I've finally played it. After years of waiting I have had my hands on Destiny, the new title from Bungie - the creators of the greatest shooter of all time. That's right, I'm talking about Oni. Oh... According to Google they also made some game called 'Halo'. Anyway, their new title Destiny is on the horizon, and a beta has been released in order to satisfy the fans' ever-increasing excitement. The testing period is now over, but read on for my impressions on Bungie’s latest epic shooter.
The beta begins with character creation. First off, choosing a class - the Titan (the all-guns-blazing tank), the Hunter (a more agile class, adept at stealth and precision), and the Warlock (effectively a wizard, and, as such, clearly the best choice). Next, it’s time to choose a species. There are Humans, Awoken (an ethereal and mysterious alien race) and Exo (a humanoid machine species developed by humanity, and my personal choice because robots are cool).
I am then treated with an extremely slick cutscene showing a space shuttle landing on Mars. A group of astronauts armed with assault rifles exit the ship and walk along the harsh terrain. They come to a stop and the camera pans up to show a monolithic sphere known as the Traveler. It's now, with the grand scale being shown, that I realise the significance of what I'm playing. Of course it would be near impossible to recreate the cultural phenomenon that was Halo, but the anticipation leading up to this title has been huge. Thankfully, I can say that from what is available in the beta, Destiny offers equally impressive world-building and gunplay as Halo.
Another cutscene plays explaining that the Traveler arrived from the depths of space and started a Golden Age for mankind, allowing cities to be built on Mars and Venus, turning Mercury into a garden world and tripling human lifespan. How it did these things is not explained, but we are told that the Traveler was hunted down by an ancient enemy known as the Darkness. The Darkness found us and ended everything. Well, almost everything. You are one of the survivors known as Guardians, protecting the last remaining city on Earth - creatively named the City.
Each Guardian has their own AI companion known as Ghost. I am finally thrown into gameplay as Ghost (voiced by Peter Dinklage) awakens my Guardian and explains that their current location is in Fallen territory - the Fallen being a race of alien pirates who have come to claim Earth as their own. As I begin to explore the barren landscape of Old Russia, I am taken aback by the quality of Destiny’s visuals. Even on the dated Xbox 360 hardware where aliasing is prominent, Bungie’s art design, lighting and animation shines through. I was equally impressed with the audio; everything from gun sound effects to the soaring soundtrack is spot on.
Soon enough I find a rifle and begin my first enemy encounter. Straight away the controls feel tight; combat has the same strategic AI and deliberate pace as Halo - although the controls are clearly inspired by Call of Duty. ‘Game feel’ is extremely hard to quantify, but Bungie seem to have nailed this all-important aspect of Destiny. Movement mechanics are responsive and shooting enemies causes all sorts of numbers and particle effects to fill the screen - this constant immediate feedback goes a long way to making combat very satisfying.
A few fights later and I'm off to the Tower, the main hub between missions. Here, the perspective switches from first-person to third-person, and Guardians can visit vendors, accept/turn in quests and, most importantly, dance with other players. Stalls in the Tower offer plenty of goodies including weapons, armour and vehicles to fully customise your Guardian. You can also start your own fireteam of up to three Guardians who will join you on missions, and getting a group of friends together to take down a difficult boss is great fun. We even bumped onto another player mid-mission and helped him hold off a wave of enemies.
Once I’ve completed enough ground missions I am given access to the Crucible. This is Destiny’s competitive multiplayer mode, and arguably the part that has most people come to Bungie games for. The beta includes one multiplayer mode, Control - which involves two teams vying for control of three flags, similar to Domination in CoD - but the final game will launch with six modes.
Destiny’s strong shooting mechanics seem to hold up just as well in PvP (Player vs Player) as in PvE (Player vs Environment). PvP feels slightly more Halo-esque due to the map design and use of vehicles. However, the tight controls and unique gear carried over from campaign mode give gameplay an unpredictable edge. At the same time, the variety of powers and random loot did lead to some moments of confusion about how exactly I just died. It will be a test of Bungie’s abilities to keep the game balanced with all of these variables.
From what was on offer in the beta, Destiny seems to be living up to every expectation. Everything from the visuals, to the gameplay, to the UI and audio is incredibly polished. With the limited modes and missions on offer, as well as the cap being set at level eight, it feels like Bungie are still playing their cards close to their chest until the full release. And I for one can’t wait for their full hand to be shown on September 9th.