Destiny is Certainly Promising, But is it Ambitious Enough?

Imagine a single six-sided die. Take the standard numerical dots populating its various faces and replace them with three “Yes” sides and three “No” sides. This perfectly-proportioned, dual-optioned die is a perfect representation of the logical response to what the gaming community has seen from Destiny thus far: it could either be exceptional or wind up being a slight disappointment. Up until this past weekend, its much-heralded social connectivity has been kept almost entirely under wraps. Every trailer has focused on building its universe, explaining its lore, and displaying its mechanics. While it is still largely unclear what the final product will look like, the impressive Destiny Alpha has turned one of our imaginary cube’s three “No” sides into a definitive “Yes.”

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The Destiny Alpha provided a number of lucky PlayStation 4 owners the chance to experience a smorgasbord of features. Far more content-packed than the Battlefield: Hardline Beta, this Pupu Platter Deluxe features five major gameplay pillars of Bungie’s ambitious shared-world first-person shooter. Boasting a Story mission, a cooperative Strike mission, adversarial multiplayer in the Crucible, an MMO-like social-hub, and a brilliant Exploration mode, the world can finally begin to piece together the enigma that is Destiny.

Upon launching the Alpha, players are given the chance to create their very own Guardian. Gone are the days where Bungie’s games revolve around an (admittedly awesome) olive-armored semi-mute giant; Destiny allows you to deck out a unique character to use throughout your quest to protect the last safe city on Earth. Aside from the fact that the vast majority of Destiny‘s gameplay takes place in first-person (meaning that you actually rarely get to see your own custom avatar), the level of detail is exciting. Players are able to choose their gender, species, facial structure, skin color, eye color, face paint, and play-style. Customization is always welcome in video games, as it has the potential to make the overall experience extremely personal (a la how each player felt outrageously attached to his or her Shepard). Sure, the inherent flaw is that only actually see your character’s model in less than five percent of the game, but the chance to forge your own path from the get-go is certainly exciting.

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The three customizable play-styles are what’s truly important here, as the choice between Titan, Hunter, and Warlock directly impacts the entire gameplay experience in a multitude of ways. Each class comes with a different melee ability, double jump, Super (Destiny‘s magical special abilities), appearance, and health signature. The brutish Titan is geared for close-quarters battles, as this class’ health seems to whittle down at a slower pace than its more technical counterparts. Their floaty double-jump allows them enough time to whip out a special weapon in midair to finish off the most challenging foes. With a swift punch and ground-slam attack, Titans are built for Crucible domination; however, playing as a stealthy Hunter can often be more rewarding and fun. The best Hunters take pride in their ability to kill enemies secretly, as their blades, throwing knives, and swift double and triple-jumps allow them to move around quickly and quietly. Hunters have easily the coolest Super out of each class: the three-bullet insta-kill Golden Gun. Players will find themselves dying a lot if they fail to stick to these guidelines, since Hunters have what appears to be the slowest health-regeneration speed of the three classes. Finally, the Warlock uses the wonders of magic to quell its enemies, and its massive energy bomb Super, health-draining melee, and controllable glide give the class a greater sense of finesse.

Destiny feels very much like a Bungie game, so the shooting, health balance, movement mechanics, and enemy classes should feel immediately familiar to fans of the Halo series. There are obviously a few differences (such as the ability to aim down sight and new alien factions), but these aspects are not as novel as some of Destiny‘s more ambitious features. Likewise, the Story and Strike missions feel similar to a number of things we’ve seen before. You (and possibly a couple of buddies) advance through an open, yet linear path, kill a bunch of enemies, beat a few bosses, and learn about the game’s lore. This isn’t to say that these modes aren’t exciting, but the things that make Destiny so intriguing are its open-world features, background matchmaking, MMO elements, and addictive multiplayer experience.

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The most exciting, and concerning, feature in Destiny is the open Exploration mode. Players are thrust into Old Russia (and presumably more areas in the full version of the game), where they are allowed to do anything and everything they please. Perhaps you want to show your friend the cool shipwreck almost thirty minutes away from the initial spawn point? Go right ahead. Feel free to level-grind by killing members of the warring Fallen and Hive alien factions. Missions constantly spawn all over the environment for those players that desire a more structured open-world experience. Being able to roam freely around the massively open map feels unique, as players have the opportunity to test out new weapons, play-styles, and abilities while uncovering more of the galaxy’s mysteries. What’s even more exciting is that online players will seamlessly pop in and out of a given player’s world based on his or her location. Feeling more like Journey‘s outstanding instanced multiplayer than a traditional MMO, Destiny‘s Exploration mode allows players to choose whether or not to work with (or dance with) other human-controlled Guardians. Think someone is weighing you down? Simply go to a different area and prepare never to see them again. The ability to freely choose to engage or abandon other players gives a sense of realism to Destiny‘s decidedly unrealistic realm.

Herein lies the issue with Destiny‘s most interesting gameplay mode: judging from the Alpha, the only piece of evidence the world has at the moment, this is essentially just its own playlist. In the Alpha, players have to select Exploration from a map of Earth rather than simply existing in it the entire time. Separating the Story, Strike, and Exploration modes via a menu almost feels like what would happen if you had to select “Randomly Run Around and Kill Hookers Mode” from a menu in a Grand Theft Auto game. Granted, this could change when the final game is released, but as it stands this choice completely undermines the much-heralded seamless nature of Destiny. This is a game that would clearly function best as a massive open-world experience, rather than the disjointed framework of something that could one day be unbelievable. Sure, players would have to fly between planets, but using a menu to navigate between one specific area’s missions feels oddly archaic and out-of-place. While this impression comes solely from Alpha gameplay, the fact that Destiny might only deliver halfway on its promise is a little worrying. It’s easy to see how this estimated $500 million monster could be the greatest open-world shooter of all time, but the structure of the Alpha gives cause to wonder whether or not Bungie can pull it off.

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Conversely, the map-based navigation makes an great deal of sense in regards to the Tower, the aforementioned last safe city on Earth, and the Crucible, the game’s multiplayer hub. Holding down the triangle button to beam into the navigation menu allows players to travel to either one of these sections, both of which benefit from being separated from Destiny‘s sprawling Earth area. Allowing players to instantly travel back to the Tower gives them the power to quickly to purchase weapons, interact with other players, decode item files, and upgrade their equipment. Wandering around for hours searching for a single section of the world would be tedious, leading the Tower to be far less populated. This third-person MMO-like section is certainly entertaining, but unfortunately, the Alpha’s version ultimately feels hollow. Hopefully the retail version of Destiny allows players to interact on a deeper level than simply gesturing at one another. Real-time trading, tip-sharing, and a more seamless friend-requesting system would take the Tower from an area simply featuring a great deal of bodies to a bustling hub of life.

If Destiny‘s entire Crucible mode is of the level of quality that the limited Alpha indicates, then it could be Bungie’s best multiplayer experience since Halo 2. Take the frenetic nature of Call of Duty, add a dash of Battlefield‘s strategyand top it with the inherent ridiculousness of Halo and the result will look somewhat like Destiny. While players who get the initial shots off will always have the advantage in a firefight, the amount of bullets necessary for a kill allows players to think their way through each encounter. The one gameplay mode, Control, takes the standard three-flag Domination formula and tweaks it slightly; everything players do seems to add to the ever-increasing team score. If players want to run around like a lone-wolf and only kill enemies, they will still aid their team in the long run. What’s more satisfying is that the characters that players build and the equipment they earn in the other sections of the game carry over to multiplayer, meaning that every action matters. While this could eventually bring up balance issues, as players who buy the game post-launch will likely be at a clear disadvantage, it makes the player’s character feel even more important. Keep an eye out for Destiny‘s multiplayer, as it shows an incredible amount of promise.

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While Destiny‘s extensive Alpha has given gamers reason to be excited, it also sets off some warning bells. This is an ambitious project, but at times it doesn’t feel ambitious enough. The idea of background matchmaking, exploration-based open sections, and a gripping multiplayer experience are fascinating, to say the least. However, if the Alpha is any indication, the separation of the game’s single-player, co-op, and open-world sections casts some doubt on Bungie’s decision making. Time will only tell if Destiny is a must-have experience or simply a great one, a difference that will likely come from the unification of its admittedly impressive individual elements.