The news out of E3 that Destiny’s alpha test was going to launch that very week took the gaming world – me included – by surprise. It’s not often that things talked about at E3 are immediately playable to the folks at home, but that’s what happened: as of 12pm on Thursday the 12th of June, Destiny’s alpha was live, and I was lucky enough to secure a key.
I played all three Guardian character classes – Titan, Hunter and Warlock – right up to level 8, the alpha’s level cap. I took them through everything the alpha had to offer, from the huge open area that is Old Russia to Tower, the home-base area where I could buy weapons and armour; I even took them through the Crucible, Destiny’s multiplayer battles where I played 6 vs 6 control point matches. It was all very slick, not to mention gorgeous to look at, and it appeared to bring together many different types of games – single-player, co-op and MMO shooter – into a single, cohesive whole.
That’s because Destiny has something for everyone. Lone wolves can wander the world on their own if they like, or the more social gamers can team up with random strangers they come across, like I did. On several occasions I bumped into other players, who I immediately teamed up with by simply sticking with them. Often we took on enemy after enemy together without really saying anything, which I quite liked.
But it wasn’t strictly necessary. You can totally solo your way through Destiny’s enemy encounters if you want to – I know because I tried it for a few hours – it’s just that much more fun to have a few extra guns with you as that makes some encounters that much easier. I liked how I didn’t feel forced into any social interactions I didn’t want, but that the option was always there.
One of the best moments in my time with the alpha came when my low-level Hunter came across another low-level player trying to take on a level 8 enemy; he was clearly having trouble so I joined in. As our levels were so mismatched, it took nearly 15 minutes of hit-and-run tactics to whittle the enemy’s health down to zero, but when we did the XP reward was huge – Bungie clearly likes rewarding players for pulling off insane feats like that, something other developers sometimes overlook. When it was all over my comrade-at-arms and I celebrated with a little dance. It was little moments like that that had me appreciating Destiny’s MMO-like features that are there, but not forced down players’ throats.
Another memorable moment involved a “public event” involving a huge spider tank; once it landed, everyone in the area was tasked with taking it down in five minutes or less. Had other players been in the area I would have been more successful, but nonetheless I liked how at any moment something new and interesting could – and often did – happen.
Once I got used to them, I really enjoyed the game’s shooting mechanics. Guns felt and sounded nice and meaty and were thus very satisfying to fire. Melee attacks proved effective as well, and before long I was shooting, knifing and psi-blasting my way through enemies like it was second nature.
Those who prefer tackling human enemies can try Destiny’s Crucible, a series of multiplayer levels that offer everything from deathmatch to “capture the resource” variants in 6 vs. 6 matches that also earn XP and “Glimmer”, the in-game currency that is your key to better equipment. I am happy to report that the matches I played were smooth and lag-free, and that my character progress from the single-player portion of the game carried over just fine. My only worry with that, though, is that over time low-level players will be paired with much better-equipped players to a greater extent, a fact that could discourage newbies from joining in on the multiplayer goodness on offer.
When I said earlier that the world is huge, that was no exaggeration – Old Russia, the single area we were given access to during the alpha, is massive, and not just from a surface area perspective. I constantly found stairs leading down to underground passages and deserted facilities, which felt like they went on forever. I would spend good stretches below-ground, shooting enemies, and eventually I’d pop back up into blue sky and sunshine not knowing where in the hell I was. And what I saw was just one of many levels to be included in the final game.
I know I say things like this with every PS4 game that comes out, but my word has Bungie done an amazing job on Destiny’s graphics. The gritty sci-fi world comes across beautifully, conveying a sense of desolation and desperation while also capturing the stark beauty of a post-apocalyptic landscape. Textures are sharp for the most part, and the clever use of depth of field and blurring effects really adds to the game’s sense of immersion. The frame-rate also appeared constant, with no dips whatsoever even in the heat of a multi-person, multi-enemy battle.
I didn’t get any actual sense of the game’s story in my time with the alpha, so I can’t really comment on it, but the shooting, the loot, the multiplayer and the random-teaming-up-of-strangers are all looking really polished, even at this alpha stage.
Some of the voiceover work isn’t wonderful, though – your robot AI companion, Ghost, is the first voice you hear in the game and every line it delivers sounds like the actor was very, very bored. That’s a surprise, since Ghost’s voice is done by none other than Peter Dinklage, better known as the show-stealing Tyrian Lannister from Game of Thrones. I’m not sure what can be done about it at this late stage, but it was a fairly major blemish on an otherwise tight alpha.
Then there’s the argument that Destiny is Bungie’s attempt to re-make the Halo universe they’re so familiar with, just in higher-definition – an impression I got initially thanks to the feel of the combat, the recharging shield mechanic and the look of some of the weapons. Fortunately I learned that there is far more to Destiny than any correlation with Halo’s design might hint at. There’s a lot of hidden depth here, which this alpha test only just scratched the surface of, and I’m looking forward to scratching even deeper when the game comes out on the 9th of September.
If you’ve pre-ordered the game, a full-on beta test is happening from the 17th of July onwards, so if you missed out on this weekend’s alpha, there’s still time to secure a space in the next test.