Destiny, a multiplayer online first person shooter that will release later this year, held its open beta this past weekend. People came. They shot guns. They battles aliens and robots. They explored. They even did the Harlem Shake. So many people played that Activision is reporting that it was the largest beta of this console generation (over 4.6 million players took part in it)! We learned a LOT about Destiny and how it will play. I spent a lot of time in the beta. I did everything you could do and I have to say that I came away very impressed with the entire experience. It really feels like Bungie and Activision have something here.
I’m just going to get this out of the way. Destiny was gorgeous. I might have had a slightly different perspective since I was playing the game on the Xbox One, but it impressed me every single time it had the chance to do so. The level of detail Bungie was able to achieve in this post apocalyptic sci-fi world was phenomenal and we were only able to see Earth and the Moon. There are still several planets to visit in the full game and I am sure that Bungie has spared no effort in fully realizing their alien landscapes. If you like games where you can sit back and enjoy the scenery this should be high on your list.
The Family Factor
I won’t go so far as to say that Destiny is “kid friendly.” It has been rated T for Teen by the ESRB, but it earns every bit of that T rating with its intense action. All of the conflict resolution is done through gunplay. Its saving grace comes in the fact that, at least through the content in the beta, all of your enemies are irredeemable, monstrous, evil aliens who attack you on site. There are no moral choices here. You’ve got bad guys to deal with before they deal with you. It also doesn’t hurt that players turn into a glowing blue ball of energy when they die as opposed to falling over and laying their like a corpse.
At its peak the action is a roughly as intense as the final action sequence in The Avengers. Destiny is ever-so-slightly more intense as a result of the first person perspective. In the end, the decision to let your children watch you play is going to be a judgment call, but if you let them watch the Marvel films and other similar action titles, then it really comes down to your opinion on guns.
All content aside, this is a very challenging game. First person shooter games are incredibly difficult for inexperienced players to control. If this is the first time a player has had to use one stick to move and another to aim this will be a VERY difficult game to play. The developer includes some aim assistance to help players, but it isn’t really enough to make the game playable.
The MMO connection
One of my biggest questions going into the beta was about how much MMO was going to bleed into the game. MMO’s spiked in popularity in the last 5-6 years thanks to World of Warcraft and other games like it. But, that style of game is slowly losing its hold on the gaming audience. The long term success of the game hinges on how well they balance their shooter game play with the structure of an MMO. I came away from my experience pleasantly surprised.
Destiny is framed around a single narrative that revolves around a powerful being known as the Traveler. Players take on the role of Guardians who are led on a quest to help defend the Traveler and Earth’s last survivors. Bungie appears to have found a nice balance between pushing the framing narrative forward while still encouraging players to explore the lush worlds at their own pace.
The most interesting thing I discovered was that players can return to previously explored zones and look for glowing green beacons that will provide bite sized adventures for players to complete. As soon as you complete one another will spawn somewhere else on the map. This will continue infinitely and is a great way to relax while enjoying the social aspects of the game without the stress of the more intense strikes.
Playing Well With Others
Many online muliplayer games, like World of Warcraft, encourage players to communicate using chat channels. Players are constantly at risk of being bombarded by inappropriate content through these channels. Destiny safeguards its players by limiting their ability to communicate with anyone who is not on their “Fire Team.” This eliminated the biggest frustration that stems from playing other online shooters: other people. There are even options to mute voice chat entirely.
The best part about all of that is that players who chose not to use voice chat to communicate with others can still play with other people. They might have to get clever with their communication, but they will be able to group up and take on many of the challenges in the game.
I don’t regret my time with Destiny in the least. It was a very complete experience that avoided a lot of the frustrations that are common in other betas. Everything that I saw and did leads me to believe that Destiny will be a major player during this Holiday season and that this success will carry on for a very long time.