Early Alpha Impressions of Destiny

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Bungie’s pedigree for making triple-A science fiction first-person shooters is well-known and long-standing, with its Halo series being one of the most popular and best-selling in the world. Formerly a Microsoft baby, Bungie has moved to a multi-platform game developer with its upcoming release of Destiny on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. As if to stick it to its former partner, Bungie made a deal to offer exclusive content and an early alpha for PlayStation 4 owners.

But as a PS4 owner, I can’t say I have been eagerly anticipating the game. Personally, even though I was a diehard Xbox fan in my younger years, I could never get into Halo. I never enjoyed my time playing the original game, yet I continued to buy the sequels (hoping to find what it was that people seemed to love about them) until I eventually gave up and passed on Halo 4 completely. Try as I might, I could never figure out what it was had millions of people clamoring for more from this series.

To interject quickly, I am not trying to bash Microsoft in light of the fact that I am now a PS4 owner. As I mentioned, I was a bonafied Xbox fan-boy, picking up the original Xbox on launch day and not looking back until about a year and a half ago when I purchased my first PlayStation (PS3). It wasn’t until I played and fell in love with the Uncharted games and The Last of Us that my allegiance shifted, as I’d never experienced anything like these titles on an Xbox console. But even today, I still want Microsoft to do well. So please, don’t take my Halo disinterest as Microsoft bashing.

So, with a very pessimistic attitude I hopped into the Destiny alpha last night. To my surprise, my attitude instantly changed when I looked up at the sky and noticed how beautiful it was. I saw mountains in the distance and wondered how to get there. I looked around my surroundings and noticed that, while I was seemingly alone, there was a lot going on. A factory with tall towers stared down at me menacingly, ships flew overhead, and explosions rattled in the distance. I was quickly intrigued to find out exactly what was going on and what my role in all of it would be.

But, first things first, I wanted to see how far I could explore in this little slice of the game, and hopefully get a sense for how open (or not-open) the game really is. Is it going to be a linear game masked in a seemingly open setting? Or will I truly be able to roam and play at my own pace, exploring the galaxy my way, and joining in the fight when ready?

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I started down the path in front of me and was quickly ambushed by some silly-looking alien things. The rifle I had after choosing the Hunter class was loud, but didn’t seem to do a lot of damage, as I went through nearly a clip and a half (around 36 rounds total) to handle three enemies. Regardless, I cleaned up my mess and headed off down the path again. Shortly, I came to a fork where I could continue to the right and head towards the random objective I was assigned, or go left and see if I could find a bridge to cross the big body of water that separated me from my mountain. I chose to instead walk straight down to the water to see if I could swim across.

Nope. You can’t swim. You die. Lesson learned.

A quick reload put me right back on the ledge where I was before and decided to go left this time to look for a bridge. As I rounded a bend I encountered another group of three enemies, the same exact enemies I encountered before, and again handled them with relative ease. I was about to resume my search for a bridge when I noticed a little shack that had what seemed to be a hidden staircase going down. Out of curiosity, I decided to go see what was down there.

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After creeping through the dark for a minute or so, I eventually ran into about six or seven enemies, and instead of an indicator displaying their level (like the first few I encountered had), there were question marks displayed (???). Assuming this meant they were much higher-leveled than me, I decided to turn and run, but I couldn’t. Because I was dead.

I quickly realized this must be a Destiny dungeon and that I was not nearly ready to test this out quite yet.

After reviving outside the dungeon, I continued looking for a bridge. Sadly, I eventually learned that there was none, and only a big wall that stopped me from going any further. So I turned around decided to wander the other direction and see if I could get across the water that way. But, I never found out because as I got past that original fork and climbed to the top of a hill, I noticed a very beautiful sunset in the distance. I sat down to watch how the sky changed over the course of a day/night cycle, and was very impressed with the difference. It’s the little things.

Which means this is a great time to talk about the visuals. I’m certainly not as well-versed in this area as I should be, but the game looks very pretty. I spent several minutes looking at my shadow on the ground and watching how it moved and changed when it came across other objects. I was staring at this random bush, slowly moving side to side to see how accurately my sun-created friend was portrayed on the branches, and I have to admit, I was impressed. The falling snow added a nice ambience and felt real. The horizon in the distance looked like a photo, but not like it was simply hand-placed in the background. Again, it felt real.

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I didn’t notice any framerate issues, and the entire experience felt very fluid and smooth, much like Killzone: Shadowfall on the PS4. Graphically I would say the games are about on par with each other, and it would take a pretty close inspection for me to pick out any significant differences. In short, the game looks great.

Eventually I stood up, turned around, and decided to continue on my quest for finding a way across the water. I got into a few more firefights with the same three enemies before finally realizing that so far this is just Halo – a game I don’t like. I was having fun exploring, but I realized there wasn’t really a whole lot to explore, at least not yet. Exploring the map never granted me any XP (as far as I could tell), I never found any treasure or ammo/weapon crates or anything, and so I began to wonder what the point of exploring in this alpha was. And even worse, is there any point to exploring in the finished game itself? Or is this simply going to be a run ‘n gun action game set in a Halo-esque world fighting the same three monsters for weeks on end?

Obviously, I know that the monsters will change, the map will open up, and I’ll understand what I’m doing a little better, but I’m not sure that’s something I’m ready to do. If Bungie can tell us there are reasons to explore the world, or that the game is truly open and I can go anywhere at any time, then I might be all-in. But from my brief experience so far, I simply don’t care.

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I know you may be thinking, “But you didn’t group-up or do a dungeon with other players!” But I’m not one to play multiplayer or cooperative in these kinds of games, because I don’t like people relying on me to be available. My schedule is erratic, and having a baby means I often have to interrupt gaming sessions to go put her back to sleep. I don’t like people needing me to be available in order for their game experience to be fun and productive. So if there is a heavy lean on that in this game, again, I won’t care.

This may be one of the biggest games of the year, but unless I am won over by more time in the alpha or some announcements from Bungie detailing single-player exploration, I probably won’t be playing. It felt way too much like a Halo/Defiance/Borderlands mash-up, and to me, those are three of my least favorite games or franchises of the last decade.

But that Battlefield: Hardline beta on the other hand…

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