight into the plight faced by mankind. There aren’t a major number of people around, but I imagine that is because they’re at another part of the city. From what I can gather from other alpha attendees, other players can see and interact with each other at the Tower, compare missions and take on bounties together. Australian Destiny players must have been a minority, as I was the only person present in the Tower whenever I played during the alpha period.
In addition to the main campaign (which can be played either single-player or multiplayer), Destiny will feature online competitive modes, as well as co-operative multiplayer modes and modes where rival factions can fight against each other. Here’s the skinny:
- The Crucible – Destiny is a shooter at heart, and although it offers a brilliant mix of MMO and RPG elements, players will no doubt be keen for traditional competitive multiplayer modes. The Crucible offers exactly that, only you get to take your unique weapons, gear and other unlocks with you, which makes for some intense and unpredictable match ups.
Though the alpha only had Control available (think Domination or Hardpoint), there were five other game modes found in the menu. No other modes have been announced, but there were other icons in the menu. One featured swords crossed over, which I’m assuming is Team Deathmatch and another featured a flag, which I’m assuming is Capture the Flag. I’m only speculating though, and I’m sure Bungie will announce the remainder of Crucible modes soon.
- Patrol Mode – Patrol Mode offers players the opportunity to revisit locations they’ve already partially explored during the story missions. They can drop into these locations on their own or with friends, and explore the vast landscape, picking up optional missions along the way if they choose to. I spent hours exploring Russia, and the variety of missions was remarkable. Though the story mission took place in a pretty large building (with an even larger subterranean area), it really was a mere freckle on the explorable area compared to what can be explored in Patrol Mode. The available quests are catered to your level, but you’re free to explore a huge amount area, regardless of if there’s a quest there or not. I wandered underground in Russia for an hour or so, and found enemies at such a high level, I could barely scratch them. They weren’t Fallen or Hive, and they were too much for me to handle. It’s a shame, because there was loot aplenty in the area.
- Strike Mode – Strike Mode provides a structured, progressive, cooperative adventure “ideal for pick-up groups or friends looking for a quick battle together”. Strikes are replayable, designed for three-person Fireteams, and usually take 15-30 minutes to complete.
Strikes always begin in a public area, so the Fireteam can begin participating in public events, encounter other Fireteams heading out on other Strikes or other missions, or “just roam around and explore”. But once the Fireteam enters the “Strike proper” it becomes private, and the Fireteam will no longer encounter other players. At that point, players go through a structured, crafted mission that culminates in one or more boss battles. The Strike I played was fantastic, but teamwork is absolutely vital to success. There is no room for lone wolves.
- Raids – Raids are extremely difficult, six-player, endgame missions that may take hours to complete. Eric Osborne stated that on one particular raid, he and his team “spent over 45 minutes just cracking the entrance.” Raids are designed for teams of players that have extensively upgraded their focuses, armor, and weapons and are seeking a difficult endgame challenge. Raids recreate the high difficulty-extreme loot of dungeon raids found in MMORPGs like World of Warcraft.
- Bounty – Bounty is a weekly event where players locate certain high-value targets for rewards and loot. Not much else is known at this point.
- Public Events – A Public Event is a global mini-game in Destiny, where local players may participate in a game-determined objective in order to defend zones from enemies and earn loot. Public Events appear to be randomized and can occur at any time anywhere in Destiny, where multiple fireteams may participate in combating waves of enemies before encountering a boss.
- Faction Wars – Faction Wars is a game mode available from the main menu. Faction Wars was very briefly previewed in the Pathways Out of Darkness ViDoc with no mention since, thus very little is known about this game mode. Speculation suggests that the Faction Wars game mode offers players the ability to challenge other factions in a multiplayer competitive setting.
Destiny’s core gameplay makes for exciting online battles, as players can use their levelled-up characters and equipment in a competitive arena. If you’ve unlocked a brilliant new scope for your rifle, you can take it online. If you’ve unlocked the homing swarm grenades, you can use them against other players in the Crucible. Because of this, you have to be a certain level in the full version of Destiny before you can jump into the Crucible, but when you get there, you will experience what feels like a complete rejuvenation of competitive multiplayer.
Closing Thoughts On the Alpha, and Destiny’s Future Release
Destiny is shaping up to be one of the most impressive games of all time. Even in alpha there is a staggering amount of content available, and to say Bungie has grown since creating and refining Halo would be an understatement. Destiny takes the best parts of several game genres and blends them all together into a highly-accessible and thrilling experience. I’ve already found more to love in this “small” section of the game than in most finished shooters available.
The alien forces I encountered in the alpha are all extremely different to each other in both appearance and how they fight. Halo’s Covenant forces are a disorganised motley crew by comparison, and each alien race in Destiny is comprised of numerous sub-types which all belong together, and complement each other. The environments in Destiny are also impressive, not just when compared to Halo, but compared to all games. Where Titanfall impressed me with its Ridley Scott-esque levels and ability to both imitate and complement its Star Wars and Alien influences, Destiny offers an original and impressive universe, its only influences being that of Bungie’s own back-catalogue of high-quality games. It is a wonderfully unique shooter.
When Destiny releases, it will set both a new benchmark for quality shooters as well as stand as proof that Bungie have grown immensely since their creating and development of one of the world’s most beloved shooters. I have no doubt that Destiny will soon be regarded as Bungie’s magnum opus, an amazing shooter that will appeal to shooter, MMO and RPG gamers, both hardcore and casual.
Destiny’s beta is scheduled for the 17th of July this year. The Full release is scheduled for September 9th, 2014. Sticky Trigger will update any news or announcements from Bungie and Activision as they are released.