By all rights, I shouldn't like Destiny. I was never able to get into Bungie's wildly-popular Halo series, I don't typically like playing online games, and MMOs have never been my thing. So, when the PlayStation E3 press conference opened this year with a huge Destiny push for PS4, I was only vaguely interested. However, when they mentioned that they were going to let people sign up for an "Alpha" in just a few days' time, I thought, "Well, there's no harm in signing up. Maybe I won't even get an invite."
Turns out I did get that invite; more surprisingly, it turns out I really like what I've played so far. Why?
PART OF YOUR WORLD
To be completely honest, I didn't have a very good idea as to what Destiny was prior to playing the Alpha. If you had cornered me and asked, I probably would have told you that it was probably pretty similar to Titanfall, an online-only game that focuses on multiplayer matches exclusively with no single player mode available. This simply isn't the case with Destiny, although it's a major reason why I had avoided coverage of the title.
The game has been called a "shared-world shooter," and it's an accurate title from my time with the game. Although the very first mission of the Alpha appeared to be a completely single-player affair (presumably to give players a moment to acclimate to the controls and world), the game quickly opens up to its "shared-world" mode. Single-player junkies, take heart, though: this does not mean you're stuck playing "team deathmatch" mode all night. In fact, in the hours I spent playing Destiny, there was no competitive multiplayer in sight.
Instead, Destiny seems to hang its hat on creating a a pleasant mix of randomly-generated encounters and more scripted missions. These can be played on your own, with random people who just happen to be near you in the game world, or (I assume but did not try) with a set group of friends. The more-formal missions had some variety and pushed me to explore more of the world than I otherwise might have, while the random encounters added a nice touch of the oft-touted, rarely-realized "living, breathing world" to which so many developers aspire.
In fact, some of the coolest moments I experienced during my short time with the game involved completing a quest on my own, only to be helped by a passerby. It wasn't clear to me whether or not the other players had anything to do with my quest, or if they could even tell I was undertaking one, but their assistance aided my completion of it, so I was glad for the company.
CONTROL YOUR DESTINY
A few of the scripted missions I played were fairly rote for any MMO: take out X number of enemy type Y to collect Z number of a particular loot drop. While not particularly inspired, it felt like a good enough reason to explore the fun combat system. The shooting, not surprisingly, feels great (these are the folks who made Halo, after all), and has a fairly standard two-weapon loadout system. I mainly stuck with an assault laser rifle and a shotgun, although I tried a few different models.
Aiming down the sights was handled by the left trigger; the right trigger fired your weapon; the bumpers handled melee attacks or grenade tosses; and the face buttons handled reload (square), jump (X), crouch (circle), and weapon swap (triangle). Unlike most shooters, the d-pad handles various emotions, like waving, dancing, or lying down.
I played as a Guardian (one of three available classes), which is the more magic-inspired of the bunch with a melee attack that is essentially "Force Push" from any of the Star Wars games. This was satisfying ability that gave me more of a "crowd control" feel than the melee attacks in your typical shooter, although it certainly didn't have a very large range. It did a nice amount of damage, so I was able to let certain enemies get close enough to finish them off with a single melee push--or use it to save the day if I got swarmed.
Not long after, though, I started getting some more unique mission types. A few my favorites included scouting for intel, searching for and obtaining rare fuel samples, and even taking out a high-value target holed up in a hive of scum and villainy. This still isn't wildly unusual territory for fans of MMORPGs, but it all felt fast and fluid, like it might have just been part of a single-player, crafted experience.
Destiny, of course, uses a leveling system that plays a major part in the game. Every enemy you encounter has a life bar with a number next to it showing their level. You'll need to choose your battles wisely with any enemies who out-level you by more than one or two levels, as they'll be much harder to vanquish. The most I was ever outranked was by about four levels; even then, hard work and good use of cover could win the day, which made for a much more rewarding victory.
A number of these missions took me to areas that were, quite frankly, a little more dangerous than I would have liked. Following my mission marker to the next area, I would suddenly realize I was walking into a firefight between various enemy and/or human factions of creatures a few levels above me. What I found, though, was that sometimes it was okay to just sneak past a fight and move onto your objective rather than attempting to fight a losing battle. I liked the options this afforded me as I explored the world and its various quests.
It's also worth noting that, at (almost) any time, you can summon a speeder bike (this game really does have a thing for Star Wars) and zip through the terrain much more quickly. You also, however, can head back up to orbit.
In probably its most Mass Effect-ish setting, the Tower is the hub world you can head back up to in between quests. Essentially, this is the Destiny equivalent of the Citadel. I'm not sure if the full game will feature a larger world, as the one here wasn't particularly huge, but it was quite pretty.
The first thing you'll notice when you load up this section of the game is that it suddenly switches to a third person view. This isn't like Fallout or Skyrim where you can switch views on the fly; no, Destiny draws a strict distinction between battle (first person) and hub areas (third person). This slightly jarring, but it also gives you a chance to admire your character (yes, there are gender, race, and face customization options) and any of your armor. More than that, it gives you a chance to explore the aforementioned emotive gestures, which even show up in the game's ticker feed (ex.: "so-and-so just danced with what's-her-name").
For such a brief Alpha, I didn't spend a ton of time here, but it was interesting to see more player characters, since the battle worlds are much larger and don't feel very crowded with other humans. I stopped by a few of the shops and merchants, but it seems like this will be a more interesting place when the game is more complete. Really, it was nice to just get a taste of the "other side," so to speak, and see how the game handled this balance.
ON THE VITA
It may also surprise you to learn that I spent my first hour or so of Destiny on the PS Vita! Yes, through the wonders of Remote Play, I spent my Sunday morning curled up in bed streaming my PS4 to my Vita's fantastic OLED display. The controls were actually mapped quite nicely with the L2/R2 of the DualShock 4 getting swapped for L/R on the Vita, and the front touch panel getting divide into three segments (grenade, nav mode, and melee). No risk of accidentally hitting the back panel, as it was thankfully unused.
This mapping was all done automatically and made for a really smooth experience on the handheld. The game played and looked great, so I can definitely see this being a good Remote Play game to drop into while my wife is watching another show, or just to use to (like I did this weekend) while I'm still in bed. In fact, some of the photos for this post were taken on the Vita--it looked that good!
Destiny took me by surprise in a very good way. The online infrastructure, the world-building, and the control/mechanics are all really rock solid foundations for a uniquely unobtrusive online experience. I never heard anyone yelling obscenities (I don't actually think I heard anyone talking at all, which was fantastic), and yet I felt like I had had a much more connected experience.
The game looked and played fantastic: for an alpha build, this packed more polish than many games see in their final retail form. I never encountered any bugs, glitches, or hiccups--just seamless, excellent gameplay.
Still, I'll need to learn more about the game's overall flow and story in the months leading up to its release to determine whether or not a purchase will be in order. I certainly had fun with this short test drive, but understanding how much story and lore make it into the final package will be a big deciding factor for me. I love everything the game is doing so far--I just want it to tell a great story, too.
For now though, I'll consider my eyes officially opened to the magic of Bungie, and I'll leave you with a just a few more screens of this gorgeous world (click to enlarge).
Be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments below if you got a chance to try Destiny!