Those who know me know that I’m not a huge fan of Bungie. I played Halo enough to find it pretty uninteresting, and never really bothered with the sequels. In fact, the only game by Bungie I’ve ever actually liked was their 2001 action-shooter Oni. So it might come as a surprise that I’m very interested in their latest title, Destiny.
What caused my ears to perk up when information about Destiny started coming out was that it would be a loot-focused RPG masquerading as a first-person shooter. In other words, it’s Bungie’s take on Borderlands. I love Borderlands, and I love games that take a Diablo-esque approach to loot, so all of a sudden, Destiny has become my most anticipated game of 2014.
The release of the PS4-exclusive alpha over this past weekend has offered a taste of the full experience to follow. While I’m sure Bungie has a number of sound technical reasons for doing a public alpha test in this way, the release also functions as a clear demo of the full game when it launches in October.
As an alpha, there’s only a small portion of the game on offer, just a single story mission that gives away very little, a 3-man Strike mission (MMO players will think of this as a dungeon), the Tower, an open social area with traders and crafting facilities, and the Crucible, which offers competitive multiplayer.
Before getting to that, Destiny puts you into one of the best-looking character creation screens I’ve ever seen. You’ll get an up-close look at the character you make, and the detail in the models is excellent. There’s three classes and three races on offer, and Borderlands players will be pleased to know that you can play both genders in each class/race combination.
Once my character had been created, I was immediately dropped into a story mission in a zone labelled Old Russia. It’s a great area to show off Destiny’s visuals. a snow-covered industrial wasteland on the Russian Steppe, complete with rusted cosmodrome and other impressively-rendered ruins. Peter Dinklage’s voice then informs me that I have to get into the building to activate a signal tower.
This lone story mission is fairly short, giving no hints of the game’s larger story. It takes place in the rusted-out cosmodrome area, and culminates in a lengthy boss fight that doesn’t really play up to the game’s strengths. Hopefully these kind of story missions are few and far between and most of the story content is far better.
Once completed, the alpha opened up with a few options. Old Russia was available as an adventure mode, with mini-quests reminiscent of DIablo III’s bounties. Travelling about clearing enemies and collecting loot was actually pretty fun and rewarding. It also allowed me to see just how massive the zone is. If Old Russia is going to be the standard size for the rest of the game’s zones, then there’s going to be lots and lots to do.
This mode also shows off Destiny’s day-night cycle, and its random events system. Random events occur in each zone in addition to the regular bounty quests, and usually involve fending off a strong enemy or defending a crashed satellite or some other thing. All players in the zone can come and help, and will be rewarded for doing so.
I should mention that other players will be in the zone alongside you as you quest and do events. They won’t hurt you, but they can sometimes get in the way of the questing by killing the same monsters you need to kill. The system is reminiscent of the original Guild Wars, where zones were all non-persistent instances, except that the game itself decides who gets to be in the zone with you.
You can also choose to do a single “Strike” mission. This is basically a 3-man dungeon. It’s also pretty short, with only one goal. It led through a pretty cool-looking area full of skulls and occult symbolism, offering yet another tantalising hint of the game’s overall story. At the end was a fairly simple boss fight that my three-man group had little difficulty taking down. Loot, money and experience are the reward for doing so.
Like any kind of RPG, Destiny provides a town in the form of The Tower. This area functions as a location for all your trading and crafting needs. I’m not sure if it’s meant to also work as a meeting place for players, as I never actually encountered anyone else while I was running around here. It seems likely that it is, however.
The interfaces for trading and crafting are all very nice and easy to navigate, using the same clean Helvetica-heavy design as all of the game’s other main interfaces. It all has an air of modernity about it, as though Bungie is openly saying that this is what the next generation should be looking like.
There’s very little of the crafting system in the alpha, so it’s difficult to get an idea of how it works. There are crafting materials, but also the game’s currency, “glimmer”. The skill system was similarly gutted, with only a few choices being available, and nowhere near enough to get an idea of how character progression will work (the alpha started characters at level 3 and capped at level 8). These are pretty important mechanics for this style of game and it’s a shame that the alpha didn’t offer much ability to explore them, but I can fully understand Bungie wanting to keep some surprises for the game’s launch.
(Note that due to personal time constraints, I wasn’t able to take a look at the Crucible PvP area before the Alpha ended.)
Overall, I have to say I’m really impressed by what was on show with the Destiny alpha. While I’m sure there were sound technical reasons for making an alpha of the game exclusively on the PS4, it also serves as a powerful marketing tool, effectively offering up an all-too-brief demo of what Bungie wants to deliver when the game launches in September.
If it is a marketing tool, then it’s worked on me. While I was definitely interested in Destiny, playing the alpha has made it a day-one purchase (hell, I might even break character and pre-order it on the PS4). I wish there was solid news of a PC version, because this is the kind of game that is perfect for the PC, but right now there’s only rumours and vague hints.
Destiny is no doubt ambitious, but Bungie are a talented team, even if they don’t normally make games I like, and Destiny is shaping up to be one of the games that will end up defining the next generation of video games (despite the fact it’s also appearing on the PS3 and XBox 360).