Destiny Public Alpha Impressions
In conjunction with E3, Bungie allowed all who had a PS4 and signed up for it to try out their alpha build of Destiny through the weekend. Since I’ve been looking forward to Destiny since it was announced I signed up as soon as humanly possible. I waited patiently (i.e. doing everything short of murder to pass the time) for the email that would contain my code for the alpha. When I had finally received my code, I immediately set off for adventure.

After quickly creating a Titan, one of the three classes of the game, I was instantly launched into alpha’s only story mission. From the starting area, I can immediately see the hulking remains of centuries old colony ships still sitting on their launch pads. With the clouds above circling, the grass and trees swaying with the wind, and a light snow falling to the ground, I take my first steps into Old Russia. Those first steps tell me something important right out of the gate. Anyone who never cared for Bungie’s best known franchise, Halo, are probably not going to care to play this one. The feel, the controls, and the gameplay are very similar to Halo and feel very much like Halo 6.0. This caused me a bit of concern at first, because lets face it, I’ve played every Halo (Halo: CE, Halo 2, Halo 3, Halo: ODST, Halo: Reach) by Bungie, and while I enjoyed them all, I’ve also played each one less than the one before. Not a good sign for a new franchise that plans on being around for the next decade.

Anyways, I press on to the mission waypoint to investigate the disturbance at the Cosmodrome Array stations. As I make my way, I engage the Fallen, one of the many enemy races you will face throughout Destiny, and some of the small differences and evolution of the gameplay from Bungie’s older games begin to emerge. Little additions like aiming down your weapons sights for more accurate shots, enhanced jumping mechanics, sliding after sprinting, and specialized grenades enhance the feel of the game and separate Destiny from old school Halo. In addition, the space magic abilities granted to you by the Traveler add an interesting dimension to combat. Yes, I said space magic, and very cool space magic it is. For the Titan, one of their major abilities allows you to leap into the air slamming the ground with your fists, causing a wave of light to ripple out from you vaporizing your foes. I could get use to powers like these. Crushing my enemies left and right with rifle, shotgun, and fists, I entered the array station. At this point you think I would've hit a loading screen or something, but the gameplay was seamless. The only indication I ever saw that the game had to load something was a quick flash of light when my buddies’ character would dematerialize and rematerialize in a split second while we were exploring.

“But, Killer! You handsome devil and master of all you survey, there has to be some kind of loading screen!?†You’re right. There is, but Bungie made it part of the experience of the game in a way. But I’ll come back to this later. Returning to the first mission, I was fighting my way through the station array and found the cause of the disturbance, putting an end to it with the judicial use of a shotgun blast to its face. The mission ends and a summary is shown detailing different items of interest. I exit the mission summary, and I finally enter the main menu.

The main “menu†and I use that word “menu†loosely, shows the ship you travel about on flying above the Earth, and displays information like who’s currently in your fire-team (party), their ships in formation with you, some on-screen options for inviting friends, opening your inventory, and the primary option you’ll be using “Set Destination.†Clicking this option opens up all the destinations you can travel to, at which point you click the location and confirm the selection. Within about 15 seconds you see you ship fly off screen, and it transition to a “loading screenâ€, during which you see your ship flying to your destination. During this time you may hear some chatter about the location you’re flying to, and after about 20 - 30 seconds of this your character will teleport down to the location ready to kick alien butt. Bungie made the “loading screens†part of your cinematic adventure. I admit this may become very boring in the future, but as of right now its pretty cool.

At this point, I want to talk about the inventory menu and how you manage your character’s gear. This is another area of design that I think Bungie has done well with. As with any other RPG, your character will collect new gear and weapons until it becomes a pain to manage it. In Destiny, you have five armor and three weapons slots. Each slot allows you to carry nine extra pieces of gear to switch out when you feel the need. Simply move the cursor over the gear slot and all the items you’re carrying that go in that slot will appear in a simple three by three grid next to the slot. Moving your cursor over the items will pop up a small viewing window showing stats and options for that item. High quality items offer upgrade paths, making the items better the longer you use them.

Another neat thing Bungie has done is given some of the better pieces of gear more detailed descriptions that give insights into Destiny’s in-game universe and history, and some of them can be pretty funny. An example of this is a high level helmet that is currently un-equipable due to the alpha level cap. The description of this item is: “I am DURDA-GNT SKULL BUCKET. Please bucket your skull before entering combat.†In my opinion, little touches like this really enhance the experience and help to flesh out the game world, and I’m looking forward to finding out what else Bungie has come up with for describing the gear in the Destiny universe.

You are probably wondering why I haven’t talked about the graphics of Destiny up until this point, and I do have a reason. Having super amazing graphics may help a game to shine, but I care less about the sharpness of the graphics than I do about the art style’s ability to convey an atmosphere or evoke an emotional response in my gaming. Does the level design complement the art? Do the textures convey the history of the area? For example, does the player feel the age around him as they walk down a darkened hallway, stepping through an area that hasn’t been trod by humans for centuries? So far, I think Bungie has hit that balance, but this is still an alpha, so I’ll hold off on final judgement until the final game is released. I’ll just say that first impressions are important, and so far mine are favorable.

So there you go, boys and boys who pretend to be girls on the internet, those are my thoughts and impressions about the Destiny alpha. There’s more I could talk about, but I believe since the alpha was truly a small scale but a very polished version of the final game, it might be a bit premature to over analyze or make generalizations about Destiny. Before Destiny releases on September 9, 2014, Bungie will do a public beta for those who pre-ordered the game or who received beta invites through other means on July 17, 2014. Hopefully I’ll bring you more details, information and opinions during the beta.
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