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The Good and the Bad of the Destiny Alpha
Over the past weekend, I spent about thirty hours getting familiar with Bungie’s upcoming shooter/MMO hybrid Destiny. What I saw reminded me very much of a mix of Borderlands and Halo, with a dash of Planetside 2 thrown in, and yes, it is as awesome as it sounds. The level of polish is remarkable for an alpha, and given Bungie’s history, we should probably expect greatness with the final release. However, that doesn’t mean what I saw is perfect, there is definitely room for improvement. That said, here are three good, and three not so good, things I gleaned from my time with the alpha.
Even knowing this is an alpha, Destiny looks downright stunning. Everything from the galaxy map (which is understandably bare at this point) to the character models to the gorgeous maps, Destiny is a treat for the eyes. I played the single campaign map to death, and the variety and juxtaposition of flora and destroyed technology makes for a striking visual, and the two multiplayer maps I played on featured dramatically different looks than Old Russia. I fought against at least two different factions, each of which had unique looks and art styles. If you look closely, you can see the Halo DNA in the way the world and maps are built, but Destiny sets itself apart with its gameplay and setting. I even saw a few environmental puzzles and pseudo-platforming sections thrown in, although they were off the beaten path.
Bad: Character Variety
The alpha gives you three character classes to mess with: Titan, Hunter and Warlock. As cool as all these sound, there wasn’t a whole lot that differentiated the classes from each other. Besides the skills, which I will go into in a moment, the biggest difference in classes comes in the form of mobility, most notably in how they double jump. While the Titan gets a rather slow-moving jetpack and the Warlock has a glide maneuver, none of them were nearly as useful as the Hunter’s double jump, leading me to use that class almost exclusively. However, outside of the couple of skills present in the alpha, there doesn’t seem to be too big a difference no matter what class you use. Each class can use every weapon and armor available, and until we see more of the skill trees, there is no way to know how Bungie plans to inject variety into the classes. This is to say nothing of the three different races, which don’t seem to offer any discernible advantage over one another.
Good: Emergent Cooperative Gameplay
Destiny is billed as a shooter MMO, and that certainly shines through in the alpha. While joining a fireteam is a process that could be made easier, the world is set up in such a way that you may randomly encounter other players on their own missions. One time I was exploring Old Russia, when a giant spider mech dropped from the sky and started rampaging. Looking across the way, I see a team of three players emerging from a nearby tunnel, while a notification pops up that tells me we all have a timer to team up and take this guy down. I was sold on the sense that I was not the only one on this planet. Even my tutorials were filled with other players learning the ropes, and even at this early stage, matchmaking was a cinch for both cooperative and competitive play. If all this extrapolates well to the full release, Destiny could change the way we think about MMOs.
Bad: Campaign-Crucible Integration
I was not a fan of this. The Crucible is basically the matchmaking hub of Destiny, and for all intents and purposes, it works well…except for one potential problem looming large. Your campaign character carries directly over to the competitive play. Usually, this would be cool, but in a game where you are managing dozens of skills, weapons and armor pieces, I wonder how well the competitive balance will hold up. This is another area that made me feel like I had to play the Hunter. Titan’s and Warlock’s simply don’t have the mobility to cruise around the map with the same ease as the Hunter, thanks to the double jump. I’m not keen on the idea of going up against a team that has better armor or superior weaponry either. Bungie has assured as that they are working on ways to ensure competitive balance, but I still don’t think anything beats the idea of a completely level playing field, an idea that has worked so well for Bungie in the past with Halo.
Good: RPG Elements
Playing through Destiny, I really got the sense that my character was evolving. The various weapons and armor you pick up have clear values denoting how effective they are, even if most of them seem to be cut from the same cloth. Your skills aren’t governed so much by allocating points as they are by a seemingly Skyrim-like system, where things level up independently of each other. You do have static levels that go up via experience points, but that seemed more tied to weapon and armor tiers than anything else. I didn’t have access to a bunch of skills, but I could see a huge skill tree that was begging to be explored, and appeared to be unique for each character class. I was also collecting plant samples during my time with the alpha, but never got to see the payoff for it. It’s fair to assume their will be some sort of crafting aspect to the game, which will hopefully add even more to the experience.
Bad: Respawning Enemies
Not a big deal, particularly in an MMO, but the enemy respawns did reach into the realm of the absurd at some points. More than once, I would clear an area, walk into a dead end, and turn back around to find that all the enemies were already back and ready for round two. Near the end of my time, I was simply bypassing enemies with my hoverbike whenever I could, especially when you have to trudge through the same chokepoint with he exact same enemy makeup and placement every time. This could be cleared up before launch, but my level of exasperation with it made it worth mentioning.