Last night, I spent a couple hours playing through the beta of Destiny, the upcoming sci-fi first-person shooter RPG that Bungie will release September 9th on the PlayStation 4 (which is what I played the beta on), PlayStation 3, Xbox One, and Xbox 360. And while I found it to be an invigorating game that recalls what Bungie used to do in the Halo games, there were also some easily fix issues that made me think it could be even better.
The set-up of Destiny is that after a mysterious giant orb appeared on Mars, humanity was prompted to colonize that planet and others in our solar system (though the beta doesn’t explain why or how the orb did this). But while the orb, which mankind dubs The Traveler, helps us, not everyone is fan. Some angry aliens called The Fallen have chased it down, and in the process, have decimated Earth and its colonies. As a Guardian, it’s your job to try and stop them.
When the beta began, I was being revived by a floating robot that, oddly, reminded me of Guilt Spark from Halo. But with enemy Fallen closing in, we had to quickly run away, and then find a weapon (a sub machine gun) so I could defend myself.
From the get-go, Destiny feels a lot like Halo…and Call Of Duty, and Borderlands, and every other first-person shooter that has smooth, intuitive controls and frantic firefights. Especially since you’re armed with slightly futuristic versions of modern day weapons, and are aided by a mostly unseen companion who really just tells you what to do and offers you moral support. You even has a shield like the one you had when you were Master Chief.
Though unlike El Chefe, your character in Destiny understands that you can be a lot more accurate by looking down the barrel of your weapon. Yes, boys and girls, Destiny lets you use iron sights. I cannot tell you how happy this makes me.
As Halo-ish as Destiny may be, it also seems like it’s evolved a bit, mostly by adding elements of role-playing games. The large, open battlefields are rife for exploration, and are darted with plants you can harvest, crates full of loot, and other collectibles you can, uh, collect. You also, after meeting certain conditions, can use a special attack, such as a pistol that shoots powerful bullets, while every shot you land prompts a number to float up, telling you how much damage you’ve just inflicted. And while you don’t dig through the pockets of your dead enemies, looking for gold or other trinkets, you do find weapons and armor along the way that you can equip.
After enduring the initial series of gun battles, I found a ship and was taken to a city, the last city on Earth. Here, I was able to buy stuff, and interact with people. But because it switched the perspective from first to third, it made this part feel less like Halo and more like Mass Effect. Though unlike in that game, you can access return your ship whenever you feel like you’re done talking and you’d like to start shooting.
Though one thing I appreciate about Destiny is that while you can buy better weapons and armor, you don’t have to bother selling stuff you don’t want, and thus will never have to run back to town to sell off a bunch of junk just so you can gather more junk you’ll sell off later. Instead, you can just dismantle things you don’t want and the game will give you cash. And you can do this whenever and wherever you like, you don’t need to run back to town or find a work bench or whatever. Very convenient.
Once in orbit, you can then pick your destination on a map. And while there were only a handful of places to go in the beta, there will undoubtedly be more in the real version of the game. In fact, after getting through three of the four story-driven missions, I noticed that a fifth location had appeared, and that it was for a co-op mission.
As much as I enjoyed this early version of Destiny, though, there were still things that rubbed me the wrong way. For starters, hitting the button to go to the menu doesn’t pause the game. Which makes sense if you’re playing with other people, I suppose, but not if you’re playing alone. Especially since pausing the game brings you to the menu where you upgrade your character and equip any new weapons and armor. What if the phone rings? What if you want to grab a drink, or use the rest room, or watch a rerun of The Big Bang Theory? Well, then what?
Destiny also has an annoying habit of turning off your objective marker after a few seconds. Which wouldn’t be a problem if your compass was a lot more accurate.
On other fronts, Destiny doesn’t let you to turn the music down or off. Which isn’t to say that the music is bad or anything, it’s rather nice in how it’s using sparingly, and has a cinematic, Star Trek-ian tone. But there were times during some of the gunfights when it swelled, and I really wish it wasn’t so loud.
But I think my biggest complaint about Destiny is that, at least in the beta, I saw no way to prevent other people from coming into your game. One of the big things about Destiny is that you’ll be able to invite your friends into your game, and vice versa, or just run into people randomly in the same game.
Which is interesting, I suppose. But as someone who doesn’t play well with others, and doesn’t want it, it would be nice if you could turn this function off. Especially since, if the levels in the beta are any indication, many of the areas you go to have a desolate, isolated vibe about them, one that will be ruined if there’s a bunch of people running around.
Which is what happened to me. In the beta’s third story mission, I went to a battle-ravaged area of Russia where there were a bunch of old, rusted planes and structures. Which gave it a cool, post-apocalyptic vibe…until some guy on what looked like a speeder from Star Wars: The Return Of The Jedi cruised by like he was looking for a drive-thru.
Though what was worse was when, later on, I happened upon some bad guys, only to have some other player run up and kill them before I had the chance. I had basically become a spectator in my own life, and where’s the fun in that? Why the hell would you want to watch someone play a game when you could be playing it yourself?
All complaints aside, though, I really did have a great time playing the Destiny beta. Assuming nothing goes horribly awry, it should be epic and engaging sci-fi shooting role-playing game like Halo crossed with Borderlands or a first-person version of Mass Effect with a lot less talking. Though if they fix some or all of the small but glaring problems I mentioned, then it could be amazing.