Destiny's Alpha hints that Bungie's sprawling epic shooter may satisfy players of both competitive and co-op FPS persuasions
This struck a lot of industry hacks and gaming fans as odd, since Bungie gifted the world the Halo franchise and its competitive multiplayer was a central plinth in the success of Xbox Live in the early days of the original Xbox.
Bungie further added a little confusion to the mix by saying that Destiny would satisfy players who preferred PVP action and lone wolves. Once again, this sounded strange, since the premised for Destiny was that it was going to be a persistent world shooter – a sprawling, epic sci fi sandbox for players to tool about in.
So how do you construct a persistent world – which sounds, by all accounts, the same as an MMO like World Of Warcraft (except without the subscription fee) – offering players tons of freedom to explore, while making sure they can't grief one another?
The new Destiny Alpha succinctly answers this question: you partition the different co-op and competitive experiences. The Alpha begins with the player creating a character and shooting through what looks like a short story mission, but once these sections are completed, the player is returned to their orbital dropship.
This is central hub that players can use to fast travel between environments and missions. In the Alpha there are five arenas they can access: there are three co-op missions set in Old Russia, The Crucible (which is basically the PVP arena) and The Tower, where players can kit out their character with weapons, armour, upgrades, new vehicles and more. They can even pick up the odd bounty here and there.
The missions in Old Russia show off some of the game's variety. The first is a straightforward mission in which the player guides their Guardian – the heroic defender of earth in Destiny – through a dilapidated spaceport in Russia fighting off snarling aliens called The Fallen.
The second mission plonks the player in the same environment, but instead of a linear driven mission, the player is given a series of quests to complete and they can approach both them and the map in a more open-ended manner. The final mission in Old Russia is a visceral set-piece that requires three players to team to complete. You can't even access unless it unless the matchmaking system finds two more players to slot into your mission.
Of course, players can always pop up in one another's missions just as one would expect from any game tagged as persistent world. They're also able to invite one another to 'Fire Teams', pairing up and sharing XP and loot from kills. The more classes a Fire Team has, the more variety they have in the attacks they can dish out.
There are three classes of Guardian in the Alpha: the Titan class, which you could tag as 'Assault', the Hunter class, which is basically a scout and the Warlock, who dual wields weapons and what passes for magic in this world.
Each class in the Alpha starts off with an automatic rifle and a shotgun, but as they progress, more weapons – such as sniper rifles, semi-automatics and hand cannons – start appearing. They're nowhere near as amusing as the weapons contained in Borderlands (another game Destiny feels quite a bit like) but they're effective nonetheless.
Each class also has a talent tree players can unlock as they earn XP for kills and mission completion. For our time in Destiny, we selected a Hunter class and were able to unlock a power that allowed us to create a three-shot gun made out of fire that disintegrated any enemy we shot with it.
Every class also has an item called a Ghost. It looks like a hovering Rubik's Cube, speaks with Peter Dinklage's voice and essentially plays the role of a virtual companion – much in the same way Cortana did in the Halo games. It can also hack the odd door, summon the player's speeder bike and return them to the dropship if they feel like leaving an arena.
Even though it's a snapshot of the huge title to come, Destiny's Alpha is a rather meaty treat. It'll take players the better part of an afternoon to rinse the co-op missions thoroughly and the firefights in The Crucible are worth the price of admission alone.
It shouldn't come as a shock that it's so good. After all this game is made by Bungie, the developer that crafted a shooter beast that Microsoft's still living large of. We can't wait to see what the finished article looks like.
Destiny release date: 9 September 2014
Destiny price: £40