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. Continue reading The Casual Gamer: Destiny First Look Alpha
This past week I entered the ranks of next-generation gamers. What’s remarkable about this, at least for me, is that this is probably the earliest in a new console cycle that I’ve acquired a next-gen system. When I received my first-gen Xbox as a gift, that system had already been on the market for two or three years. The Xbox 360 had been out for nearly two by the time I acquired one. This time around, both the Xbox One and the PS4 have been out for just a handful of months. It’s… odd being a (relatively) early adopter, and the decision about which console to purchase first was not an easy one.
I’ve been an Xbox fan for years. I originally acquired an Xbox because I wanted to play Halo, which was surprising in itself. Shooters aren’t typically my bag. When the 360 came out and the Halo franchise continued on that system, upgrading was a no-brainer. I barely even looked at the Playstation line. Sony had few exclusive titles for its console that interested me, and the few that did still didn’t make it worth investing in the Playstation ecosystem.
Then this past year, Microsoft and Sony both revealed their next generation consoles, along with several titles that would be appearing in the first year’s library (and beyond). Most of these titles were cross-platform, and both consoles touted powerful features that made them highly attractive options. For the first time, I actually found myself actively interested in both consoles. The decision to upgrade was suddenly vastly more complicated, since the individual price points for the consoles would make it impossible to adopt both at the same time. Whichever one I purchased first meant it would be a while before I could acquire the other.
Ultimately, the decision came down to a single game, ironically one that will be available on both systems. Which, of course, is the reason why I ended up acquiring a PS4 first.
The one title I’ve been looking forward to for the better part of two years has been the forthcoming Destiny from Bungie. Ever since Bungie passed the Mantle of responsibility for the Halo franchise over to Microsoft and 343 Industries, I’ve been eagerly awaiting their next Big Thing. Destiny is that thing. Originally, I’d planned to follow with tradition and play Destiny exclusively on the Xbox One. I’m already well invested in that particular ecosystem, after all. But the more I’ve learned about Destiny over the past few months, the more I’m convinced that the premium Destiny experience will be found on the PS4. All other things being more or less equal, this ultimately was the final tipping point in my choice of next-gen systems.
2. Tied the Leader
One of the factors in this equation that made this decision so difficult was considering the clan I’ve been a part of since the Halo 2 days — Tied the Leader. The Gunslingers have been like a second family to me for years, providing an armed escort that is focused on sportsmanship, camaraderie, and teamwork whenever venturing into the killing fields. TTL has taken a casual stance of adopting the Xbox One as our clan’s primary next-gen console, which meant that if I went with the PS4 first I would potentially be cutting myself off from my allies on the battlefield. Many of the Gunslingers have stated, however, that they plan to keep at least one Guardian in the PS4 ecosystem, so I’m optimistic I’ll still be able to have my Gunslinger escort whenever I go out to reclaim our lost worlds from the encroaching Darkness.
3. Time Is Scarce
With a full-time job, a farm to run (which may as well be a second full-time job), a family that includes two small children (one currently less than three months old), and various other obligations, my time to game is sparse. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve gotten any games in with my fellow Gunslingers, who have themselves moved on to other shooters. TTL is no longer a Halo-exclusive clan, and that’s a good thing. What that translates into, though, is that, even if I had more time to game, I probably still wouldn’t be playing much with TTL. The shooters they play aren’t generally attractive to my own interests, so I feel like what little time I have to game is better spent on titles I’ll actually enjoy. Trying to ramrod gaming sessions into an already busy schedule just to have a little face time with the Gunslingers doesn’t make sense. Destiny will, of course, be the exception to that rule because A) it’s a Bungie shooter, B) it’s going to be a rich mythic sci-fi story, and C) it’s a multiplayer game I’m actually interested in. Knowing there will be Gunslingers playing Destiny on the PS4 made it that much easier to move in that direction first.
There are a dozen other little factors that played into my choice, ultimately, very few of which would be interesting or relevant to anyone but me. I’ve had my PS4 for just under a week now, and I’m already very happy with the decision. I do plan to acquire an Xbox One sometime in the next year, hopefully before Halo 5: Guardians launches (which, incidentally, is another case of a single title driving a console purchase decision). Most of the games I buy for that system are similarly likely to be single-player games, because that’s what I can fit into my busy schedule. It’s an interesting time to be a gamer, and I’m looking forward to seeing what new titles are added to the libraries for both systems in the next year.
New piece of Destiny fan fiction I wrote last week. This one merits a bit of explanation. I wrote it as a kind of transition piece for my clan, Tied the Leader. The TTL Gunslingers were founded on and modeled a bit after Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series. At the time we were a Halo-exclusive clan, so the moniker was appropriate for the kind of game we played. Now with Destiny, the title of ‘gunslinger’ still holds (especially since there’s a particular build of Hunter that carries the same name). This story is meant to represent TTL’s passage from one Bungie title to the next.
Out Of Darkness, Unto Destiny
He stands on a low hillside, looking out over the grassland stretching before him. The night presses in on him, wrapping around him like a cape, cloaking him in darkness. It is late, and the moon has not yet risen, but still his sharp eyes can pick out every detail of the landscape below. The wide brim of his hat hides his eyes in complete darkness, shielding them even from what little starlight filters down through the clouds above.
He stands straight and tall, despite the burden of his passage to get here. A pair of six-shooters — the last of their kind, for all he knows — hangs low and heavy on his hips. He barely notices their weight. He has carried them for so long that they are now almost a part of him, an extension of his own body. They have not been fired in a dog’s age, yet they have been meticulously cared for. He suspects they will not be out of place here.
Echoes of the words that brought him here (“There are other worlds than these…”), spoken not to him but to a distant ancestor, still ring inside his skull like a bell. They repeat like a geas, driving him onward, urging him toward… something. He knows the truth of those words, though, knows them all too well. He has passed through more than one doorway, portals through space and time. They have brought him here now, to this “where,” to this “when.” He is not certain yet what his appointed task will be, but he knows he will not have to wait long to find out.
A burst of gunfire draws his attention, and his hands reflexively drop to his pistols. He does not draw them, for one does not draw iron unless one intends to kill (I kill with my heart, that old, familiar creed whispers in the back of his mind), but he readies himself for action. He looks in the direction of the gunfire, and sees a figure running as though all the hounds of hell are on her heels. He absently notes with approval her resourcefulness; her gear has clearly been scavenged from whatever cast-offs she has come across in her travels. A tattered cape flutters behind her as she runs. She wears a helmet that glows faintly with a low blue light, a kind of new technology that he has not run into before.
The six low creatures that pursue her are like nothing he has ever seen. They are fleet of foot and deeply alien. They too bear helmets and armor that have seen better days. Most have four arms, giving them a vaguely insect- or spider-like appearance that he finds unsettling. All have weapons of their own and are using them now to fire on the figure that runs before them.
He takes a step as though to enter the battle, the champion within him rising to her defense — then stops. She dives forward just as one of the creatures fires on her. She hits the ground with a roll, coming up holding a pistol so much like his own that he starts with surprise. Three time she fires, and three times the bullets find their mark. Her pursuit has been reduced by half. The corners of his mouth turn up appreciatively, the closest his lips have been to a smile in years. The woman is a gunslinger in her own right — not unheard of, of course, but not common from where he comes, either. He relaxes his grip on his pistols and leans back on his heels to observe, confident that she is more than capable of taking care of herself.
Her counterattack has reduced her lead substantially, but the remaining creatures are more wary now, more cautious, and are giving her a wider berth. They have seen what she can do and are reluctant to give her an excuse to unleash more of her fury upon them. It doesn’t matter. The night is lit briefly by a ball of purple energy that falls out of the sky, as though a piece of the sun has been hurled Earthside. It explodes on the ground near the figure, obliterating two more of the creatures. A moment later a second figure descends smoothly from a gliding arc to stand next to the first, this one wearing a cloak that would not have been out of place on one of the gunslingers of old. A heartbeat, and a third figure emerges from the darkness to stand next to the other two, this one enormous and covered head to toe in steel like one of the knights of Arthur Eld’s court.
The sole remaining creature roars defiantly before turning and loping off into the darkness. The three figures let it go without pursuit. Word of what has happened here will pass among others of the creature’s kind, and perhaps they will be more reticent to attack these figures in the future. They are gunslingers, to be sure, but they are also something more. It is these, he is sure now, that he was meant to find.
The three of them appear to confer for a moment, and one of them produces a glowing orb that takes flight and moves rapidly around their heads. Whether magic or technology he cannot determine, not from this distance, but he suspects it is probably some combination of the two. It would not be the first time a civilization had used one to harness the other.
This is why he is here now, he is certain of it, but the time is still not yet right for him to reveal his presence to these people. That moment will arrive soon, but there are other things he must do before then. He turns and slips away quietly before he can be discovered, an aura of golden light glowing faintly around each of his pistols.
The table in front of Traxis is littered with little bits and parts, spare pieces collected from weapons gathered up over the long years of roaming in the wilds, all pre-City. The weapons themselves are long gone, many damaged beyond repair during the heat of one battle or another. Others were simply sold or traded — even with missing pieces, weapons from the Golden Age are highly valued by any Guardian — or disassembled and scrapped (not without the least little bit of guilt and sorrow) for parts.
The pieces are arranged in an arc before her, bits of metal and ceramic organized into piles by type — firing pins, triggers, bolts, springs — all within easy reach. Immediately before her is a shotgun. Type: exotic. She had had to topple a titan to obtain it. The weapon is deeply rusted and scarred by decades of corrosion, and many of the working parts have been fused together from long aeons of exposure. The wear and tear is in itself somewhat remarkable. It is rare to find a Golden Age weapon so severely diminished by the ravages of time. And yet…
Traxis works a metal file over some of the more delicate areas of the gun, sandpaper and steel wool over the rest. She breaks up the rust, oils the moving parts, clears the dirt and debris from the inner workings, teasing the individual pieces apart to get at the inner workings of the shotgun. She could have had one of the weapons smiths in the marketplace refurbish it for her, but she prefers to do her own work. How else can one learn the innermost secrets of a new weapon? How else can one tease out all the history, master all the nuances of weight and balance, and determine blast radius, firing rate, and recoil? How else can one determine the weapon’s true name, the title that is defined by its legacy? No, these are things that can only truly be learned by doing the work yourself. Traxis is a master of her craft, in any event, a product of years of independence and self-reliance, and there are few smiths — within the City or without — who can rival her skill at restoring a weapon to its former glory.
It is a laborious task, and the hours fall away from her as she works. She barely notices. She is a Hunter, and she is well accustomed to the kind of patience necessary to complete time-intensive projects. Eventually, though, some of the weapon’s former luster begins to shine through once more, and Traxis is able to get most of the working parts moving again. With a practiced hand, she disassembles and reassembles the shotgun over and over, noting the places that continue to stick and filing off burs and rust that had gone heretofore undiscovered. When she is done, it will be a finely oiled machine of death — and lethal when held in any Guardian’s hands.
That done, she hefts the shotgun in her arms, pointing it at a far wall. She looks down the holographic sights, powered now by a fresh fuel cell that once nestled inside the scope of an old hand cannon. The cross-hairs are blurry and, using her multi-purpose tool, Traxis turns a couple of dials on the scope, making a few adjustments that snap the image back into sharp focus. She dry-fires the weapon several times, noting its relatively slow firing rate. She already knows the gun fires large shells that deal massive amounts of damage. What she remains uncertain of is which element is most suited to this gun. All exotics infuse elemental damage into every shot fired. She knows of rifles that crackle with lightning, hand cannons that shoot fire, and rocket launchers that incorporate stone shrapnel into their blast damage. She even owns a few of these weapons. They are hard fought for and even more jealously guarded by the Guardians who wield them. Each exotic tells a story of where it’s been, what it’s done, and what a Guardian had to go through to possess it.
She carries the shotgun to another worktable and passes it over several stones, each in turn. These stones, enchanted by one of the City’s Warlocks with a bit of the Traveler’s awesome power, resonate the aura of a different element. They are designed for one purpose — to determine which element a weapon prefers. Traxis stops when one glows a deep shade of blue — and when the barrel of the gun begins to glaze over with a thin layer of frost. The harmonics are nearly perfect, and she nods her head in acknowledgment, satisfied. “Ice, of course,” she murmurs. Her voice is quiet, reverent. Handling one of these weapons is very nearly a religious experience. The gun will require a special gem that permanently imbues the element upon it. She does not own one of these gems herself — it is not usually her preferred element, after all — but it is nothing that a little Glimmer in the right hands can’t resolve.
One task yet remains. She returns to her work station and flips the shotgun over, exposing one last rusted plate set into the bottom of the stock. It is this plate that bears the weapon’s true name. She always leaves this part for last. She will touch the plate only after stripping the weapon down dozens of times, preferring instead to spend time with the weapon, to get a feel for it, and to become familiar with its identity before learning its name. Sometimes she is even able to guess it before this moment arrives. In this case, the rust on the nameplate merely gives her a good excuse to save it for the end.
With a piece of sandpaper and a small brush, she carefully works on the plate until it is shiny and polished. The surface is perfectly smooth and mirror-clear. She runs her thumb along the length of the plate, and the warmth of her skin causes a single word to rise up from the unknowable depths below. Traxis smiles. The name is appropriate, given what she had to go through to acquire it.
The sun rises above the Enceladean horizon, and the small moon’s icy surface immediately begins to sublimate. Wisps of vapor rise and dance, looking for all the world like tendrils of delicate smoke. The vapor coils and writhes and is carried through the thin atmosphere by the barest whisper of a breeze.
A moment later, a figure cuts through the fog, and for the briefest of seconds, she looks as though she is wearing the mist like a cape, as though the entire surface of this little moon exists for the sole purpose of cloaking the Hunter in mystery and wonderment. Then, as she continues pacing forward, the illusion is broken, and the vapor swirls to fill the void she has left behind her. She pays the mist no mind.
This is the good stuff.
The ship is an ancient rustbucket, and it looks as though it has been here since time immemorial. It was probably a fighter once upon a time, but it is difficult to tell. Time has worn its identity away, and the foliage has overgrown it so that it is little more than scraps of sheet metal covered in vegetation. It is also, at this moment, guarded by a small patrol of Fallen — and it is these, in particular, that have caught Traxis’ attention. She watches them through a high-powered scope from her vantage point atop a grassy ridge nearly a kilometer-and-a-half away.
Her count stands at eight of the unholy aliens, six of which stand equidistantly around the lifeless vessel. The remaining two are crawling in and over it, searching…
“For what?” she murmurs. “What are you misbegotten devils looking for?” She watches them, brow furrowed in concentration and puzzlement, only peripherally aware of her finger curling and uncurling repeatedly over her rifle’s trigger. She’d like nothing better than to blow them all to Hell and back, but she knows that she’d barely drop one before the rest would be all over her, even from this distance. They are Fallen, after all, and the filthy creatures are bleedin’ fast. She could take one or two more out as they rushed her position, but she’d never get them all before they reached her.
She hears it, then, a wispy sound of moving grass, of something being where it shouldn’t be — and she is rolling over, bringing her rifle up as she does. Too slow, she thinks, and Traxis sees the Fallen scout crashing down on her even as she gets her bearings.
She has time to think, Where did he even come from? and then everything is noise and pain and survival. The Fallen is holding two of those cursed swords, and Traxis sees the lightning dancing across the blades, smells the distinctive scent of ozone, feels the crackling energy as those blades descend rapidly — much too rapidly — toward her.
She gives up on trying to bring No Quarter to bear — there isn’t enough time — and tosses it aside, catching the Fallen’s wrists in each of her hands, instead. Sparks dance between the blades and her gauntlets, and she can hear the electric hum of the swords. Then, to her horror, the Fallen’s other two arms emerge from beneath its cloak, each bearing a sword of its own. Four arms, four blades, and Traxis knows she is in trouble. The bastard got the drop on her, somehow, and now she is about to pay the price.
Then, everything is blinding, searing pain as every nerve ending in her body lights up in fiery anguish. The Fallen’s weight is off her now, but she hardly notices. She would scream if she could, but her throat is seized up, and she can’t even draw breath. A second or two of this — though it feels like it goes on forever — and the pain is gone. Traxis can do nothing for a moment but gasp, her vision swimming in and out of focus.
Finally, her mind clears, her body settles down to a dull ache, and she thinks, What the hell was that?
And then a shadow looms over her. She grabs for the pistol on her hip as the figure steps between her and the sun — and she realizes that she is looking at another Guardian, a Titan. Only…
“By the Traveler!” she breathes. “You’re enormous, even for a Titan!” His laughter surprises her, and he reaches out a hand to help her up.
“Well, I never get mistaken for Cabal,” he replies. “Name’s Dumais,” he says by way of introduction.
“Traxis,” she replies, still a little shaken.
“You looked like you needed some help. Didn’t figure you’d mind if I intervened.” He gestures, and Traxis turns to see a smoking ruin that vaguely resembles what may have once been a Fallen.
“Thanks for that,” she says. “I thought my number was up that time.”
“A pleasure.” She hears amusement in his voice but is unsure whether it is directed at her or the circumstances. Then a dark note creeps in. “I’ve never seen a Fallen wielding four of those damnable weapons before. He was either incredibly stupid or exceptionally skilled.”
Traxis remembers the way the creature had managed to sneak up on her, surprising her completely, and concludes, “My money’s on the latter. I was careful.” She turns her attention back to Dumais. “What’d you do to him, anyway? And to me?”
“This,” he says (Now he sounds sheepish, she thinks) and pulls out a short little pistol. “It’s called Bringer of Pain, and not just because of what it does to your enemies.” He hands it to her, and Traxis takes it, tentatively, examining it. “It’s not your standard ballistic weapon.”
She looks up at this. “Then…” Dumais nods in acknowledgement.
“Directed energy. It stores up a charge over time, which you can then release for an instant kill — or nearly so. It doesn’t leave much of your target, as you can see, but it also makes life rather uncomfortable for anyone else inside the blast radius — and for the shooter.” She sees him flex his fingers and wonders how much it costs him each time he fires it.
Her own skin is still singing from that encounter, though not as intensely now. She hands the weapon back to the Titan. “Where did you find it?”
Dumais takes the pistol and tucks it into his belt, and Traxis gets a glimpse of at least three other weapons clipped there. “During a little dive on Enceladus. Cost me plenty to get to it, too.”
“I can imagine,” Traxis replied, absently. Her mind is already returning to the business that brought her here in the first place. She glances back up at Dumais. “I know why I’m here, but what brings you out to the middle of Only-The-Traveler-Knows-Where — not that I’m not grateful,” she quickly adds.
That note of amusement is there in his voice again when he says, “Same reason you are, I would imagine — to investigate that wreck over yonder. Need any help with that?”
‘Over yonder,’ she thinks. How quaint. She mulls his proposal over for only a moment — two Guardians versus at least eight Fallen; it won’t even be a fair fight — then replies, nodding at his belt.
“How long does it take Bringer of Pain to recharge?”
Traxis packs the last of her gear into her satchel and snaps the buckle closed. She hoists it over her head and settles the strap over her right shoulder, reaching behind her to adjust the satchel until it rests comfortably in the small of her back. Her Hunter’s cloak is draped across the back of a chair, and she deftly snags it in one hand as she strides across the room, snapping it to her shoulders with practiced grace. The mirrorweave shimmers briefly as it adapts to the colors of her room, ultimately settling on a pattern that best blends into her current environment.
She paces to a blank wall, which dissolves at her approach to reveal a hidden weapons cache. Inside are a dozen firearms — mostly rifles but also a couple of smaller pistols — and a handful of short knives. The guns represent her favored discoveries from her forays throughout the solar system. They have all saved her life on one occasion or another, several more than once. They are all dear to her, and she guards them fiercely.
Traxis selects a long-barreled rifle now, lifting it reverently from its cradle in the wall. It is a sniper rifle named No Quarter, and of all her weapons, it is the one most precious to her. At a meter-and-a-half, it is nearly as long as she is tall, but it is so light and perfectly balanced that its ungainly length is never a disadvantage. In Traxis’ hands, No Quarter is exceedingly lethal, and more than a few enemies have felt its merciless bite.
She snaps a mid-range scope — she has wall duty today — onto the rifle’s barrel and slams home two modular attachments into the stock. One is a super-efficient heat sink, allowing her the option of rapid fire without overheating — and subsequently jamming — the rifle. The other magnetically accelerates every round she fires. Against organics, it is merely adding insult to injury. Against Vex, it can mean the difference between winging one of the damnable robots and hitting it with a kill shot.
She reaches up and fits her mask to her face. She doesn’t need it here, of course. The air in the city is perfectly breathable, but Traxis is a Hunter. She prefers solitude and isolation, and the teeming masses of the city are neither of those things. Her mask gives her a barrier, an excuse to avoid eye contact and empty platitudes.
Traxis steps from her room, sealing the door behind her. No Quarter is slung across her back, ready to draw blood in defense of the city and, by extension, The Traveler. She inhales deeply, taking in the smells of the city around her. These are the people she has sworn to protect. She exhales, repeating her personal mantra before setting out for her post on the wall.
“No Quarter,” she breathes. “Forward unto Destiny.”
The story above is a work of fan fiction. Destiny is a registered trademark of Bungie, LLC.