Last Thursday at 6pm the switch was flipped and thousands of PS4 players were granted access to the playable beta of Destiny, the forthcoming massively-multiplayer shooter from Bungie. And here’s the thing… is it really that impressive?
Obviously this puzzlement should be heavily caveated with the fact that it is called a game beta for a reason: Rather than wait to release a finished product, the developers have made the decision to grant us the honour of spotting bugs in the game for them. So this isn’t a review – more a reflection on a few hours play of the beta so far.
For the uninitiated, the game itself is a space-based first person shooter – with some RPG elements bolted on for good measure. Visually, the game is vaguely reminiscent of the Halo series (perhaps because of its common developer heritage) and it sees the player put in command of a variety of weapons that can shoot bullets, lasers and so on. As you get better, these weapons and your skills will get upgraded, so eventually you’ll become an elite fighting machine.
In the beta, in which one planet is accessible (Earth, oddly enough), it is split into a set of different missions which you can either take on solo or with a band of players.
The missions are all pretty familiar FPS fayre: follow the market, shoot the bad guys on the way and then at the end of nearly all of the levels it is up to you to defend yourself against wave after wave of enemies. What’s a bit lame is the the levels all end in the same way: you enter the “no respawn zone”, to add a sense of greater jeopardy to proceedings. This means that if you die, you’re thrown back to the start of the no respawn area, and must start again. The thing is… isn’t this just a bit lazy? If they’re not even going to try to disguise the game mechanic, why bother making a game with a narrative, premise and setting at all? Why not just have a blank screen displaying a series of buttons that the player must press in sequence? As that’s all a game really is.
The combat is also not hugely impressive. The decision has been taken to gear combat towards fast-paced Quake-style fighting. This means lots of bullets are flying and it is all superficially exciting… but it kills off any scope for a more methodical approach. Given the game is online and puts you into cooperative scenarios with other players should the game now encourage… cooperation? You can’t coordinate if the strategy is always “run towards the bad guys and shoot them really fast”. Compare to, say, the ploddingly enjoyable Sniper Elite 3, which is all about stealth and taking your time to carefully pick off the bad guys one by one – cooperative in that game really can facilitate two players working together in a coordinated way to achieve objectives.
The graphics too are thoroughly unremarkable. Perhaps it is because sci-fi settings have no reference points in real life you can compare them to, but it all seems remarkably bland. The same futuristic structures and objects we’ve seen in a million games before. And if you’re expecting to be blown away by something that looks “next generation”, then you won’t find it here. It isn’t ugly, just… unremarkable.
Given the hype surrounding the game, it is odd to download it and have such a flat experience with it. Destiny should be a great game when it is finally properly released: It has the mighty Bungie behind it, and the concept is on paper quite an interesting one (how many other MMO FPS games are there on consoles?). But so far the execution, at least in the parts they’ve let us play, seems a little lacklustre.
I’ll schedule in a mea-culpa post for September now, when the game wins every plaudit going.
By James O'Malley | July 21st, 2014