My first experience with the Destiny alpha was rather sobering. There I was, wandering the wastes on my own, wondering if another pack of Fallen mercenaries headed up by an ultra-powerful Fallen Captain was going to pop out and ambush me, when along strode two fellow Guardians from amongst the bulrushes. Weapons at the ready, they both let out an endearing salute before taking me by the hand and escorting me towards the next objective completely unscathed. It was at this point that I thought I was playing with two bots, rather than two actual players. Two Guardians come out of nowhere, greet me and then help me reach my destination, all without a verbal assault or a friendly shot in the abdomen? I know multiplayer, and this isn’t how it usually goes down.
By the time I had reached the next area, they had gone, my Guardian allies consumed by the black void after leaving my instance to presumably join another. “Needless” I thought, pondering Bungie’s decision to simulate the ideal Destiny experience in a rather artificial manner. But, with the mission now complete and a host of loot at The Tower beckoning, I entered orbit and dashed back to earth with haste. It was only once I had arrived at Destiny’s social hub, that I realised I had been accompanied by fellow players all along.
There in The Tower courtyard stood around 25 decidedly different looking Guardians, each tending to their own personal business and living out an adventure all their own. Some were checking their mail with the postmaster, some stocking up on weapons from the resident arms vendor. Others though were content to simply take in the scenery, as clusters of Guardians dotted all around the campus sat together, danced and stared with a longing gaze at the spherical maw of The Traveller. This was no simple MMO trading hub, this was something much more organic. This was the heart of the game, and Bungie had done an incredible job in conveying that. Right here, more than at any other point in any other game I’ve played, I felt right at home.
The Tower is your place for all things commerce, as you can modify your equipment, accept bounties ahead of further missions or begin making in-roads with one of the several unique factions. Cryptarch’s provide a decoding service for mysterious items you find in the field, whilst you can even pay a visit to your local Crucible Quartermaster in order to get completely outfitted in multiplayer-appropriate gear. There’s so much to do here that you’d be forgiven for shirking any sort of combat at all, however should the urge to crush a few foes strike, the Destiny alpha has a few select options available that lead you right back into the fray.
First and foremost, you have the Destiny campaign to sample, with the alpha build giving you the chance to complete a few missions within the dilapidated confines of Old Russia. In one mission, you’ll have to navigate through the charred tundra and a blackened factory in order to eliminate a mystical Hive wizard, whilst in another, you’ll need to have your wits about you as face three consecutive bosses that directly follow a lengthy bout of wave defence. Even though the missions you attempt are structured, the environment is open enough for you to completely go off the beaten track and explore to your hearts content. On one occasion, myself and a cohort navigated our way to a cave occupied by a level 20 Chosen Ogre that decimated us in an instant, only to fall back and return to the task at hand after many, many deaths. Exploration really is at the heart of Destiny, and be you a monster hunter extraordinaire or an avid explorer that simply won’t rest until every spec of the land has been examined with a fine-tooth comb, there’s plenty to see and do if you’re willing to shun the beaten track and roam the lands off-book.
Aside from the cooperative campaign, the Destiny alpha also comes complete with a multiplayer taster session that contains two maps and a single game mode called ‘Control’. Like in its predecessor Halo: Reach, multiplayer in Destiny is fast, versatile and tremendous fun. Using the very same Guardian that you journeyed with throughout the campaign, you’ll take your place in a team of six as you double-jump, drive and fight your way across each map in a multiplayer component that revels in its free-flowing nature. There are admittedly many parallels between the Destiny campaign and its multiplayer, with a consistent design never once breaking your immersion as you traverse between the two modes. Either you’re a Guardian walking the wastes in search of answers, or you’re a Guardian sparring with his brothers and sisters in a simulated combative environment, there really is little if any division between the games two biggest features. And what’s more, there’s little learning curve either, with everything you’ve already learned about your character and your foes translating like for like into multiplayer, which further emphasizes the games fluent, consistent architecture.
Multiplayer plays particularly well thanks in part to the games incredibly well-rounded combat system, which takes a few cues from some of the generation’s most popular FPS titles as well as evoking its own distinctive style. The game has drawn fair comparisons with the likes of Borderlands and even Brink due in part to the games merging of traditional FPS and RPG elements, but most apt would be a comparison to Bungie’s last major project in Halo Reach. Like in Reach, Destiny’s combat remains a pacey affair that values teamwork as much as it does personal accomplishment. Whether it’s capturing an objective with your team or acquiring a much needed loot drop that helps your Guardian improve unreservedly, the dual focus of rewarding and responsive gameplay makes Destiny feel both refreshingly different yet unmistakably similar. And next to this, a varied array of weapons keep things from ever being predictable, whilst the consistent progression of your character makes you feel as though each and every kill, death and assist was a worthwhile moment in the career of your Guardian.
If the alpha has shown me anything, it’s that Destiny is probably fit for purpose some three months still to go before its official release. Everything about the game seems like it has been fine-tuned with an incredible degree of precision, with each and every aspect given an equal amount of focus. Visually, the game is immaculate, as an unmistakable graphical style gives life to all manner of sprawling cities and glowing vistas, whilst a futuristic HUD helps connote the technological advancements that the game is built around. And yet, even with the game looking as good as it does, its equally flawless functionality has made my entire experience with the alpha that much more enjoyable. We may have only been treated to a fraction of a segment of the full Destiny experience, but if this alpha is anything to go by, then Activision’s decision to put many of their eggs in the Destiny basket will likely be one that they won’t soon regret.