After months of hype it's nice to be able to sit down and actually play a game for yourself. It's crazy to think that Bungie sent over members of the press to an event without even giving them a chance to play Destiny, but here we are these many months later, and the technical alpha has started for PlayStation 4 owners.
I've been playing it for quite a while, and I'm glad to say that it was worth the wait -- even if it doesn't blow me away quite yet.
Bungie (PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 [previewed], Xbox 360, Xbox One)
Release: September 9, 2014
Whatever you do, don't call it Borderlands. Well, you can actually in some regards, because it is a class-based FPS with RPG elements. The comparisons basically stop there though. Once you boot up Destiny, you'll get to fully customize a character with an editor that trumps pretty much every other shooter I've ever played. Any of the three classes (Titan, Hunter, and Warlock) can be male or female, as well as any of the three included races -- Human, Awoken (aliens), and Exo (robots). I chose an Exo Titan.
Right off the bat one of the first things I noticed about Destiny was the weird user interface. Everything is controlled by a virtual mouse cursor that floats around the screen, which you'll direct by way of the left stick. It's odd, because there's no way to flip around the menus with the d-pad like any other game, and it can be jarring to slowly scroll across the screen to select something. On the flipside, the menus themselves are clean, and easy to read, which is more important.
Upon the start of the alpha I was thrown into a story mission, which is just part of Destiny's three pronged method of gameplay -- story, sandbox exploration, and PVP. As a Guardian sent to Earth to save it from the mysterious Fallen, the first mission involves an indoor colony and a boss fight. Peter Dinklage of Game of Thrones fame is your AI guide, calling out hints and tips as you slowly make your way into the depths of your target building. Honestly I'm just happy to hear his voice, but he could use a little more "oomph" in his lines. Hopefully his performance ramps up as you advance in the story.
Slowly but surely I made my way through the darkened abandoned building, taking in the sights and admiring the great lightning engine on the PS4. It really reminds me of the flashlight sections in Doom III in a good way, and there was a fair bit of tension once the baddies started rushing out of the dark crevices of the room. Everything culminated in a boss fight, which was sufficiently satisfying, and consisted of plenty of adds to take out.
Combat is built around the constant injection of action. You don't run out of grenades, you recharge them. You don't just get to jump -- you can extend your leap with a jetpack. Each character also has a super move (in this case, a ground pound), which can be used in a pinch, and recharges fairly quickly. The upgrade system is fairly robust, doling out new skill points at a quicker rate than most RPG shooters, allowing passives like bonus damage, better grenades, and upgraded jumps. You'll also unlock some new moves, like a shoulder charge and the like.
While the visuals didn't really blow me away at this point in the game's development, they look great on the PS4, and the draw distance is vast enough to where you'll want to sit down and take in the sights every so often. It's very smooth, and as I mentioned previously, the lightning is smooth as well. It's not going to take the honors of the best looking current-gen game, but everything is insanely polished. It helps that you can summon your mount at will and just ride around, looking at everything.
I also really liked the "ruined cape motif" that Destiny's art direction is going for. The enemies remind me of fighting the Covenant from Halo for the first time, and the elite type characters are formidable enough to earn my respect. With moves like teleports, special attacks, and even call-backs like Needler weaponry, it's a style that reminds me of Mass Effect mixed with Knights of the Old Republic -- with it's own unique spin.
Destiny isn't just about doing linear story missions though, as some levels are billed as "open world" joints. I wouldn't necessarily think of them as on the scale of say, a GTA game, but they are fairly large sandboxes that allow you to just wander around willy nilly. It's not just aimless exploration either, since tiny optional beacons can be found that trigger mini-missions.
Multiplayer-wise I really dig Bungie's take on the whole "online-only" system. Yes, it sucks that you'll need to connect to the internet to even play the game, and many of you out there will probably forgo the opportunity, which is fine. But the result is something that reminds me of the best parts of Journey -- players will randomly phase in and out of your game seamlessly, helping you out in a pinch and forming squads. I love that it just drops players in without the hassle of checking what level you are, looking for other games in a giant list, or worrying about connection issues. It's just seamless.
Destiny has a hub world too, and it reminds me of Phantasy Star Online in a big way. There's a message center to grab mail from, equipment vendors to get gear from, and even bounties to acquire. There's even a PVP vendor that sells specific PVP gear with tokens that you can only earn by fighting other players. Wait, PVP? Yep, Bungie is incorporating what it does best -- full competitive multiplayer in the form of the Crucible. There will be multiple modes available in the full game, but I only got a chance to try out "Control" -- which is basically "Capture the Point" (A, B, C).
This mode is 6v6, and operates like a traditional FPS, but with the same character you've used in all of your other missions. There's vehicles to use, and the level itself really reminded me of playing Halo for the first time, which is a great feeling. The audio has a real punch to it, and makes combat pretty entertaining as a whole -- especially with a pair of great headphones. At the present time it looks like you can play the Crucible as much as you want, but the actual currency you earn from it is capped at 100 tokens per week (a very MMO-like trait).
Destiny is an ambitious game, and I had a lot of fun during my lengthy stay with the alpha -- I can't wait to see if it'll hold my attention when the final version drops. I will say though, the MMO influences are really working to its advantage, and I see lots of long nights storming dungeons for loot in my future.