Like many other PS4 owners, I spent a good amount of time recently killing wizards from the moon.
That’s right, I played the Destiny Alpha.
Before the Alpha’s appearance, there was some confusion about what Destiny really was. It was a game I felt I had seen a lot of, but soon realised that I knew little about. It’s appeared at E3s, people have talked about it and I have even watched multiple trailers, but I was never concrete on what exactly Destiny is. Like many, I was under the impression that Destiny was just Halo meets Borderlands – due to developer Bungie and it being a seemingly open world role playing shooter. While these latter points eventually revealed themselves as true, Destiny doesn’t feel like the afore-mentioned game cocktail. It does feel like its own thing. That isn’t to say it is hugely unique, it just has its own identity.
The first thing that surprised me about Destiny was how much like an MMO it was. There was a city hub with faction vendors, a zone like area full of boilerplate collection quests (and chance meetings with other players), a PvP arena, an instanced pseudo-raid and dancing. The moment when I stumbled upon a couple of players in the wilderness, only to start an impromptu dance party (where an area chat was alerting me that ‘stephenage started dancing’ and that players were ‘dancing with stephenage’), was the moment the MMO parallels truly hit home.
Of course, Destiny isn’t a traditional MMO. On top of this, this was only a limited alpha, but I will take it as indicative of the end product. It didn’t seem massive in terms of concurrent players and things seem heavily instanced. On the surface, it looks like it falls into the same camp as original Guild Wars, with maybe a touch of Journey magic. People are playing this game at the same time as you, and you can team up with them and take down moon wizards, but there aren’t people all over the place doing the same thing you are. You will bump into people along your travels, but this process came across as really seamless. It feels like you are phasing in and out of other worlds rather than being overwhelmed by other players. This gives you a feeling of importance in the world, rather than being one hero amongst thousands, and makes player interaction really meaningful. Once again, I have no idea if other players will be more frequent in the main game, but the way co-operation was handled in exploration mode in the alpha worked really well. In this respect it provides a great bonus of MMOs without the negatives.
In general this statement somewhat holds true for the alpha as a whole. It is not a conventional MMO, but it does abide by MMO conventions. It uses their tropes and integrates them into its structure and gameplay, and in a lot of ways it does this really well. Bringing your singleplayer character into multiplayer is neat, though there is a slight conflict between style of play. I had set myself out in a way that benefited fighting AI but was not as conducive to fighting real people – however, I don’t see this being a persistent issue in the game itself. When you have the full game, managing separate loadouts will be more feasible and will negate this potential quirk. My one real complaint with multiplayer – which I ultimately thought was a lot of fun – is in regard to the movement.
Movement in Destiny is quite odd, though it generally feels very nice. It doesn’t feel like Halo but it’s definitely not pure Call of Duty. You can aim down sights, but aiming from the hip is still extremely viable. Jumping is no way near as crazy as in Halo, but you do have little jump jets. This is where a slight problem lies, they just aren’t very precise. In Halo I always know what a jump would do, it’s consistent and exact, in Destiny the jump-jet-double-jump just feels kind of lame. They feel moderately pathetic and aren’t as useful as they could be. At points, I was trying to make jumps and succeeded by trial and error rather than acting on instinct. This aspect of traversal just isn’t very tight and doesn’t feel as good as it could (or perhaps should). This aside, the shooting is really stellar. Basic movement is great, but the added ripple of boost is a slight detraction – especially in multiplayer where precision is demanded.
Overall though, the Destiny Alpha worked as a great proof of concept. I really enjoyed the feel and atmosphere of the game; it was all incredibly polished and seems to be hugely promising. I do have some concerns though, the content in the alpha was rather limited and the limited content didn’t allow the game to shine. The one raid style mission was excellent; it encouraged teamwork and was just highly enjoyable. The single player mission was nothing special, but it was fun (it also featured bad Peter Dinklage voice acting). The explore portion is potentially worrying though You go around an area and do side quests, the side quests seem to just randomly generate and they are all incredibly pedestrian. It’s just the clichéd MMO collect 10 of something, kill 10 things or maybe defend an area. This portion gave an excuse to explore a beautiful and mysterious landscape – that was truly worth exploring – but the gameplay content was underwhelming. Also, every time you re-entered it dropped you at the start of the zone, when you wanted to be in nearby areas with higher level enemies.
When this single exploration segment was all that was on offer, the game floundered slightly, it became directionless and not as involving as it should have been. My hope – and my prediction – is that Destiny’s greatness will come from its scope. Having one area makes you realise how shallow things are, but having loads on offer makes it feel expansive and wonderful. When you have a galaxy of locations in front of you, it will be a joy to drop down on a planet and just explore. The open ended sense of discovery will overcome the limitations and the basic quests will start to make sense. After all, you couldn’t hand craft intricate things for every location, and as long as every location is compelling it’s no issue at all. The incentives will be in place, you will want to discover new lands and you won’t feel restricted. That’s the real problem with the alpha content, it’s great but restricted, and that’s no problem at all really. This is just one slice, it doesn’t work presented as such but it’s never meant to be consumed as such. The whole cake that is Destiny is bound to be a lot more impressive and is looking incredibly promising. I can’t wait.