By Brad Williams / June 23rd, 2014
If you’re anything like me, you knew little about Destiny going into E3. It’s a first person shooter from Bungie, the minds behind the Halo series, but the message has been pretty muddied beyond that. There are weapons and character classes? I guess there is some multiplayer? It seemed like just another sci fi shooter, but after spending an embarrassing amount of time with the alpha during E3 weekend, I have discovered much more than I could have expected.
First thing when you start playing, Destiny asks you to choose from three character classes: Titan, Hunter, and Warlock. Each class has similar health and can use every weapon, but they each have unique skills, such as the Hunter’s throwing knife, or the Warlock’s energy drain that recharges his other skills.
Yes, other skills. Each class has a skill tree of their own which effects which skills they have access to, and offers improvements on their base stats. As you use these skills in combat, and as you gain experience and level up your character, new skills unlock. For instance, when playing my Hunter, I learned an ability that let my throwing knife refresh immediately if I scored a headshot with it, letting me throw the knife forever if I made skilled throws. I’m not that good at shooters, but it was satisfying to get that second immediate throw right away.
There are other RPG trappings in Destiny, as well. Most notable is the gear, which is randomly dropped from enemy encounters and chests. Any random cave you stumble upon could contain a chest with a new assault rifle or fusion gun, piece of armor, or even a new vehicle. These items follow a progression that will be similar to any MMO player, where varying “rarities” of items that are more powerful and, like the characters themselves, have abilities that can be unlocked.
The MMO design comes across in every aspect of the gameplay. The entire game can be played single or multiplayer, though it seems you always have to connect to Bungie’s servers. There were four different gameplay types available in the alpha, which included a story mode, exploration, PvP arenas, and what Bungie called Strikes. These maps allow three players to join together and delve into a sort of dungeon, complete with enemy waves and boss fights. The Devil’s Lair, which is the Strike that was available in the alpha, was challenging, and made teamwork a necessity. When I played the map with a couple of friends, we had a great time. However, when I was grouped with random folks who did not talk, it was a real slog, something I hope can be fixed before release.
The most interesting part of the game, I found, is the exploration mode, which allows you to roam the world with friends, random people, or alone. The map available, set in Russia, is huge. There are hidden caves and paths, and the large open areas were beautiful. The landscape is littered with beacons left by explorers, and if you approach them they will give you random missions. These are not terribly compelling, and mostly fall into the “go here, kill X mooks” or “collect Y number of parts.” But they do serve to help give you a bit of direction in exploring the maps, and help you find some of the more tucked away locations. And, no matter how large the maps are, traveling is easy since you can summon a speeder bike at any time.
What makes the exploration mode interesting is how it ties into the multiplayer. You can group with other players, but even if you choose to run around alone, you will still come across other people in the world. Not only do you stumble across other players, but you can also find random public events. If you have played games like Warhammer Online or Guild Wars 2, you might be familiar with these – a massive enemy might spawn, or an invasion force could land, and any nearby players can jump into the fray to fight off the menace together.
Destiny doesn’t do anything new in and of itself. But what it does do is combine elements from multiple genres in a way that is deeply satisfying. I feel that the alpha weekend was essential for Bungie, because they were having a very difficult time getting the message about what Destiny was out to the public. The limited amount of content available brought me from mild interest to frothing demand after my first few hours. There is a lot to this game, and I can’t wait to dig in further when it releases September 9th.