🎮 Destiny beta musings

Destiny never had its pedigree work for me. Back at the start of the century, Halo: Combat Evolved was a first-person shooter that finally had sensible controls for a games console and allowed for co-op play. But there was little else that kept me hooked.

For example: it had this horrible section called The Library that made me want to punch myself in the face in the hope of experiencing something other than sheer boredom. The Silent Cartographer went by without even registering a blip, and I had to replay the section to ‘get’ what people were talking about. Now I get it, but I don’t agree with it.

Based on that, Destiny didn’t register with me beyond the fact that Bungie had somehow reclaimed themselves from Microsoft. It was only at the start of 2014 that I picked up on some cues that were more of interest to me.

Destiny was to be another Borderlands, a loot-shooter, an online co-op game. Suddenly, I was interested. The beta started last week and after playing it over the weekend, a few things became clear:

This is a Borderlands 'clone'

It simply is. There’s nothing wrong with it and this is why I wanted to play it in the first place. Yet somehow it’s weird that the game is not trying anything on top of it. Like Halo it seems more about adhering to the genre (if you can call it that). Speaking of which…

Destiny plays like Halo

I didn’t expect it to play like Halo, but duh, of course it’s going to play like Halo. The controls and gunplay blend together to invoke that balanced drone-like feeling Bungie manages so well. The one where you don’t notice you are playing, you’re just acting.

The controls never work against you here; they facilitate your actions. There’s also a classic weight to them that makes them perfect. Nothing is too fast, nothing too slow, it is as it should be. This is what made Halo stand out and it still works here.

No seriously, Destiny plays like Halo

Which becomes apparent with the enemies on display. The Darkness’ Thralls might not pop like the Flood when shot, but they do take up the same function. Vandals feel like Elites and there are a plenty more comparisons to be made where those came from. (Though I prefer Princess Peach over Tyrion for now.)

So far I haven’t really re-experienced any of the more boring parts from Halo, apart from enemies always spawning at the same locations. They aren’t as mobile as well, meaning that if you stay in one map during an Explore mission, you’ll find yourself repeating certain battles. It’s not as mind-numbing as The Library.

It aspires to be a very lean MMORPG

The hub area called The Tower made me reminiscence about Phantasy Star Online. It’s a small place where you can find all shops and facilities. But when in maps it likes to take inspiration from online RPGs. Live events, quests, dungeons; it has them all, but takes all the fluff out.

Items can be recycled for currency, Mass Effect-style. Quests do not need to be handed in. Participating in events requires you to be there, not to handle menus. Already present enemies will count towards newly acquired goals. Forming and disbanding teams is quick, painless and easy. Your characters grow, unlock skills and gain perks from weapons and even have some degree of growth within their controls.

It’s no Metroid, but unlocking the boost jump immediately made me mentally add a +1 to score for the game.

Setting sun

Concluding: Destiny is great. And more importantly: it feels great. It takes all the elements from a few games that I like and bundles it up as new. It’s almost a Blizzard game in that it’s less about pushing innovation and more about polishing what’s already there and making sure that it just works for the player.

If there’s one thing I’m not entirely convinced of as of yet, it’s the setting. The cutscenes are slightly pompous and more akin to Star Trek / Mass Effect in being clean and epic. Which is in direct contrast with the actual game and aesthetics being closer to the more human and worn feel of Star Wars / Borderlands. It doesn’t help that the general trappings of an MMO (naming issues, detachment from the game world) just widen the chasm between the two.

This is probably where Borderlands is ‘better’. Somewhere during development, Borderlands went completely over the top. Its setting was closer to the player and didn’t require role-playing. Destiny’s world does require that, making online interactions flawed by default. Put crudely: a player called BallsDeep69 is just a cherry on top in Borderlands, in Destiny it’s an eye sore. Of course that’s a minor thing and it never stopped World of Warcraft, but I do wonder what it means for the game’s story and setting.

For now, I’ll just keep my pre-order firmly in place and play some more.