At a press event in London yesterday, I sat down with Destiny's beta for an extended play session with Bungie and Activision. You might be enjoying Destiny's beta, which kicked off exclusively on PS4 today, right now. If you are, you're probably already realizing what I took away from my time with the game:
Destiny is phenomenal, and primed to be the next big thing in video games.
Having not sampled the delights of last month’s Alpha build, this was my first experience with Destiny, and admittedly I wasn’t quite sure what I was about to experience. Of course, the first order of the day was to cobble together a character to start my journey, and so I quickly acquainted myself with the game’s character customization feature. It’s pretty standard stuff - you can select your race, gender, hair colour, markings, and other such rudimentary perks - but incredibly simple to navigate all the same, and you’re into the action in minutes. The end result? I plumped for the alien-looking Exo, complete with grey-white complexion, a haircut that looked like he had just had a ruck (and lost) with a blowdryer, and skilled in the ‘Titan’ class. Three races are available (Human, Exo, and Awoken), and you can pick from a further three classes -- Titan, Hunter, and Warlock.
Destiny opens in linear fashion, although expands tremendously once you’ve passed the introduction sequence. Here, you meet up with your mechanical sidekick - known as a Ghost - before acquiring a weapon and dispatching hordes of enemies, dubbed The Fallen. Once that’s done, you pinch one of their ships and high-tail it back to the sanctuary of the Tower Plaza. This mammoth complex is a hive of activity, and essentially Destiny’s ‘hub’ for lack of a better term, where players gather to purchase weapons, gear, sign up for Bounties, have a natter with the locals, and upgrade their ship. You can re-enter orbit simply but hitting the touchpad and holding down triangle, where you are then whisked away to the map screen. Here, it’s merely a case of tackling any available missions that tickle your fancy back on post-apocalyptic Earth; be warned though, as some will require you to reach a particular level or at least team up with a mate to complete.
Bungie’s latest shoot-’em-up taps into the realm of progressive rewards rather nicely indeed. Blasting enemies will net you experience and eventually you’ll level up, allowing you to unlock upgrades for your class. As a Titan, I got my mitts on a meaty grenade and a rather snazzy supercharge attack after a couple of levels, the latter of which sees you leaping into the air before smashing down hard, creating a shockwave that obliterates anyone unlucky enough to be caught in the blast radius. On the other hand, the Warlock class - which I tried out later on in my session - is able to access a mass electricity blast, which deals a prodigious amount of damage. Meanwhile, you’ll also unlock fresh gear to kit yourself out with - be it helmets, chest pieces, gauntlets and the like - as well as new weapons, while enemies drop Glimmer (Destiny’s form of currency) for you then spend back at base. With a boatload of unlockable goodies, there’s a massive incentive to gain as much XP as possible, and knowing you are scrapping for that hefty Hand Cannon or Legendary Weapon really fleshes out the proceedings, even if you could probably survive without dipping into the game’s eclectic arsenal.
Mechanically, Destiny stands proud with the rest of the FPS market. Guns feel weighty and pack a meaty punch, and aiming and shooting with L2 and R2, respectively, feels as intuitive and seamless as its contemporaries. It’s just as well too, as foes are tenacious buggers, and fire accurate blasts at you while working in groups in an attempt to overwhelm their adversaries. Shootouts as a result feel tight and tense, and expect to commit to long-distance sniping and brutal melee brawls alike as you are swarmed by regular grunts, mechanized Shanks, hulking Knights, and projectile-lobbing Wizards and other such enemies. While many basic foes share a common link - usually in the shape of aiming a lethal piece of sci-fi weaponry at your jugular - there’s enough nuance, be it aesthetic or otherwise, to the bosses and other bad guys that no battle feels the same. As such, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with all kinds of weapons and tactics to facilitate your efforts on the battlefield, leading to some lengthy, grueling encounters. The brutal ‘Darkness Zones’ are particularly challenging, where you’ll have to scrap with a boss and his flunkies without perishing; if you’re unlucky enough to bite the dust, then it’s back to the start of the sequence. No on-the-spot respawning for you, young Guardian.
Destiny’s strategic side really comes into play during co-op. In one mission, I teamed up with the chap next to me to tackle one of the Beta’s notoriously difficult missions, reserved only for those packing some serious heat or a buddy in tow. Here, we squared up against waves of Knights, Captains and other intimidating nasties before culminating in a massive boss fight against a spider-like mechanical behemoth. This took some coordinated attacks, with both of us unleashing futuristic lead down on our target from different directions, and even then we ended up biting the bullet half-a-dozen times. It was bloody tough, but also incredibly rewarding when we finally managed topple the metallic monstrosity and bag some tasty loot in the process. And, while the game’s focus is obviously focused on interacting with other players, the single-player focus is no slouch; missions are varied, and get progressively tougher as you level up. There’s a palpable sense of accomplishment to each victory, and a very satisfying knowledge that you are beefing up your Guardian along the way, lending the game a distinct RPG-esque feel.
Bungie’s latest stab at science fiction is certainly eyeball-popping in terms of scope and ambition. Environments are caked in glorious details, from the glow of the setting sun on the war-torn surface, to stunning real-time shadows that complement the dingy, subterranean tunnels on you’ll be shuffling through in search of essential supplies. The frame rate holds up surprisingly well too, and not once did I twig a discernible dip in the game’s performance, nor did I catch any noticeable visual clipping. As such, Destiny is easily up there with some of PS4’s best-looking games to date. It’s not perfect, mind, but the odd bland texture dotted throughout the locations are inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.
From what little I saw of the game world, Bungie’s FPS is exhibiting a winning formula of intricately-detailed environments, compelling lore, and superb art direction. After spending five hours with Destiny, I can state unequivocally that it boasts one of the most lavish, immersive game worlds I’ve eyeballed in years, and one you’ll definitely want to invest in come this fall.
Destiny’s Beta is up and running now, with the full game due out on September 9 for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, and PC.