Archives for posts with tag: FPS


Back before Destiny launched – about three years ago now – I wrote an excitable, detailed piece about the PS4 alpha test. Clearly I was onboard. But if you were to search my blog for more on Bungie’s shared world shooter, you’d turn up a single extra article since launch – an unboxing of the game’s limited edition.

So what happened? Did I hate the game? Did I abandon it altogether? No. I played Destiny for a while, and for a while I loved it. Then I reached the end of the story, and I fell out of love.

My issues with vanilla Destiny are manifold, and I’ll get into them later (indeed, some of them still persist, to varying degrees). But as the release of Destiny 2 looms ever nearer, I find myself getting drawn back to the game I so desperately wanted to love. And so, over the last few weeks, I’ve been revisiting it, now as different an experience as it is similar, to see if I really want to buy in to the sequel.

I’m probably going to get Destiny 2.

To be clear, this isn’t the first time I’ve returned. After walking away from the original game shortly after reaching level 20, and having killed a weird, pulsating cosmic heart that no one cared to even begin to explain, the excitement around the following year’s The Taken King piqued my interest. “It’s got a story now!” people would tell me, adding “there’s a lot more for solo players to do,” and “levelling is much better explained this time!”

They weren’t wrong, to be fair. I swallowed a mouthful of bile at having to re-buy Destiny and its first two expansions to play The Taken King and again, I had a lot of fun with it. And what do you know, it did have a story! A fairly decent one too, even if it still could have done with a touch more explanation (pipe down, Stranger).

Eventually though, I stopped playing again, and it’s at this point I should probably detail what my issues with Destiny were (are?). To begin with, it’s probably worth pointing out why I was so excited for the game; as a huge Halo campaign fan, I’m used to being a bit of a lore nerd, scrounging around for clues about the mysteries of the universe, be they from snippets of obscure dialogue, hidden terminals or even extended universe novels, and I couldn’t wait to get stuck into Bungie’s next big mythic sci-fi setting. What I got was… well, a mess, quite frankly, with a campaign that almost gloried in paper thin characters sending you on inexplicable missions packed with vague objectives against inscrutable enemies. True, the Grimoire card system hinted at a deep, interesting pool of lore beyond the surface, and it’s worth pointing out that some stories are told in those cards that probably wouldn’t work in-game, but the campaign itself exposed virtually none of that storytelling to players, instead choosing to offer up a disjointed, unsatisfying attempt at a narrative that had quite clearly been chopped up and sewn back together wrong sometime prior to release – something that Kotaku’s Jason Schreier later confirmed. I don’t want to sound overly dramatic, but it genuinely saddened me that Destiny‘s story was such a shambles, and I don’t think it’d be unfair to call it a disaster.

Oryx: not a looker.

As mentioned, 2015’s big expansion The Taken King did much to fix that state of affairs, offering a simpler yet more engaging tale told by actual characters, rather than cardboard cut-outs. It also introduced the Books of Sorrow, which remains the best storytelling in the entire saga (even if, again, we see very little of its intriguing detail in the game itself).

Another big reason for my interest in Destiny was my love of roleplaying games as a genre. A Halo RPG, you say? Sounds like my dream game, sign me up! Unfortunately, another of Destiny‘s missteps was the arcane levelling system after you hit the soft level cap of 20, whereupon any further XP earned would be converted into Motes of Light which you then… You know what, I can’t even remember. I barely engaged with it. I briefly tried to wrap my head around it, and then walked away, rather than grind my face against the backside of RNGesus. Thankfully, The Taken King changed things so that every piece of armour you wear and weapon you wield adds to your overall Light level. Equip a better piece of gear and your Light will go up. Simple! Quite why it had to be so mind-bending in the base game, I don’t know. Still, even with these changes in place, I once more walked away from the game partway through The Taken King, just as I had with vanilla, because my main issue with the game still persisted. And honestly, it’s a complaint that isn’t even fair to level at the game.

Each time, what made me walk away from Destiny is the fact that you can only get so far as a solo player. After a while, you need to group up with others if you want to actually progress further and see everything the game has to offer.

Well d’uh, you’re probably saying, and yes, I know – like I said, it’s not really a fair criticism of the game, given that’s its fundamental nature. It’s just that it doesn’t really work for me, as a typically solitary player that happens to jump into a game whenever I have the time; it’s difficult to schedule a raid when you don’t know if you’re going to be free (or if you can even be arsed when the time slot rolls around). I also don’t really want my gaming time to feel like a commitment, like I have to do something, rather than want to, because that way resentment lies.

Yet even with all that said, Destiny has always been in the back of my mind, and I’ve long thought that I’d like to go back to it and see what the end-game is all about. It’d take a bit of effort on my part (and I had once made the effort to get in on a run through the Vault of Glass, the raid that shipped with the base game), but with Destiny 2 on the horizon, and the thought that I’d quite like to get in on the ground level with the new instalment, I managed to ingratiate myself with a group of friendly players and go raiding. And it’s been great! Having recently run through both Crota’s End and King’s Fall, I can finally see what all the fuss is about. Destiny‘s raids really are the game at its very best, and that’s even more evident when you have a good, patient, friendly group to talk you through the often opaque, dense mechanics. I’ve never had a group to play the game with before, which has always made it very easy to walk away from, and it’s really thanks to the guys over at Town Called Malice that I was even able to experience them. It’s also pretty much down to them that I’m almost certain to buy Destiny 2 now, whereas before I was just sort of interested. ONE OF US. Or, them, I guess.

Destiny has always offered some incredible vistas. Sorry this one’s a bit rubbish.

I’m not sure how well I’ll adapt to scheduling playtimes and such, as it’s probably going to take some kind of rewiring of my brain to get properly into Destiny full-time, but I definitely want to get deeper into it this time out. And as much as I’m fully on-board the hype train now (or, well, I at least have a ticket), there are some things that have given me pause lately. Last month, it emerged that Destiny 2 was doing away with the Grimoire system, with Bungie’s Steve Cotton telling Forbes, “we want to put the lore in the game. We want people to be able to find the lore.” On the face of it, this is a really good change; the Grimoire has long been a complaint for a couple of reasons, mainly that it keeps the lore outside of the game, and having more story exposed to players while they’re in-universe is very obviously a good thing. But as I noted above, the Grimoire also plays host to some excellent story content that simply couldn’t be done in the game – unless it was loaded with lengthy cutscenes and flashbacks, which people would also complain about. As a counterpoint to this, how fucking cool would it have been to discover bits of the Books of Sorrow in a mission on the Dreadnaught, where you slowly pieced together the history of the Hive and discovered the means to defeat Oryx? If this kind of storytelling is what Bungie is going for, then consider me all in. But if all the stuff that doesn’t play an active role in the current story, yet manages to provide flavour and context to the universe is gone? Well, that’s probably not great.

More worrying are the recent pieces of news taken from a couple of interviews with Design Director Luke Smith, where he suggests that seemingly important pieces of the Destiny puzzle may not make a return. First, responding to a question from PC Gamer about whether we’d see the mystery of the Exo Stranger cleared up in Destiny 2, Smith explained that “we have a bunch of characters who are interesting, but the Exo Stranger is one that always makes me chuckle a little bit. Because I feel that’s one character where we actually wrapped up the arc. She gave you a sweet gun and then dissolved, presumably off to do something else. So I feel like, of all of our characters we’ve introduced and exited, we actually exited her effectively.”

For those not familiar with the character, the Stranger was a female Exo that effectively led you by the nose through the original game’s campaign, directing you as much as, if not more than, any other character in the story. She never explained herself, her goal, or her reasons for aiding you, and was often heard talking to some unknown ally before abruptly disappearing. At the end of the game, she offered you her rifle, which is seemingly made of parts that shouldn’t yet exist, before telling the player, “all ends are beginnings. Our fight is far from over.” So to consider her story over is odd at best, and to think her arc was ended “effectively” is absolutely ridiculous. Imagine if Cortana just didn’t turn up in Halo 2! I suspect (hope?) that, given the character’s popularity and potential for future storytelling, that she will eventually wind her way back into a future game or expansion, but given Smith’s statement that her arc is done, I won’t hold my breath until I see it for myself.

I don’t even have time to explain why her story wasn’t “effectively” wrapped up.

A couple of days after the PC Gamer interview, Smith appeared on Kotaku’s podcast, where it was confirmed that The Darkness, the formless, ancient evil of the Destiny universe, would not be appearing in Destiny 2. This makes sense, as the Cabal are the main focal antagonist of the new game, and they aren’t really allied with the Darkness, certainly not in the way other races such as the Hive or Vex are. What was a bit worrying about this was Smith’s reaction to Jason Schreier’s question of whether the omission was because nobody actually knew what the Darkness was: “So, I think that at a point, just totally candidly? We had no idea what it was. Straight up. We had no clue.”

Hmm. Let’s go back to the earlier Kotaku story, which revealed that Destiny underwent massive rewrites a year out from release. We know that Joe Staten and his team of writers spent years building the narrative foundation of Destiny, and we know that the studio leadership didn’t like how it all hung together. Even if the Darkness wasn’t formally laid out, I find it difficult to believe that there weren’t at least deep hooks written into everything else that strongly suggested where the overarching tale was headed; 343 industries’ Frank O’Connor, himself a Bungie alum, has previously stated that much of the current direction of the Halo series arose from discussions at Bungie around what a potential continuation would be, as an example.

With Staten now back at Microsoft, I wonder how much of the comments surrounding the Stranger and the Darkness are about the current writing team wanting to throw out the last vestiges of the original outline, in an effort to more thoroughly put their stamp on Destiny. Smith’s elaboration perhaps supports this: “We didn’t know what it was, and we, for a period, we chose [that] we’re going to lump all the races [in together], and you see this in the tooltips in the game — ‘minions of the darkness.’ And we had taken all the races and said, ‘Ah, they’ll just be The Darkness.’ But that’s not what the IP deserves.”

That’s not what the IP deserves. That, to me, says the Darkness will return, but only when they’ve decided what the current team want their Darkness to be. I won’t say that’s necessarily a bad thing – it may even free them up to tell better stories – but I have to admit to some level of disappointment that we’ll likely never know how the universe of Destiny was originally meant to unfold. After the good work done on The Taken King, however, in both storytelling and gameplay terms, I’m certainly willing to give Smith and his team the benefit of the doubt, even if he does have a bit of a habit of inserting his foot firmly into his mouth and somehow managing to leave a bad taste for everyone.

After months of teasing, Blizzard have finally unveiled Sombra, the newest hero for Overwatch.

The announcement happened at Blizzcon, Blizzard’s annual convention, and revealed Sombra to be an offensive hero. With the (overlong) ARG leaning heavily on her exploits as a world class hacker, many thought she’d be either a defense or utility support hero, and while she does have a few useful utility abilities in her bag of tricks, which we’ll get onto shortly, she’s basically a backline harasser who looks to be quite capable of dishing out large amounts of damage with her SMG.

As an offensive hero, it’ll come as no surprise to learn that Sombra has some movement abilities to help her get around. In some ways, she almost seems like a bit of a mix of Tracer and Reaper; like Tracer, Sombra can teleport, though she does this by throwing an Unreal Tournament-style Translocator that remains in place for fifteen seconds. Perhaps you’ll throw it on a health pack, go and cause some havoc, and then port back to replenish your health. Or perhaps you’ll fling it over the heads of your enemies to appear behind them and harry their backline.

Sombra has long been thought to be a stealthy character, and her other movement ability ties into that. Her Thermoptic Camouflage renders her basically invisible for a handful of seconds, granting her a massive speed boost into the bargain, and it comes across like a stealthy take on Reaper’s Wraith Form, essentially taking her out of the fight briefly and allowing her to get around at speed. Of course, should she attack or be attacked while cloaked, Sombra will drop out of stealth. Using it in conjunction with the translocator should allow her to get in and out at will and really upset the enemy team’s setup.

But what about those utility abilities that we mentioned earlier? Well, being a top hacker, Sombra can of course, well, hack. Holding her alt fire (right click on PC, most likely left trigger on consoles) allows her to begin hacking an enemy, which will temporarily lock their abilities. Is there a Genji on the other team that’s really annoying you? Hack him to deny him his deflect and then go to town! Or hack that Zarya to prevent her from giving out shields.

BOOP!

Perhaps the most exciting use of Sombra’s hack, however, and the one that will probably be the biggest help to your team, is her ability to hack health packs. While hacked, these not only respawn much, much faster but can also no longer be used by enemy players. And while Sombra’s hack has a six second cooldown – and affects enemies for the same amount of time – a hacked health pack will remain so for a full minute and is not undone if you hack something else, so it should be possible to run around and basically salt the earth, so far as enemy health pickups are concerned. Focus down the enemy healer, and this becomes an ability that could seriously turn the tide. Hacking takes a second or two, cannot be initiated while in stealth, and taking damage will interrupt the attempt, so you’ll have to pick your targets carefully.

Sombra’s ultimate is also quite a Support-y ability, as she sends out an area-of-effect EMP pulse that not only hacks all enemies in range, but also dissipates all shields and barriers. That means Reinhart’s barrier is gone. Zarya’s shields are gone. Has Lucio just dropped the beat? That’s all gone too. It’s basically a massive leveller, and I can see it maybe being a touch controversial; I can’t argue too much with it cancelling out ults like Lucio’s, as his and Zenyatta’s ults basically already exist to nullify offensive ultimates. What might be taking things a touch too far is the added effect of also hacking everyone in range, disabling all of their abilities on top of the shield-wipe. It might prove to be too powerful, but I guess we’ll see as Sombra moves into the PTR next week, and then later onto the live servers for more players to get to grips with. But as things stand, I really quite like the look of Sombra as a stealthy, debilitating assault hero. She looks like she’ll be an absolute blast to play, and I can’t wait to get to grips with her.

Along with the character intro above, a new animated short was also shown at Blizzcon, detailing some of her background and operations with Talon operatives Reaper and Widowmaker. You can see the short, called Infiltration, below.

Also announced at Blizzcon were several updates and additions coming to the game. To begin with, we got some detail on a couple of new maps, beginning with a 6v6 control point space called Oasis, which is set in a shining, high-tech city in the Middle East, perhaps reminiscent of Dubai. The other new environment, Eco Point Antarctica, is a smaller map made to host some new modes under an ‘Arcade’ banner, which serves as a new spot for the game’s brawls to live in, as well as an outlet for a bit of experimentation. In Arcade, we’ll be seeing a couple of smaller-scale skirmish modes, like the 1v1 Mystery Brawl. A best-of-nine mode, the Mystery Brawl will see players given the same CPU-picked hero, with the first player to five rounds emerging victorious. There’s also 3v3 Elimination, which has no hero stacking and only allows players to switch out their characters between rounds. There’s no respawning, so get eliminated and you’ll be sitting on the sidelines waiting for the next round to begin.

It’s good to see Blizzard trying out some new modes in the game, but at the moment 1v1 just strikes me as a gimmick. It also remains to be seen how well team play, Overwatch‘s strongest suit, will be represented in what is effectively a TDM variant in 3v3 Elimination. Hopefully it won’t just boil down to three offense heroes lining up against another three damage dealers. The Hallowe’en brawl, Junkenstein’s Revenge, got us all hyped for a proper PvE co-op experience, so it’s a shame that we aren’t getting something more like that. Hopefully, as Arcade mode grows, we’ll see some more experimental modes.

Last but certainly not least, we’re also going to be seeing some changes to Quick Play, which will now have a one hero limit, bringing it into line with Competitive in that regard. Don’t worry though, if you love stacking heroes, there’ll be a mode in Arcade called 6v6 No Limits to pick up the slack. Whether it will be as well-populated as Quick Play, however, we shall have to wait and see – if hero stacking is what you love about Quick Play, this news might be a bit worrisome.

Still, it’s good to see Blizzard in something of an experimental mood with Overwatch, and with a new hero, new maps and Arcade mode all on the horizon, fans certainly won’t be short of things to do.

Master Chief Remastered Cutscene Halo 2
Before it was formally announced at this year’s E3, I didn’t really believe that Halo: The Master Chief Collection was actually a thing. Being a massive fan(boy) of the franchise, I wanted to believe, but it just seemed like too big of an ask – four games remade for Xbox One over the course of two years? Madness.

Of course, we know now that only one of those games is getting such lavish treatment, but fans will still be getting plenty of content for their money. And while the Master Chief Collection will be very handy for anyone looking to jump into the series for the first time before Halo 5: Guardians drops next year, what this really represents is a glorious celebration of the Master Chief saga. It’s pure fanservice.

The package collects all of the main games in the series (meaning that ODST, Wars and Reach are all left out in the cold) and unites them under what 343 is calling the ‘Master Menu’. From here, you can launch any of the four games, or just jump straight into a specific mission; because 343 understand that fans will have played, and thus know, these games inside and out, everything is unlocked from the get go. Fancy a trip through Halo 3‘s ‘Covenant’ level? Go for it – you can jump straight in. But even better than that, the developer will be curating campaign playlists, selections that will group together similar levels from across all four campaigns, such as levels featuring warthogs or scorpion tanks. There will also be one mega-playlist for the committed Halo fan which will take in all four games, from the start of Combat Evolved to the end of Halo 4.

Halo Master Chief Collection Master Menu

Of course, while this is a collection, there are two big draws for fans to look forward to this November, the first of which is a remastered Halo 2. 2014 is the ten-year anniversary of the original Xbox game, and so, like Combat Evolved three years back, it’s getting the full-on remake treatment. Just like Combat Evolved Anniversary, Halo 2 Anniversary will be running two game engines; the original 2004 iteration underneath, and a new rendering layer on top to offer more modern character modelling, environmental lighting and more. This means that players will again be able to switch between both the old and the new looks at the press of a button, and while this incurred a short fade-out before, it’s now instantaneous.

Audio has also been completely re-recorded at Skywalker Sound, and switching between modes will also switch between the original and remastered soundtrack. Lastly, Blur (the studio responsible for Halo Wars‘ fantastic cutscenes) have remade all of the game’s cinematics, replacing the original in-engine cutscenes for incredible new pre-rendered versions, even reframing them where necessary. They’re mind-blowingly good, verging on photorealism here and there – just look at character faces.

But enough of what’s new. That other big draw I mentioned? That’ll be the multiplayer suite, which preserves the PvP modes from across all four games and brings them together just like the campaigns. The collection contains every map ever released for Halo (including some which were previously PC-exclusive), meaning there are over a hundred to battle through, all accessible through one interface. Select a playlist, and the game will throw up relevant maps from across the entire saga for players to vote on. Once a map is selected, it’ll be loaded up – in that game’s original multiplayer engine, meaning that every game played, every shot fired, every grenade thrown will play out just as we remember it, just as we expect it to.

Back in May, when the collection was still just a rumour, I started thinking about what shape the multiplayer component might take. What we’re actually getting is pretty close to my dream mode:

If I could have my dream Halo multiplayer mode included in this collection, it would be one experience rather than four disparate, game-specific modes. This single Halo multiplayer universe would be a relatively ‘pure’ Halo experience, perhaps modelled after Halo 3‘s multiplayer, and would include all the maps from all four games. If people wanted to play a more Halo 4-style game, have that as its own playlist – its own mode, like Griffball or Infection, but again, playable across all the series maps

In fact, what we’re getting is even better – the actual multiplayer from all four games, as it was, but all accessible in one mode. It’s like a museum for Halo multiplayer, encompassing everything it has ever been (minus Reach, of course), but all in one place. Microsoft closed down the original Xbox Live a few years back, rendering Halo 2‘s genre-defining online modes unplayable, but now we’re getting it back, as it existed back then. And Combat Evolved? That never even had online multiplayer over Xbox Live, but we’re getting it here. And best of all, it means no splitting of the playerbase; at least until Halo 5: Guardians is out, the entire Halo community on Xbox One will be concentrated around one title – one title with the potential, not to mention the variety, to keep people hooked in for literally the rest of the generation.

As an extra sweetener to the deal, 343 are also remastering six of Halo 2‘s most iconic arenas for a new multiplayer experience built on an upgraded Halo 4 engine, so fans get the best of both worlds – an unadulterated Halo 2 multiplayer experience, and the chance to see those maps that are burned into their retinas in glorious 2014-o-vision.

Zanzibar Halo 2 Anniversary

What makes this more than just a simple remake project is 343’s dedication to making sure everything is as we remember it, from how the game plays to the glitches (such as Halo 2‘s notorious BXR button combo) that fans exploited in multiplayer. To this end, they even went as far as keeping two separate bug lists during development – one for already-existing bugs that they wanted to leave in, and one for anything they might introduce during the porting process that they do want to squash.

It’s this attention to detail that really elevates the collection into fanservice territory – newcomers wouldn’t know about the skill jumps, the glitches, the button combo exploits. But fans do, and they want them to be there, they want the games to feel right. Of course, this runs the risk of alienating newcomers – no one is going to have fun if they’re being constantly steamrollered by veteran, ninja players – and so Frank O’Connor, Franchise Development Director at 343, has a plan. “[B]ack in the Halo 2 days, for example, we tried to not expose… things like BXR and stuff because they gave people an unfair advantage,” he told the audience at SDCC. “I think our approach this time will be a little bit different and pretty opposite, and where there are things like fun glitches we’re gonna try and explain how those work to people so that they’re not in the dark, and, you know, there’s like five jerks on the other team not telling them why they have infinite ammo.”

As well as acting as a compilation of the series’ history, the Master Chief Collection also looks to the future of the franchise: included in the package is the digital series Halo: Nightfall, which introduces us to Agent Locke – a character that will be starring alongside the Master Chief in Halo 5: Guardians – as well as including access to a multiplayer beta for the upcoming game. It adds to that feel of the collection as a museum for the Halo franchise; by looking to the series’ past and gaining understand from it, perhaps we can chart the course for its future. 343 is further reinforcing this by adding new ‘bookend’ cutscenes in-between the existing games that somehow tie into Halo 5: Guardians – perhaps framed as Locke poring over the details of the Master Chief’s exploits as he sets out to find the legendary Spartan?

Halo Anniversary 2 Master Chief Grunt

Of course, more cynical gamers will always look upon remakes and remasters as nothing but a cash-grab designed to fill the gaps in a release schedule, but in this instance that kind of attitude just isn’t warranted; 343 seem intent on respecting both the source material and their audience. Clearly, a lot of work has gone into the Master Chief Collection, and at the price of a single game, it represents fantastic value for money. And, for me at least, it’s great to see publishers willing to celebrate the great series that give us so much joy. Games are often deeply personal things to the people that play them, so it’s always nice to see their creators respecting that connection.

And this approach seems to be gaining some traction in the market right now. Square-Enix’s Theatrhythm titles are basically playable compendia of Final Fantasy music, with tracks set to famous landmarks and cutscenes from across the series, starring dozens of characters from throughout the franchise’s history. Likewise, Nintendo’s upcoming Hyrule Warriors packs in so many references to multiple games from across the Zelda series that it can only be seen as a great big slice of fanservice, even if it is approaching it from the angle of a Dynasty Warriors mash-up. But with the amount of content, thought and effort 343 is packing into their very own fanservice project, it manages to effortlessly outdo either.

Before Halo 4 launched, fans rightly had doubts as to whether the series could thrive with Bungie out of the picture. That game proved that 343 has what it takes to make a Halo game, and the Master Chief Collection proves that they really understand where the series came from. With Bungie now hard at work on the excellent Destiny and 343 continuing to expand the Halo franchise, it’s a good time to be a fan of this particular breed of sci-fi shooter.

Cross-posted on 16bitkings

destmoonpic_edited
As a long-time Halo fanboy, Destiny has been on my radar ever since the first details leaked out. Bungie’s previous universe has kept me enthralled for over a decade now, and I couldn’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve ploughed through those campaigns, fighting mysterious alien forces across ancient-yet-advanced landscapes in an effort to uncover the history of these awe-inspiring constructs and the stories hidden within. Now, with Destiny, I’m ready to do it all over again.

The recent beta wasn’t my first tilt at Destiny’s world however, as I managed to get a download code for the PS4-exclusive alpha back in June, so the bulk of my initial impressions will be from that. The beta itself was essentially an expanded version of that first playable slice, so those impressions still stand having played through all the extra content, which I will touch on a little further down the page.

Before jumping into the game proper, you’ll be prompted to create a character from three base classes: Warlock, Titan and Hunter. The latter of these is a nimble scout, able to double-jump in and out of danger quickly, and possessed of a super attack called ‘Golden Gun’ that grants you three incredibly powerful shots from a glowing hand cannon. The Titan is more tank-y, and gets a powerful ground-pound super that will likely have you shouting “HULK SMASH!” every time you use it, and finally the Warlock is basically a space mage, blessed with an awesome area-of-effect, damage-over-time Nova Bomb that can clear an entire room if used effectively. In both the alpha and the beta, I went with the Warlock class, because if you offer me the use of magic, I’m going to use magic.

warlock

Diving into the game itself, the first thing that struck me was how much the game felt, sounded and even looked like Halo: Reach (certainly in that game’s more muted, earthy colour palette) – unsurprising, given that that was Bungie’s last release before work began on Destiny. It was gratifying to find that, while Destiny is a new start for the Washington-based developer, they haven’t discarded what makes them who they are – that tight handling, the holy trinity of guns, grenades and melee, those glorious skyboxes, and of course, that leisurely, floaty jump.

There’s more Halo DNA present than just looks, movement and control, too. Enemy weapons can be traced back to guns in Halo’s arsenal; certain Fallen wield weapons that shoot glowing rounds that track you like Needler bolts, while others are armed with mid-range rifles that act almost exactly like a Covenant Carbine. Hive Knights, meanwhile, fire large, arcing bolts of energy at you that can knock you back just like Halo; Reach‘s concussion rifle. The difference here is that you can’t liberate these firearms from your vanquished enemies – at least, not in the beta anyway.

But this isn’t Halo, this is Bungie’s bet for the next ten years of their existence and they’re looking to mix things up a bit. So what’s different? Well, the most immediately obvious change is in the RPG mechanics that govern how your character evolves. Bungie want you to play Destiny for a long time, and besides breadth of content, the method to keep you tied in is character personalisation. Your avatar is the in-game representation of your self, more so here than in the average shooter, and as such you can customise your appearance (picking either gender across three ‘races’), and every class has its own skill tree to work through as you complete quests and earn XP towards that next upgrade. As you work your way along the tree, you’ll boost your base stats, add modifiers to your super to keep it evolving, unlock new grenade types and more.

And then there’s equipment, many pieces of which also come with their own upgrade trees. Guns can be levelled up to do more damage, apply different types of elemental effects or add new scopes, while armour can add passive boosts to your strength or discipline stats, which lower your cooldown on your class-specific melee ability and supers respectively. Speaking of the classes, as of the beta, which had a level 8 cap in place to stop us from progressing too far, the three don’t feel too dissimilar – the Titan needs to get in closer than the other two to use their super, but other than that they’re all very capable of taking down enemies. There’s no hard separation between the likes of DPS, mage or tank to really pick out, and while I don’t think Bungie will be going too far down that route, I would expect to see the classes diverge a bit more noticeably towards the endgame.

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The next thing you’ll probably notice is the game’s sense of scale. The area we’re given to roam around in, while not on the scale of your average open-world game, is vast for an FPS. Granted, Halo has always had large levels, but Destiny‘s play spaces push the boundaries out even further, giving you plenty of real estate to explore and populating it with hordes of enemies to shoot. It’s not just the sheer size that marks a change though; these aren’t wide-but-linear levels to work through from one end to the other, Old Russia – the chunk of world entrusted to us in both the alpha and beta – is a wide-open space that allows you the freedom to reach almost any point you can see, whenever you feel like it, and fills it with mission objectives that take you all over the map.

Halo has always had co-op, and it’s always been a blast to burn through the massed ranks of the Covenant with a friend or three, but Destiny‘s doing something a bit different with co-operative multiplayer too, something that also plays into that sense of scale. Since the early reveals, Bungie have been very cagey about the term MMO, though it’s a little hard to understand their reticence. While Destiny isn’t a full-blown PC-style MMORPG, it sits somewhere between those experiences and the smaller-scale co-operative play of something like Borderlands. On your travels, you’ll often come across other players that you are free to completely ignore if you wish, but, besides paying a visit to the player hub Tower (to buy new gear or maybe just dance on top of huge industrial fans) there are a number of co-operative things you can do.

Firstly, you can join with other players manually to create a three-person fireteam to take on missions and strikes (the latter of which is basically your MMO dungeon run analogue, with mobs to defeat on your way to sub- and end-bosses), while public events are random occurrences in the game’s ‘explore’ spaces that task whoever is around with defending an area or defeating increasingly-difficult waves of enemies. If you’ve ever played Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, these are very much like that game’s FATEs, though their spawn rate feels much, much lower, making them a fairly rare occurrence in the beta.

Lastly, Bungie has promised end-game raids for teams of six, though it has recently been confirmed that these will be friends-only – perhaps a necessity, given how much preparation and focussed teamwork will be needed for these lengthy, high-level affairs, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see matchmaking added for raid content post-launch.

While there was a decent amount of content to enjoy in the alpha, the scope that Bungie are aiming for really became apparent in the beta, which added a handful of extra story missions that pad out our understanding of what’s happening in the early hours of the game, as well as hint at where the narrative might lead in the full release. Story is one of my favourite elements of the Halo series (yes, I’ve read all the books and everything), so it was great to get some indication of the threads that will be pulling us through Bungie’s new ‘mythic science-fiction’ universe.

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After being revived in the wastes of Old Russia by Ghost, our Peter Dinklage-voiced AI companion (who cryptically informs us that we’ve been dead for a very long time), we fight through the Fallen infested perimeter wall in an effort to find a jumpship to escape back to the safety of the Last City, the only place on Earth still protected by the enormous Traveller that hovers overhead. After spending some time kitting out our Guardian and acquiring a personal transport, Ghost informs us that the Fallen seem to be searching for something in the ruins of the area’s decrepit machines.

Battling through Fallen and Hive forces, we discover what they were searching for: the Warmind Rasputin, a vast machine intelligence that once marshalled humankind’s Golden Age military against the forces of Darkness. Our final story mission in Old Russia – an attempt to activate an ancient array station that could connect us to humanity’s long lost colonies – leaves us on something of a cliffhanger: we find that Rasputin not only survived the collapse, but is still active. Though we can’t reach him, he teases us with images of places that will be important in the battles to come, one of which is Earth’s moon.

And if you were lucky enough to log in during a two-hour period last Saturday, you’d have had the opportunity to explore our dusty satellite, as well as taking in a short mission. Views on the moon are utterly gorgeous, with a twinkling starfield stretching into infinity and the blue marble of the Earth hanging high in your view. Abandoned human bases dot the landscape, while chunks of rock and enormous pits hide sinister Hive installations that hint at some of the more exotic architecture we’ll see in the full release, like the Temple of Crota at the mission’s end – who knew that there was a gothic biomechanical church built by HR Giger on our moon?

So far, so positive – though I do have some concerns. So far, enemy AI doesn’t seem as challenging as a Halo encounter: I’ve lost count of the amount of times that, for instance, an Elite has managed to flank me while I’m reloading or waiting for my shield to recharge in Halo: Reach, somehow managing to get into my blind spot and creep around behind me to spin-kick me to death. As adept as Destiny‘s opponents are at ducking in and out of cover and retreating when I advance, nothing like the above situation happened during the beta. Of course, enemy difficulty will likely be toned down when you’re out in the open, given their propensity to respawn endlessly (a necessity for a game like this to work); in more closely-packed encounters in bases and other interiors the AI does pose more of a threat, though this is mostly because you have less room to manoeuvre. These more claustrophobic encounters do however force you to pick your targets and identify the major threats more effectively, something that was always a major part of the Halo experience on higher difficulties.

Additionally, one of the worries I had during the alpha persists into the beta, and that’s the depth of the side quests. Dotted around the play space are glowing green beacons that confer short missions upon you – missions that invariably take the form of that old mmo staple ‘kill/collect x of y’. These missions aren’t particularly well-communicated in terms of what you’re supposed to be doing and why, and they often lead to spells of running around waiting for mobs to respawn and then killing them for their precious docking caps or whatever. Of course, the core combat and environmental traversal, not to mention the carrot of an ever-increasing XP bar, mean that the missions remain fairly engaging so long as you don’t spend too long focussing exclusively on them. I hope to see more depth to these mini quests in the full game, however.

Lastly, there’s the Crucible, Destiny‘s competitive multiplayer suite. I must admit that I hardly touched this aspect of the game; during alpha, I watched a few streams and didn’t really like what I was seeing, but towards the end of the beta period I decided to jump in and see what it was all about. I played a match of 6v6 Control – essentially a King of the Hill game-type – using my maxed out Warlock equipped with all my best gear, and I found it to be quite unbalanced. I was plugging half a magazine into opponents before they dropped, but frequently got taken down in two or three shots, which was frustrating to say the least.

I’m not much of a competitive multiplayer gamer but I do enjoy Halo MP, and the main reason for that is how well-balanced it tends to be – you can guarantee that everyone has the same base stats and access to the same weapons on the map. Granted, Destiny is charting a different path with its emphasis on RPG-style progression and gear, so it’d be a bit strange if its PvP didn’t leverage that in some way, but I think it’s just not for me.

That’s fine though. PvP isn’t what’s drawing me to the game (and I’ll soon have the Halo: Master Chief Collection to take care of my competitive FPS needs). No, what’s drawing me to Destiny is the promise of a hybrid of two of my favourite things – Bungie’s unique brand of science fiction shooting and RPGs – mixed in with the ability to co-operatively quest through the game’s vast worlds with friends. The developer recently announced that almost five million players logged into the beta, so hopefully many more people will be drawn into the full game. After all, if we are to gather forth our Guardians to face down the Darkness on September 9th, we’re going to need all the friends we can get.

Cross-posted on 16bitkings