I heard that familiar tone; the confirmative ding that sounded like I had either arrived via elevator at my designated floor or punched a small robot. I had an email waiting for me, so I reached for my iPhone, found the mail icon in the quick bar at the bottom of the home screen, and dove into my inbox. Expecting to find an advertisement for male enhancement, or perhaps a message from a “friend” in South America urging me to send him my personal information as quickly as possible in order to collect my share of the phantom $40 million dollar prize that had suddenly cropped up with my name on the reward list, I instead found an unexpected prize of a different sort: a code to access the limited Destiny First Look Alpha!
My ability to obtain beta/alpha codes in recent history has been less than dependable; I’m still waiting for those PlayStation Now beta codes, Sony! Hell, I’ll even take a PS3 code for the “old” system at this point! While Brent continues to chuckle at the expense of my beta participation, my fortunes have taken something of a turn for the better, as minutes before my acceptance into the Destiny beta I received an elusive Battlefield: Hardline beta code as well. But enough about my beta code drama! The Destiny alpha code was in my possession, and I fired it up as soon as I could. And well…
Upon entering the world of Destiny for the first time, new adventurers are tasked with choosing a character from one of three classes: Titan, Hunter, or Warlock. With its reliance on sci-fi magic and sleek trenchcoat-meets-Mass-Effect design, I found myself drawn towards the Warlock class for my first foray into Old Russia (the post-apocalyptic Earth setting of this Destiny alpha build). From there, the character creation process begins with your standard set of customization options ranging from race and gender, to body and head type. While the design options are not as robust as something you might find in your more typical MMO-fare like Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, the character-class designs are slick enough that not much tweaking is necessary; the stock soldier looks very cool. Once my character was complete, it was time to drop into the ruined Earth below and begin my first story mission!
Titled “The Dark Within,” this first taste of Destiny’s sci-fi universe finds you, as your newly created Guardian, investigating a facility with a secret locked deep inside protected by Fallen — one of the alien factions in Destiny. Accompanied by your companion AI, a 343 Guilty Spark-like floating robot known as Ghost (voiced by Lord Tyrion himself, Peter Dinklage), this mission eventually sees your Guardian infiltrating this forgotten stronghold and discovering the presence of another of Destiny’s alien races, The Hive. This all culminates in a final climactic battle with a Hive Wizard (“That Wizard came from the moon!”) that is both exciting and tense. Once the Wizard has been vanquished, the mission ends and your Guardian is transported back to his ship to explore the rest of what this Alpha build has to offer.
The story mission was entertaining, and a great primer for getting you started in the Destiny universe. The first things that jump out at you when playing this Alpha build are the rock solid controls and gameplay. This thing is buttery smooth at this point, with a consistent frame rate and exquisite gun controls that feel tight and responsive. The default assault rifle was fun to shoot, and a great first weapon to wield. The shotgun, in all of its variants, was supremely satisfying to blast, delivering a tangible feeling of weight and power every time I pulled the trigger. Honestly, this Alpha plays better than a lot of finished games out there, which can only bode well for how the finished product will fare. Bungie’s trademark polish and attention to detail are definitely present here in the early going of Destiny.
I found myself really enjoying a lot of the gameplay mechanics that were introduced during the Alpha as well. Of course, the patented Bungie regenerating shields are on display, a design decision they popularized for the modern console shooter all those years ago with the first Halo, but they’re joined by two new entrants into your rechargeable repertoire. Grenades are no longer an item pickup, and are instead a rechargeable commodity, which leads to zero spamming and an added layer of strategy in terms of when to use them. It’s a big change to the way grenades typically work in this kind of game, and I like the way it functions in the moment-to-moment gameplay a lot. I also love how each class has their own variation of grenade, with the Warlock’s void grenade — which creates a sort of area-of-effect black hole that draws in and damages enemies in its attack radius — being my personal favorite.
Then there is the rechargeable super move, a devastating attack that can be let off once your super meter reaches its full capacity. As far as I can tell, this move charges based on enemy kills, and it’s a ton of fun to unleash on unsuspecting Hive and Fallen hordes. Under the default control scheme, holding down L1+R1 pulls the camera back to a third-person perspective momentarily, as your Guardian wreaks havoc on the surrounding foes. Once again, the Warlock’s Void Power super became my preferred method of hyper-destruction, as this move sees him launching this sort of energy bomb into a targeted area, causing massive destruction amidst my own mad-with-power cackle.
"Honestly, this Alpha plays better than a lot of finished games out there, which can only bode well for how the finished product will fare. Bungie’s trademark polish and attention to mechanics are definitely on display here in the early going of Destiny."
Oh, and summoning your Endor-inspired speeder bike at will to cruise around Old Russia is #*@$#% awesome!
While enraptured in the inaugural story mission and settling into the mechanics of the game, I couldn’t pull myself away from what was happening on screen long enough to explore some of the periphery aspects of Destiny and my character, especially in regards to equipment upgrades and gun variety. However, once my hectic battle with the Hive Wizard had reached its conclusion, I traveled to Destiny’s social hub, dubbed The Tower, and started to explore my character more in-depth. The equipment screen is easy to follow and navigate, with your weaponry designated to the left side of the screen, while your body armor and other such accoutrements adorn the right side. Visiting the equip screen for the first time, I noticed several pieces of weaponry and armor colored green; these were uncommon items that required the assistance of The Tower’s resident Cryptarch.
The Cryptarch is a sort of equipment sage in the Destiny universe, able to decrypt the “green” engrams you pick up throughout the game world, allowing you to use the hidden riches within, whether that be weaponry, armor, or the like. You also obtain a form of currency during your travels known as Glimmer, which is accepted by the Cryptarch to purchase additional weapons and items he may be carrying. There is much more to this system, including a separate Cryptarch rank that allows you to unlock access to further item engrams that he carries, though I did not get to spend too much time getting in-depth with this during the Alpha. Good thing the Beta starts up next month!
By the way, The Tower is a really rad area. Upon entering The Tower, the camera pulls back to a third-person perspective for the remainder of your time spent in this sprawling Metropolis, as the ominous and imposing Traveler ship overlooks the cityscape below. In addition to the Cryptarch, players will also find a wealth of additional vendors, a kiosk from which they can view their mail and messages, and representatives from their respective class to help guide them in their advancement through the world of Destiny. There are ways to link up and interact with other players here as well if I’m not mistaken, but I didn’t get to try this out during my limited time with the Alpha (I was too busy shooting things to spend a lot of time here!). Exploring The Tower more in-depth is another item high on my “To-Do” list come the impeding Beta, as there is definitely a lot I have yet to discover.
While I may not have linked up with any other players during my time in The Tower, I was able to catch up to my Short Pause partner-in-crime, Brent, for some co-op action. After Brent finally decided to check “all” of his email, he realized that the Alpha code he had been seeking for the last four hours had been sitting in his junk mail the whole time. With the code finally entered and the Alpha build downloaded, Brent was in the Destiny world for himself and I was able to join him without any trouble whatsoever. I simply pulled up my friends list in the game menu, highlighted Brent’s name, and instantly joined his game. The ease with which I was able to drop into his game was terrific, and jumping in and out of Fireteam parties looks to be seamless and pain-free.
Make no mistake, while this game is great fun to lone-wolf as a single-player, co-op is where Destiny is going to really shine. I had a blast tackling an “Explore” scenario with Brent, which is Destiny’s version of a free-roam, open-world “quest.” Choosing “Explore” sends the player down to Old Russia with free reign. Pulling up the HUD, missions from around the environment are populated and you can tackle them as you see fit. They range from collecting supplies from Fallen Dregs, to eliminating specific targets in the area, and they continue to populate the HUD ad infinitum while in the “Explore” scenario. Not in a mission-clearing mood? No problem, just roam the environment, shoot baddies, or explore the terrain. “Explore” missions let you approach the world of Destiny in any way you see fit. I love games that give you this type of freedom as a player, and coupled with Destiny’s stellar gunplay, level-grinding looks to be a future source of enjoyment, rather than a laborious chore.
The Alpha also gave us our first glimpse of Destiny’s PVP mode, The Crucible, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t spend a little bit of time talking about it. With only one map and one mode available to test out — a Moon map featuring the Domination-style, “A-B-C” point capturing “Control” game type — this was an ever-so-tantalizing tease of what’s to come with The Crucible. The included map was small, which allowed the action to stay fast-paced, and the tanks and hovercrafts kept an element of the unexpected alive during each match. The turrets were strategically placed around the map as well, and I found myself loving to man these stationary guns to combat enemy vehicles and defend our control points. Also, the novelty of everyone pulling out their speeder bike at any time and cruising around the map, or boost jumping and attacking from mid-air, never got old for me. All-in-all, this map was a taste of the familiar mixed with a fresh dash of the new and, married with the already impeccable gunplay, I can't wait to see the entire gameplay suite that The Crucible has to offer once the full game releases.
I am expecting Destiny to be awesome once it finally reaches the masses on September 9th, but after experiencing my first significant time with the game during this First Look Alpha, it's shaping up even better than I could have anticipated. This is going to be a Game of the Year contender, folks. The game is already remarkably polished for a game that claims to only be in an alpha state, and the gunplay feels tight, responsive, and fun to execute. The world is interesting, and I'm eagerly anticipating getting my teeth into the story. Bungie can do epic sci-fi, as they've proven with Halo, and there's no reason to think Destiny's story will be anything less than grandiose. Even though I played the Alpha for hours, there were a number of things I never got to see, including the "hidden" Hive Ogre and "The Devil's Lair" Strike Mission (I couldn't figure out how to get into it!). The ambition and the vast world that Bungie has created have already sucked me in, and it's clear that there is going to be an enormous amount of content to explore and experience in the final release. The wait for Destiny is becoming more and more unbearable.
Time to start counting the days until the Beta starts on July 17th!