Destiny PlayStation 4 First Look Alpha Impressions


As is my norm, I have avoided learning too much about Destiny leading into the launch of the game this fall. Curiousity has mostly led me to question what the game is actually like. Until E3, most gameplay footage has shown a slice of gunplay without any reference to the larger picture. Like so many other PlayStation Plus members over the recent post-E3 weekend, I received a code to play the PlayStation 4 alpha build, and I have to say that Bungie is one hell of a cock tease.

Part of my avoidance gave me one of the biggest reveals in the first moments of loading up the game: Destiny takes place on Earth. (Or at least the Alpha did. The full game will also contain other planets in the solar system like Mars and Venus.) Seeing the game set in a future, post-apocalyptic Earth was a stunner for me. I immediately flashed backed to my 300+ hours in Fallout 3 and New Vegas and how much I just got lost in those worlds. The only thing missing for me in those two games was the occasional real human player to interact with. Destiny has that covered.

I don’t know if I’m alone in this, but I tend to load up a game and just play. I don’t like to look at the input map (unless it shows up on a loading screen), and that gives me the opportunity to explore and learn the game controls in the same way that I would the actual game world. Typical to first-person shooters, the left stick moves your character, right stick controls the camera/aiming, L2 narrows the focus down the barrel, and R2 pew pew pews. What about the rest? I hit the right D-pad and suddenly my character was dancing! Yes, dancing! Wait, what? Dancing in a first-person shooter? The other D-pad arrows perform less exciting emotes. Pressing Up points, Left waves, and Down makes your character sit. This is oddly similar to an MMO. Oh well. Let me go explore.

I quickly forgot about thinking of Destiny as an MMO, because holy cow does the game look gorgeous. I just wanted to walk and get lost and see everything that was magnificent from a distance up close and marvel at the barren world. I wanted to find out what caused Earth to end up like this. A voice told me to head to a certain location, but I was lost in the vista that I totally missed where I was tasked with heading. Pressing the touchpad brought up a minimal HUD that lit up a waypoint in the distance. I started to head in that direction and after a few seconds the waypoint disappeared. Without the carrot on the stick I quickly got distracted again by the environment.

Look! There’s a small building with a doorway heading down into the ground. Let’s go check that out, waypoint be damned. Hrmm, that stairwell down is dark. Walking further I realized, shit, I don’t have a flashlight—oh, wait, that’s cool. The game auto-enables a flashlight, sort of a glowing sphere of light, not a focal beam. Just like that, it turned on when I moved into the darkness. (Nice touch, Bungie.) I wandered further down into the darkness, revealing what appeared to be a decayed ruin of some sort of facility. Weeds growing up, machinery rotted and rusted. Big glowing eyes and a growl. Oh shit. The HUD displayed over the enemy didn’t show anything other than bad news. No level was displayed. Past MMO experience has taught me that if an enemy doesn’t have a level displayed, that means you’re screwed. I turned and ran. I could hear the guy coming. I ran up the stairs (the flashlight automatically shut off) and headed away from the small building, wondering if the guy would keep coming after me. Suddenly he was there. He looked at me, but didn’t move. He turned to head back into the darkness and I swear he pointed at me before his descent.

Okay, that was fun. Now back to that waypoint. I hear the voice again telling me where I’m supposed to be heading. Wait. Is that Tyrion Lannister? Err, I mean Peter Dinklage? I can get behind his voice as my Ghost, even though I’m not sure what my Ghost really does at this point. Getting closer to what looks like some sort of radar facility another voice comes in. It’s Lance Reddick. Bungie clearly has some impressive voice talent in the game. I still hadn’t really seen combat yet, but just on what I’d experienced in the first 10 minutes I couldn’t wait for more. Moving into the radar facility, my Ghost suddenly expressed shock in the fact that a Hive Wizard was there. Up to that realization, only enemies called The Fallen were giving me any resistance. As the gunfight ensued, some of the story became clear. The Hive were supposedly banished to the Moon, but how had they gotten free and what were they doing on Earth now?

Once the wizard was dispatched the story mission was over, but there was still plenty left to see. Transportation around the game is handled by going into orbit and selecting various points on the map. In the alpha that meant going to the Tower, which is the last human city on Earth, or replaying the story mission, exploring a section of the world near the story mission, or heading to the Crucible, a PvP arena-like area.

Heading to the Tower, Destiny again feels very much like a traditional MMO. Different factions offer up quests, vendors sell gear, and class-specific NPCs offer more specialized gear and quests. A bounty board provides quests that give reputation points for different factions during Crucible encounters. Bungie’s classification of Destiny as a “shared-world shooter” turns out to be an accurate description after all. It is an MMO, but it doesn’t feel like it. Or at least it masks the worst parts of MMO tropes with such a highly detailed and interesting world. When I was out in the exploration section of the alpha and saw random players battling a common enemy, I didn’t mind. I could interact with them by dancing, waving or pointing, or I could team up with others for group exploration. Joining with other players is pretty smooth and seamless, but I like playing rogue and thus didn’t join many of the random invites I received. That’s just how I prefer to play.

Being an alpha, the game did show some shortcomings that will hopefully be addressed/optimized by the final release. For example load times between areas were long and slow. The animation sequences were cool, but to go into orbit, pick a new area (like the Tower), quickly turn in items, and then go back into orbit to head back out into the world or go to the Crucible, felt like way too much time was being wasted watching a loading screen when I just wanted to be in the thick of battle or exploring.

Another downside to the alpha was being teased by so much fantastic gear that was unusable due to the level cap being set to 8. On the plus side, having a level cap so low meant that I got to taste a slice of what’s to come without having too much spoiled for the full game later this year. It also made it is easy to play all three classes and get a glimpse at their different abilities.

I was unsure if Destiny would be a game I wanted to play prior to spending time with the alpha, but at this point I can’t wait for September to get here. Is it an MMO, an FPS, an RPG? Call it whatever you want. Destiny melds genres in a way that feels good and offers plenty of variety. I can’t help but be excited to see more.

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About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.