Destiny: Making crusty cynics smile everywhere
Destiny is astonishing.
The amount of hours, intelligence and technique that must have gone into Bungie's sci-fi MMO blows my mind. Like a cathedral, meticulously built by master engineers, this game is objectively impressive. Whether you're predisposed towards shooters or the quad-A industry is almost besides the point – Destiny simply is the epitome of tradecraft.
That much is apparent as soon as you launch the beta. Visually, Destiny is superlative. Crisp, colourful and varied, it looks almost as if it was built on the iD5 engine – the interior environments and lighting effects could have been pulled from the PC version of RAGE. What's more impressive is that all of the detail, all of the sleekness and sheen, is maintained across Destiny's open-world.
There are no problems with texture pop-in, no drops in frame-rate. Even the load times are quick. Where MMOs are typically a generational step-backwards when it comes to graphics, in order to make room for more quests and players, Destiny is a leap forward. A mawkish thing to say, but this is a game that, in terms of size and splendour, would have been unfathomable 20 years ago, when I got my first console.
Destiny is a title that can make even crusted cynics lean back in their chair and smile.
It's a structural marvel also. Massive multiplayer games are generally slow, requiring players to move between three or four "home" locations in order to collect tasks before travelling to various parts of the wilderness to complete them. Destiny has a similar basic blueprint, but everything is quickened and streamlined.
Missions can be started basically anywhere, by accessing small, green-glowing beacons. Instead of tired expository dialogue, you simply get an objective and a marker – you can go from free-roaming to on a mission in seconds. There is a home location, called The Tower, but it's functional and small.
You might return there every three missions or so to replenish ammo or buy new gear but, again, most of that can be done on the fly. That's not to say Destiny is in any way truncated. On the contrary, it's perfectly balanced between high energy first-person shooting and involved, open-world style micro-management.
Borderlands would be an eminent comparison, maybe Fallout. In short, Destiny delivers, whether you're a fan of Halo or World of Warcraft.
It's also one of the first online games in years, at least for consoles, that truly embraces the philosophy of multiplayer. Most network shooters, though ostensibly team-based, are one-for-one point hunts. The co-operative players in Battlefield, for example, pay no attention to each other. They'll kill and ban their squad-mates if it means getting themselves a higher score.
Co-op in Destiny is easy to drop in and drop out of. There are tangible rewards for playing together, but their importance is minimised – the game doesn't strong-arm you into finding a team. It's a brave stroke of reverse psychology.
Online shooters often encourage co-operation by doling out more points to players who complete tasks, like say capturing a flag, accompanied by a friend. But what that does is reduce multiplayer down to an unfeeling numbers game. It impresses on players that their team-mates are only necessary for the acquisition of more stuff, not that they're valuable, intrinsically, because playing together is fun.
Co-op works in Destiny not just because it's easy to enter and exit, or often essential to completing a mission, but because it's played just for the sake of it. The rewards are small and easy to miss in the maelstrom of things you pick up. You play together simply because other people are on the map and it makes missions more complex and exciting. That's the true essence of multiplayer.
Case in point, Ste_1259, a level eight player who helped me, an inexperienced level four, clear out an area of Earth called The Rocket Yard. I'd run into it accidentally and was struggling against a bunch of powerful enemies. Noticing Ste on the map, I dropped him a message via PSN and two minutes later, he arrived, performed a "wave" macro and then led the charge, covering and reviving me whenever necessary. It was a multiplayer experience akin to Journey, where, without speaking to this guy, I was working alongside him, towards the simple goal of getting a fuller experience of the game.
Once Destiny launches in earnest, I expect there'll be moments like this every day.
In light of all that, and the fact Destiny isn't strictly complete yet, I'm hesitant to offer much criticism. What I will say, however, is that despite all the lustre, the game feels lifeless, anaesthetic.
Aesthetically it's comprised of polished structures and magical technology. The enemies are indistinct – they're plain, vaguely humanoid things wearing masks, cloaks and laser rifles. Everything about Destiny is pristine. It feels like the game is being showcased behind a velvet rope – you can't reach in and touch it.
NPCs are essentially hubs for swapping items. The horizons are impressive but impossible to actually visit. Even the aforementioned Tower is lacking in ambient noise, or any sense of bustle. It's definitely gorgeous but again, like a cathedral, you don't ever feel at home.
Perhaps these things will be changed before launch. Perhaps not. Either way, Destiny is set to become a staggering example of game-making.