Destiny Diary – Day 2

Destiny Traveler

Beta Day 2 – 18/07/2014 – Space Pirates, Space Zombies and Glowing Balls Of Truth

Today I started a new character class of Titan, and got stuck into playing through the story missions again to test out this beefcake’s moves. There’s nothing like a sense of déjà vu with some rippling new muscles and big guns to play around with.

The Titan feels quite distinct from the Warlock from what I’ve played so far, the main difference being that Titans can soak up an awful lot more damage than the Warlocks, making them the ideal Tanking class. Playing through this time with another gunslinging friend of mine, Mark, as a Hunter, we made a good mix up of tank and DPS. Our battleplans went something like this; I would typically run out into the open like the maniacal sadomasochistic fool I am, all guns a-blazin’ and beefy muscles a-flexin’, and Mark would carefully pick off the various Fallen (read: Space Pirates) and Thrall (read: Space Zombies) rushing forward to prod me and call me nasty names…as well as shoot at me of course.

But before we delve further into the action, let’s talk about a thing that Destiny really manages to get right – the inventory system. To put it simply, it’s great. The interface is simple, uncluttered and clean, allowing you to quickly organise and compare all the equipment you’ve got efficiently and easily. When it comes to analysing what equipment or guns to keep and which to throw away, it’s usually an incredibly easy decision; simply look at which equipment has the highest number, keep that, and dismantle the rest (dismantling equipment gives you extra Glimmer, Destiny’s cold hard currency).

For those who do enjoy a good bit of number crunching though, there are still separate weapon stats to analyse on the guns, such as fire rate, impact etc. which you will want to take into consideration when buying/dismantling your arsenal, but even these qualities are easily condensed into the big power/damage rating at the top, which massively streamlines the gameplay experience. One of my pet peeves with Borderlands 2 was that I’d spend masses and masses of my time just stood still going through my highly detailed inventory, and not blasting Psychos in the face. Destiny seems to have come to a happy medium with it’s inventory, with most items being very easy to assess in a single glance, and only the guns requiring a tad more scrutiny from players.

As Destiny draws inspiration from loot games such as Borderlands and Diablo, as well as MMOs like World of Warcraft, your accuracy with a gun alone won’t be enough to get you through (unlike in say Halo) – you need to level up and continually hunt out better equipment to deal with increasingly tougher enemies. As a result, I’ve found it hard to work out how exactly the difficulty system works in the Beta so far, whether it scales according to how many players are in your fireteam, the total number of players in a level, or not at all. Mark and I, alongside another Titan player the game paired us up with (that I maturely started referring to as ‘Boner’) found ourselves totally out-gunned by a Devil Walker, (read: giant walking spider-tank with big guns) during one of the levels, leaving us no choice but to speedily retreat with our collective tails between our collective legs. Once again, it was a clear case of “Run Away!”

Immediately after our retreat, we also got to see one of the spontaneous events that happen…well…spontaneously! A big Fallen ship warped into a big map our fireteam was battling through, triggering a group event that drew in all of the other players in the present area. This ship then dropped in a load of Fallen troops, plus another Devil Walker (at the sight of which, I grumbled…loudly). This time however, due to our superior numbers bolstered by the other players in the area this time, we were actually able to take it down. So it’s quite hard to work out if the difficulty scales to accommodate your fireteam size, or whether the only way to progress through certain areas is to make sure that there’s large numbers of players fighting alongside you.

Certain areas will let you know that respawning is limited, and these areas tend to be limited to just your fireteam members. Here, careful tactics and support between the players is key, as you can quickly get outgunned if you play things too hastily…like I often do, unfortunately. If all three players die, you have to start the area again, but you appear to have unlimited respawns, so it’s not too bad in practice.

With regard to fireteams, when I first started playing the Beta, I was wondering why Bungie settled on having fire-teams of three rather than your more usual multiplayer grouping of four, but having played through a few missions as different classes, I’m starting to see why a fireteam of three seems to make good sense. This is just on personal experience I might add, but I’m guessing a lot of people licking up Destiny will be playing either solo or with just one other friend. With a smaller fireteam size of three, chances are you’ll end up with a full team when playing in matchmade areas – I often found when playing Borderlands that although it was fantastic playing with three other people, it was very rare that I actually ended up in a full group. Again, this is me just waffling on without any evidence and scant knowledge on how matchmaking systems work, so take it as you will, but I can see a fireteam of three being a quick and easy group size to fill out.

I have yet to play through a level solo so far, other than the brief tutorial upon first starting, so I can’t comment on how that gameplay experience really feels yet, but as a team of two, you feel instantly far more capable and deadly. Having another player in your fireteam immediately makes gameplay both more enjoyable and tactical, even if you’re playing with another player of the same class, but having a differing class fighting alongside you makes things feel instantly more exciting. I can only imagine having three different classes in your fireteam would feel like you were really (cheesy pun incoming) cooking with gas as they say.

Tomorrow I’ll see about sampling the delights of the PVP matchmaking system, known as the Crucible, to test out how the competitive play operates. In the meantime, happy hunting Guardians, I’ll see you back at the tower. I’m easy to find; I’ll be the dick obnoxiously shunting the purple ball around and aggressively break-dance fighting with anyone who attempts to take it off me.

Destiny Diary – Day 1

Destiny Beta Title Screen

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.

Project Spark Tutorial, Making Your First Game – Everybody Plays

Project Spark Tree

Here’s an in-depth tutorial feature piece I put together for Everybody Plays, detailing how to go about making your first game in Project Spark. Click here for the guide, and expect to encounter thuggish goblins, shiny gold coins and quite possibly the world’s smartest flagpole along the way.

Everybody Plays is a UK-based gaming website (recently featured on BBC Click) that specialises in covering ‘games for the rest of us’, with a particular focus on the casual and family gamer.