Preview: Destiny's alpha may be limited, but it's a whole lot of fun
I was lucky enough to gain access to Destiny's public alpha, and have already spent a large amount of hours questing and killing things in Old Russia as well as blasting enemies (and dying a lot) in the game's multiplayer. Here are some of my impressions.
First and foremost, I have to comment on the game and its mechanics. Destiny feels like an extremely thought-out and perfectly mixed combo of Borderlands, Mass Effect, Halo and various MMO mechanics. The actual gameplay feels the most like Borderlands, with enemies' levels being displayed on their nameplates, numbers popping out of them whenever they receive damage, and gaining XP and loot as you explore your environment. The Mass Effect inspiration comes from the armor sets. Currently, my Exo hunter looks very much like a Quarian, and I swear some of the vendors in the main hub look like Geth.
The Halo inspiration, aside from this being a Bungie game, comes in the form of weapons and general animations. Using a melee attack to take down an enemy almost gives you a sense of deja vu as Master Chief. Lastly, MMO mechanics are almost everywhere in the game. Public Events pop up in various zones that require you and a few strangers to take down a bunch of enemies. Enemy mobs respawn in areas much in the same way as they would in an MMO as well. It's an interesting mix for a shooter, but it just works so damn well.
The public alpha only contains the Old Russia map on Earth, but boy is it expansive. You can either opt to take part in a storyline mission where you have to take down an enemy boss known as the Wizard (who apparently comes from the Moon), party up with two others and participate in a Strike, which is a multi-boss instance taking place in the same map, or a fully free roam explore mode where you can pick up beacon quests, which task you with quick and easy objectives like killing a certain amount of enemies, picking up a certain amount of items, or running over to an area and surveying it. You can check out the gameplay from the first story mission below.
Then there is The Tower, also known as the last city on Earth. This hub is where players can meet up together, with friends or strangers, and form up Fireteams (parties) and go questing together. This is also the spot to buy new equipment in the form of gear and weapons. There's also a spot for extra objectives that reward you with separate currency used to buy legendary gear. The objectives available in the alpha were to gain 9000XP without dying, finish a Strike without dying, and kill two enemies at once with a Fusion Rifle a bunch of times. Each time you complete one of these, you get an XP reward and a specialized currency as well as advance in a special rank.
I spent a bulk of my time in the Explore Mode. Sure the objectives, which were always random and constantly respawning, were somewhat repetitive, but the gameplay kept me hooked. I did wish there was a mini-map or a map in general so I would know where I've been, where I'm going, and what areas I haven't visited yet. That said, it sort of adds to Destiny's sense of exploration. For example, when I found a cave with level 11 enemies for the first time, I felt like I uncovered a little secret on my own, without relying on a mini-map that took me there.
The AI-companion, Ghost, does a pretty good job at navigating you to your objectives as well. The game's compass is ever-changing based on the location that you're in, always telling you whether to switch directions instead of pointing you in one general direction and having you figure out how to get there.
I also have a pretty awesome mount called the Sparrow, which actually looks like a Star Wars speeder bike. These mounts don't have any offensive capabilities, but they do allow you to get from one place to the next very quickly. You do have to take care not to get shot at too much because it can get destroyed, and it'll take a bit before it's usable again.
Each class has a pretty diverse skill tree. The Hunter tree can be seen above. While I'm not 100% certain, I believe that using a particular skill will gradually unlock that skill's upgrade. For example, you can see in the picture above, I have the upgraded grenade, and I believe it's because I've constantly been using the grenade skill, thus gaining XP for it faster.
Now onto the game's unique multiplayer approach. The character you play as in single player is the same character you bring over to multiplayer. Whatever your loadout is, from your skills to your gear, is what you'll be using in multiplayer. It's actually a rather genius approach that pays off during Destiny's end game.
By playing matches, you gain another type of currency. This currency can be used to buy PvP specific gear. By the time you reach the level cap, you'll be able to deck yourself out with gear tailored to your class and your skills, and you'll become a formidable force online. It's great that multiplayer is tied to the single player experience, especially considering how much work Bungie has put into crafting this world.
The beta, which will include a ton more players, including all those that pre-ordered the game, won't be going live until July 17th. Stay tuned for more footage from the game's alpha to hold you over until then.