With the public beta about to go “live”, Doug ‘Dougernaught’ McCormack weighs in on the alpha of Bungie’s Destiny…
Let’s start by clarifying something. Destiny is an MMO not a “shared world shooter” or whatever euphemism Bungie/Activision want to use.
Many of the mainstays of the MMO genre are present and correct; dungeons, PVP, the ability to blunder into an area above your station and get hammered by powerful aliens . Not to mention trips to town to purchase loot either through in game currency or through earned commendations in the field or through the PVP arena.
Perhaps however, I’m being a bit harsh with Bungie and their steadfast refusal to call a spade a spade. The overwhelming majority of MMO’s and the tropes they employ are tedious affairs, having played most major releases in this field over the last few years I can attest to this fact.
Categorize Destiny how you will, it’s certainly not boring.
Launching the game invites you to pick between three classes of Guardian; Hunter, Titan and Warlock. On paper they fulfill different roles ostensibly lining up as Assassin, Tank and Mage. The Titan can absorb the most damage and has the ability to do a ground pound to obliterate near by foes. The Hunters seem a bit lighter on their feet and have the ability to fire three pyro shots once a charge meter is full to immolate enemies. Finally, the Warlock has the ability to fire quasi-magical bolts in to the ground to clear an area quickly.
All three classes are available in the Alpha, however the level cap is set between 3-8 and their base abilities are very similar, undoubtedly once the Beta hits we’ll be able to see more differences in play styles and specializations.
Once having settled on a class you can select between three races, Human Awakened and Exo. These don’t seem to have any specific function apart from cosmetic differences, . There is however a robust character creation tool, maybe not as versatile and varied as others, but you’ll be able to create a relatively unique avatar.
Once the preamble is dispensed with, you’re plonked down in to a Post apocalyptic Russia and here’s where the familiar Bungie design asserts itself. Combat is the spine of the whole Destiny experience the weapons are satisfying to use particularly the shotgun which shares DNA with the one found in Halo, all the way down to the circular targeting reticule.
In fact during the combat you’ll easily forget you’re even playing an RPG at all.
The Halo influence can also be felt with Bungie’s proprietary recharging health bar, not to mention the game is scored by an ethereal soundtrack composed by the legendary Martin O’Donnell (now mysteriously fired or left Bungie, depending on who or what you believe).
As part of the Alpha presentation is one campaign mission, a strike mission (dungeon to use MMO parlance) a free roam mode and a PVP multiplayer mode called Control, which effectively is COD’s Domination mode in all but name.
I decided to start out by playing the campaign mission, this can be tackled singly or in a group. Your character starts out with a rifle, shotgun and an AI companion named ghost voiced by Peter Dinklage. Your guardian’s first task is to infiltrate an abandoned radar site and find out what an alien faction named ” The Fallen” are hiding, with your trusty ghost providing incidental narration along the way. This introductory sequence was fast, tense and fun. I have to admit, I was on the fence about Destiny from seeing some less than inspiring gameplay videos on the web, but a few hours spent here has assuaged me of any doubt.
Next thing to try was the Strike Mission entitled “The Devil’s Layer”. Strikes, as implied earlier, are similar to dungeons in traditional MMO’s. Starting out in a lobby, you’re either paired with friends or matched with other players. The enemies in the strike are tougher and require co-ordination among participants. For example the available mission changed gears requiring the team to defend a position from waves of enemies while a barrier is taken down, once my cohorts and I had a chance to draw breath we were soon flung into a boss battle.
Expect strikes to take about 20-30 mins to complete, and again I suspect, if this is like your typical MMO dungeon this is where you’ll score your best loot.
There’s no denying Destiny’s a looker, the environment is littered with detail. Ancient abandoned spacecraft and hangers dominate the landscape. Drop ships warp into the space above the player’s head and dispatch troops, and if you’re particularly unlucky a massive spider tank known as a devil walker can get deposited right in front of you.
The whole thing chugs along nicely at 30fps with no noticeable frame-rate drop even in frantic sequences. Despite any misgivings I had about the game potentially being less than the sum of its parts, there is some intangible quality to how it all holds together.
This you can chalk it up to Bungie’s mastery of presentation and world building, not to mention their peerless shooter experience with the Halo series.
Some questions do linger however.
While this release of Destiny is described as “Alpha” it feels more like a vertical slice, embellishing the best bits into a fun-size portion. It’s difficult to judge in the long term if the gameplay gets a bit samey; or whether the dreaded practice of grinding rears it’s monstrous head, not all MMO influences are a boon after all.
The budget for the whole endeavour is rumoured to be in excess of $500 million. A frankly ridiculous sum. Naturally Activision is going to want to make their investment back with interest. The game’s going to have to do gangbusters to have a profit, not to mention break even. Who’s to say what may be in the pipeline for extra monetization, could we see some form of micro-transactions or paid content updates?
Despite these questions Destiny is shaping up to be something special indeed, I started on the fence, and am now fervently waiting for the beta.
After all those Wizards aren’t going back to the Moon willingly.
– Doug McCormack