So big news to no-one who is a gamer, the Destiny Beta just concluded a ten-day run across the Playstation and Xbox platforms. I was an eager participant during the four days Xbox users had access, and the entire experience only solidified my feelings about Bungie’s latest offering.
I’m all in.
I first ran across Destiny over a year ago. A new game universe promised by the creators of the Halo franchise? Featuring player-v-player (PvP) as well as co-play options? And a strong storyline threaded throughout, giving you solo play? All against an intriguing science fiction backdrop of humanity’s last stand?
It piqued my interest.
Initially due for release at the beginning of this year, I pre-purchased the game outright in the summer of 2013. Then it was the beta in January, with a July release date. And then, July would be the Beta with a release of September 9. With such disappointing news came other information about the game: it would have elements of an RPG; a diverse skill tree; varied terrain and even several planetary environments; small fireteams and large public events. Destiny was looking better and better, even though it was being pushed back.
Knowing how products can sometimes hit problems on the back end, I took solace in the knowledge that Bungie was doing its best to make the game as great as it could be for Day One (aka “Release Day”).
As the Alpha version was released to select Playstation owners during E3 this year, I watched for news and impressions on the game. Video released by players and reporters showed a beautifully rendered environment and a smooth first-person interface. While complaints popped up about Peter Dinklage’s voice acting as the Ghost, an AI construct, very little negative news came out about the game from the alpha testers. (Aside from immature and self-entitled Xbox owners, that is.)
That made me more eager for the Beta release date of July 17.
Even when Bungie announced the Beta schedule, it didn’t dampen my enthusiasm. Despite Xbox players not getting access until July 23 (a week later), I was ready. When I got the email on the 22nd, a full day early, I immediately downloaded the Beta and I was off and running.
Now, I have to say that my Beta experience was made all the sweeter because my lovely wife, knowing of my boundless enthusiasm for the game, let me know I could spend a large amount of time on the game during its five-day window. This may seem unusual to some, but with a full-time job and being dedicated to other pursuits as well as my family, video gaming is a few-hours-a-week activity. Thus my high selectivity about what games to purchase.
Having watched videos at work during lunch, reading up on reviews and impressions, and following IGN’s “Destiny month” of articles, I already knew I would be gravitating to the Warlock class. A jack-of-all-trades user of ‘void energy,’ the Warlock was effective as a mid-range fighter with some devastating close-in special attacks. This class, and several of its subclass specializations, suited my playstyle well.
Another aside: I have what I call “twitchy thumbs.” My thumbs tend to spasm at times, usually when I’m tense and concentrating – often a condition of when I play PvP games in Halo. Thus, it tends to make accurate aiming difficult for me, even with the adjustable reaction speed options in most game menus. It’s something I’ve had for a long time and gotten used to; I’m not exceptionally good at PvP games like Halo, CoD, and Battlefield because of it. That forces me to keep my PvP activity to mostly between friends, or as part of a team of friends in larger match play.
So imagine my surprise and pleasure as during the first mission I not only kept the rifle on target, but managed a run of headshots in the process. (This is practically unheard of for me.) The targeting was smooth and responsive, and I didn’t feel like I was just on the outside edge of control.
Coupled with the gritty and gorgeous terrain, attentive detail and lighting, ambient sound and underlying score, I was hooked less than five minutes into the Beta.
Over the course of the next few days, I tried everything with my Warlock: all of the story missions, the strike into Devil’s Lair, several public events, and the great wandering of the Exploration phase. Weapon and equipment drops seemed quite varied, giving you lots of options to not only build your defenses, but also customize to your combat preferences. For example, I quickly grew to love the pulse rifles, so finding chest armor that gave an upgrade to carry extra pulse ammo was a great boon. Plus, a lot of equipment – weapons, armor, personal vehicles, not to mention skillsets – is upgradable.
Now, I didn’t spend a lot of time figuring out the in’s and out’s of how everything worked, per se. Some discussion with friends during mutual fireteam exploration revolved around listed weapon attack numbers and the associated graphs for stats like fire rate, impact, and reload. I’m sure it’s important for one to know how it all worked in order to maximize your firepower and whatnot, and I’ll figure it out eventually. It’s just not key for my playstyle and enjoyment.
Unlike a number of hardcore players, I didn’t mind it when Bungie opened up the Beta to the general public without a prepurchase. (Initially, those who prepurchased the game or acquired one of the giveaway codes were guaranteed access during the Beta.) Being in game development myself (albeit not video), testing is critical to make the best possible product. If inviting in mass numbers of people is needed to test server loads and other game activities, then I’m all for it. Playtesting like that helps make games better; so what if people get a free taste? It may turn into more sales for the game, giving Bungie more incentive to continue building the Destiny universe with more upgrades and DLCs. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Three Downs on Destiny
Crucible (aka PvP): Playing in the Crucible arenas is difficult, and I’m sure it’s less the game’s fault and more indicative of my dislike of playing in mass public “versus” games. While only Control-style games were available (basically controlling three zones to rack up points), I can only imagine how cutthroat Deathmatch and King of the Hill matches will be. Thankfully the Crucible is probably the least involved component to the game.
Repetitive Rooms: After some exploration, the rooms underground at the Old Cosmodrone have a lot of similarity in design, just flipped or turned with extra set dressing. While I’m positive this is more because only a small footprint of the game’s environment was opened for Destiny, it’s worth hoping that this doesn’t hold true on Day One.
Lack of Proximity Chat: Part of Destiny’s charm and appeal is the floating interaction of other players. You could be cruising on a mini-mission, crossing a killing zone of rusted planes and scattered cargo containers where lurking Fallen wait to ambush you en masse. A few times I found myself surrounded only to have a couple of players pop out of nowhere and pick off several enemies before winging off elsewhere. Unfortunately, there’s no real way to communicate with them, as no type of proximity chat exists. Such a feature could prove useful in enhancing the social aspect, working and coordinating with an ad hoc fireteam for a time and possibly finding a longer term Destiny companion for future missions and strikes.
There are other nitpicky things that could be listed as negatives, but they didn’t really take away from the experience for me. Most of the nitpicks that I had – or saw listed by others online in comments and articles – come more from ‘wish lists’ of features that gamers favor in other games. Such features like destructible terrain, varied ammunition, more loot chests, and so on aren’t detrimental to the Destiny experience.
Three Ups on Destiny
Variability: The starting cast of three Guardian classes, each with their own set subclasses, gives quite a bit of options for skill trees and playstyles. Mixing and matching classes for fireteams and Crucible games is a fun exercise, especially as the story begins to unfold, strike missions become available, and clan groups begin to populate. In addition, the variances of weapons and equipment forces you to consider how you want to approach your play for the evening. Luckily for the hard core Destiny fan, Bungie has made an app to assist in your choices. Not only does it give you stats across your play history, it provides you the opportunity to fine-tune your character for later play. So if you’re on the subway heading home from work and you’re itching to dive into Destiny for the evening, pop out the app and equip your Guardian for your next mission.
Versatility: Because of its combinations of PvP, RPG, MMO, and cooperative play, Destiny really opens up the range of play. Its broad appeal means more gamers coming into the game, who will find familiarity and comfort in their particular game style. It also gives a great environment to dabble in other areas if one feels the whim, but doesn’t force a player to do them in order to progress and enjoy the game.
Potential: Even with the game’s already versatile nature, there’s opportunities for even more. Spaceships, which currently exist as an extension of expression for the player, promise space combat. The setting in the Sol system offers additional planetary and moon environments to explore, as well as gravity and environmental effects. Additional Guardian classes could be put in place; with the ability for a player to switch between characters without losing story progression and some key elements (such as Glimmer, the game’s currency), new and different Guardian types would find a smooth transition. The imminent alien threat (the Darkness) gives the possibility of new and dangerous alien enemies to face. And of course, new technology potential gives a door to wider and wilder weapon and equipment types.
Destiny is imminent. Bungie’s latest creation promises to break ground in video gaming in so many ways, enhancing the experience for many and evolving it for others. It will be interesting to see how the Destiny community forms and flows as the game releases and progresses. With its potential, this game stands on the cusp of revolutionizing how gamers play. Yes, it’s pretty and yes, it hits all the right notes for my personal style. But what I’m really excited about is just how Destiny unfolds for gamers worldwide. The potential is exponential and I hope Destiny is around long enough to see it exceed Bungie’s wildest dreams.
Oh yeah. I’m all in for Destiny.
See you on Terra.
Final Aside: My friends and I have started a Destiny Clan, the SLDF. Find us and join up; we’re looking for a few good Guardians to help us avenge Terra…