Unless you absolutely don’t pay attention to or play First Person Shooters (or you’ve been hiding under a rock on a distant planet in a galaxy far, far away…), you’ve probably heard of the upcoming sci-fi FPS titled Destiny. Reportedly in production and development by Bungie since before they even shipped HALO: Reach, and at an estimated cost of $500 million for it’s ten year life cycle encompassing at least four titles and DLC, it is safe to say Destiny is a game that the entire gaming community will be watching.
Despite not playing a HALO game since HALO: ODST, I have been very excited to learn more about Destiny. It’s plot and setting are exactly the type of story I like to play in, and I was fortunate to gain access to the Destiny Alpha on PlayStation 4 this weekend. Set roughly 700 years into the future, a cosmic menace known as the Darkness has returned. Humanity was previously visited by a massive, benevolent interstellar sphere known as the Traveler, who gave humanity technology that allowed us to colonize our solar system. The Darkness attacked and mankind has retreated to the last City on Earth, where the Traveler hovers in orbit, silent and inert. Players take on the role of Guardians, the last heroes of Earth whose mission is to quell the invading hordes of alien life, awaken the Traveler, become Legend, and defeat the Darkness so that we can reclaim our planet and solar system. Here is what I experienced.
The process of getting my code was not as simple as receiving an e-mail; I had to log in to PlayStation.com, verify my account, and then dig into a code tab. After that I had my code, redeemed it on the PS4, and then downloaded the roughly 7 gigabytes of Alpha. Several screens later, I was greeted by a gorgeous sunset from the edge of a cliff in Old Russia, where the Alpha takes place. Bungie took a minute to thank me for playing and stated that because of us, Destiny was possible. I feel like we just don’t see enough of that in games anymore, and it is always welcomed. A message reminded me to check out bungie.net, where I could create a free account. I will imagine that we will be able to track our game statistics and other information on the website once the full game releases on September 9, 2014.
I was then plopped into a character creation screen. In Destiny, you play in first person perspective. However, you can travel to the last human City on Earth. The City is a hub for players to access vendors in order to buy weapons, armors, vehicle upgrades, etc. You see your character in third person view when in the City, and this was a conscious decision by Bungie so that players can enjoy the character they’ve created and see all of the awesome gear they’ve worked for. Taunting actions are also included and characters zoom out to third person view when these are used. Titans (an assault class), Hunters (a Rogue-ish class), and Warlocks (think mage, but Bungie calls them “space wizards”) were all available and I chose a Hunter. I then chose a Human male, and the Awoken and Exo races were also available. I cannot say that I was given the full compliment of options to use until we see the full game, but I was able to select from a number of different predetermined face types, hair colors and styles, eye colors, scars, and face paint. I settled on my character and transitioned into the game. During creation, I chose a faded, light brown paint around my eyes. In the actual game it was very dark and solid. I’m not sure if that was a bug.
The music in Destiny is beautiful. The orchestral offerings are haunting, dramatic, or peaceful depending on what is happening around you and the score fades in and out accordingly. Old Russia was the section of Earth that was playable; it is a rocky, snowy area with slopes, cliffs, hills, caves and paths to explore. There are several distinct areas like an aircraft graveyard, and an ancient, decayed port called the Forgotten Shore that has been engulfed by wetlands. Looming over the hills, paths, and small buildings that litter the central underground complex of the Cosmodrome are launchpads and old Russian space shuttles still waiting for a countdown to liftoff that will never reach zero. There is an atmosphere in Destiny wherever you go, and it is evident in the detail and lighting of interior and exterior areas. (I tried to jump up to the launchpad area to get a close look at the shuttles and launch towers, but that area was just out of reach.The outer space buff in me compelled me to try anyway.)
Three proper missions were available and I started right away in the first one as my Level 3 Hunter. Hunters are an all-around class that have access to knives, and are at home with long range weapons. However, every class in Destiny can pick up and use any weapon without penalty. The nuance of class choice comes into play with the proficiency and enhanced stats that affect each class. Upgrades are part of a character’s Focus, which are the skills and perks chosen with each gained level. A Titan’s strength may allow him to carry more ammo with a particular upgrade, whereas a Hunter will benefit from faster reloads. My AI companion, a small flying robot called a Ghost (voiced by Peter Dinklage who plays Tyrion Lannister on HBO’s Game of Thrones) began telling me about the mission. I, of course, was overwhelmed that I was actually playing Destiny. After staring at the sky, sun, and clouds (which all looked beautiful), I saw an enemy walking around, and promptly bolted toward it and started shooting. When not engaged in Story missions (which players can tackle alone), side missions were available by activating small beacons scattered throughout the area. These consisted of small tasks like killing a certain amount of enemies, and then further collecting enemy item drops.
Destiny controlled well and ran at 30fps. In later instances things got fairly chaotic with multiple enemies, players, and explosions on screen but I didn’t notice any framerate dips or lag. There were six different control schemes available in the options, and I kept the default setting. I was able to Aim Down the Sights (ADS) with Left Trigger, and R1 was the melee button, which took some getting used to. (Several hours in and in those panic moments, I was trying to stab Fallen Captains in the face with R3.) Everything felt responsive for the most part; I’d say that sprinting felt slow, but there is a chance that it can be upgraded. The ability to double jump opened up and later upgrades indicate more control over my character while in the air. Sprinting and pressing Circle to crouch offers a nifty slide maneuver, though I never tested any offensive or defensive capabilities with it. Grenades and the Throwing Knife recharged over time, and were not item pickups. Ammo is picked up simply by moving over it.
The enemies in the Alpha consisted mostly of the Fallen, who are an alien race with four arms. They reacted with strategy to my movements and tactics, and almost always scattered when I’d chuck a grenade at them. In some cases, if the grenade landed but they were in cover and didn’t see it, the detonation would hit all of them if they were clustered. Some of the higher tier of Fallen, who act as commanders, would charge me and were brutal and unflinching in the face of my shotgun. The lowly Dregs were a bit more undisciplined and unpredictable, and sometimes hid while other times they charged at me in groups of two or three. During a mission I encountered the Hive, who are basically a zombie-like race of creatures. They overwhelm the player in swift, violent hordes while armored Hive stay back and fire grenades into the fray.Certain Fallen enemy types had yellow health meters instead of red ones, and they were much harder to defeat.
The Alpha maxes our character at level 8, and by that point I wasn’t having any real problem with enemies in terms of dealing damage. The exception came when I found a small cave with three lowly Dregs. I realized as I was shooting them that they were only taking 1 point of damage each… They were level 11! I suspect and hope that this hints at real disparity between levels. The feeling of accomplishment and power when returning to a tough area or group of enemies once significantly leveled up and equipped is often a forgotten concept in modern games. Otherwise things only got tougher as missions progressed and that was because more enemies appeared. There were three boss fights, yet I suspect that those will be in the final game early on and I do not want to spoil them. All I will say is that my Special Ability, summoning a pistol that shoots solar flares, made short work of the first boss. The other two boss fights were more involved and took firepower and several players working together to achieve victory. (And I died a lot in those fights. No shame!) There were also two special enemies in the Alpha, but I did not encounter them.
Shared World Shooter
Other players were in the same areas as me throughout most of my time playing. We’d spend time taking shots at random Fallen who were patrolling. Sometimes enemy reinforcements would drop from a ship, and we’d take them out as well. The premise behind Destiny is what Bungie calls a “shared world shooter.” This means there are few traditional menu and mode screens. Players interact with one another organically. Random events can happen and players in the same area can join each other on the fly. I had an event spawn that involved protecting a satellite that crashed into the ground, while my Ghost hacked into it. A perimeter circle appeared on the ground, and the loner I remained in that circle, the higher I scored for that event. Increasingly difficult waves of enemies attacked, and when I respawned I had to get back to the circle. The event was timed and at the end I was rewarded for the amount of time in the circle and how much information Ghost retrieved. The first time I did it alone, but the second time another player joined me. I linked up with two other players and became a Fireteam, the term for a three-player unit. We tackled the third mission, known as a Strike, and then were free to go our separate ways.
Multiplayer, called The Crucible, will incorporate several different game types. in the Alpha, only one mode was available and saw two teams capturing three A. B, and C flags in a Domination-style match on the Moon. I only played one match but it was fun and I will definitely get into the Crucible when the full game launches. Destiny is a persistent online game, so I couldn’t “pause” the action; when I pressed the Options button on the DS4 controller to access my character and make gear changes, the game continued and I was still vulnerable to attack. Players can see their accomplishments and awards after missions, and rewards and experience points are given. Certain rewards can be turned into each class’s Vanguard for an item.
Loot and Gear
The last thing I made note of during my time in the Destiny Alpha was loot and gear. Players can equip helmets, chest armor, gauntlets, and boots. Hunters can wear cloaks and capes. All armor pieces offer Defense ratings, and gear comes in several different colored classifications noting rarity and strength. Ammunition is available as a pickup from dead enemies, and there are different special ammo types for appropriate weapon types like fire, frost, plasma, etc. I had access to assault, semi-auto, and pulse rifles, shotguns, hand cannons, grenades, and a melee knife and throwing knife. I didn’t find any heavy weapons. I found and also unlocked several pieces of armor throughout the Alpha. The game never felt empty of loot, and there were also loot chests containing Glimmer which is the game’s currency. Old gear can be dismantled in the menu and turned into Glimmer. Players can store and share gear across multiple characters via the Vault in the City. The best part was seeing higher level weapons and armor that weren’t available for purchase because of level and rank requirements. There were plenty to choose from among the various vendors, and stock refreshes at certain times denoted by a countdown timer. Crucible marks from multiplayer can be used to purchase Legendary gear, and Vanguard marks from mission rewards can be used at your class-specific Vanguard in the City for Legendary gear. Level 20 appears to be the initial level cap, but there were items that required Motes of Light, which are experience points earned after Level 20. All of this left me with the feeling that loot and gear will certainly be a major part of Destiny. Hopefully Bungie has found the sweet spot and loot doesn’t become a one-in-five-hundred-items-is-actually-worthwhile affair.
I had fun playing the Destiny Alpha. A LOT of fun. I wanted to keep going and exploring, despite the overall limited area that was available. I wanted to continue upgrading my character with new armor and weapons. I wanted to discover new locations, secret areas, and enemies. There was a hoverbike and I never even rode the darn thing. Beta access begins on July 17 for anyone who pre-orders Destiny. The FPS genre is stale in the eyes of many gamers. Destiny is a game that has received a lot of hype, and while I personally try my best to avoid anything other than reasonable amounts of personal excitement, enthusiasm, and expectation, it is obvious that Bungie has promised a lot and gamers are expecting a lot. I have been playing video games for thirty years, and Destiny is one of the announced games that has already captured my imagination. After playing the Alpha, I am even more excited to play the final release and experience what Bungie has in store. If the final product delivers what the Alpha has hinted at, Destiny is going to be an awesome ride and will help expand games into new genres and types, where traditional modes and formats are challenged and new ones are pioneered. I cannot guess how Destiny will be received critically or commercially, but I can say this. On September 9, 2014, I will Become Legend.
Destiny releases on September 9, 2014 on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360. Bungie has stated they are having serious discussions about Destiny on PC.
(Destiny Alpha Fun Fact: When you look down, you can see your feet. What? Some people like that in first person games)