Touching down on a desolate Earth devoid of the frivolity usually provided by humanity is odd. Russia may not appear to be the most wealthy and thriving place at the best of times, but when time has passed and aliens run riot, it is without a doubt a nasty place to stay. I guess that’s what made my time in Old Russia so very compelling.
I spent a rather large chunk of a day flirting with the Destiny alpha and getting my hands dirty in Bungie’s First Person Shooter meets Massively Multiplayer Online game. And while some of the not so great aspects of MMOs reared their head throughout my play time, I can confidently say it is the greatest MMO experience I have had the pleasure to, er, experience.
Destiny grants players the ability to customise their own character and leap in to our Solar System as a Guardian. From here they are free to buzz about in their spaceship (which is really just a glorified loading screen) and explore many exotic lands.
The Alpha gave access to three different areas. Old Russia is the segment of Earth that was open for a “proper” single-player mission, a Strike mission and free-roam; The Tower is the MMO-hub of Destiny, used to purchase equipment from vendors and the such; an area of the Moon was also available as one of two competitive multiplayer arenas (the other back in Old Russia).
Old Russia itself, in free-roam at least, is substantial. It’s a combination of different zones that are all connected through buildings or long path ways and other clever manners to hide the fact it’s a group of segments and instead portray itself as a single entity. And it succeeds. Trawling across its dusty surface I had a lot of fun blasting away at “the Hive”, nasty monsters with a bad attitude and lethal weaponry. The ability to jump spawn a vehicle out of thin air and then fly it about – a “mount” in MMO speak – allows for a great sense of freedom that cuts away the need to retread ground by foot over and over again. Sort of.
My first taste of Old Russia in the alpha was the story mission “The Dark Within”, which had me tracking down some new-fangled gizmo radio tower and eventually killing a moon wizard. It was fun and paced well, with the moon wizard proving to be a fitting boss. I carefully sneaked my way across boulders and aeroplane wreckage and eventually entered a facility with narrow corners and dark rooms. In one room a creature pops up right in front of your face to cause a fright and make you go “oh my” before pumping him full of fear-induced lead. The first time this happened I did jump. The subsequent times not so much.
The problem with the way Old Russia has been built is that beyond this compound is another area but there are only two ways to reach it, both through buildings. These buildings contain the same enemies, same triggers, same jump scare. What works so well as a scripted mission completely loses its appeal and stands out the sixth time you encounter it. The full-release version of Destiny better have more flexibility – perhaps a fast travel ability – because I can see this sort of thing becoming dull very quickly.
This was another issue with free-roam. Different satellite beacons litter the open world, each containing a small mission to complete for an experience boost. While killing a group of enemies is fun at first, it became apparent fast that these are the traditional trappings of other MMOs. I don’t want to farm enemies for drops. I hope that experience grinding doesn’t become a necessity but I’m hesitant to believe so with a game (or should that be franchise) which is meant to have so much staying power.
Complaints aside, free-roam is promising. Enjoying doing whatever I wanted in my own pace, it was pleasant to see other people pop in and out of my world thanks to a behind the scenes automatic matchmaking. Bumping into another player in a desolate wasteland inspires you to help them as they fight off a wave of aliens. At one point one of Destiny’s “Events” began. A giant piece of technological rubble fell from the sky. Players in my world had one minute to approach it to be brought into a special mission. Before long hoards of enemies approached and we had to shoot them down and hold the fort. It was quite frankly bad-ass, which definitely was helped by the sporadic appearance of the mission. More of these please, Destiny.
The Strike mission, the Devil’s Lair, took place in another segment of Old Russia and was a three-player co-operative challenge. Together with two random travellers, our Fireteam fought through legions of aliens and a couple of bosses. While the route, environment and general pacing was enjoyable and well-designed for jolly co-operation, the bosses were something else.
I understand that Destiny is an MMO at its core but the bosses were inexcusable. They are interesting sure – take the Devil Walker, a six-legged robot with a variety of deadly guns and explosives. It is fun to attack, dodge and hide from. There’s a secret knack to attacking him – destroy his legs to expose the weak spot on his head – ensuring that players focus their fire instead of spraying and praying. Despite that, he has SO MUCH HEALTH. It took our team about 20 minutes to kill, while performing perfectly. I understand that a boss is meant to be a challenge to surmount and that Destiny is built on traditional MMO mechanics, but all fun was sapped when fighting became a chore. What makes this worse is that if all players die before the fight is over, everything resets and you have to whittle it’s life down again. Being that many of the Devil Walker’s attacks can kill a player in a single blow, this mentality is inexcusable.
Anyone who has put in more than five minutes into Halo’s multiplayer should have positive preconceptions as to Bungie’s latest competitive creation called Crucible. And they would be right. Although only demonstrating one game mode – Control, which has your team of six fighting over three capture points – the careful balance of up to three weapons, double-jumping and and a super move shines. The super move is built up over time (throughout single-player as well) and can be activated at any time when gained. Mine gave me three one-hit-kill pistol shots that I had to fire within a few seconds. Satisfying.
I understand that the underlying vibe of my preview may seem negative but that’s because so much in the Destiny alpha stood out as brilliant. It would really be a shame for a couple of things to detriment what could be a top-class game.
With a bit of fine tuning before its release, and hopefully a very careful shift away from its MMO trappings, Destiny could be the game that not only defines 2014 but this generation of videogames. I’ll see you guys in Old Russia; I’ll be the one pistol whipping aliens and double-jumping in circles.