Summary

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What is Destiny?

Coming to PS4, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS3 (Possibly PC but not yet announced)
Destiny release date September 9

Destiny will be huge. We mean that both in the sense that it's a big game, with big maps and an awful lot of single-player and multiplayer content, and in the sense that it will probably be immensely popular. An unholy blend of Halo, Borderlands, World of Warcraft, Diablo and Doom, it already looks set to be a sleep-wrecking, obsession-forming timesink. It might be the most important FPS this year. It might – just might – live up to all the hype.

We can say this with some confidence having spent a huge chunk of time playing the PS4 closed alpha. This turns out to be a pretty decent slice of Bungie’s behemoth – though not as hefty as what we’ll get when the public beta launches in July – comprising the Old Russia section we’ve seen in previous previews, three missions and a portion of the PvP multiplayer game. Given that you could easily spend a good six to eight hours in the campaign content without getting bored, and that’s on just one 9km square map, that has to be a good sign.

Destiny

That's also just with one character. Where Bungie’s previous series, Halo, made you the all-conquering hero of the galaxy, Destiny puts you in a different kind of space opera, as one of the Guardians protecting the remnants of humanity after the collapse of an interstellar golden age. It’s not that Destiny is plotless – there is an over-arching story – but where Halo was very much about the Master Chief’s story, Destiny is more about creating your own protagonist and his or her own story, which is where the WoW and Diablo references come in.

You kick off by choosing a race and then a class, with Humans, the vaguely elvish Awoken and the robotic Exo making up the former, and Titans, Hunters and Warlocks making up the latter. Your choice of race doesn’t seem to make much difference, bar RPG-style customizable looks, but class is more important. Each has its own specialisms, its own capabilities and its own skill tree, with Titans your all-purpose warrior, Hunters the scout/ranger archetype and Warlocks wizard-like damage dealers.

Destiny

With character created, the alpha kicked us straight into action with a trip to Old Russia and into the haunted depths of an abandoned base. Between us and the base were ‘the fallen’, one of Destiny’s main enemy races. A race of semi-insectoid space pirates, the Fallen already show Bungie’s gift for creating distinctive enemy types, with shock troops and sharpshooters easily distinguishable from grunts and the beefy, heavily-shielded captains.

Up to a point, it doesn’t matter which class you choose. Destiny doesn’t deviate much from the combat template laid down by Halo, with a greater emphasis on exploring strange worlds than in your average FPS, and with the same mix of great weapons, tight controls and hard-hitting, tactical fights against unpredictable enemies.

This is good news for Halo fans: if you liked Halo, then there’s a very good chance you’ll like this, though we’d have to say that the AI isn’t quite at the same level yet.

Destiny

However, there are noticeable differences between the classes in terms of melee abilities, movement speeds and armour and, most importantly, their special abilities. As in WoW or Diablo, kills mean experience and experience means levels, and levelling up unlocks skills, some of which are basic perks to your various attributes, while others are class-specific attacks.  So, if we squeezed the L1 and R1 buttons simultaneously as a level 5 Hunter we would be kitted out with ‘magic’ golden pistols which packed one hell of a punch, albeit just for a handful of seconds. As a Warlock, however, we’d get a mean energy bolt/grenade attack, which smacked enemies backwards while creating a weird half-sphere vortex that whacked any foes within reach.

With both classes we played the initial mission solo, though the game is supposed to pack you into a three-man fireteam if it can. Playing solo wasn’t a problem. Destiny still works perfectly well as a single-player shooter, and with the aid of a tiny flying drone (voiced a little strangely by Game of Thrones star Peter Dinklage) we weren’t exactly lonely. Inside the installation, attacked by a floating Wizard and the zombie-like troops of the Hive, the game actually feels pleasantly old-school, full of fierce, close-up battles against fast-moving, numerous foes. Maybe it’s the use of a flashlight, but it all had a great Doom/Half-Life vibe.

Destiny

The second mission took us back to Old Russia for some more free-form exploration, with the Dinklage droid encouraging us to wander around, slay some Fallen and activate beacons to unlock new missions. It’s with these free-roaming missions that you get a sense of the scale of Destiny. The Old Russia map includes different areas of mountain, water, and snow-blown plain, not to mention several abandoned bases, starship graveyards, caves and frozen bays full of upturned ships. Activating beacons would kick off a quest, which might involve delving deep into a base to sample old materials, clearing an area of Fallen or tackling one of the sinister, spherical entities that seem to be running the Fallen gangs.

It’s also here that Destiny’s mix of single-player and multi-player kicked in. We’d find other players roaming the landscape, happy to help out, fight or heal on an ad-hoc basis. You can either leave it at that or invite them to join your fireteam tackling missions together rather than on your tod. Destiny needs to be a little clearer about how you actually do this. Players seem perfectly happy to cooperate, but a little clueless as to how to hook up.

Destiny

Destiny also has public events, where one player instigates a large-scale battle against the Fallen and others can join in. Here again, though, we struggled to find help, and with overwhelming odds pitched against us, succumbed to defeat several times.

Still, playing in a free-roaming style shows how well Bungie understands its strengths. Like the rings in Halo and Halo 3, Old Russia is a fascinating place to explore, and while the combat here hasn’t yet matched the huge Warthog/Ghost/Banshee/Scorpion pile-ups of Bungie’s classic, it still feels pretty epic when it all kicks off.

Destiny

With the pace dialed down slightly, there’s also more scope to appreciate Bungie’s audio and visual achievements. Is Destiny the best-looking FPS on any console? Against Killzone: ShadowFall and Battlefield 4 maybe not, but it’s a very hard call. The environments look stunning and the water effects are eerily good. The lighting is consistently beautiful, with some of the most impressive dynamic shadow effects we’ve ever seen in any game.

Yet what sinks in more and more as you play is the artistry involved. From the crumbling towers to the dank, rusty interiors and picturesque, alpine views, there’s a real sense of place, and of a world that’s been abandoned to extra-terrestrial scavengers and the ravages of time. Destiny makes you want to look around, and it also makes you want to kick some alien butt.

Destiny

The best way to do so in the public alpha was the Strike mission. Designed for three players of roughly level 6, it’s the equivalent of a dungeon in WoW or Diablo, taking the three Guardians through a Fallen and Hive-infested base, through a battle against waves of Fallen, a face-off with a Fallen spider tank, and finally a boss battle. You go through a matchmaking process on your way into action, and then if anyone drops out they’re replaced by a new player.

With three of you in action Destiny takes on a whole new life. The fighting is tough, and unless you’re prepared to work together and revive fallen comrades, you won’t get anywhere. Some of the combat situations favour simultaneous strikes from multiple directions, or one player providing covering fire while the other two engage in close-quarters battle. Having a mix of classes helps as well.

Destiny

If one of you dies, then they can either be revived, or after 30 seconds they can respawn by themselves. You can and will die – and fairly often – so part of the trick to playing co-op destiny is watching the other players and either reviving them, if safe to do so, or keeping yourself safe until they can respawn. It took three of us around half an hour to tackle a small army of Fallen and their drone-spewing spider tank, and it took an awful lot of this kind of teamwork to pull it off. The payoff when it went down, however, was incredible. It was a bit like taking out a Dark Souls boss.

If you like a little PvP to make a change from all the campaign stuff, then Destiny’s Crucible should have you covered. Here teams of Guardians square off against each other, though only a single mode and two maps were available in the alpha. A Battlefield-style control point mode, it was fun to play but nothing special, and a few of the weapons – specifically the sniper rifles – seem overpowered at the moment, with more than a few one-shot kills. There’s potential in the Crucible, but after Titanfall it left us a little flat.  We came away feeling this was Destiny’s weakest link.

Destiny

In-between bouts of blasting Guardians can chill out at their orbital HQ, the Tower. Here you can meet up with class-specific commanders, who might have goodies for you in the bag, and also stock up on new weapons and armour at the vendors. Weapons and armour are level-locked, so to get the beefiest boomsticks and toughest garments you’ll need to keep upgrading.

The weapon line-up itself stays fairly close to the FPS playbook, with assault rifles, carbines, SMGs and sniper rifles jostling for the top of your three weapon slots, with a shotgun providing back-up in the second and heavy weapons taking up the third. If we have any reservations about Destiny, the biggest is that it doesn’t have the weird and wonderful Covenant weapons of Halo, and that you can’t pick up guns from fallen foes. A couple of times we were blasted by some strange new Fallen weapon and thought ‘I can’t wait to get my hands on that’, then realized that this wasn’t on the cards.

Destiny

Still, it’s early days. We’ve only had a slice of Destiny, and so many questions are unanswered. The storyline still lies in mystery, the matchmaking systems don’t feel finished and there are a lot of things that need tweaking or a second look. Yet even this public alpha feels surprisingly polished, and the mix of FPS and RPG elements gels incredibly well. Most importantly, we were happy to play through large chunks of it twice with different characters, and even then we’d love the chance to go back for more. Could it do with more of Halo’s epic space opera feel? Yes, but who knows what’s coming in July’s public beta or the finished game. Right now, we can’t wait to find out.

Verdict
There’s no mistaking the Halo heritage, but Destiny’s ambitious blend of sci-fi FPS and fantasy RPG could be just as revolutionary. The combat is as tight, absorbing and classic Bungie, but what makes Destiny different is its almost seamless multiplayer, and its clever integration of MMO staples. If Bungie can strengthen what’s good and fix a few minor issues, then Destiny could be ‘the next Halo’ – maybe even something more. 

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