Like many others, I downloaded the Destiny Alpha as soon as I could. I had some idea in mind of what to expect, but I wasn’t foolish enough to think I could judge the game without even playing it. Additionally, judging a game off an alpha isn’t necessarily right either, but it does give you a general grasp of what the game may become. Destiny did surprise me in some ways and I played it almost nonstop over the weekend, but I also was disappointed in some ways as well.
Upon starting Destiny you are given the option to choose between three classes: Hunter, Titan, and Warlock. Each one has their own special ability and skill trees as you would expect. The alpha only let you reach level 8 so I couldn’t get a full grasp on how the characters would differentiate as the game progressed. In the beginning they didn’t feel very different from one another (excluding their special power). There is certain armor that only a specific class can wear and I can easily see this becoming a more substantial difference late in the game. Once the skills develop well past level 8 I imagine there will be a major difference between all the classes. Sadly, I couldn’t experience that for myself in the Alpha.
I was allowed to play two missions, explore the open world, and explore the home base properly titled The Last City on Earth and The Tower. This area is where you shop for weapons and armor, decrypt gear, receive more missions, and other things of that nature. I spent a lot of time exploring the Tower to see as much as I could. There wasn’t too much to do in the alpha but I could easily see many more options opening up when the actual title is released.
The gameplay fits into a Halo style where you have arcade-like shooting. There is little recoil on the guns and most of them shoot straight without a problem. This isn’t a bad thing, just the playing preference that Bungie seems to prefer. There’s a lot of jumping around trying to land your shots and lots and lots of killing. I’ve easily killed hundreds of enemies over the weekend.
The first mission I played was extremely basic to introduce you to Destiny. You fight through small squads of enemies and as you progress your companion (voiced by Peter Dinklage) will address the surroundings giving off small tidbits of the world. It helps introduce what’s going on, who you’re fighting, and essentially everything that is confusing. The Alpha doesn’t clear up everything, of course, but it does give you a little taste of the setting, which appears to be massive, deep, and very detailed.
The Alpha does a good job of introducing you to low-leveled enemies and slowly scaling up the difficulty. I learned that some enemy weapons can curve the bullets, some enemies turn invisible to charge you with swords, and others have their own shields you need to destroy before landing any damage. I was even surprised by some tense moments when you’re in a dark room with a flashlight and your companion is telling you there are large movements up ahead. The different types of enemies force you to use different tactics and it keeps each fight fresh when a new enemy is introduced.
The first missions didn’t match you with other players (it can, but does not force it), but the second mission you could not play without two other people with you. I was matched very quickly with two different classes and we were on our way. Just because we were different classes didn’t mean we had different playing styles. I was hoping the Titan would charge the frontlines, the Warlock would use his powers to do massive damage, and I (the Hunter) would hang back and snipe. We all essentially shot at anything that moved with no real front man or person bringing up the rear, but once again, this is very low-leveled playing. I hope that once the levels of players progress high enough the skill trees will be fairly diverse so you will see different playing styles. I want to see the Titan charge ahead taking most of the fire so the Hunter and Warlock would be able to do the heavy damage from safety. Teamwork like that will make Destiny stand out even more, but I didn’t see that in the Alpha.
When I explored the world I would run into people because of the drop-in/drop-out match making. A majority of the time we would ignore each other, both busy with our own missions. Then there were other times when we would band together temporarily to complete a mission or maybe just fight off a horde of enemies. I saw someone having a little trouble because of their low level so I rode over and helped them fight before speeding away. There are also some pretty impressive random events that all players can join in to help out. One time a spider-tank was dropped into the area and everyone had five minutes to destroy it. It was spontaneous and fun forcing people to work together to accomplish a random event. These interactions with other players give off the vibe of being an MMO but Destiny is definitely not an MMO.
People seem to make that mistake even though the developers go out of their way to state that it isn’t an MMO. There are some MMO elements like running into people in explore mode, finding loot, and leveling up. However, the best comparison you can make is to Borderlands. You form a team, select a mission, load the level, and then play through that area. When you want to leave, you select that option in a menu screen to be brought back to a new menu where you select your next destination. Maybe there will be a little more fluidity when the actual game is released like being able to walk between levels and not need to go back into orbit every time.
The level I did experience was massive with lots of detail incorporated all over. There was beautiful scenery in the distance and I was amazed that I let a mark in the dirt when I slid on it. I found myself staring at the sun for more minutes than I care to admit as I watched clouds drift in front of it to cast a shadow over the world. Ruins of the old world are around and they feel like a faraway place because of the terrain, but you can piece together what they were originally; like a highway full of aged cars that had been sitting there for years. I enjoyed exploring the area and I have no doubt I’ll spend a lot of time exploring every area in the full game.
The problem is these levels felt a bit empty to me. They are big, detailed, and have enemies placed sporadically throughout them, but they are missing something. While there is loot to be found, there isn’t that much of it where I felt searching was really necessary. I would see a small band of enemies in the distance and instead of going over with the intention to kill them and see what loot they had. I would skirt around them, because I knew they probably didn’t have anything. Even if they did, it wouldn’t be good enough to go out of my way. There weren’t chests of goodies all over the places, which usually entices everyone to scour every inch of the level.
There is a lot of loot to find off enemies; however, and that seems to be the primary way of gathering it. It only took a couple hours of playing for all my stock to be filled up. I flew back to the Tower and did what everyone loves about MMOs. I compared and analyzed all my weapons and gear until I was satisfied that I had the best combination. I stuffed the rest in a storage area and then went back out to get more. In the Alpha the weapons and gear didn’t seem as deep compared to some other games out there, but there are enough variances that you will need to spend some time going over everything now and then.
Part of this empty feeling is the missions you receive when exploring an area. They are your typical padding quests like fetch this, kill this guy, analysis this, etc. The problem is you can only take on one mission at a time. I would receive a mission, fight my way over to the destination, complete the mission, and then I would have to go somewhere else to find another mission. Once I got that mission, there was a very good chance I would have to fight my way through the same enemies I just fought to reach the same location, but maybe instead of collecting something I would be killing something this time.
I felt like I was doing the same mission over and over because it almost always involved fighting through the same locations. I believe the point is to make missions be replied indefinitely, but that also causes the missions to feel stale after a while. This is only worsened by how quickly the enemies respawn. I killed two aliens over and over again without ever walking more than a few feet away. There was a mountain of corpses where I was standing, and it was only made up of the same two guys spawning repeatedly. The obvious advantage to this is when you are trying to level up, but it made moving throughout the level a chore after a while. The gameplay is fun and all, but I don’t want to fight through the same hallway every time, and the missions always made me back step through locations I already went. Being able to select multiple missions at a time so you only had to go through an area once would be a big step in making this become more fun and less like a burden.
I have some small nit-picky things that really don’t make the game worse, but would make playing it a lot smoother. Being able to manually turn on your flashlight would be an enormous help, as it stands, you have to hope the game turns it on for you and many times it won’t. Since I played as the Hunter, I could throw my knife, but throwing the knife and stabbing someone with the knife are the same button. Needless to say there were multiple times where I threw the knife wanting to stab someone and other times I wanted to throw it only to swing helplessly in the air. The damage indicator also confuses me, and I know that’s something I’ll get use to eventually, but it takes a second to know where I’m taking damage from. That’s a little too long when laser bullets are flying around. Little things like this will make the game be even more enjoyable than it already is.
Let’s not forget about the battle mode between guardians, which is really just a standard online shooter. The only mode available was Capture and Hold on one level. This is when Destiny almost mirrors Halo in every way. Everyone runs around shooting each other as they try to capture points. There are turrets to jump in as well as vehicles to control. It was fun, and I suspect a lot of people will spend a majority of their time in this traditional online shooter mode, but I found the actual story missions to be far more fun.
I thoroughly enjoyed the Destiny Alpha, whether I was speeding along on my vehicle that could be taken straight out of Star Wars or I was dancing on top of a dead boss with my two buddies after a long fight. The gun play is fun, albeit nothing really groundbreaking, but playing with friends is always a blast. I enjoyed playing with friends as we talked strategy through battle and I also had fun with people that I never even spoke to. You can work alone for most of the game, but the quick matchmaking for main missions is essential. The real fun in Destiny will come from exactly what everyone expected it to: playing with other people and experiencing the game together. That’s what I’m excited for, and this Alpha has definitely reassured me that Destiny is a game to look forward to.