Over the past weekend, a couple of us at Kotaku had a chance to sink a good half-dozen hours each into an alpha version of Bungie's sprawling (but still somewhat mysterious) online shooter Destiny. The chunk we played was pretty enjoyable, and gave me a much better sense of what Destiny is all about.
Destiny is the new project from Bungie, the studio behind the renowned Halo series. It's an open-ended, almost MMO-like first-person shooter that combines role-playing game mechanics with Halo-style shooting. It's sort of a cross between Halo and Borderlands - a great-sounding recipe, though until last weekend Bungie and their publisher Activision hadn't actually let us play all that much of the game. As a result, for all their talk, it had been hard to get a sense of how Destiny would feel, or whether it'd all hold together.
Last weekend, the chunk of the game that deputy editor Tina Amini and I played felt more or less like a representative vertical slice of the game. We were playing on our home PS4s - the alpha was closed, though it will open to the PS4-owning public this Thursday, if you want to try to sign up.
The alpha gave us a large map to explore, which contained a bunch of defunct space-program buildings in Russia on a now-abandoned Earth. We could choose whether to undertake a single story mission on that map, or to explore much wider afield in pursuit of various sidequests. We also had access to the Tower, which served as our hub city in between excursions to the earth for missions, and we had access to The Crucible, the area where players duke it out in player-vs-player battles. There will be many more planets in the full game than just Earth, but when I extrapolate what we saw in the Alpha out to include a number of other planets, it makes sense.
The overall rhythm of the game is more immediately appealing than I was expecting - the world feels constantly in motion, with spacecrafts pulling up overhead, bonus objectives popping up, and a routine sense that there's always something new to do. At the press of a button you can summon a speeder bike and start zooming around the planet's surface, and it always feels like there are two or three things you can go do.
Take, for example, when Tina and I were mucking about and in the middle of a firefight, only to get notified of an optional group event taking place a little ways over on the map:
Which, of course, we failed, since we were pretty low-level at the time and hadn't upgraded our gear. Speaking of upgrading gear, you can do that at The Tower, which is the sort of combat-free hub zone that you can visit at any time to upgrade your stuff, check your mail, fix your ship, and more. The Tower stuff is all in third-person, so that you can show off your customised character.
Here's my first visit to the Tower:
Tina and I also undertook the alpha's one included story mission, which had us discovering a dark secret in the bowels of an abandoned Russian space facility:
That mission featured a good bit of Peter Dinklage (known to most as Game of Thrones' Tyrion Lannister), kiiinda phoning it in in his role as Ghost, the player's robotic assistant. I can't quite tell what it is about his performance in the alpha (maybe it's the lack of audio processing, or dull writing) but the whole thing was pretty flat. Not flat: The mighty Lance Reddick, who played Cedric Daniels on The Wire, turning in a typically stentorian performance as some sort of commanding officer on a few of our side-missions.
I played as a Titan class character, which meant that I had the ability to get up close and nasty with enemies. Tina, meanwhile, played a Warlock, who has some good ranged area-of-effect abilities. We didn't have a chance to try out the third class, the Hunter.
My supercharge skill was a leaping ground-punch that would send out an energy-wave and damage enemies within a certain radius. I used it pretty ineffectively in the videos above, so I thought I'd include one last video of myself being pretty darned effective:
Yeah! Eat that, dudes!
That kind of moment is what I liked about Destiny - as I ran around the map in the alpha, I gradually realised that it was much bigger than I'd initially thought. Even as I was approaching the alpha's level 8 cap, I kept finding new challenges to undertake and new things to do. Every so often, something unexpected like that would happen - a sweet spaceship would enter atmosphere, dropping enemies into my lap and forcing me into an unexpected battle.
I had shared (and still share) Patricia's concerns that the game is just another shooter in a sea of shooters, and I still think it has a ways to go to pull me away from other similar games this fall, like Far Cry 4. I still have that concern - Destiny doesn't seem to have much personality - it's very clean and shiny, and the music is lovely, but it's also pretty sterile, especially when compared with its most obvious influence, Borderlands.
The weekend before E3 isn't the best weekend to take a thorough look at a huge new game like Destiny - Tina will probably have some more in-depth thoughts at some point in the future, along with some coverage of The Crucible. For now: I was surprised to like Destiny as much as I did, and while I'm still not sure whether it has enough charm to keep me playing more than a weekend or two, I'm certainly looking forward to playing more.