The Casual Gamer: Destiny First Look Alpha

This entry is part 6 of 6 in the series The Casual Gamer

For a week and a half, I was privileged to be able to play BUNGiE’s First Look Alpha build of their upcoming new title Destiny. This has been one of my most anticipated gaming titles, and being able to get a sneak peek at their next big thing was an amazing experience. With the lifting of the media embargo last week, there are already a lot of resources out there to get a sense of what Destiny is all about, so I won’t rehash those. A quick Google search will turn up a wealth of information about this new IP. I do, however, want to add my own take on the game with regard to what I most enjoyed about the Alpha and what I’m most looking forward to about the finished game.

1. Activities for Any Mood

One of BUNGiE’s goals for Destiny is that it would contain activities to fit any mood. If you’re looking for something narrative, run a story mission. If you want something a little more challenging, form a fireteam and head into a Strike, or double up with another fireteam and taken on a Raid. If you want competitive multiplayer, head into the Crucible and match your skills against other Guardians. Or just free roam the world in Explore mode and see what kind of trouble you can get into. As someone with not a lot of time to game, this formula works very well for me. For much of the limited time I had to play the Alpha, I was in Explore mode, roaming across the wastes of Old Russia, taking out Fallen patrols and taking on Hive whenever I encountered them. Loot chests were scattered throughout, as well, making the exploration both profitable and interesting. Public Events added to the fun whenever they popped up, and it was highly enjoyable taking on the challenge of destroying a Devil Walker or defending an objective alongside other Guardians.

Forming fireteams is easy and fast, so whenever I needed support, it was a simple matter to pull two other Guardians into my party with me and head out toward an objective.

2. The Crucible

Destiny’s competitive multiplayer can be found in The Crucible. You form a fireteam of up to six Guardians and head into matchmaking. The Alpha provided only two multiplayer maps — one on the Moon that provides long sightlines and vehicle recreation, and one on Earth that’s more close-quartered and fast. I did not spend much time in the Crucible. All total, I think I played maybe three games there. Competitive multiplayer has not been my personal cup of tea in years, not since Halo Reach, and I doubt that The Crucible is going to pose much interest for me, either. That’s not to say that Destiny’s competitive multiplayer is a bad experience because it’s not. It’s fast-paced and challenging, and with the vast array of weapons, vertical movement, and the addition of class Supers, it’s a very different experience from Halo’s multiplayer environment.

3. The Tower

Destiny First Look Alpha_20140610223259

One of the things that differentiates Destiny from any previous BUNGiE title is the social aspect of the game. The Tower is your Guardian’s safe haven, the place he can go after a fight to relax, chat with friends, restock his inventory, and find new gear. It’s the one place in the game where your point of view shifts to third-person, so you can admire all that sweet loot you’ve acquired. The Tower overlooks The City, which resides below the Traveler and is the last safe place on Earth, indeed, in the whole system.

4. The Director

Navigating between missions is accomplished by using The Director. It’s a navigation menu that you access while in orbit that gives you the choice of which locations you’d like to visit. The Alpha limited access to the Tower, Old Russia, and the Crucible, but even so it gave us a nice taste of things to come. Within Old Russia, three mission types were presented — the story mission, which is the same mission you play when you first create your Guardian; the Strike, which you can play on two difficulty settings, Brave and Legend (make sure you have your very best gear); and Explore, which allows you to freely roam the countryside.

TheDirector

Destiny also features both public and private spaces throughout the game. Public spaces are freely accessible by anyone. Most of the free-ranging areas in Explore mode are public, and it’s very common to run across other Guardians in these areas as they explore or head toward other missions. Public events take place in these areas, drawing Guardians from all around to tackle the latest group challenge. Private spaces occur whenever a fireteam is on a story mission, a Strike, or a Raid. The fireteam will travel in public space for a while until they reach their objective, at which point the public space transitions seamlessly into a private one, and you’re alone for a little while. The only visual clues you have of the transition is a brief fuzziness that creeps in around the edges of your HUD and the absence of any Guardian other than your fireteam on your radar.

5. Classes

Of the three classes presented in the game, the Hunter is one I spent the most time with. It’s also the last one I took for a test drive, primarily because I already knew it was going to be the one I gravitated toward and I wanted to give the other two classes a fair shake before I did. I started with a Warlock build but found it not much to my liking, so I soon switched to a Titan. This one felt more familiar to me, since it’s the closest thing Destiny has to a Spartan (Halo). Shortly after, I switched to a Hunter, confirming my choice of favored class. One of the things I love about the Hunter is the focus on precision. My gaming style is more of a distance fighter rather than a brawler. I tend to get my head handed to me more often than not in close-quarters combat, so I tend to prefer to hang back and snipe from a distance. The Hunter’s Super is the Golden Gun, a three-shot insta-kill that requires precise aiming (though it is more forgiving than firing a non-Supered weapon), where both the Titan and Warlock Supers are more area-of-effect, explosive types. The Hunter also has a throwing knife that can be used as a sort of melee attack from range to inflict massive damage, but again, it requires some degree of precision to use effectively. Otherwise it can go wide and you have to wait for it to recharge again before you can use it. All three classes have their own distinct combat styles, but the Hunter is going to be my go-to for the long haul.

6. Gear

There are a lot of weapons, gear, and other collectibles to be found throughout Destiny. Loot chests sometimes yield up more than just Glimmer (the in-game currency). Enemies frequently drop weapons, engrams, and other equipment. Vendors in the Tower sell guns, armor, ships, and more. Nearly everything is upgradeable and customizable. Each class has its own sets of armor and flair (though weapons can be used by any class), all of which becomes more flashy as you gain higher levels or complete difficult quests. The very best gear is found through completing difficult objectives, so that your favorite items are more likely to have interesting stories attached. The Alpha put a lot of gear on display, which is exciting because there’s so much more to come in the final version.

Below you can see the progression of some of my Hunter’s gear as she moved up through the four levels available in the Alpha:

7. Vertical Movement

Destiny also introduces vertical movement to a BUNGiE shooter, which is something I learned very quickly to love. Each class has its own version of vertical movement: the Titan has lift, the Warlock has glide, and the Hunter has double-jump. Each allows your Guardian to get to places they might otherwise not be able to and also alters the flow of combat, both PvE (Player versus Environment) and PvP (Player versus Player). It’s possible to get the jump on an enemy by coming in over their heads and laying waste to them with a well-place Nova Bomb or sneak up on another Guardian in the Crucible by jumping up through a gap in a wall behind them. I found myself using my Hunter’s double-jump a lot to get to places that would normally be just out of reach or as a means of taking shortcuts as I traversed the countryside.

8. Vehicles

Every Guardian comes equipped with their own ride. She starts with stock hoverbike called a Sparrow that, like nearly everything else in the game, can be upgraded and customized. You can summon it at anytime (provided the space allows it) by calling up your Ghost. You also have your own personal interplanetary transport, which can be similarly customized. Each of these items allows you to tailor your Guardian’s personality.

9. Clans

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Destiny is also being built with support for clans. Groups will be able to form on Bungie.net that will serve as something akin to an alliance, which can then split down into smaller groups that will be more intimate clans. Having built-in clan support is something we haven’t seen in a BUNGiE title since the Halo 2/Halo 3 days, so I’m very much looking forward to having this feature built into Destiny.

(Fast-forward to 7:07 for the relevant bit about clans.)

10. Story and Lore

The one thing that I am probably looking forward to the most about Destiny, though, is the fiction that drives it. I’m not generally a first-person shooter type of gamer. That’s part of why it surprised me so much that I became such a hardcore Halo addict. I attribute part of my love for that franchise to the way BUNGiE builds shooters. They’re fun and competitive so that even gamers like me who aren’t particularly good at shooters can have a good time. The larger part of that formula, however, is the fiction around which the Halo franchise was built. The story drew me in and kept me engaged in that universe, kept me vested in the outcome of the story itself.

Destiny has already had that same effect on me and will continue to do so. The lore that has been created for this game is deep and rich and incredibly complex. The little bit of information we know has served only to whet my appetite for more, and I can’t wait to dig deep into this universe this fall.

One of the additional benefits from the Alpha was being able to take BUNGiE’s alpha site for a test drive and get a sneak peek at some of the features that will be coming to Bungie.net in the future. The Grimoire is one of those features that adds to the lore behind Destiny.

The first introduction I had to the Grimoire was when I was roaming the Tower. I stumbled across a faintly glowing object and when I drew near it, a prompt appeared on my screen to revive the dead Ghost. (More dead Ghosts can be found scattered Easter egg style throughout the world.) Once I did so, it activated, hovered into the air for a moment, then disappeared in a flash. A message appeared at the bottom of my screen that mentioned unlocking a card in the Grimoire and that more details could be found at Bungie.net. Once I had access to the alpha site, I learned that the Grimoire is an encyclopedia-type reference composed of digital cards that can be unlocked through a variety of methods. Finding dead Ghosts is one of those methods. Hitting benchmarks in terms of enemy kills is another, and I assume there are other ways than these. And while many of the cards in the Grimoire were redacted to prevent spoilers, each one that wasn’t revealed a little more about the Destiny universe, including tantalizing tidbits about the Guardians’ origins.

Conclusion

If it has done anything, the Alpha has increased my excitement for Destiny. It was clear to me many times throughout that what the Alpha showed us about Destiny was just the very tip of the iceberg. There was so much more below the surface that I suspect there will be hundreds of hours of exploration that will go into unlocking all of its secrets. BUNGiE knows how to present a gripping story — they demonstrated that time and again with the Halo franchise — and already their presentation of Destiny has me asking for more. Every facet of the game is wrapped in lore, and I can’t wait to start weaving all those disparate threads into a cogent tapestry. September can’t come soon enough!

See you starside.

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