Monday, 28 July 2014

Impressions: Destiny Beta - Functional but not mind blowing

Since renewing my Playstation Plus subscription recently I noticed that one of 2014's biggest hype fests Destiny was open to all subscribers.  Now I remember watching the E3 footage from last year and seeing what looked to be a shooter with some real potential with a focus on cooperative gameplay and Borderlands-esque loot and shoot mechanics.

After playing the beta and sampling all it had to offer within the space of three hours I am now satisfied that I will not be dropping upwards of £60 on this game.  The reason for this?  Well it just didn't do anything all that next gen.  The basic setup is that you're a dead person brought too life by a piece of alien technology called a ghost.  The ghosts work alongside these people known as guardians who serve to protect the last known city on earth, the titular Destiny.  The city is protected by a massive alien lifeform simply known as the traveller, a large spheroid that helped humanity become far more advanced by it's presence.  However it's gifts also brought along an evil from beyond the stars known as the darkness.  Cue the near destruction of humanity and attacks by alien forces from across the galaxy.

Now it probably doesn't bother most but for me the whole naming thing is so lazy and generic, like they are place holders or something along those lines.  The friendly alien is "the traveller", the enemy is "the darkness", the alien threat on earth are known as "the fallen" or "the hive".  It's just lazy writing really since it gives no depth to the factions or peoples of the world.  Even in character creation we have zero background information when choosing between Human, Awoken and Robot characters.  What exactly is an Awoken? and why do we have sentient machine people?  I assume this is all information on the website but should we have to visit a website to learn these things?  It's my own personal gripe and like I said probably not a big deal for a lot of people out there.  I just can't help but think of games like Mass Effect that at least tried to explain things in game and gave the races proper names rather than descriptive titles.

But what about the game?  Well the game is, in a short sentence, functional but not mind blowing.  The shooting is good, the weapons feel weighty and powerful and getting headshots and other weak points does take a certain amount of skill even with the auto-aim function.  Weapons come in the usual forms from pistols, shotguns, semi auto and fully auto rifles, sniper rifles, rocket launchers and light machine guns.  Presumably in the later stages of the game you get weapons that have more of a sci-fi feel about them, considering the alien forces use lightning guns and energy based weapons.

The problem with the guns is that they look very modern and not really all that futuristic.  Some weapons look like modern MTAR rifles, revolvers and pump action shotguns.  It's interesting that games like Borderlands and Mass Effect had a far more visually varied group of weapons to choose from.  

Probably the most egregious aspect of the game is the size.  It was recently revealed by developer BUNGIE that the game will have roughly four or five locations in total, taking you to Russia, a lunar base, Mars and Venus.  You can move around the Earth location within an hour or less, the Moon is by their own admission the smallest level, while Mars and Venus are yet to be seen.  In the beta you will have seen roughly fifty percent of the entire game's story mode which is bad considering the next gen price tags.  I can't help but feel that you will clear the games story mode within a day or two if not sooner at launch, leaving you with level grinding and loot grinding before jumping to competitive modes.

The PVP is from the beta at least, underwhelming.  6v6 matches on large maps with vehicles makes for some pretty quiet and uninteresting matches.  Maybe later tiers of multiplayer matches will allow for larger team sizes but overall the current offering in the beta is small and not all that fun when compared to contemporary shooters like Battlefield and Call of Duty.

The only real selling point of Destiny is the graphics.  This game is worthy of the moniker 'next gen' for consoles as the visuals are impressive.  The maps look detailed, the enemies look great, the weapons animate beautifully and the maps ooze atmosphere and a sense of decay from decades of abandonment.  The sound design is also good with weapons sounding suitably powerful and meaty.  The voice cast probably cost the developers a small fortune with the likes of Peter Dinklage, Nathan Fillion, Peter Stormare, Lance Reddick and from my guess Terrence Stamp.  The voice work is good but it all plays into that star power thing some developers use to try and get people to buy a game, sometimes to their own detriment.

Overall though I am left feeling that Destiny is a functional game that does everything it's designed to do well enough and nothing more.  It doesn't feel truly ground breaking or epic like the hype would have you believe.  The game looks like it's going to be short on story, short on PVP and will rely on the truly dedicated to keep it alive.  Maybe there is some big downloadable content packs coming in the months after launch but as it is, I would recommend saving your cash until the forlorn hope gamers have experienced it day one.


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