I was lucky enough this week to get a code for the Destiny First Look Alpha on PlayStation 4, and after a couple of days experiencing what it has to offer, I’ve pooled my thoughts along with the others from the Codec Moments team who’ve also been playing, and here’s what we think of Destiny so far. It’s probably not at true alpha stage, it’s pitched as a load test in preparation for the beta happening in July, in advance of release in September, and seems pretty polished at this point in time. We are well aware that we’re not playing the finished game, and that there’s a lot we don’t know still, but there’s definitely enough to make up our minds on whether it’s an essential purchase or not.
If you’ve not heard of Destiny it’s a space-based MMORPG from Bungie (though they won’t refer to it as that, preferring “shared world shooter” instead), the makers of most of the Halo series. They announced 2 years ago that they were working on a multi-platform, first-person, open world online game, and have steadily teased images and footage of the game up to this last week where some members of the public have been given access to the alpha version. The story is set several hundred years in the future where the human race is on the brink of extinction, only saved from it by “The Traveller”, the giant white orb you see in a lot of the artwork. You take on the role of one of the Guardians that protect the last human city by choosing a class and shooting everything that moves (the way these things always work).
First impressions are this is a very pretty looking game with a solid FPS mechanic, you’d expect nothing less from Bungie. The feel of you participating in an epic adventure is with you from the title screen, right through the menus and in to the game itself, it draws you in and prepares you for what seems like it will be a detailed story. The alpha itself doesn’t contain anything in the way of that story, you’re just thrown in after selecting your class and left to follow the instructions given to you by a floating spikey orb with a stern voice. With Destiny being an online focussed game I was worried that the single player enthusiasts and those with no friends would be left out in the cold, fortunately it’s not the case, and from the limited offering it looks like the bulk of the game is flexible to manage different gaming attitudes. If you want to play on your own you can, and if you want to team up it’s easy to do. There are specific group missions which you’d expect, and the matchmaking (at this stage at least) was smooth and reasonably quick.
Immediately I was struck with how the style reminded me of Borderlands – that open feel to the levels, a desolate world, and it being an FPS RPG. This is a good thing, there’s a lot of enjoyment to be had there. Movement is smooth and precise, aiming and shooting is a breeze, and greater distances are covered by materialising vehicles (a speederbike type affair in the alpha) underneath you – a pretty cool mechanism that’s actually useful rather than a gimmick. It’s easy to describe the gameplay in terms of how other titles have done it, and maybe that’s because Halo inspired a lot of other console FPS’s, so things have come full circle. The inclusion of a day/night cycle definitely makes things fresh and new visually, and I’m guessing this might end up being the signature for this new generation of gaming. The best thing to do would be watch the gameplay video below and make your own mind up on how it looks and works.
So there’s a good solid base to the game, it then needs the activities and progression structure to build it into a must have title. Progression is standard, kill things to gain XP and level up your skills, and it’s seems decently paced. There’s a hub area for upgrading all your kit, grabbing missions, customising your toys, and meeting up with others. It’s quite nice to look at but made me think of PlayStation Home – being a non-interactive environment with lots of strangers running around with bubbles above their heads. It, like everything else, is good looking and well designed, and surprises you with how big it is, and how many areas are available to wander through. The experience it offers is slick and user friendly, and sends a statement that the developers want this game to be accessible to all.
This is the part of this article where opinion heavily kicks in, and I return to the line at the top of the page – it’s very polished for an alpha stage, and logically it’s well beyond that considering it’s due for release in 3 months. I need to restate that more to myself than you because Destiny started to lose my interest once I got into the activities and missions. After the opening stage and introduction to the Tower (hub area), the return to planet Earth to explore has quests that grow old fast. Everything is “go here, kill that” or “go here, look at that, but kill on the way” or, for some variation, “don’t go there, but kill that and pick up what it drops”. This in itself is what I would expect, but the problem is that after “killing that” and moving 5 feet away – “that” respawns. It happens so fast and frequently that you can feel overwhelmed in certain areas of the map, and end up finding travel tedious because you’re running backwards and forwards through areas you’ve cleared several times in as many minutes.
In co-op it’s more enjoyable, but only staves of the tedium for a short while. So you move to the raid-type missions to spice things up. Multiple people working together to fight through a specific mission is exactly what this game is about, and here lies the problem. The experience I had (with Andy and another random player) was the most frustrating I have ever had in a game. The main issues were the fact that we were a higher level than most enemies not seem to matter; we were constantly running out of ammo because not enough was available within the level or from downed enemies; enemies at points were infinitely spawning in large numbers; and the bosses were hugely overpowered. The two hours and 51 deaths spent trying to complete a relatively short mission were more than enough for me to forget about pre-ordering Destiny, which is a shame because up to the point where it became pure grind, I was coming round to how good it could be.
I appreciate this is an early access portion of a massive game, and doesn’t show the full variety the retail release will have, but that doesn’t stop it giving me the impression that I won’t enjoy it. It’s got a lot going for it, and I hope there’s plenty of promotion, footage and detail before it comes out to make me change my mind because there are very few good co-op games out there, and this has huge potential. It just needs to be balanced and given more interesting things to do. If you’re taking part in the beta in July then feedback to us if things seem the same, or if Bungie have tweaked how things work.
The rest of the team that have played were less diplomatic, here are the overriding thoughts:
Cev – It made me think of Katie Price – nice to look at, but hollow and vacant, and when I really think about it, I wouldn’t touch it with yours.
Andy – I like the RPG elements and it’s good to look at, but cheap enemy spamming stops the co-op from being effective, and there’s a f*@%ing armoured spider tank b*@%ard that not only makes the game go downhill, but pushes it off a cliff on to jagged rocks below.
Are we being overly harsh and critical? Probably, but we’re going to be like a lot of other people out there – wanting Destiny to be the best game to come out this year and deliver on the promise it holds. There’s still time for things to change, though I worry that it’s not enough, and at this point I’m not planning on getting it at release. Maybe I’ll just wait until the inevitable Destiny 2 and someone’s decided that MMO’s really don’t need a “dance” button…