Hands On Beta Finally
I have been watching everything related to Destiny for over a year now, and I am almost overwhelmed with excitement about what is turning out to be one of the most important game events of the decade. I got my hands on the game and ladies and gentlemen, it is massive.
I'm going to say it simply. Destiny is literature. It is so rich in style, function and in metaphor that it simply cannot be evaluated all at once. You have to experience its many dimensions hands on. After about 27 hours of play, I can tell you that it is immensely rewarding and still holds many promising vistas. Here are my impressions.
Next Gen Color & Light
The first thing that struck me as I began playing Destiny was how incredibly rich, textured and beautiful the colors were. This is a next generation game with certainty. There is nothing on your computer you have seen in any of the videos that prepare you for the impact of the color and shadow and lighting effects. Some of it is emotionally realistic and some of it is fantastic. The twilight blue of the entire Old Russia feels like day an night at the same time. The light snow on the sunny day feels a bit surrealistic, and there's nothing that gives you a sense of wind, even on the tops of the mountainous Skywatch. But the murky dark of the abandoned Cosmodrome is, hands down, the most haunting use of blackness in a videogame I've ever encountered. The darkness feels weighty, it is not the absence of light, it has depth. The way your flashlight only goes so far but you can catch the faint wisps of enemies many meters in front of you is brilliantly executed. Destiny's Old Russia is the essence of rust and Cold Warish technology crusted over with dust, and mangy overgrowth. And yet it captures the majesty of Something That Was, just like the line of derelict cars suggested so many months ago.
Many months ago, the principals at Bungie said that they were serious about creating different color palettes expressing their feelings about each planet. It more than works. It creates a new kind of immersion.
Enemies: Diversity is Good
The enemies are wonderous and they make me forget all about the Covenant. I watched some old videos of Halo2, and of course that's not a fair comparison, but I enjoyed remembering how cool it was to have the Brutes, a new enemy in the series. And I recall how different AIs in 343's Halo 4 might make for a different style of Halo play. Now I am just getting the hang of evading the twirling blue fire of the Fallen's Dregs and internalizing their crafty motions, along with plodding Captains and their flamethrowers, but then come the relentless Shanks, and then the spooky eyeball Servitors. Good one on that Bungie, you kept Servitors completely secret. But what a wondrously creepy idea, this giant black and purple floating mechanical eyeball that suddenly hyperjumps right behind you. Whoosh. And that's just one species of baddy. Then you have the Hive whose Thralls just bumrush you like fast, hungry, slashing zombies.
Let me break off to say this about the Beta's enemies. Bungie was very smart to leave most of the spaces with low level fodder. The one thing that's mad different about Destiny is the huge range of destructive power that your players and NPCs can weild. I found that as overused as the term 'balanced' is, it is clear that there is some artful finessing going on, because there is a world of hurt that would await any Guardian dealing with enemies two or three levels up, as well as delicious badass satisfaction in wiping away a horde of them who are two levels weaker.
Battles between the Hive and the Fallen are serious. I've seen them get into it on Skywatch and thinking that there is something more going on than what I thought. I was almost afraid to step in and NovaBomb them. Almost.
Moon: Beauty, Horror & Mayhem
I felt a little bit guilty stealing through the Moon this afternoon. I wrote the following on Facebook:
The moon is awesome. It is gorgeously creepy with a combination of Geiger, Riddick Necromonger, Egyptian Tomb environments. The music, the faint trembling in your controller, the wisps of darkness. It's almost a shame to walk through it alive. I have been to the Circle of Bones in the Hellmouth. I have destroyed a Hallowed Ogre in the World's Grave. My hands are still trembling. l just put down the controller to have a breath, because the Moon is frightening.
The guilt came from the fact that I definitely wandered into some large areas that were severely underpopulated by baddies. The environment alone was spine-tingly intimidating and still inspiringly crafted. I could read in the art direction a purposeful blend of environmental effects, music, controller buzz, creatures and light that evoked a profound Gothic horror experience. And yet even though I could sense the threat, there were never quite enough bad guys in there to smash my bones into the pre-existing piles. I cheated my way into the deep underground chambers of the Hellmouth and got away with it. There were areas that made me feel forebodings I haven't had since the first time I watched the scarred humans Benearth the Planet of the Apes who worshipped The Bomb.
When I took a break and watched Datto blasting his way at breakneck speed just looking for something to shoot on Twitch, the whole scene seemed to profane the environment. It felt like, here these artists at Destiny have spent years crafting this awesome environment and then a bunch of boy gamers come in and start tossing grenades and wisecracking about exactly where the invisible ceiling is as their Titans double jump across a cathedral. Yes I know that's the point of a shooter, but you can see that Destiny is much more - yet also done for and dedicated to shooters.
Crucible: Appropriately Named
I particpated in the Iron Banner and made Rank One, but was intimidated the whole way through, getting my ass handed to me on a regular basis by gamers whose Guardians had high defense scores (I saw one with 157) and low Grimoire scores, (averaging around 350). So I'm the kind of PvP player who loves to brag about KD ratios when mine is high, and skulk around muttering when mine is low. I was so devastated in my first half dozen forays into the Crucible that I started taking the announcer's comments personally. Yeah I know I can do better than 0.23 KD but I didn't this time, OK? I was getting huffy and defensive. But I decided to slog it out. Even though I was almost always first out with a good score, I would start getting owned and it took me a while to score above 2000 consistently.
Then I began to notice that there was really no shortcut. Everybody has to spend the hours and only because this is a Beta am I completely freaked out. I have a job and responsibilities, and I can't get in the 40 hours necessary within one week of gaming to excel. It still took two dozen trips to the Crucible for me to start reprogramming my Halo, Titanfall and Battlefield reflexes to make this my primary shooter. And since I spent so much time buffing out all three of my characters, it took a while for me to figure out that I really want to play CQ with my Warlock -- which is weird because that's exactly what I didn't want to do as I was watching all of the PSN folks play in the days before the XBox gamers were allowed into the Beta. I wanted to try my hand at stealth and sniping with the hunter. But it turns out that the verticality of the double jump controllable glide of the Warlock is a much better tactic, besides I sucked at knowing lines of fire in the maps with my Hunter and got owned that way too. Nothing worse than a sniper fight you always lose. Well, lining up a shot and getting clobbered from behind. All of this is a jumpstart and I have had nowhere near enough time to refine my tactics and strategies as I have for Battlefield and Titanfall, much less Halo. Call me back on Halloween, I'm going to come aces.
There will always be better players than I - those for whom Destiny PvP is no mere game, who would rather quit a match than suffer a dent in their KD. Whatever to them, but I do actually kind of like the relentless hardcore attitude of the Crucible along with its attendant rewards. It is reminescent of the ranked multiplayer of Halo2 - TrueSkill I think it was. It may or may not exist, I couldn't tell if I was getting put with lower ranked players or not. But I did notice this. In all the Control games, there was a whole lot less to gain by actually controlling areas on the map as compared with Battlefield. In Destiny's Control (aka Titanfall Hardpoint, Domination etc) controlling map points serves more as a means to figure out where enemy players are headed so you can intercept and kill them rather than something that gains you actual points for time spent controlling them. That's something very unbalanced and wrecks the spirit of an actual game of Control / Domination / Hardpoint, but I can see why it would be that way for a Beta.
Loot Glorious Loot
We now finally have the answer to the dreaded term 'microtransaction' and the answer is NO. The economy of Destiny makes sense. You get out there into the world and you gain XP and loot by downing the adversaries. So much loot is available that you can pile up cash just discarding unneeded and redundant or underpowered items. I still don't know what the hell to do with all my spinmetal, and I just figured out that I could buy special and heavy ammo to tote with me in PvE combat. So maybe when the Grimoires are un-redacted I'll get a better understanding of all that. But I'll tell you this, the collecting of stuff and things in Destiny works great. I love the Cryptarch concept and like the implementation of chance in getting a special loot drop rather than knowing that some drudges will play one note forever to buy and craft. So far, so good even though I cannot get a good pair of boots to match my cape.
I did get enough level 9 and level 10 stuff as a level 8 to not sweat the details of leveling up many of my weapons, but it took me a while to see that weapons themselves get XP and not just me. I just wanted one of everything and didn't spend enough time on one until the Crucible focused my mind onto ultimately a 61 Scout Rifle and 57 Shotty.
Anyway that's all for today.