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access_time June 19, 2014 at 6:00 AM in Features by Josh Boykin

Reasons to believe in Destiny.

Destiny First Look Alpha_20140614142023

When I heard the announcement for Destiny’s alpha, I wasn’t particularly thrilled. Sure, it’d be a good opportunity to stick my toe into a $500 million massively-multiplayer online shooter, but I’d played MMOs before  I’d played shooters before. I didn’t expect to play anything that would really grip me. I suppose you could have called me a skeptic.

To say that Activision/Bungie’s much-hyped MMOFPS is in “alpha” is probably a stretch of the term; with only a couple months to go before they’ll need to ship copies out, the game is likely relatively close to completion. But the PS4-exclusive alpha gave Bungie a chance to test server load, and it gave me (as well as tons of other players) a chance to test out the new world the former Halo developers created.

And let’s just say that, now, I believe in Destiny.

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Destiny First Look Alpha_20140614144800

The Recipe

Great bakers don’t just appear out of nowhere; they take great ideas from other places and add their own flairs to create new masterpieces. Similarly, great games take ideas from other games and make them their own. The Destiny recipe already feels composed of great ingredients: blend equal parts Borderlands and Halo, mix in a little Dead Space, some Mass Effect 3 for flavor (but make sure to cut off the end first), then add some Call of Duty for good measure and just a hint of Warframe.Bungie’s done well to make the game feel familiar to Halo-veterans, but the RPG infusion of character and weapon customization fits well into the new realm Destiny creates for the Guardians.

Tons of critics disparage triple-A publishers nowadays, but it’s hard to criticize when faced with a game that feels as tight and multi-faceted as Destiny does. Sure, I made that whole “recipe” thing up, but to make a game of this scale (and to make it a quality game), it takes time, attention to detail, and the ability to gather some of the best ideas from all over the place. Just like bullet time improved far more games than just Max Payne, the effects of many great gaming innovations from the past few years are found in Destiny‘s mechanics and play style. I felt the influences of tons of my other favorite games rolled into Destiny, encouraging me to sink even more hours into it.

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Destiny - Grimoire

The Lore

Any massively-multiplayer game worth its weight offers gamers a rich story to jump into, and Destiny delivers. As players defeat challenges in-game they unlock cards of the Grimoire, an online lore guide accessible through the Bungie website. Each card contains backstory about the Destiny universe ranging from the Guardians and their weaponry to the various activities that take place on Earth and in the Crucible, Destiny’s multiplayer arena. Information about the game world is easily-accessible, both informative and mysterious, and adds the rush of a collect-‘em-all to incentivize players to sink deeper into the story.

For me, even lore-heavy MMORPGs like World of Warcraft and Guild Wars II didn’t capture my attention for more than a couple of days because so much of the universe felt empty to me. If I wasn’t playing with friends online, I’d roam around vast landscapes in relative silence, reading large blocks of text about characters I didn’t really care about. If I played with friends, on the other hand, then I’d have no time to even read the text blocks because they wanted to push forward to the next fight. Destiny blends its story and experience right into the missions and world, and the Grimoire allows me to easily come back and learn more about the world of the game without putting my friends on hold mid-mission.

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Destiny First Look Alpha_20140614153210

The Atmosphere

Near the first spawnpoint outside of the Cosmodrome in Destiny, a subtle staircase leads to a sewer-like cavern. For a moment, your view plunges into total darkness before a beam of light shoots out to illuminate the area in front of you. Still, instead of seeing miles into the distance like you could above ground, the only things you can see rest mere feet in front of you. Suddenly, a roar from your right; you turn to see a massive beast growling at you, stalking you suspiciously. Instinctively you pull the trigger on your rifle, and see the bullets glance off of the beast’s hide; it screams back in anger. It’s now time to leave; you turn to run, but can’t quite find the exit. The pressure of the situation mounting, you luckily stumble your way to the stairs and scramble up, leaving the depths of the caves for another adventure. The atmosphere of this Earth is strange and dangerous, and it feels exhilarating.

Those who’ve played the original Final Fantasy probably remember what it was like to start playing the game for the first time, leaving the castle, and then crossing the bridge to the east to explore the map…for those who don’t know, that route is a nice, efficient way to wipe out your entire party. The monsters on the other side of that bridge are meant for higher-level characters, and that initial defeat inspires a certain fear and respect of the game and its rules from the beginning. Destiny creates that feeling of fear and respect at every turn with a stellar lighting engine immersive design, and attention to detail; the Cosmodrome itself felt large and intimidating, shadows on the wall moved and twitched realistically enough to starle me, and even the grunt Hive and Fallen troops proved challenging in groups of two or three. The world of Destiny feels open, fearsome, and begs to be explored and conquered in ways that the established landscapes of World of Warcraft and some other popular MMOs don’t convey.

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Destiny First Look Alpha_20140614174331

The Single Player/Multiplayer Balance

The Alpha started Guardians at level 4, providing some basic powers and weaponry to explore the Cosmodrome, an abandoned Russian Earth base overrun by enemies. The alpha capped Guardians at level 8, a point which players could generally reach with just a few hours of playtime. Still, all experience, weapons, and armor gained in the quest missions directly carried over to the Crucible, Destiny’s PvP arena. Winning matches in the Crucible awarded players with Crucible Points, which could be spent at The Tower (the item store) alongside Glimmer (the most plentiful in-game currency) to buy exclusive powerful items. Though nothing in the game requires players to participate in either quests or PvP combat (players gain experience and glimmer in PvP, too), providing cross-over benefits between the two naturally encourages gamers to take place in both game modes.

When I first heard that the game would cap players at level 20, I was a bit standoffish; what would drive me to keep playing if I didn’t have to climb to level 80 a la Borderlands? But considering I never actually reached level 80 (and, now that I think about it, I usually don’t reach the level cap in most RPGs), it feels comforting to know that I can build a character, get it to its maximum natural development, and then either work on getting better gear, or create a new character and experiment with it, too. Also, lowering the level cap means that the game stays more accessible for players who aren’t as hardcore; even though some MMORPGs offer special items to bring characters up to maximum level instantly, choosing all the skills and powers for a level 70 Warlock in World of Warcraft as a complete newbie intimidates me to no end…how do I know if I’m making bad choices? Destiny lets me make those choices in my characters build, test them in both quests and PvP, and I don’t have to think about wasting weeks of my life on a character (or tons of currency for a respect token) if it turns out I made the wrong choice.

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Destiny First Look Alpha_20140614204540 I believe in Destiny. As someone who doesn’t typically stick to an MMO for longer than a couple of days, I could see getting pretty deep into the pull of the Guardian universe.

Mind you, I realize the game isn’t perfect. The landscapes don’t have the destructability that most FPS devotees are used to; one of the multiplayer maps has a dome made of windows that you can’t shoot through. Also, the voice-acting for the Ghost the Cortana-like robotic escort played by Game of Thrones actor Peter Dinklage, is, well…flat and boring. I mean, it’s bad to the point that I’m praying those lines were just placeholder recordings and I’ll hear a completely different voice when the game releases (or when it goes into beta). But hopefully some of those concerns can be addressed before shipment.

What Destiny does offer, at its core, is an expertly-built, well-tuned experience that just feels fun. Bungie transformed the first-person shooter genre with the Halo franchise, and with some of the knowledge Activision brings to the online landscape from Blizzard and World of Warcraft, Diablo, and Starcraft, the companies are in the position to make something really spectacular. Add in the promise of cross-platform play between the PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, and XBox One, this game could be the experience we’ve all been waiting for.

We’ll see more of what Destiny has in store when the open Beta begins on July 17th.


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