Let me be clear: I was not excited for Destiny.
I admired Bungie’s goal and mission for their new space saga. A vast digital universe filled with unique, diverse players that are constantly connected is something to be admired in the gaming space (ba da chhhh). The game just did not appeal to me.
I am not a FPS fan. I don’t care for character creation. I certainly prefer to play alone for most games.
What made my passive attitude toward Destiny even more surprising (to myself) is that a vast majority of the gaming community is eagerly awaiting destiny to let them play Bungie’s newest game (last one, I swear). People are stoked to shoot aliens in first person vicariously through their own, user generated character with friends and strangers alike.
When Sony gave all the attendees of the “E3 Sony Experience” access to the brief and PS4 exclusive Alpha for Destiny, I challenged Destiny and Bungie to make a lasting first impression. They met that challenge with an alarmingly fierce sense of direction, beauty, and wonder.
I am sold on Destiny.
From Thursday, June 12 at 12:00 PM PST through Sunday, June 15 at 11:59 PM PST Bungie granted a small pool of PS4 owners the ability to try a slice of Destiny. Featuring one story mission, a few side quests, a raid, a public event, the central hub, and one VS mode, the Destiny First Look Alpha took me by the hand, like a child in a theme park, and decided to give me the grand tour.
Three classes of Guardians are presented to you when you start Destiny; the Titan, the Hunter, and the Warlock. Each has there own unique powers, abilities, and play style. By my observation, the Hunter was by far the most popular class during the Alpha. Hunters are mid-to-long range fighters that move quickly and can traverse most obstacles with ease. Their basic “super charged” move is a golden gun that deals massive damage. Combined with throwing knifes, sniper rifles, and double jumps, the Hunter is great for stalking foes across the galaxy.
I can’t speak as well to how the Titan or the Warlock play compared to the Hunter. I spent all, but one of my hours in Destiny honing my hunting skills. That one hour I did try out the Warlock class (Destiny seems to let you create as many characters as you like and load them at any time). The Warlock moves slower, but has more specialized attacks. Rather than a knife, the Warlock shoots a blast wave from his/her hand. The grenade type for Warlocks drains the life force out of anyone foolish to stand too close. Also, instead of double jumping, the Warlock glides. This may limit their vertical traversal, but greatly extends their horizontal reach.
The Alpha put us where most private demos have been held; Old Russia on Earth. And man, is Old Russia big. During my 10 or so hours with Destiny, I don’t think I found the edge of Old Russia. Anywhere. It just kept going and going.
To keep this “going and going” from getting boring and boring, side missions and little groups of foes are planted across the land. It kept me on my toes while I explored new cracks and crevices. Even the enemies varied across the locale. Although the species of foes was limited in the alpha to the Fallen and the Hive, the types of soldiers amongst their ranks kept engagements fresh. New types of enemies kept my senses sharp and my interest peaked. One issue I had with these small encounters was the respawn rate for the enemies. It seemed that once you wiped out one group and then the next, the original group would have respawned and started to flank you. This annoying rate lead to just skipping groups of enemies on find new areas.
Old Russia is gorgeous. Destiny is gorgeous. I must have stopped and stared over a dozen times in my first two hours alone. The draw distance is incredibly far and detailed. You could see buildings off in the distance and behind the buildings you could see towers and behind the towers were mountains and so on. All of it seemed to be accessible. The sky was filled with as much rich detail and color as the ground was. With a dynamic sky and day/night cycles, Destiny’s skyline will often steal your breath away.
For as big a space as Old Russia is, I imagine being able to move across it quickly was a key point of development for Bungie. They totally nailed it. With just a push of the touch pad the “navigation HUD” pops up. Your companion, called a Ghost (voiced by Game Of Thrones’ Peter Dinklage) hovers in your left hand. Way points to missions pop up on screen and the square and triangle buttons take on new functions. The triangle button allows you to “go to orbit.” This allows you to leave, where ever you may be, and fly to another part of the galaxy. The square button is the real deal. Holding the square button allows your Guardian to summon a vehicle. A flippin’ vehicle. As long as you are in a open space, you may summon a speedy hover bike called a Sparrow. The game’s camera switches to third person and lets you blast across the level at high speed. As great as the navigation system is, it could use a few tweaks before the game’s launch in September. Pulling up the navigation HUD takes away your gun, which can be dangerous if enemies are near. Viewing way points should be easier too. Hopefully by pressing R3 or just tapping the touch pad way points can appear, because it sure is tedious to keep pressing the touch pad to open a new HUD.
So far, all I have written about is the Old Russia level and the creatures that fill it, but how does Old Russia play? Bungie should pride itself on the first person shooting mechanics they have created for Destiny. The game ran buttery smooth, even for an alpha. The entire time I played Destiny I did not run into one hiccup or dip in frame rate. Controls feel natural for anyone used to a FPS. One difference I found, and dug, was that your melee attack was assigned to the right shoulder button, rather than R3. Each gun felt different. They had their own weight and power that was clear each time you equipped a new weapon. Each Guardian can carry up to three weapons; a primary, a special, and a heavy weapon are yours for the choosing. Similar to trying out all the varying looks to design my character, I was stoked to try new and powerful weapons to destroy my enemies with.
And there are plenty of enemies to kill in Destiny. As I mentioned earlier, small groups of foes litter the landscape of Old Russia, but what game would be complete without a boss battle or two? As a part of bringing players together, the team at Bungie has created social events for anyone to play that happen randomly across the game. I ran into one of these all by myself. A spider tank called a “Devil Walker” dropped from the sky with a slew of Fallen. With only five minutes, anyone in that section of the level was tasked with defeating the Devil Walker to reap great rewards. I have no clue what those rewards are since I happened to be all alone. This was an alpha after all. Playing and realizing this concept in action though kept me hoping that I would run into another social event and this time, hopefully with a few strangers nearby.
Social events are not the only way to take on big bad guys with friends and strangers. Whenever you and a couple pals feel like dominating a boss, you three can go on a Strike. These Strikes are either match-made or with your friends. Together the three of you are sent on a specific mission to take on one of Destiny’s baddest bosses around. I jumped into a strike with two other strangers to take down the Devil’s Lair. It was a typical raid that lead to an atypical boss fight. Us three musketeers fought our way to an objective, waited for Ghost to decrypt a door, fought waves of the Fallen while he busted the code, took out a Devil Walker, and then got to the boss’ lair. Inside, our small outfit was greeted by a giant, floating, purple eyeball robot. True story. Obviously, the creature’s weak spot was the center of its eye. The hard part was that the giant, floating, purple eyeball robot, called Sepiks Prime, could teleport at will and shoot homing missiles of energy. It was pretty darn sweet. That taste of a Strike has left me craving more, especially with my friends. Bring on the Strikes.
After completing a mission or a Strike, you’ll want to reap the rewards of your conquest. To collect your riches, you’ll head home to the Tower. Functioning as the social hub for Destiny, the Tower is where missions are assigned, items are traded, rewards given, and friends can meet. At the Tower, the camera will be in a third person perspective. You can run around, wave, sit, and dance with anyone at the Tower with a press of any direction on the D-pad. The Tower reminds me of a local town mall or hangout, but in space. And with guns. And frequent dancing.
The last bit of the alpha was one mode from Destiny’s competitive 6-v-6 multiplayer mode, the Crucible. The mode available was called Control. It played just like a “capture and hold the base” mode in any other FPS multiplayer. Bases A, B, and C were scattered across a small, tight quarters map. What makes this Crucible multiplayer mode special is that you bring your Guardian from single player right into multiplayer. This truly makes each player in both the single player and competitive space unique. This also provides a grey way to show off how you have customized your Guardian. “Oh, that Hunter can throw disintegration grenades?!? How can I make my Hunter have those?” That was just one train of thought that I had while I played my match. . There is no separate menu for multiplayer, it’s all seamlessly integrated into the map screen where you decide where to go and what to do next. The voice over during matches seemed dull and was always talking over the action. I know this isn’t Halo, but man, I wish Destiny’s multiplayer had a voice over like the old days. Slayer! Headshot! (You know you read it in the announcer’s voice)
The Destiny First Look Alpha took me on it’s private tour and captivated me from the get go. Taking me from a non-believer to a fully onboard fan, I cannot wait to experience the universe that Bungie has hand crafted for my friends and I to explore. I want to see all of the planets. I want to go on Strikes every weekend with my friends. I want to fight for glory in the Crucible. I want to know the story of this fictional future. I want Destiny.