Wow! I mean, um, wow! I wasn’t sure if I was going to like Bungie’s new, highly anticipated game, Destiny, but I really really did.
There are good first person shooters, ones that you like playing and that are fun and replayable and so on. Then there are great first person shooters, ones that draw you in, make you care instantly about your character, that immerse you in a world that doesn’t feel immediately like “oh, this generic set-up again”. The great ones seamlessly integrate you into a world of their creation, where you simultaneously feel overwhelmed and at home.
This is what Destiny does.
You start by building your character. There are humans, blue skinned Awoken that look like elves, and robots (aka “Exos”). Each race has a bunch of different faces and hair and face paint, so you can have a lot of fun playing around with options, though when you’re on the battlefield your character wears a helmet obscuring your face. This means the only time people will see the cool character you created is when you’re in the Tower (more on that later). You can also pick either a male or female character (meaningful glare at Ubisoft.)
There are three classes for your character: Titan (a heavy with lots of armour and guns), Hunter (a more agile and stealthy fighter), and Warlock (magic user with less focus on heavy weapons). I chose a female warlock as my main character.
After character creation, the alpha version I played dropped me into a war zone. It felt very similar to Halo in many ways, and yet at the same time it was very different. The similarities were obvious: it’s a sci-fi FPS with a similar control layout, the enemies are odd creatures with different abilities and classes.
The differences are far more interesting. The game is always live for a start. Pausing to go to the menu doesn’t halt gameplay, Enemies in particular areas will respawn as well, meaning there’s no such thing as completely clearing out an area. The enemies have classes with different strengths (ie. Vandals are stronger than Dregs) but you can have different levels of each class. This means you could be fighting level 4 Vandals in one area then run into some level 8 Vandals further down the track.
Levelling up seems to be simply experience based rather than for doing any certain set of achievements. The alpha trial started me off at level four which gave me some basic skills. I had warping grenades that wouldn’t just explode but suck foes in, as well as my special power than would flat out disintegrate enemies. My melee attack (once I got to level five) could also vaporise enemies when needed and drain their power to recharge my shields. (Shields are another familiar sight from Halo.) The further you progress the stronger your special abilities get, and the faster they recharge.
Playing as a Warlock was pretty hard. Early on your magic is strong but takes a long time to recharge (once you throw an energy grenade or use your special attack you have to wait for it recharge before you can use it again). This meant the boss of the first level (a Wizard) was super hard to beat the first time through.
There’s a wide range of weapons, though you only really use three at a time: primary, secondary and heavy. You only get heavy after reaching a certain level, and you can mix up long range, short range weapons in the other two slots. Similarly there is a wide range of armour, though some bits, like the Warlock’s bond, clearly did something other than increase your armour, but what exactly wasn’t explained.
This first level was almost a tutorial and was clearly supposed to be part of the story. As I played I saw other players in the game, not many but a few. At first I wasn’t sure what was going on, then I realised I wasn’t alone. How this will work in the final games seems like a mystery. Will your levels be populated with dozens of other Guardians (players) shooting up the Fallen (bad guys)?
If your friends are playing you, can join their Fireteam (a group of players working together), which worked incredibly well when I tried it with two of my friends - one who knew I was joining and another who I jumped in on uninvited (sorry Alan!). There were some issues with sound as my friends could hear me (albeit faintly) and I couldn’t hear them at all.
There are a few different level types (that I saw): Story, Explore, and Strike. Story is self explanatory. Explore levels are big maps with lots of little intricate paths and buildings on them. You may bump into a lot of other players here and lots of respawning Fallen. Scattered around Explore maps are small missions along the lines of “kill a specific number of Fallen” or “Get to this place”. Strikes are one-off missions, with a single goal, that require a team effort.
There is also the Crucible. This is the PvP area for all your capture the flag, deathmatch etc needs. In the alpha there was only the Control map available (control as many of the three zones as you can). It was a good little bit of fun and another chance for me to show off my terrible multiplayer skills. Anything that requires matchmaking, like the Crucible or the Strikes require a Playstation Plus account.
The final area was the Tower. This is a social area where you can go to tool up your character with items, have relics you discover in-game identified and to pick up bounties, challenges and other neat stuff. It felt a little odd doing a bunch of role-playing game stuff in the middle of a first-person shooter.
All of the maps, including the Tower, are gorgeous and have time and weather effects. If you stay in one place long enough you’ll the change from day to night and back again. Even in your ship you can see Earth rotating below you; it’s quite wonderful to watch.
What I found the weirdest was that Destiny has a very solemn vibe to it. This is the last city on Earth, there’s a mystical planetoid hanging over it protecting it, this is humanity's last stand, and yet, in the Tower, a group of Guardians are jumping around kicking about a beach ball (seriously, there was a beach ball.) That is pretty much my only gripe, and it’s not even really a gripe.
Usually when I play a game like this there’s a number of things that I want the creators to do. With Destiny the main thing I want is more. I want to know more and play more and have the opportunity to sit down and explore the world. After the disappointment of Titanfall’s always-online experience, it was nice to play something that did this sort of gameplay very well indeed. Though, admittedly, this was the alpha with very few people playing.