How Destiny’s alpha won me over

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Destiny

If you spent any less than half an hour with Destiny’s alpha, you would have written it off as yet another uninspired, flat and boring shooter. I very nearly did the same. When the alpha started to the dulcet tones of Game of Thrones’ Tyrion Lannister telling me all about the wasteland the Earth has become, I very nearly fell asleep. His vocal performance is unusually wooden, and un-endearingly dull. As the voice of the Ghost, the not-quite-as-sexy as Cortana AI that accompanies you through the game, it’s a voice that you’ll be hearing for much of your time in Destiny. I was unimpressed, and bored. But I soldiered on, and ended up losing a weekend to a mere fragment, a tiny sliver of the game.

Destiny First Look Alpha_20140616111754

Before becoming acquainted with Peter Dinklage’s Ghost on a level 3 mission on Earth, I created my character. All three of the game’s characters were available to choose: The Hunter, your general shooter class; The Titan, your Tank and the Warlock; the shooter equivalent of the magic user. Drawn to the promise of being able to hurl offensive and deadly magic from my fingertips, I naturally chose the Warlock. It’s a choice it seems many others made, because every second person I met on my adventures had made the same one.

Back to the mission. For the first one, I went it alone, for a number of reasons. I’d like to say that it’s mostly so I could test how Destiny would play as a primarily single player game, but really it’s because I just wasn’t in much of a mood to have to interact with other humans online. From the get go, my magically set to level 3 Warlock was outfitted with some decent gear, along with primary and secondary weapons; a semi-long range assault rifle of sorts, and some or other gun that worked very much like you’d imagine a shotgun to work. I could not, however, shoot stuff from my fingertips; that ability would only come once I’d levelled up sufficiently. I could, however, toss out a grenade that sucked away enemy health in a purple spinning vortex.

DestinyAlphagameplay

Ghost told me to run off to some or other satellite-dish adorned building, to vanquish some or other evil there. I summoned a Star Wars-like speeder out of thin air, and proceeded to do exactly the opposite; I instead went to explore Destiny’s environments; a barren wasteland of broken buildings, destroyed vehicles and other bits of detritus. I went everywhere but where I was supposed to, encountering enemies hidden in pockets of fallen structures.

Neat. I then did the mission as intended, taking out the guards in front of the building before making my way up to a room filled with Destiny’s version of The Flood, The Hive. I levelled up, gained the ability to hurl devastating bolts of magic – even if they did take what seemed forever to recharge. Eventually, I demolished the flying wizard I was meant to. It was a decent enough experience, not much removed from just about any other shooter. I knew the game had to have a hook; I was yet to find it though.

Destiny First Look Alpha_20140614190930

Mission accomplished, I set my course for The Tower, which is this particular brand of MMO’s version of a guild hall, I suppose. There I was able to buy and sell equipment, read messages, and pick up bounties; such is the wont a Guardian of the Galaxy. The next available mission was an explorative one for level 4 and above. It put me in a new section of Earth, filled to the brim with the sort of minor quests that MMO’s are littered with; Collect 6 of these pointless things; shoot 7 of these – you know the type if you’ve played just about any RPG. The difference here is that I joined other to do it, and even though it was a grind-fest to level up my character sufficiently to take on the game’s Strike level, it was a lot of fun just potting about with others, chatting about nonsense and shooting just about everything that moved. This level allowed for fire teams of up to 3 characters, so three of ran about, doing missions and generally just wasting time.

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And then the epiphany happened. It came courtesy of a giant spider tank that dropped in to the level, accompanied by an announcement that I’d just joined a public event. Now, instead of just my two buddy guardians, I was instead accompanied by many more, as we all worked together to reduce the multi-legged metal beast’s health, little numbers raining off of its head to show the damage slowly being chipped away. The enemy vanquished, my party resorted back to a group of three as we continued to grind our way to higher levels. It was fun, and I became just that little bit more convinced by the game, especially since I’d levelled up more and could now melee enemies in to nothingness.

The next mission though, the Strike. That’s what sold me on Destiny completely. The equivalent of an MMO raid, the alpha’s Strike mission was the hook I’d been looking for. It pit 3 of us on an impossible set of tasks, one after the other, to infiltrate and kill things within The Devil’s Lair. Wave upon wave of enemy; encounters with more of those dastardly spider tanks – only now we were a team of just three – forcing us to work together as a single unit, lest we all die and have to restart at a checkpoint. Unfortunately, that’s something that kept happening, and it wasn’t helped by the fact that my team wasn’t at all balanced – we were all Warlocks, trying to take on things from afar. We died, a lot. When we finally finished the level though, some two and a half hours later though, the satisfaction and sense of reward was palpable – each of us convinced we needed more Destiny in our lives.

Destiny First Look Alpha_20140616112705

Whatever it is that Bungie says about Destiny, there’s no mistaking that it has the hallmarks MMO, though it’s more of an MMO-lite. Strike teams are smaller than your average MMO’s rad party, though the public events make up for that. Perhaps “shared-world” shooter is the right epithet.

The gunplay feels more like Borderlands than Halo, but that sci-fi series’ DNA is unmistakable in its aesthetic. Destiny’s PvE – the story missions, strike levels and general exploration – is wonderful; there certainly seems to be a lot to do, and if the alpha is any indication, Destiny may well end up being everything Bungie promises it will be.

Less successful is the Gauntlet, the game’s PvP element. The bit that I played was standard FPS multiplayer fare; two teams of 6 capturing points and shooting each other, hardly removed from a standard Halo multiplayer match or even Titanfall without the giant mechs. Or the fun. I don’t intend on spending too much time in PvP. Some will probably love the PvP, but it’s just not for me.

I wasn’t sure I’d like Destiny. There’s too much hype, I’m fond of neither shooters nor MMOs. I enjoyed my time with Destiny far more than I had anticipated; once I’d levelled my Warlock to the maximum level 8 prescribed by the alpha, I started it all over again as the Titan, and then after than as the Hunter, trying each to find the most comfortable fit. And yet, by the time the alpha was over I still wanted more.

Last Updated: June 18, 2014

Geoffrey Tim

Editor. I'm old, grumpy and more than just a little cynical. One day, I found myself in possession of a NES, and a copy of Super Mario Bros 3. It was that game that made me realise that games were more than just toys to idly while away time - they were capable of being masterpieces. I'm here now, looking for more of those masterpieces.

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