Candied, crushed sago't gulaman
First person shooters have never been my jam, with a handful of exceptions that prove the rule. There are the narrative driven atmosphere heavy single player focused Half-Life and BioShock series, and the balls-to-the-wall cooperative multiplayer action of the Left 4 Dead games that have truly gripped me in the polarizing FPS genre.
So what exactly had me playing Bungie’s Destiny for almost an entire day that I had it on my PS3?
For those who missed it, Bungie closed down the public Beta for the always online sci-fi shooter Destiny on July 27, presumably having received all the data and feedback they needed to get it ready for its September 9 release on the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, and the XBONE. I only managed to get my hands on the Beta when they made it available for everyone with subscriptions to PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live Gold on July 25, and I only had free time on Sunday to really sink my teeth into it.
Character creation was a simple process that had enough options for me to make my character stand out without bogging me down with hundreds of sliders modifying nose hair length or the type of belly button the avatar would have.
I chose the Warlock class, as it had the most promise in giving me powerful abilities that would look super cool on screen. Like other games that give me the option to choose a class, I go for the one that lends to a more exciting approach in terms of combat and character progression.
Not that it would end up mattering too much for the limited scope of the beta, as I would soon find out.
Nevertheless, I also made the design choices for my character that would best fit the the more mystical aspects of the Warlock class to really commit to the role.
Upon deciding on how my magical high elf… erm… magical space elf looked, I was greeted by a number of great-looking cinematics explaining in the plainest of ways the barest threads of what a high-schooler might call a “plot”. I could get into more detail, but I’d end up having to talk about “The Traveler” and “The Speaker” and “The Darkness” and more of the blatantly lazy stock figures Bungie seems to be using for its attempt at gravity in its world-building.
I’m not going to pick on the story too much, seeing as it’s still just the Beta, but what taste I was given did not really make me hunger for what’s to come if it’s going to be more archetypes and vague pronouncements of supposed significance.
And even with the effects layered onto Peter Dinklage’s voice acting work as your mechanical companion called the “Ghost”, it does very little to hide the complete apathy the renowned actor has for the lines given to him. Whether it’s really Dinklage just taking a big payday or the VA director not doing his/her job, it certainly turns the narration for the events that already sound hackneyed feel even flatter.
In spite of all the disappointment the story department in Destiny , it managed to hook me in anyway in just about every other area.
Knowing full well that the version I was going to play would be on the lower end of what Destiny could really look like, I was still very much impressed with the visuals the PS3 was able to pull off with its aging system.
On a technical level, it did as much as it could possibly do rendering sharp character models, enormous and detailed landscapes, scenic lighting, and a stable framerate amid hectic battles, faltering only on the horrible aliasing in the shadows cast by the players. I understand that the interplay between shadows and light are important in setting the mood for the game, but having these blocks of black appear on screen lessens the tension Destiny expertly ramps up in the dark interiors of Old Russia. I wouldn’t really mind if they just got rid of the dynamic shadows for the player characters in the full release of the PS3 version.
The contrast of the sleek and futuristic and the dank and ruinous make for striking art design, managing to lift the promising parts of the greater narrative out of the muck the burdensome expository elements sunk them into. The rousing soundtrack of soaring horns and strings and breakneck industrial beats echo the clashing combinations of the visuals and the results are just as compelling. I guess if there was anything good to come out of the head composer being fired in April, it’s that he’d already done the necessary work to make the world of Destiny feel more riveting.
Speaking of sound, there’s also a distinct sense of power through the audio feedback in every weapon fired and every melee hit landed. The gunplay itself feels rewarding, but that’s no surprise coming from the studio that revolutionized FPS controls on consoles. Nothing particularly revolutionary about the type of guns you have, but there’s no denying the simple joy of popping enemy heads with precision shots from the semi-auto and sniper rifles with the mobility allowed in your character.
I could talk about how awesome the Sparrow (your hoverbike, basically) controls, but just watch this video to see all the crazy shit you could do with:
Considering the number of missions available in the beta, Bungie did a great job showcasing how the different terrains factor into your fireteam’s (the two other players that can join you in missions) engagement of the marauding alien forces. Wide open battlefields dotted with cover spots bring that sense of scale possible in the game, while the cavernous lairs of the enemy instill a feeling of dread in the narrower spaces where fewer advantageous positions exist. Even then, you can still find yourself constantly moving to survive the waves of enemies the game throws at you, injecting each encounter with much needed energy that kept me pushing through tough segments.
The RPG mechanics do play an important role in incentivizing you to keep going in these kinds of games, but it was pretty easy to get most of the content available in the Beta. The level cap is at 8 which I had no trouble reaching in about 4-5 hours of non-stop playing, and the loot drops were reasonable in missions’ pacing, although there were yet to be any standout armor or weapons that could be used in-game. Just checking the equipment only accessible by reaching level 20 in the “shops” does lend me hope for the latter parts of the game where kickass gear should be the norm.
Unlocking skills for my Warlock was a linear progression, but there were options in what type of a particular ability I could use, such as having a grenade that could do continuous damage to enemies stuck in its impact zone, or a grenade that has a bigger blast radius but only does damage once. You can still spec your character in that one class with the skill modifiers to a role that’s more tuned towards different kinds of play styles, but I couldn’t help but wish Bungie let us try the other subclass as well.
Not much variety was shown in the actual quests you could do, and that’s probably my biggest worry come September 9. With my experiences in the span of around 8 hours spread throughout the day, I still greatly enjoyed taking on swarms of enemies and defeating the higher ranked bosses with the aid of the different people I met throughout the game, both strangers and friends alike. The public events where everyone in the “overworld” section can join in on the fun of trying to defeat a super buffed up enemy were thrilling side activities, seeing up to 16 players all converging in one area to fight a bad guy before it can make its daring escape.
I’m not expecting dialogue-centric missions, as the game doesn’t even look like it supports that system, but strikes on bases and wave-based survival scenarios could wear thin halfway through if they intend to make this game as big as they claim it to be. My concerns could very well be addressed with the new planets to explore, the story sequences that could provide epic set pieces, and all the skills and weapons within my grasp for unique battle experiences.
There’s an entire competitive multiplayer arena to delve into, but playing that with randoms didn’t hold my interest for too long. I’ll definitely be checking it out some more when the full game does come out and I have more time.
The core gameplay by itself already sold me with how tight it controlled, how fluid it moved, and how gratifying successful team-ups felt. I try not to get sucked up into the hype, demanding that this be the Game of the Year material just based on what the astronomical marketing push for its 10 year plan is saying. As long as it has more meaningful content to keep me in the loop, I’ll be happy to give it more of my own precious time to shoot aliens in the face with my buddies.
That, and if my Internet connection holds out.