A ghost in the shell.
Destiny is the much anticipated new game from Bungie Studios, creators of the Halo and Marathon series. Almost as anticipated as the game itself is the beta which debuted on Ps4 and Ps3 last week. I got the chance to sit down and play it for a while over the weekend.
The first thing the game asks the player to do is create their character. The player can choose between 3 races, and 3 genders when creating their character, and the editor features a robust selection of faces and hairstyles to make each character your own. There are 3 classes available from the start in Destiny: Titan, which is akin to the standard tank or assault class found in most other class-based shooters. Hunter, which is more stealth based. And finally Warlock, which is a tactical class, focused on using special abilities to damage eliminate enemies.
The strengths and abilities of each class can be augmented as you level up your character throughout the game. I got a peek into the tech trees of the classes on the upgrade screen and from what I can tell, they seem to have a lot of depth and versatility as they progress, even gaining a subclass at level 15.
"This social hub is an interesting area from a design standpoint in the sense that it is the only area where the player is in a third-person behind the back view ala typical MMORPGs. I assume that the developers have done this so players aren’t running around firing their weapons at NPCs and other players who are trying to do business with the vendors."
The Beta begins with a video intro explaining a bit about the background lore of the game, and giving some insight into the Traveler, a mysterious floating orb that contained advanced technology and allowed for the unprecedented technological growth of the human race. The player quickly learns that a force known only as “The Darkness” halted that growth and attacked Earth, and colonies on other planets in the Solar system. There is then a cut to a scene where a mysterious floating robot revives the player.
Peter Dinklage (of HBO’s Game Of Thrones fame) voices Ghost, your floating robotic companion. Ghost will provide players with information about the world, enemies, and mission objectives throughout the game. In the Destiny Alpha from a month ago, concerns were raised about the quality of Dinklage’s voice over. Unfortunately even with the Beta’s vast improvements in line delivery, and a new “robotic” filter, the voice over still comes off as stilted, and more than a little unenthusiastic. This may improve still in the final release, but at least this is a step in the right direction.
After the player is revived, there is a short tutorial segment that establishes and teaches the controls to the player. It is a brief taste of whats to come, as the game quickly transports the player to the social hub city “Tower” to teach them about the social, and vender aspects of the game.
This social hub is an interesting area from a design standpoint in the sense that it is the only area where the player is in a third-person behind the back view ala typical MMORPGs. I assume that the developers have done this so players aren’t running around firing their weapons at NPCs and other players who are trying to do business with the vendors. It is a smart choice that helps fight against the dissonance of player choice versus game immersion. Another reason for this could be that when more than a few players are interacting with a vendor or quest-giver, they have complete control of the camera and will not be constantly looking at someone’s back, or clipping through their body.
"From the visual, audio, and physical feedback of each kill, to the slight hang time in the air when the player jumps, they understand what people liked about the gameplay of Halo and have applied it here."
Vendors in this game have a rotating stock of weapons, armor, items, and emblems. There is a timer at the bottom of their inventories indicating when their stock will refresh and have different wares. This is a unique mechanic that I have not seen in any other RPG. The term “Vendor Trash” was coined by MMORPG players to signify how vendors are little more than trash cans. Too often vendors in these types of games are merely dumping points for items the player doesn’t want. Destiny curbs this by giving the player a reason to return to vendors often as they will often carry great randomized gear at low prices.
If you’ve played any of Bungie’s previous games the movement and feel of Destiny will seem familiar in a nostalgic sort of way. Simply put, this is the studio who pioneered first person shooters on consoles and they haven’t lost a step. From the visual, audio, and physical feedback of each kill, to the slight hang time in the air when the player jumps, they understand what people liked about the gameplay of Halo and have applied it here.
Enemies throughout the playable “Old Russia” area travel in groups of 4-6 at various levels of strength. Destiny is very much an MMORPG in this regard. After being eliminated the enemies will respawn a few minutes later. It is built this way to allow for the seamless entry and exit of other players into the area. It is cool to be battling enemies and another person come in and give you a hand on the fly. The enemies also feature levels and set numbers of hit points, and when you engage with them RPG-esque numbers burst from their bodies. This is accompanied by a health bar decreasing above their heads to indicate how much life they have left.
"Random events can happen in certain areas any time 3 or more people are around. These events range from waves of enemies dropping in to take resources, to full on assault tanks dropping in to eliminate the players. The objectives are simple, eliminate these enemies before the timer runs out."
While exploring the world of Destiny trying to complete one of the many randomized quests that can be found, I noticed something in the distance. It was gunfire, and a few player names moving from side to side. Eager to help I rushed over to the area on my Sparrow hover bike. As I approached, a timer and mission objective appeared in the upper left corner of the screen in bright orange. Next to that was a single word outlined in black, “Optional.”
I had encountered a random event. Random events can happen in certain areas any time 3 or more people are around. These events range from waves of enemies dropping in to take resources, to full on assault tanks dropping in to eliminate the players. The objectives are simple, eliminate these enemies before the timer runs out. This is no small feat, as waves of enemies are seemingly endless, and assault “Walker” tanks can take an enormous amount of damage while dishing out the same.
So I dove in to help this group complete the event with only 2 minutes left on the timer. The objective was to destroy the Walker tank while trying to fend off the waves upon waves of enemies that are brought in by drop ship. Every bullet I fired at the tank seemed to do a small amount to no damage at all, but I noticed something. The part of the tank I was firing at would flash whenever I hit it. A thought occurred to me, “Maybe this tank has weak spots”. I switched over to my heavy weapon, and plugged a few shots at different areas on the tank. Legs, head, main cannon, back. The legs seemed to take the most damage, so I unloaded my weapon into them. Suddenly, the spider-like tank was on it’s knees with only half of it’s health left. I shot at it’s head and noticed that my damage had gone up considerably.
"As a blending of FPS and MMORPG ideals, Bungie seems to have hit the mark with Destiny. It is clear from this beta that they understand the pitfalls that many developers have run into when trying to blend these genres, and they clearly know how to avoid those mistakes."
My teammates, without even having been in voice chat with me, noticed immediately what had happened. We all dumped as much ammo as possible into the tank’s head and when it exploded, an audible “YEAH!” was all I heard on the proximity chat. We quickly cleared the area of any straggling enemies and went our separate ways. This on the fly aspect of exploring the areas adds a sense of urgency and community to the world that wouldn’t be there otherwise. You get the sense that there really is a full on war with these enemies happening dynamically all around you.
You can pull up the menu and go into orbit at any time during the gameplay, this allows the player to choose whether or not they want to go to the Old Russia area or the Social Hub. The player can bring their own customized character from the campaign portion of the game over to this mode. Personally, my experience with this portion of the game was not very good. Due to the customizable nature of the different characters and level gaps, I felt that it was unbalanced. Its worthy of note that the level cap in the beta is 8 and this means that the matchmaking will be universally uneven.
As a blending of FPS and MMORPG ideals, Bungie seems to have hit the mark with Destiny. It is clear from this beta that they understand the pitfalls that many developers have run into when trying to blend these genres, and they clearly know how to avoid those mistakes. Personally, I cannot wait to get my hands on the full game this coming September and see what the full experience of Destiny has in store for players.
This game was previewed on the PlayStation 4.