Over the past week or so, the latest game from Bungie (Halo) went available for a public beta testing. Destiny has been a mystery for some time, as Bungie slowly released concept art and cinematic movies but finally true gameplay has not only been watchable but now playable. The beta test included about 8 levels of character stuff, including campaign maps, multiple competitive maps, cooperative “strike mission” maps, and all sorts of other stuff. It’s a meaty beta with a lot to explore.
First, let’s back up and let me explain what Destiny is.
Destiny is a first-person shooter where you control a “guardian,” who are simultaneously battling the scavengers known as Fallen and the horrifying Hive, who have taken over Earth’s moon. Throughout the campaign, you begin on Earth and you slowly venture to other planets and moons on an interstellar adventure.
There are three types of guardians you can play as, each with different abilities and skills they can utilize. I played as the Hunter, who focused on shooting mostly and was able to use solar light as a weapon for brief stints of time. You can also go the route of the mystical Warlock or the brutish Titans. Each of the three offers different ways to approach situations and ideally you’d have a team of all of them.
The team aspect is important here, as multiplayer is truly embedded into this game. For me, the cooperative play is most important. I was a big fan of Borderlands and even co-op Halo back in the day. You can join two of your friends and journey into the campaign or specific strike missions, where you essentially hunt down and eliminate a threat. The cool thing about Destiny is that your experience isn’t confined to your team. You also see other heroes wandering the landscape and you can choose to interact with them. As a low level hero, I led my enemies to a pack of higher level guardians who helped me take them out. Likewise when I reached level 8, I helped to protect new guardians in return. You can communicate with a simplistic but sufficient series of gestures mapped to the directional arrows. You can point to guardians, sit down for a rest, dance in celebration, or bow as a way of saying “You’re welcome.”
It feels like a living world. The social hub (called “The Tower”) is where everyone goes to buy/sell equipment and upgrade your items. You see a lot of people and it reminded me of Mass Effect except these were real people roaming the city, not artificial computer-controlled nobodies.
At this point, some of you might start to correlate to popular multiplayer online games like World of Warcraft or Star Wars: The Old Republic. I’m not really experienced in big online games so maybe this is a given, but it still impressed me.
There’s a heavy role-playing experience here as well, mostly when it comes to equipment management and upgrading. It reminded me most of Borderlands, but beyond just weapons. You find equipment that can sometimes level up and have different effects. There was a lot of freedom here and I can imagine the scope of equipment and weapons in the game will be massive when it finally releases.
The vehicular aspects were cool but minimal. In the picture above, you see the guardians riding Sparrows, which are essentially the jet bikes from Star Wars. From what I’ve read, you can eventually upgrade your vehicles as well to make them a little more customizable. You will have a ship avatar that shows up when you’re playing co-op that you can customize as well, for cut screens that play before and after missions.
I played the “Crucible” a few matches, which is the competitive player-vs-player mode. I’ve never been good at competitive shooters so I wasn’t very good here. In old-school Halo, I would always run to the rocket launcher just to have fun on the map. I was never in it to win it. Likewise here, so I was destroyed quickly each time I ran into someone. I won’t be doing this mode much.
The player-vs-player mode is what most people are probably excited about but I’m always focused on the single-player experience. And we’ve got a solid experience here.
The world is beautifully created, the shooting feels extremely polished, and the constant desire for new equipment and better weapons will fuel gamers for a long time. The mood is perfect, as some zones have you in nearly pitch dark scenarios while others have you wading in crystal clear waters on a sandy beach. The cooperative play was fun but I love the inclusive of passive multiplayer, where you can engage with others that you don’t even know, but in a cooperative style. It felt almost like Journey, where others wander in and out of your game at will.
I also love that the game offers non-linear progression and map exploration. There might be a cave that you stumble across that leads to a giant monster for you to fight, but you might completely miss that encounter if you would’ve just kept walking. There’s going to be a ton of content and I can’t wait for when the game drops on September 9th, 2014.