Bungie invited 2old2play to a private party after the Sony Press Conference where a lucky few were able to eat, drink, and play hours and hours of Destiny with the people who made it. Here is my recollection of the game, festivities, and people.
Before I get into things however, I do want to preface this article to say this is purely of my own opinion. I’m also not so naive as to think that playing with the developers while beautiful women serve me Hors d'oeuvres and feed me drinks doesn’t skew my perspective a bit. It’s hard to remain 100% objective in this sort of situation. Especially given the fact that 2o2p (and really my gaming career) was built from a house that Bungie made. As you would expect, the room was electric with excitement. Both from the team and from the people who were lucky enough to be playing Destiny for the first time; and it affected me.
The party itself was spectacular. And while I’m sure you don’t want to hear to much about it and would rather me only discuss the game, I think it’s worth mentioning if only to capture the vibe, energy, and joy that was going on around me. Obviously it will come off a bit braggadocious, but how else can it come off when you get to spend the evening with your gaming heros. But enough exposition, lets get to the party.
The plan was for everyone to leave the Sony Press Conference together and meet up for a stretch limo/bus from the conference hall to the Bungie party. Due to some miscommunication I ended up being the only soul who was able to find the elusive Bungie bus outside the conference hall. After many attempts by Steve Norman (https://twitter.com/SteveN0rman) to find the others, we decided it was time to call it a lost cause and head out. This meant a solo ride in a huge stretch limo/bus with a few people from Activision. While the picture below probably doesn’t convey the silliness of one person in a giant limo, let it be known that it was both awkward and hilarious all at the same time.
We arrived at the AT&T Tower in L.A. just before 9pm and were greeted on the ground floor by reception. After getting my wrist band, I was escorted to a private elevator and whisked to the very top of the buildings 30th floor into their “lighthouse” room where the event was being held.
You could tell as soon as the elevator doors opened that the room was built for the sole purpose of showcasing Destiny. There were two separate areas filled to the brim with PS4s and stations for each guest to sit and play until their hearts content. Activision spared no expense on the finer things and supplied a constant flow of waiters who brought steak, sandwiches, liquor, and beer. Remember how I said it was hard to stay subjective….
After a small session of meet and greet with the Bungie staff, old school 2o2p LAN member and head of community over at Bungie, David “Deej” Dague, kicked off the event with a great speech aimed at community, the goals of Destiny, and why we were all here. I’ve always been a huge fan of Deej ever since we met back in Chicago at the start of 2o2p, and I must say Bungie certainly picked the right man to lead community into the future of the franchise.
After we dispatched with the pleasantries we were allowed to sit down at any station and just jump right into the game. I didn’t take many photos or screenshots outside of the photos you will see around the party, but you will undoubtedly be inundated with them since the alpha goes public today on the PS4. Instead I decided to focus more on actually playing the game for as long as I possibly could. In total I got in almost 4 hours of uninterrupted game play and was able to play each class to level 4+, try out some quests, and head into matchmaking.
To start you are given the choice of picking 1 of 3 available guardians; Titan, Hunter and Warlock. While I played all three, I got the farthest with the Hunter and so most of what I talk about here will be with the Hunter in mind.
Before you start your adventure in Destiny, you will need to also create your character. If you’re a fan of MMOs or RPGs then you should free right at home here. The character creation in Destiny is fairly vast given the games shooter roots. You can choose gender, facial structure, and all the little details like hair style, color, skin tone, and fine tunings. Beyond these rather pedestrian options is the fact that the character models themselves look absolutely stunning. The level of detail is something not seen in any MMO I’ve played to date, and comes off as an amazing win for customization buffs.
This seems to be the overall theme of Destiny as a game. While the game is a shooter at its very core, it is also not so secretly wrapped in an RPG/MMO. This means you get the stunning graphics of a next gen shooter, with the depth and gameplay of an RPG, but more on this later.
Once complete, you are tossed straight into your first mission to break the ice. After being told you are the earth's only hope, the game starts you on Old Russia; a broken and desolate industrial landscape. Destiny quickly guides you to waypoints by using the PS4 touch pad which will bring up the “traveler” as well as options to use a landspeeder mount. The mount is a nice touch since getting around Earth would be a pain without it.
This is an important point, since this game feels MASSIVE. Even in the introductory opening mission you get a sense of just how grand the scale is and this only grows as you fight your way from level to level. Within this vast world you will ultimately meet up with your first encounter of “The Fallen.” The Fallen are an alien race that seems bent on destruction and it’s your job to put them down. It is at this moment that you will almost instantly feel Halo coming up from underneath Destiny’s beautiful backdrop.
Combat in Destiny has the Master Chief written all over it, and this is a GOOD thing. You feel completely at home the moment you see your first fallen. Anyone with even a few games of Halo under their belts is going to simply pick this up playing as if your on your 1 millionth mission in a Covanant Dropship.
Starting out with the shotgun and rifle mimicked the exact play style of Halo’s shotgun and AR. As you quickly move through the mission and encounter the first boss battle there will almost certainly be points where you think you’re playing Halo and forget all about Destiny. Obviously there are a few difference here and there, but the parallel is fairly hard to ignore.
In terms of those differences, Destiny taps into its MMO pedigree rather nicely in combat as well. Hovering over one of the alien baddies will display a ton of useful information like level, (in this case 2), health, and the name of the enemy. This helps later in the game even more when you really need to check what level of monster it is you’re engaging before you just jump in! Also keeping with that same MMO theme, enemies you deal damage to can be seen visually as the number of damage dealt pops up over their heads as you deal your death toll on them.
Tying these two things together brings an almost Borderlands feel to the game but with the undoubtedly great feeling of a Halo shooter. As others have already said, most of these mechanics or ideas have been in games for the past decade. While that’s true, its Destiny’s ability to tie them all together so seamlessly in combat that makes the game a joy to play.
Once you’ve finished your first mission and kill yourself a mini-boss Destiny politely suggests you travel to “The Tower” for a quick visit. The Tower is a sort of space station/mega city where all the commerce and social interaction within Destiny takes place. Upon reaching this city MMO fans will almost instantly feel like they’ve teleported into a game they’ve played for years.
Everything you can think of within the MMO realm is here. There is a mail system for sending messages (the mailbox), a bank to store all your epic loot, a class trainer to learn new abilities, a vendor to trade in your currency for even more loot, and so on. They even switch your point of view from 1st person into 3rd so you can see how your character looks in all that great gear you’ve been collecting on missions.
Acting as the games social hub, this will also be where you probably spend the majority of your time hanging out when you’re not doing missions, raids, or battling other players (called PvP for our MMO fans out there). In the past, shooters relegated this type of place to the player pre-game lobby, so this level of immersion will be a fairly new idea for shooter.
Released to the World
Everything up until this point as really been a tutorial phase. You’ve learned how a mission works, how items can be obtained, how to upgrade your skills, the social game, training, and grabbing your interstellar ship. Now its time to actually play Destiny!
From the Tower you will board your ship and head out into the world map to choose your next destination. At this point, you can fly down to the planet and start picking up missions or test your skills against other players in “The Crucible.” Before we get to the Player Vs Player stuff, lets talk about missions.
Mission can be found all around the world and within the world map itself. You unlock these free form missions simply by finding mission beacons around the world and accessing them. The missions vary greatly from searching, killing, scanning and more. Once again this type of play style comes directly from the MMO where missions are more commonly known as quests.
For the most part these quest are relatively fun and short, but can also be interrupted by random “events” around the world that you can choose to participate in as they happen. The nice part about this flow is that you’re not always stuck on one path and can easily find yourself in the middle of an optional event that is completely off you current path. Again, this concept isn’t really new for MMO fans as world events have been a staple in the genres for the past few years. Then again, you see this motif so often for the exact reason that it works well in breaking up the “grind” that most major MMOs suffer from. That doesn’t mean that you won’t get board however. Because Destiny borrows so heavily on the MMO realm, it means it also has plenty of repetitive tasks that could slow down in the most enthusiastic of players.
And speaking of other players! In Destiny, if you want to insure your friends come along with you on your missions you can also create a “fireteam” which is Destiny’s version of forming a party with other friends. The team leader of the “fireteam” will have control over which missions and destinations the other members participate in. This ensures that all members enter the same instance of play as each other within the massive world below.
Ah yes, the reason you are all still reading this article; PvP. In Destiny, Player Vs. Player content comes in the form of The Crucible. Anyone familiar with normal Halo matchmaking will almost certainly feel completely at home in this game mode. You can queue up for The Crucible simply by going to your world map and choosing it from the display. Doing so in alpha will instantly put you in a lobby and find more players to fill all 6v6 slots.
As I discussed before, The Crucible can only be access after your first mission on Old Russia after you’ve reached level 4 and made it to the Tower. Bungie does this for two fairly good reasons. One; They want to give new players a bit of time to have a feel for the game before taking on more experience foe. Two; They want to make sure that all players have their “super ability” before stepping into combat with one another.
The super ability differs for each class and usually deals an insane amount of damage to anyone in its path. For instance, the hunter I played would charge up her pistol until it glowed a golden hue and unleash a single shot kill to anyone it came in contact with. That includes any part of the body I hit so think golden pistol from Golden Eye.
You earn charges to your super power through killing, time, objectives, and just hanging out. Do really well in a match and you will see your super power energy charge fairly quickly. Do poorly and the game will still guarantee you a chance to lay waste to the opposition in due time. This is an important gameplay mechanic, because a super power can really change the tied of a match in PvP.
Speaking of matches, Destiny offers a variety of maps, sizes, and game types in the Crucible. During my alpha test we played the familiar 6v6 Domination style game-type on two different maps, but I was assured a variable size of groups and more maps/gametypes in the future. In terms of the maps style, both were built to serve two very different purposes.
The first map took place in a sort of dingy industrial complex, and was was much more of a close quarters style layout that allowed for several different vertical vantage points. Since a lot of classes have the ability to move vertically with ease, it offers extended gameplay to the otherwise very flat feeling of Halo (think Titanfall mobility on a spartan).
The second map took place in a hash winter blasted landscape and suited itself much more to longer site lines, huge open spaces, and extended distances. The great thing about Destiny is that when the maps reach this size, the game is able to compensate by allowing you to use your mount within the map. This means you can easily bring up your “traveler” and call up a vehicle at will. These vehicle remain fragile within the gameplay in order to keep the balance in check, but offer a fast way to get from point A to point B. You also have the option of finding vehicles within the map itself which also come equipped with guns to thwart off evil doers as you ride. These mounts mimic the Ghosts of Halo’s past (pun intended) and seem to maintain the same control from previous Bungie titles. Finally, strategic turrets are placed within the map to even further level the playing field of large scale combat and vehicles.
The one question you might be nagging over is how does Bungie deal with players that are of a different level within the main game as they cross over to The Crucible? Great question! Yet again they take a page out of the playbook of World of Warcraft's Battlegrounds and countless other MMOs by scaling your level and damage to match that of everyone else within the current match. This means that a level 4 player will be dealing the same damage to opponents as a level 6. The one caveat to this is that higher level players still maintain their gear and other abilities that they received by playing in PvE so there is a slight advantage there. However like other MMO’s, this problem is mitigated by the fact that serious PvP players will want to reach max level and get all abilities to be truly competitive.
In the end, The Crucible will be very familiar to Halo players and even FPS players of the past. More over, what is so amazing about The Crucible is that its only a fraction of what the game has to offer over all. This seems to be the theme of Destiny as end to end it tries to jam pack an epic experience into so many different ways to play. Keep in mind that I haven’t even talked about the large scale “Raids” or even 3 man instanced content that is a huge part of the Destiny leveling experience and beyond. What’s even better, is that all these types of game play will be offered up as a way to gain experience, loot, and abilities. That means if you only want to play Destiny inside The Crucible, it won’t have any affect on your ability to progress in the game. However, given the rich environments, the massive world, and ability to take down the Fallen with all your friends, I don’t see many people skipping it either.
I want to say a big thank you to the people over at Bungie for supporting 2old2play after all these years. Especially our comrade and fellow guardian, David “Deej” Dague, for putting this entire thing together. Even in its very alpha state, Destiny seems to be in no danger of missing the mark. The polish, environments and graphic make this alpha seem like a release ready game, which only goes to show the teams dedication to perfection. Add this on top of an upcoming battle that will lazy focus on performance, listening to the community, and over all balance, and the future looks very bright for Destiny.
*If you guys have any more question or comments as you play through the alpha yourselves, please make sure to leave them hear or listen in to our live recap show this Monday at 7PDT/10EST on twitch.tv/2old2play. The 2o2p community really sees Destiny as a great way to rebuild our focus along with the other great communities on 2o2p like Forza. I look forward to everyone's thoughts on Destiny and the many other new games set to suck up all our time this holiday season.