IMPRESSIONS – Destiny First Look Alpha

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There I was, an automatic rifle in my hand, fresh off my character creation. I was dumped into the wild expanse of Old Russia, its familiarity washing over me. Finally, here I was. I was in the Destiny First Look Alpha. And boy, did it feel good.

First, let me preface this piece with this: these impressions are from the alpha, meaning, they are gathered from a very narrow slice of the much larger and complete game. By no means do I take my experience here as completely indicative of the final game, nor should you. Instead, I see this is a great way to dip my toes into the world Bungie has created, getting only the faintest taste of what’s to come in the beta and certainly, from the final game itself.

Secondly, I encourage you all to read Brian’s impressions piece here. You’ll get a different perspective on the alpha from my own, and certainly, a totally different opinion. With the formalities out the way, let’s dive in.

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The first thing you’re greeted with in the alpha is character creation. I created a Human Warlock after deciding it was the best race and class choice for me. The character creation isn’t anything spectacular, but adequate enough to make your stand out from other players. I would really like to see a much more robust character creator in the beta and the final game.

The customization, on the other hand, is quite deep. The inventory screen, pictured above, is quite intuitive and easy to navigate. You can select your gear on the left hand side and your armor on the right hand side. Each item has multiple slots so you can carry multiple types of that item. For example, in the screenshot above, I am carrying a total of five primary weapons (second item from the top left). Holding down R2 allows your to compare an item to the relevant item you currently have equipped. Swapping and comparing items are quite easy and I really do like how inventory is treated here.

Upon creating my character, I was thrust into Old Russia. Tyrion Lannister Peter Dinklage’s voice told me to head towards the Skywatch. And so, after changing my thumbstick layout to Legacy, I trekked off towards the satellite dish in the distance, guided by my AI. This was very much a story mission, so I will not spoil exactly what I was told to do. It involved a lot of shooting and was awesome.

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What I do want to touch on is the gameplay. To put it simply, Destiny plays and controls like a deft mix of Halo and Borderlands. The movement, gunplay, and fluidity are clearly influenced by Halo. The overall level design and play spaces are very reminiscent of Borderlands. That is, the game is not an open world, nor should it be mistaken for one. Rather, Old Russia is a large play space with different sections (no loading) containing various missions and activities. As a massive Halo fan and as someone who loved the level design of Borderlands, I absolutely love how Bungie skillfully marries the two together in Destiny.

I played the entirety of the alpha completely solo. I did not group up with others, nor did I want to. You all know my playstyle by now. I’m not one to team up with others. That being said, I loved every second of it. The tension in a few firefights was awesome, as you really had to use your abilities and environment to your advantage. Delving into ruins (Destiny’s dungeons) was definitely fraught with fear of the unknown, as you have no idea what’s waiting for you around the corner. The AI is intelligent, and will use the environment and “safety in numbers” mentality. It feels very Halo, and this is a great thing.

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What this means is that not everyone will like Destiny – at least from the narrow slice we’ve been given in the alpha. Those hoping for an open world experience will be disappointed. What the alpha gives us instead are three destinations: Old Russia, The Tower, and The Crucible.

The Tower is humanity’s last city on Earth, nestled underneath the protection of the incredibly impressive Traveler. This is effectively your hub, as you can walk around, talk to vendors, check your mail, meet up with other Guardians, talk to the leaders of the three classes, and just chill. The Tower strongly reminded me of Mass Effect’s Citadel. And again, because I am a huge Mass Effect fan, I really love Destiny’s Tower. I can see myself spending a decent chunk of time here, simply haggling over gear while I pause to view the truly magnificent vistas of the Traveler.

The Crucible is Destiny’s PVP (aka multiplayer) component. There are several modes here, but the only one available for alpha was Control. This is basically akin to Hardpoint in Battlefield, where two teams must fight to control three objectives in order to win. The Crucible felt more Halo and quintessentially Bungie than anything else in Destiny. I experienced strong waves of nostalgia as my team and I fought tooth and nail to control the objectives, all the while fending off the opposing team. I can see myself spending a great deal of time in The Crucible, simply because I absolutely love Halo multiplayer.

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Visually, Destiny is (once again) strongly reminiscent of Halo. Keeping in mind this is an alpha, and not at all representative of the final game, there were a few things I noticed.

For one, draw distance is quite spectacular. You can see for miles and miles. Bungie’s trademark skybox is in full effect here, providing for a truly epic scope. Textures are par for the course, providing HD detail, though nowhere near the 4k luxury we’re afforded on PC games today. A full 1080p frame buffer greatly aids to image clarity, while the fluid 30 fps framerate never dips nor stutters.

I did notice some minor LOD pop in of assets such as foliage and environment detail such as pebbles and other random detritus. The game could really do well for some anisotropic filtering, as texture detail was lost at oblique angles. Really not sure why Bungie didn’t implement quality AF for the alpha, but such is the way of alphas.

Bokeh depth of field is used to effectively here, immediately noticeable when aiming down sights. However, even during normal viewing, the effect is present, most obviously by the slightly out of focus butt of your firearm. Particles such as snow and dust provide further depth to the atmosphere, and their use is welcome.

Motion blur is present, but in a rather odd way. I noticed higher quality blur towards the edges of the screen and not so much towards the center. Curiously, per object blur seems to be totally absent. This is a shame, given the epic cinematic presentation Bungie is seemingly trying to convey. I’d really like to see full camera and object blur implemented for the beta.

Finally, ambient occlusion is present, but doesn’t seem to be present on alpha assets. If it is, it must be toned down significantly. To my eyes, it looks like Bungie is implementing HBAO (Horizon Based Ambient Occlusion) for Destiny. So overall, the game is pretty, certainly prettier than I expected for an alpha. Obviously, I have some issues here, but nothing that cannot be rectified for the beta and certainly, the final game.

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I can honestly say that I am impressed by Destiny’s alpha. Remember, this is a very narrow slice of the larger game, so I really don’t think any real firm conclusions can be drawn. I can say, however, that I am impressed by the fluidity, gameplay, and visuals all the same. I certainly was not expecting the experience that I received.

Overall, I loved what I saw so far and am eagerly looking forward to the beta when it hits on July 17. Stay tuned for more on Destiny and in the meantime, check out some of my gameplay below.

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