Bungie is working like a studio possessed. They have grasped on to one single purpose and that is to build a new sci-fi shooter that has mass appeal without sacrificing any depth of features and gameplay. Destiny is the result and it looks like they might be very close to achieving their goal.
We've already spent a fair amount of time with Destiny. During the exclusive alpha back in June and had a long look at the story elements as well as the PvP multiplayer and found that, for an alpha build of a game, it was ridiculously well-polished.
Now the beta is upon us and we've headed back in and found that Bungie has gifted fans with a little bit more story-based content that was revealed in the alpha. From the single Skywatch mission that the alpha offered the beta gives a taste of the first four or five story missions that players will face when Destiny launches in September.
The game begins with the player being revived by their companion Ghost, voiced by Peter Dinklage, before being guided to a nearby spacecraft in order to get out of the wilderness of the world as it is now and back to the Tower to join the ranks of the Guardians to help humanity fight back an ancient threat known as The Darkness.
It begins at a nice pace, gently guiding players into the very familiar gameplay dynamics. You head to The Wall, find some guns and take down your first load of Fallen - one of several enemy factions in the game – to secure your banged up old starship and head to the tower.
Destiny works exactly as it should. The gameplay dynamic is very FPS but there's hints of Borderlands in there as all damage scored registers by way of numbers bouncing out of your enemy with every hit scores. Critical hits – headshots for the most part – appear in yellow and normal hits in white.
That's not the only hint of Borderlands there is either. There's plenty of loot hidden around the world waiting to be found if you want to delve back into Destiny's open world locations in exploration mode. Enemies also periodically drop loot but it's not quite as comedically abundant as in Gearbox's hybrid FPS RPG. When loot is dropped normal weapons appear instantly in you inventory and are usable provided you meet their level requirements. Rarer items appear as Encrypted Engrams which must be decryted by a Scholar at the Tower.
Bungie has aimed to strike a balance between MMO and free-roaming FPS gaming with Destiny and it feels amazingly natural. As you wander in exploration mode or while following a story mode mission you'll encounter other players who you can team up with if you choose forming a fireteam of up to three players to help you take on the mission.
Fireteams can be helpful when tackling story missions or the raid-style strike missions especially if you choose to ramp up the difficulty level for an extra challenge. They're not necessary though and every story mission can be completed solo for players that prefer the lone wolf approach. Strikes are tougher and fireteams are mandatory but Destiny will automatically do a bit of matchmaking to fill your fireteam up if none of your mates are around.
Exploration mode works very nicely too and addresses a lot of the issues that have plagued free-roaming RPGs and MMOs in the past. Missions are dotted around the wilderness as beacons. These can range from collecting certain items to scouting caves to taking out a certain number of enemies in a particular area. The real bonus is that they are automatically reported when you finish then so there's no retunring to the Tower after each mission to collect your reward. These rewards usually come in the form of experience or Glimmer, Destiny's currency.
The Tower functions as Destiny's social hub. It is home to vendors selling weapons, armour, gear, ship parts and even Sparrow – your hand spawning hovervbike for travelling longer distances in the game world. The Tower is the only place in the game where third-person perspective is used and it allows you to enjoy the more social aspects of Destiny. Bungie has mapped some social behaviours to the d-pad that include pointing, waving, sitting and dancing, all of which are more enjoyable in third-person view although they're quite hand in the main gameplay areas as well.
Finally there's the PvP multiplayer which is unlocked once players reach level six. The Crucible, as it is named, is a training ground for Guardians and players get the chance to test their skills against each other and level up their abilities and gear over and above what they can achieve exploring the universe and playing the story modes.
It's based on Battlefield's Conquest mode but on a smaller scale with players slugging it out in six-on-six battles. Two maps on offer show the gameplay at it's opposite scales. The First Light map on the Moon offers open space and vehicles for proper conquest-style mayhem. The second map is set in ruins on Venus and offers much more close-up combat without the vehicles. Both require teams to maintain control of three separate secure points and the number they control affects the speed at which they can ramp up the points. Once the timer runs out the team with the highest score wins.
Here Bungie has put their years of experience building Halo's multiplayer to very good use and these battles feel nicely paced. They've also made the well-considered choice to disable all health and skill bonuses conferred by player and weapon level so success Destiny's multiplayer is very much about the skill of the player rather than the amount of time that they've sunken into the story, Strike and exploration modes.
Destiny is polished up exquisitely even at the beta stage and they have clearly spent a lot of time balancing every element of the game to make sure that it offers enough depth to draw in fans while still working in well with the other elements of the game.
Part FPS, part RPG, part MMO Destiny offers a lot to fans of each element without sacrificing anything and when it launches in September it looks set to be a strong contender for game of the year if not game of the generation.
Destiny will be released on PS4, PS3, Xbox One and Xbox 360 on September the 9th.
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