The fatalist has it that one cannot escape one’s destiny; that one’s final destination is written in the stars, determined to be one particular way since the dawn of time. The fatalist has it that destiny is inevitable.
Folks often talk rather dispassionately over inevitabilities: taxes rising, icecaps melting, your other half’s once astonishing beauty diminishing against the tide of years, all seemingly inevitable and undesirable. But if this inevitability extends to cover Bungie’s take on Destiny then I’m happy to leave things in the hands of fate, for it’s surely bringing about good things.
Destiny sees a future of Earth beyond the ages of interplanetary travel and terraforming. Upon the arrival of the Traveller, humanity was cast into a time of expansion beyond the confines of its home planet and began to spread out into space. However, the Traveller brought with it old enemies to wreak destruction and havoc on Earth and the new colonies, now humanity has only one last bastion of security and if it is to survive must tackle this new and violent threat. It’s only hope is in its freedom fighters, its warriors, its guardians. Its only hope rests with you.
In a sense Destiny is the first overture from the big industry spenders that has felt genuinely worthy of championing the next generation. Of course there was the hungering hypebeast that was Watchdogs, but at least to me, it never presented itself as truly innovative. Its originality was delivered via gimmicky rehashings of familiar features that have held sway in sandbox titles for years now. It was interesting; however it was also an expansion on familiar territory – less a jet-set getaway to the far corners of the world than a week caravanning in Cornwall. The weather was great, we caught the sun, we surfed and we came back smiling, but we didn’t leave home soil.
Destiny is no mere departure; it’s the violent cataclysm resulting from Bungie’s smashing together of two seemingly disparate worlds. On the face of it, we’ve got a shooter, barely attempting to hide its Halo ancestry, but gone are the belts, buckles, rails and fixed corridors. ‘If you don’t want to go out blasting face today, that’s alright’, say Bungie, ‘you can just sit and stare pensively at our painstakingly crafted vistas’. You can also spend some time upgrading your arsenal or your ship, or planning your next bounty. Destiny is not just an FPS, it’s an FPS face laid over the guts and machinery of an RPG.
This really is a case of two worlds colliding, because the cocktail brings together two very polarised components. The distinction between the two genres has, historically, been so entirely crystallised that their reconciliation has proved hard to imagine, and even harder to effectively realise. 2011’s Deus Ex: Human Revolution made an admirable and largely successful attempt and the acclaimed Bioshock series also incorporated RPG elements, but neither wed FPS and RPG in anything more than a superficial sense. Deus Ex’s hub cities were just conduits to find the next set of corridors to discharge one’s weapon in and Bioshock’s claim comes only in virtue of its partially free-roam elements and rudimentary upgrade/stat manipulation features. From what the Destiny Beta is teasing, the RPG elements of the game will maintain a strong presence throughout, plunging into the heart of Destiny.
This hybridisation is of course the big risk that Bungie and publishers, Activision, are taking with this megalithic new IP. Whilst the argument could be made that the companies are essentially broadening their market to include fans of both FPS and RPG, a contrary argument could be just as valid, one suggesting that FPS fans expecting an FPS might be put off by the RPG elements and that RPG fans excited by the fresh direction of the title might be disappointed by the somewhat dilute RPG elements on offer. This is in no way a hardcore RPG and there’s no doubt that the Dark Souls brigade will scoff and go back to their number crunching. Destiny is a decidedly mass-appeal take on the FPS/RPG hybrid, maintaining familiar mainstream shooter mechanics and streamlining its RPG components to ease accessibility for those unfamiliar with the genre. Destiny’s worth comes not from what it does for each genre in isolation, but from the suave, velvety manner in which it has united the two.
Whether the risk will pay off or flop, whether it will entice or alienate, is still a matter open to speculation, though from what I’ve seen and heard Destiny is leaving expressions of awe smeared all over the faces of those who’ve had the pleasure of playing it so far, and with the Beta releasing today for Playstation users and next week for Xbox, it won’t be long until the results are in.
So what’s on offer to get your teeth sunk into?
The slice of game included in the Beta comprises a chance to trial all three classes, the Titan, Hunter and Warlock, which themselves comprise a fairly typical three-class RPG setup: read Tank, DPS and Caster. Later in the game once players have progressed their character to level fifteen they will be able to change to another subclass, altering the build of their character and their specialisations, though this level was unreachable in the Beta build, which is capped at level 8.
The subclasses that will later be available, however, are as follows: Striker and Defender for the Titan class, Gunslinger and Bladedancer for the Hunter class and Voidwalker and Sunsinger for the Warlock class, the latter for each being the subclass unlocked at level fifteen.
Something that will please RPG players is the wonderful character creation system. As the first point of interaction following the well-rendered opening cinematic, the character creation screen has clearly been designed with the aim of wooing players early in mind. There’s a generous selection of physical features to choose from for each of the three races: Awoken, Exo and Human. Each permutation will look brilliant, but Bungie have maintained space for stupidity by allowing for a rather bizarre selection of colour choices. My giant, black warlock ended up experimenting with his feminine side, daubing on some neon pink lipstick, a decision that both he and I regretted shortly after.
After playing through a simple tutorial-style level, we steal a ship to captain back to The Tower, the last bastion of safety in a world decayed following the destruction that followed man’s expansion into the further reaches of the solar system after the arrival of the mysterious and mythical ‘Traveller’. The Tower acts as the hub city in these early stages, offering respite, story guidance and most importantly, gear upgrades, whilst the player pieces together exactly what is going in the desolate ruins of the first playing area, Old Russia. The hub is fairly standard and will be familiar to players of RPGs and MMOs. Always guided by a helpful compass to the next objective, it’s difficult to become truly confused, though paying attention to the cutscenes is essential to have a modicum of an idea of what’s going on story-wise.
After acquisitioning and upgrading a ship, getting together basic gear and being sent out to conquer by a class-specific mentor, Old Russia is essentially at the player’s mercy. A free form structure unfolds with the player dictating the order they’ll take on the challenges in, executing each mission by setting their ship’s destination whilst in orbit, each mission highlighted on the world map. There are exploration areas that are free form wanderings through areas populated with an array of mobs that can be grinded for experience, just as in most MMOs and RPGs. There are also specific missions with more concrete aims, which can be tackled solo or as part of a fireteam of up to three players. These missions are made vastly more enjoyable, but are entirely possible for a lone wolf to overcome. The multiplayer aspect becomes a little more necessary for the Strike missions, which are somewhat akin to an MMO’s instances, comprising an extended mission where the player and their fireteam will have to face off against a series of bosses. In the Beta, in Old Russia, the Strike mission comes in the form of The Devil’s Lair. Warning: undertaking at too low a level will have you chewing off your own fist within less than an hour. Gear up and make sure you and your fireteam are packing some heat before going in heavy, these missions are far more challenging, and Sepiks Prime, the big bad boss of this instance is far from forgiving.
The FPS combat system is fluid and familiar, with a range of armaments sure to thrill gun nuts. Having space to equip three weapons, a main gun, a special and a heavy, is a boon and reduces the need to constantly swap out into the character screen, which annoyingly doesn’t pause the game.
Bungie’s involvement makes itself pre-eminently clear with the appearance of a rather Halo-esque floating jump, which begins to make wonderful sense once the hover skills become unlocked. There’s a tactical slide when going prone at a sprint so experimental migrants from Call of Duty should feel as much at home as the old Halo faithful.
Early in the Beta build, players gain access to the Sparrow, a hoverbike finally realising the dreams of Star Wars fans of old. This makes travelling over the Old Russian wastes a quick jaunt, keeping the momentum flowing across different stages in the missions and holding the focus on the action.
When one does get a few minutes to just stop and look around, however, that’s when the player truly realises the beauty of the world that has been crafted here. The scope of the explorable land area is enormous and the skybox gives rise to a sense of true bewilderment in the face of such scale. Both features aid the game’s immersion, which of course, as a sort-of-RPG, is absolutely essential to its success.
Visually Destiny is a dream. Clarity abounds and impressive depth-of-field, lighting and shadow effects are commonplace. Particularly engaging is the day-night cycle that entirely changes the tone of the experience, barely noticed in the heat of battle. It’s these subtleties that make good on Bungie’s goal to create a ‘living’ world.
Still more entrancing is the game’s score, the musical accompaniments to the action phasing eclectically from one genre to another, each complementing what’s unfolding on-screen to a tee, the score courtesy of Michael Salvatori and Martin O’Donnell (recently fired by Bungie), with involvement from one of two surviving Beatles, Paul McCartney. The soundscapes are just another layer that makes Destiny such a fertile world in which to find yourself becoming absorbed.
The multiplayer aspects will be too familiar to players of online shooters, with domination and deathmatch type modes operating as normal. Accessed through The Crucible after reaching level five, PvP promises to be one route to unlocking the top tier gear that will help send you surging to the top of the leaderboards and make you the pride of your fireteam.
The art of Destiny is not in the originality of its individual components, but in the artistry with which they have been woven together to create a comprehensive gaming experience that should satisfy fans of various genres, as well as to some extent crystallising a new genre in its own right. A dynamic, living world, with live-matchmaking to improve the fluidity of multiplayer integration into the main portion of the gameplay, Destiny is not a patchwork of disparate features and game styles, it’s a mosaic to inspire and immerse and I for one cannot contain my excitement for the release of the full version.
What’s your Destiny?