On July 17th, at 6PM BST, the beta preview for the world's most expensive videogame, Destiny, launched on PlayStation 3 and 4. Access was granted to those who pre-ordered the game, at retail on September 9th, and to chumps from the press – oh, hi. There were a slew of access codes doing the socials, too, so even if you had no intention of buying the full game, chances are you could join in. But come 6PM, there was but one reaction filling Twitter feeds: would-be players were pissed pretty quickly.
Demand for Destiny, somewhat expectedly, put incredible strain on the PlayStation Network (PSN), the online portal through which players could access the beta. Sony put out fair warning, but soon enough came the flood of server-down complaints. Some typical examples:
Not to rub it in or anything, but my experience was all smooth sailing when starting the game after 11PM. The download took a while – it is over 5Gb (on PS3, and much bigger for PS4) – but once in, Destiny was completely error free. I got to do cool stuff in space. Except, I didn't, because despite the Solar-System-spanning promise of Destiny, its beta is set exclusively on Earth. There were pre-level screens where I got to select between two points of travel from a position of orbit, which is sort of space, I guess. But that aside: exclusively terra firma, albeit of a fairly conventional post-apocalypse-styled variety. The sole slice of otherworldliness: the game's intro cinematic, a sleek Mars mission that leads into the status-explaining monologue opening the trailer below.
Ooh, The Darkness. Sounds pretty underwhelming as a Big Bad, doesn't it. But I'm rushing ahead a little here. A quick reverse. What is Destiny, exactly? With a budget for development and marketing said to be around the $500 million mark, this is the first entry in a four-part series of games produced by Bungie, the studio that most famously gave the Xbox-playing portion of the games world Halo.
Destiny is not platform-exclusive, and will be available on PS3 and PS4, as well as Xbox 360 and Xbox One. It's a first-person sci-fi shooter that plays a lot like Halo – your character carries two weapons at a time, can pull off acrophobia-inducing jumps, and the range of enemies seen in the beta are perfect analogues for the range witnessed in the Halo series. The soundtrack, too, is pretty evocative of the adventures of Master Chief – what's below is the main menu music. Apparently Paul McCartney's had a hand in it – but don't let that put you off. After my first beta session, I just let this loop for a while. It's really beautiful, no?
Destiny is an online multiplayer experience that puts you into combat environments with – in the beta, at least – two other hero-type avatars. Interactions are limited right now, four options mapped to the D-pad, but undeniably amusing. In the middle of a fire-fight I thought it'd be pretty funny to entertain someone called XxHawkEyexX or some such nonsense – my PSN ID is just my name, and I've never felt the need to be seen online as anything else – with a silly dance. They responded by breaking off from the battle, offering a little bow, and then got stuck right back in. Which was nice.
On launching Destiny, you have to create a character. I selected an Awoken – a human-like being with very pale skin, "exotic, beautiful and mysterious", according to Bungie – and chose the Hunter class, which is the best all-rounder option, offering long-range weaponry and enough muscle to get out of sticking close-combat situations. I gave my character a great big blue quiff and called her Sue. Because, why not? The game doesn't actually let you name yourself, but for me, Sue is who I am. And Sue is a badass. You can find out about the other options available here, if you're so inclined.
Straight into the game and I'm roused into action, stirred from a long-ass slumber in a shattered former Russia, by some sort of probe-like AI called a Ghost, voiced by Tyrion Lannister. He tells me to run for it, so I do. Eventually the bad guys – The Fallen, which come in a range of shapes and sizes (and difficulties) – catch up with me, so I have to kill them all. Peter Dinklage's robo-voice tells me I'm a Guardian and that I'm very important and... Well, that background stuff is up there in the trailer.
After eliminating 53 enemies in no time at all – in bloodless fashion, this being a teen-rated affair rather than M-for-Mature – I'm taken to Destiny's social hub, The Tower, which is the first time I meet other players, all dashing about the place upgrading weapons and armour and that, this being part-RPG of DNA. In the sky is a gigantic cue ball – again, this is important, I'm told. Exactly why will no doubt become more apparent as the game proper progresses, but the beta offers just a handful more missions – all of which are set in the "Cosmodrome", the patch of old Russia that just magically has everything I need right now in it.
"I want to go to Mars!" I tell Pete. "I want to see the stars!" But he just mumbles something about needing a warp drive for that sort of fancy flying, so it's back to the tunnels and turrets of rusty ol' Russia to shoot more things in the face. Which I do pretty successfully until my first meeting with horrible jumpy slashy screechy creatures called the Hive, which, so the internet tells me, live on the Moon, where they come at night, mostly. Their numbers are overwhelming, catching me unprepared, and Sue's dead for the first time. She respawns just outside their lair – but it's late now, I've played for an hour and I need to pause, collect my thoughts, and then sleep.
And, straight up, I am impressed. Destiny looks really handsome, even on old PS3 hardware – I'll get to a PS4 when there's enough of a catalogue to warrant the investment – and it plays very intuitively. If you've been hands-on with a Halo game before, or something from the Call Of Duty range, you'll feel immediately at home with the L1 to aim, R1 to shoot set-up. Early upgrades unlock a useful incendiary grenade and a delightfully fun double-jump ability, essential for swift traversal. The story so far is a collision of stock genre motifs, pretty much just mumbo-jumbo existing on the periphery of some terrific shooter action – but I'm sure, with the full game, I'll become more invested in the tale of the Traveller and the threat of The Darkness.
And if not, who cares, because Destiny plays brilliantly. Well enough to just jump in and enjoy it without really acknowledging the narrative. For $500 million you might anticipate true innovation – but beyond the employment of a brand-new game engine for it to run on, Destiny keeps things firmly previous-gen. There will be more vehicles, a range of planets to explore and eliminate enemies on. But even on this beta showing, its impact is deep like a Siberian sinkhole.
Now if you don't mind, Sue's got some Hive to slaughter.
The Destiny beta runs until July 27th, with downtime planned for July 21st – 22nd. At the moment it is only available for PlayStation owners – the 360 and Xbox One beta comes online on July 23rd.
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