Destiny, the upcoming massively multiplayer shooter from Bungie, is only a few months away. The game’s release will mark culmination of a project that’s been years in the making and was built new from the ground up; even the 3D engine is a cutting-edge, in-house production. My experience in the alpha has convinced me that this will be the game that defines “next-gen” gaming – and here’s why.
The World Is Beautiful And Seamless
Bungie, as a studio, has always tried to push the boundaries of what’s possible with game worlds. This was true even before Halo; the studio’s Myth franchise, released in 1997, included partially deformable terrain, tactically meaningful weather effects and realistic physics. Bungie managed to offer these features in a game that recommended a 90 MHz processor and just sixteen megabytes of RAM. Today’s consoles, of course, offer the studio far quicker hardware to work with, and they’re using it to full effect.
The world of Destiny, once you enter it, is absolutely seamless. The draw distance seems infinite (though obviously, for technical reasons, it can’t be) and there are no load times between areas in a particular mission, though a mission may span multiple levels. Only a few other games have accomplished a similar feat, and most that can claim it are restricted to the PC only. MMOs for the console are generally forced to rely on zones, making load screens a common occurrence.
Players enter and leave the world seamlessly, as well, at least in the game’s exploration mode. While you can pair up with a “fireteam” of friends, you’ll also meet up with strangers at random – even if you already have a fireteam. This tactic provides the feel of a traditional MMO but negates the over-crowding issues that can spoil them.
Epic Boss Fights Everyone Can Enjoy
I’ve played a lot of MMOs. That means I’ve spent a lot of time killing ten chickens and returning their butts to Roger Chickwringer in exchange for ten gold and three Chicken Seals. This kind of tedious, repetitive gameplay is the bane of the genre, and players with little patience (or respect for their time) bounce right off it.
Destiny, however, finally solves this problem by providing players with serious, challenging content from the very beginning. The first “strike” mission in the alpha, which is basically a 3-player dungeon, can be entered at level six and features two huge boss fights, one against a mechanized spider-tank, the other against a giant floating alien orb. Both are lengthy, challenging encounters on par with raid content in some MMOs, albeit on a smaller scale.
This content isn’t limited to strikes, either. There are also random events in exploration maps which challenge players to defeat a beefy, intimidating opponent within a limited time-frame. One particularly memorable challenge was fought against the same spider-tank from the strike mission, but in a larger, more open battlefield. My fire team, in cooperation with some strangers who entered the game automatically, achieved a heart-pounding victory with just seconds to spare, and none of us were above level 5.
Your Enemies May Be Smarter Than You
Another issue with MMOs, and even games with significant role-playing elements as a whole, is enemy AI. Even Borderlands, which is not a persistent world, struggled to provide solid AI. Developers seem to fear that smart enemies will make character progression feel less relevant and undermine a pillar of role-playing.
Bungie’s experience building Halo, which is known for excellent enemy AI, obviously provides the studio a different perspective. Enemies dodge, weave, advance and fall back intelligently. They use cover to regenerate shields, if they have them, and press they attack when you’re at a disadvantage.
I was particularly impressed by the behavior of the spider tanks, which are armed with several powerful but unwieldy weapons. During a strike mission I discovered a spot where I could crouch down and shoot the tank without taking return fire because of the angle of the tank’s turret. To my surprise the tank understood that it couldn’t hit me and quickly gave up, but returned its attention to me when I reached a more exposed position. Most MMOs have AI that can’t even understand the concept of kiting, so Destiny is a huge leap forward by comparison.
Lookin’ Spiffy From Day One
My Final Fantasy XIV character’s highest level is twenty, and in most crafts he is level 15 or below. As you might expect, then, he looks like a bum. While crafting he wears some roughly-sewn tunics and may or may not be able to equip pants. Fighting at least gives him the chance to put on armor, but his greaves make him look like he’s wearing a thong over his britches and his chest piece looks like paper mache. This is the dreaded clown suit, a weird amalgamation of items that plague many low-level RPG characters.
Destiny¸ once again, side-steps a classic genre problem in the most obvious way possible; ignoring it. Your character will look awesome the day he or she sets foot on Earth and will continue to look awesome as you progress. Bungie’s experience designing sci-fi armor for the Halo series pays off here and results in a massive variety of looks to choose from no matter which of the three classes you decide to play.
That’s not to say you can’t upgrade your aesthetics, however. The game will feature a wide variety of dyes, decals and other customization options for high-level characters with money to burn. You will still dream of the day you can achieve exactly what you desire, but you won’t look like a fool in the interim.
Finishing Destiny’s tutorial takes you back to your spaceship. This was a bit of a surprise to me. My ship? “Holy crap, I have a spaceship?” was my first thought, followed shortly by “That’s awesome!”
Whether or not these ships have their internal space represented in the game isn’t clear (they didn’t in alpha, at the least) but also a bit beside the point. The fact you’re given a spaceship, regardless of its detail, is a testament to the scale Bungie is shooting for. You can go where you want, when you want.
Halo hinted at a broader universe, but it was ultimately a linear campaign shooter that often took place within a limited space. Destiny is different. You can choose where you want to go and what you want to do, and those choices aren’t limited to the surface of a particular planet. One of the multiplayer levels in the alpha took place on the moon, for example, complete with a loading animation that depicted a hyperspace jump to it (and back to earth when you’d finished).
Bungie clearly intends to make Destiny a game that spans the entire solar system, and your spaceship is your all-access pass.
Destiny is a hugely promising game that knocks down many MMO preconceptions and forges its own, unique path. I enjoyed every moment of my time with the alpha and can’t wait for the full release. This may, in fact, be the game that finally destroys entrenched ideas of how a massively multiplayer game must play and breathe much-needed innovation into the genre.