06 August, 2014

Destiny - That Nebulous Feel

Having extensively played both, the First Look Alpha and the subsequent Beta, I collect my thoughts on how Destiny plays, the murky territory of where it lies within the greater genre-strewn geography, and the expectations and misconceptions inherent with Destiny and it’s messaging.


Until the E3, perhaps more accurately, the Sony-exclusive First Look Alpha that launched over the weekend following E3, we knew very little of what Destiny actually was. Bungie were scrupulous in there messaging, cautiously leaving Destiny undefined in terms of both genre  and structure, a “shared-world shooter” – you shoot people with friends then, like in Halo? Naturally, this invited a number of Borderlands comparisons, a result of the open world, first-person action, coupled with the light role playing game (and mad coloured loot) elements. Upon playing the First Look Alpha, it was immediately obvious that Destiny uses many gameplay systems and structure, commonly found in massively multiplayer online (MMO) games.

However at its’ core Destiny remains a first-person shooter, one I staunchly believe has a feel very akin to that of Bungie’s previous Halo games. Yes it does feel different, there’s a lethality unseen in Bungie’s Halo games and perhaps most glaringly, you can (and need to) aim down the sights. Despite this, the core feel, that nebulous sensation of movement and shooting feels very reminiscent of Bungie’s well practiced style. I would compare Destiny to Halo (let’s say Halo : Reach for now), much as one may compare Titanfall to Call of Duty – clearly built upon the foundation of the creator’s previous work. In Titanfall shooting and killing was instant, snappy, just like Call of Duty : Modern Warfare, yet adds insane freedom of movement and of course, Titans, both hugely influence combat encounters. Similarly, Halo : Reach played very differently from Halo 3, no small part due to the armour abilities, and 343's Halo 4 differed considerably from the feel of Reach. In all cases, substantial changes in player movement, and ultimately time and intensity of the next kill changed and evolved from that of the previous title. Yet the core action –  the movement, the melee, the shotgun – all feel familiar and welcoming to a Halo player.

Aside from the MMO (and Borderlands) style of levelling, mission structure (yep, the old ‘kill X number of enemies and return their pelts’ is in there…), enemy encounters and even spontaneous public quests. Destiny also features, vendor specific currency, for example; partaking in the player versus player, competitive multiplayer earns Crucible Marks, and associated gear. There is also a weekly cap on how many Marks can be obtained by a player. You visit a central, social hub area – the Tower – where items can be bartered or stored, and missions and bounties acquired. The world is segmented by MMO-style instancing; it is instanced first by what you are doing, a specific mission, explore mode, a Strike – you’ll only be matched by people doing the same. When on a mission, key areas will be instanced further, by ‘Darkness Zones’, where only fireteam members are allowed to enter together, and if your party dies, wipes, you’ll restart at the beginning of the Darkness Zone.

Where Destiny diverges from the more traditional MMO structure is the number of players in a given area, players are brought together by proximity, providing they are on the same mission, meaning you'll encounter only a small number of people at a time (compared to an MMO).  Furthermore, the environments you traverse are far more detailed, each environment that I played through, felt unique and hand crafted, dense and beautiful. A rare and welcome trait for any game, massive or otherwise.

Such attention to detail, and the size of the areas seen in the Beta, begs the question; how many environments can there be, and further, how long will the experience last – how long until the end game content (what will it even be)?  During the First Look Alpha and Beta, players were able to explore Old Russia, on Earth and fleetingly, the Moon. Both environments were suitably impressive and beautiful, and the single story mission set on the Moon was far more involved and interesting than those found on Earth. But is that all that is there, a half dozen story missions that make you re-tread the same building you’ve fought through already in an earlier mission?

Naturally, Bungie (and Activision) have already shown their eagerness to sell expansion packs, simply picking up the limited edition version of Destiny will net you the Expansion Pass containing; Destiny Expansion I: The Dark Below and Destiny Expansion II: House of Wolves. These will be much more than Halo-style multiplayer map packs confirmed Eric Osborne, Bungie Community Manager, in a post on NeoGaf, “We think we did a decent job supporting Halo, post launch, but we were only ever able to cater to the competitive set…”, “…Destiny is philosophically built support every type of player, and all modes with ongoing activities and events. We look at it quite a bit like television programming, as opposed to a singular film, as we had in the past.”. Many opinions I’ve seen expressed call foul; your paying $60 for a game, you should get all the content. This is cried almost every time that anyone mentions additional content, but with an unknown quantity like Destiny, volume of content and game length is a widely held concern, a concern which the Beta did little to quell. Compare it to a traditional (perhaps monthly fee) MMO and yes, Destiny may well offer a paltry amount of content. Making the assumption that there is at least as much content, if not more, on the other, as yet un-traversed areas of Destiny; Mars, Venus, and the Moon (there was only one story mission available in the Beta), coupled with a healthy showing of competitive maps, Strikes and Raids. Then there is potentially a huge amount content, when compared to a traditional $60 shooter.  Of course, if Destiny does not feel like $60s worth of game, then such criticism is of course warranted, but Destiny is a console (for now anyway) shooter first and foremost, and it’s value should be considered accordingly.

Bungie’s own tip-toeing around what this game is and the form it takes, may have inflated the very expectations they appeared to want to avoid. Regardless, what I have played of Destiny First Look Alpha and Beta met my expectations, which were not inconsiderable – Bungie have taken their unique first-person shooter gameplay and wrapped it in this MMO-esque structure, made all the more enticing, their bizarre brand of science fiction.

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