Destiny Diary – Day 1

Destiny Beta Title Screen
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Beta Day 1 – 17/07/2014 – Humble Beginnings

Greetings, fellow Guardians.

The PS4 Destiny Beta is upon us, and due to a very generous friend of mine, I’ve received a golden ticket to the wondrous chocolate factory that is Bungie’s testing period. I thought I’d record a Destiny diary over the coming days to keep a running log of my thoughts as I play through the Beta to one of the most anticipated next-gen games. So, without further ado, let’s get stuck into the slice of the brave new world on offer from the makers of Halo series.

First things first – it’s time to pick a character class and customise the hell out of it. Players in Destiny assume the role of a Guardian, and can choose from three different Guardian classes, Titan, Hunter and Warlock. Being a big fan of healing/support classes in class-based games, I decide to opt for the Warlock class. Warlocks appear to be a class of techno-wizards, complete with glowing purple energy balls of awesome-ness (I’m already sold) and from what I can gather they fill out the most support-like of roles out of the three classes. The Titan, which of course with a name like that, is the Tank class, and the Hunter is the DPS high-damage attacker, I presume that the Warlock is the supportive glue that helps out and buffs the other members of a fireteam (Destiny’s equivalent of an in-game party system).

With my class picked, now it’s time to choose a face. Player’s can choose between three races; Human, Awoken, and Exo. Humans are the same good ol’ Homo Sapiens we know and love, the Awoken are elegant blue Avatar-like eleven creatures and the Exo appear to be a creepy but cool blend of machine and insect – groovy.

The choices here are purely cosmetic, and I presume there will be more to use and unlock in the final game, but I imagine for the time being they will mostly satisfy the creative desires players will have to customise their Guardian to their liking. To match my Hunter Guardian buddy who’s waiting for me at the Tower (more on Hunters and the Tower in a few paragraphs) I choose an Awoken female with long blonde hair and a headband – cute.

The game starts, and I’m on the same old rusty-car strewn highway that was first shown off in the original E3 2013 demo – Old Russia. Pinter Dinklage, the voice of my Guardian’s personal AI/flying drone computer called a Ghost is nattering on in my ear about how I really need to get moving or risk getting blown to bits by some very agitated insect-looking men shown in the previous cutscene (I later learn these are called the Fallen), so I take his advice and set off to the small doorway that leads inside the big concrete structure ahead of me.

After battling through this tutorial level of sorts, and procuring a rusty but working ship at the end of it, I’m transported to the Tower, Destiny’s main player hub area. Here you can buy weapons and upgrades, access new missions and compete in PVP competitive multiplayer, and this is where things get really exciting.

I felt totally in awe of the atmosphere from the minute I beamed down Star Trek style onto the top of the Tower. Other players mill about in the same open space, and there’s a jovial and friendly air of co-operation to drink in. Newly arriving ships drop off players, who are often enthusiastically greeted by other daft groups of players, all dancing, jumping and gleefully messing around to their heart’s content.

Player’s are constantly moving around and arriving/leaving in this area, and it has the feel of a lively sci-fi marketplace from the likes of the Star Wars universe. Groups of players can be seen haggling with gun merchants, collecting packages and sending messages to other players using the postal system and checking in with their specific class leader to get new gear and updates. As a console player my whole life, this dose of MMO magic felt really different and exciting to me as I stepped out into this busy hive of player activity.

Throughout my first play session, I received friendly greetings and party invites from lots of players. Although it’s still very early days, the game feels like it has the potential to be a positive leap forward in terms of co-operation and friendly communication between questing Guardians. I’m sure competitive modes will still have the same trash-talking pottymouths that we all know and love/hate, but the air of friendly shared wonder in the co-operative story missions felt very exciting and fresh as a multiplayer experience.

What’s also fantastic is that your character speaks. I’m really thrilled about this small point, as it makes your interactions feel more connected to the NPCs and more meaningful as a result. I’m personally not a big fan of the non-speaking protagonist in games; although I have enjoyed my time whacking headcrabs in Gordon Freeman’s HEV suit, and shooting my way through the Covenant hordes in Master Chief’s MJOLNIR armour, experiences like these leave me feeling a bit underwhelmed. Even a classic game like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time always felt (controversial opinion incoming) a bit dumb to me when it came to the character dialogue. The fact that Link only is spoken to in conversations with other characters, and never speaks himself has its charm I know, but it just feels a bit lazy and uninspired to me. I appreciate that the idea is that you become these characters by filling in their own voices and personalities with your own, but I’d personally much rather play from the perspective of a more nuanced and developed character, such as the John Marston’s and the Isaac Clarke’s of the gaming world than the dumb voiceless drones of games past.

However, end of rant on non-speaking protagonists for now and back to the Destiny Beta. Although your character doesn’t have reams and reams of dialogue from what I’ve seen so far in the Beta, or the highly-developed character arc of perhaps a more linear single player game protagonist, the odd remark or question that your character voices to your ghost makes the dialogue feel a more engaging and cinematic experience. Your character’s dialogue is brief and presumably scripted, but I’d be surprised if we couldn’t choose our character’s voice in the finished game.

It’s a shame then that during the cutscenes, the game just displays your own character, and none of your accompanying fireteam members. Your characters appear exactly as you have designed them in the cutscenes, which is a nice Halo: Reach style touch, but for a game which is really hyping the sense of player community and MMO style interactions in a spontaneous world, I can’t help but feel like Bungie missed a beat here with not including your full group in the cienematics. I spent most of my first play session with a badass gun-slinging Hunter friend of mine in the same fireteam, but me and her each got separate cutscenes in between some of the story missions. From what I understand, I appreciate that there is a singular narrative running throughout the main missions, but to cut your teammates out of the main cutscenes in a game like this, which has excessively hyped the teamwork-bonding moments you’ll share with your friends along the journey, feels like a stupidly missed opportunity. This is still a Beta though, so things could change before the main release, but it would be a real shame for a game with this grand scale of community to funnel each individual player down separate and isolated story moments.

Whilst we’re on the topic of character dialogue and cutscenes, Peter Dinklage, as the voice of the player’s ghost AI assistant does sound a tad bored from listening to the delivery of some of his lines (an early Dinklage quip of “They’re in the wall” during a tense shoot-out turned what should have been a cheeky and lively Aliens nod into a tired and bored-sounding statement of fact). Despite this, he brings a serious and grave tone to the narrative. The ghost feels personable and likeable enough as a companion, with more of a clipped, restrained and slightly sarcastic personality to it in comparison to the warm charismatic charm of Bungie’s famous Cortana AI from Halo. But it’s still friendly, dry and Dinklage-voiced, adequately serving its job as your helper.

So, onto the missions. I met up with my friend Stacy, the aforementioned Hunter-class Guardian, and we played through the main story missions on offer. First impressions of the shooting are good; you can really feel the Halo influence in the gunplay and the enemy AI. It feels like you’re playing Borderlands but with the added bonus of the cunning enemy AI of the elites and such from Halo which feels great. The variety of different weapons on offer is obviously significantly less than the millions and millions to be found in a game like Borderlands, but there’s enough variety in Destiny without it being overwhelming. Guns, armour and other supplies can be bought for cold hard cash in the Tower, but for the most part the best gear is usually found out on missions, waiting to be looted. Every player in the fireteam gets a loot drop from mini-boss/boss enemies, so there’s none of that cutthroat Diablo III loot stealing going on which makes for a refreshing change.

Our Warlock and Hunter combination worked well, as both characters seem to have quite high damage output. We could quickly steamroll through most of the competition using our shiny new guns and abilities, although some areas had some extremely high-level enemies which we couldn’t even make a dent in with our bullets. To quote Monty Python and the Holy Grail, we quickly decided that the best course of action with these brutes was to “Run Away! Run Away!”

I’ll be back tomorrow with more impressions and some more completed missions under my (highly customisable and no doubt stat-filled) belt. But to quickly reflect back on my first session in the Destiny Beta, I feel like I’ve had my socks well and truly blown off already. I think my take-home feelings that were swimming around in my brain when I finished playing last night were ones of sheer excitement and satisfaction; it feels like just what I wanted, Halo meets Borderlands, elegantly wrapped up in a pretty MMO bow.

It’s early days yet, so my feelings about the game are currently in a state of flux. The gameplay itself feels regular and solid, and although I’m not much of a pea-counting graphics fiend, the world itself looks fantastic and beautiful. But it’s the small things so far that have really captured my heart and imagination, such as the player interaction, the spontaneous events (more on those soon) and the general sense of community that’s already starting to take root.

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