Game Preview: Destiny Beta Hands On – Part One


By Hedge

A few weeks ago, I took you through my experiences with the Destiny Alpha, a fun and frolicking weekend event for the Playstation 4. This past week, as you’ve probably heard, was the Beta; beginning on the 17th for Playstation users and the 23rd for those on Xbox. So what changed between Alpha and Beta? Not a great deal; but there was certainly more to be seen. The following is my experience, as it happened over the first part of the test. It’s not a short post; I’m super excited for this game, have been since the first announcement and there’s so much I want to share. Minor spoilers for the game’s opening mission below. Also I’ve included tons of screenshots, all taken from my own playthrough. The scenery porn is what we’re all here for right?

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The Beginning

The location for the Beta was the same as that of the Alpha; The Cosmodrome in Old Russia. Despite rumours to the contrary, no new locations on or off Earth were featured in the story or exploration modes of the pre-release build. What we did get, was more of an introduction, complete with some stunning cinematics and voice work.

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The voiceover by Peter Dinklage has been given an overhaul – sadly that line has been removed, much to r/DestinyTheGame’s despair – and now his deadpan delivery feels much more apt. His voice cracks and clicks with audible glitches and flavour. There’s also now a voice for your Guardian. For a robot (I am, again, playing a male Exo Titan) my character sounded oddly organic, but I can excuse it. He’s gravelly… I guess.

The remainder of the cast includes such greats as Terrence Stamp as the Speaker, the fellow in white seen in the screencaps above, Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres and Lance Reddick as the Hunter, Warlock and Titan Vanguards respectively, Claudia Black as a merchant in the tower and Peter Stormare is in there too; not sure who as though.

Bungie pulled out all the stops here and secured some stellar talent.

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The game opens with you on Earth, and at first you have neither weapon nor rank. You’re guided by your Ghost towards safety, as Fallen hunt you, and soon you’re battling your way through – at least to an Alpha player – familiar territory. That long corridor and car graveyard I found near the end of my Alpha game? Turns out that’s where you start; it’s deliberately linear, as you get your bearings and become familiar with the controls and general feel of the game. You’re eased into it by your Ghost, an ever present companion who points out story, history, geography and mission necessities.

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Starting at Level 1 and building up my skills through the first four missions of the game was nice, although being quite familiar with the Cosmodrome I completed that entirely within the first two hours of the first day of play. I wanted more, but there was no more to have. This says a lot about Destiny’s appeal. You become invested in the exploration, in the progression to new lands and new sights. Having experienced the Cosmodrome twice now, I’m eager for something different. The Moon, while present in the map and the next logical place (after the famous Wizard makes his appearance) to go, is locked out. Players are directed to return on September 9 for more. A tease. Such a tease.

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There were rumours that Mars or Venus would have a brief appearance in the solo game, but sadly not. These are present only in the multiplayer Crucible, which I’ll get to in a moment.

The Cosmodrome, and the Old Russia hinterlands that surround it are just as gorgeous as ever. The game is superbly atmospheric, and you can really feel the lived-in sense that Bungie wish to impart. Between the visuals – crisp, detailed, varied – the soundscape – ambient texture, a swirling gust of wind, the sound of gravel underfoot, a rising crescendo of choral music – and the presence of intelligent enemies, they’ve created a living world for the player to explore. That said, having nowhere new to showcase in the Beta, while from one perspective perfectly reasonable – this is just a stress test after all – left me with mild concern.

Are there more locations on Earth, or is Old Russia all we’re getting? How many other human locations are there? Will we see London? China? North America? The Antarctic? West African nations? My homeland, Australia? Knowing the vastness of the solar system is “up for grabs” makes me wonder how much of that solar system we’re actually going to see. Will there be a range of locations on Earth, the Moon, Mars, Venus, Mercury, Titan, and so forth? Will each be limited to one “map” like the Old Russia I’m now so intimately familiar with?

The questions plague me, and currently there are no definite answers to be had. There are though hints from early concept art – Chicago, an area in the Amazon rainforest. The Reddit Rumourmill is rife with speculation; apparently this isn’t even the entirety of the Cosmodrome as parts are sealed and hidden and inaccessible behind ??level monsters we cannot take on. All we can do is hope and trust in Bungie.

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Having completed the four story quests in record time (I’m not kidding you when I say I’d finished everything it wanted me to do in two hours) I was directed by my Ghost to enter orbit, and then by a Crucible representative to try my hand against other Guardians. The way multiplayer in Destiny is presented is in-universe; something Bungie started with Halo, having the Spartan IV training take place during the same timeframe as the campaign, with your own custom Spartan.

Similarly, the Crucible is an in-universe training system. A way for Guardians to hone their skills in battle. It’s not a bad way to increase your level outside of missions and it’s an excellent way to meet new folk to potentially build a fireteam with should you, like me, lack many real-world friends to play with. You can collect bounties from the Tower, a robot by a billboard will give you different rewards for completing different tasks; I chose “win three Crucible matches” and once I had, I was given my glimmer and xp.

Bounties are available, also, for the open world “wilderness” of the game.

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The Crucible and The Iron Banner

The Beta presents two locations and one game type: Control. In Control you vie for dominance as your team of six fights against an opposing force for the command of three zones. Each one is easily accessible, and can be claimed King of the Hill style. You arrive, your presence claims the zone for your team. When you leave (or are killed as is generally the case) and the enemy arrives, they must “neutralise” your ownership before taking control themselves. This back and forth leads to some frantic play. Other game types were described, but not yet available.

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The longer you hold a zone, the more points you build up. Points increase with increased zone control. Control all three and your team’s points build up super fast. It’s fun and varied, and once you learn the intricacies of the maps you can really cause some havoc.

The maps themselves are based on the campaign locations, but are entirely unique to the Crucible. You won’t be re-treading old ground in PvP. Leaving Earth orbit for the Crucible causes you to jump into hyper drive, where you and your team join up in a really splendid way. Had any of us enough glimmer (in-game currency) to buy a new ship, they would each have had that individuality on this screen; eventually I did just that – in fact I upgraded twice over these first few days.

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Super pretty though. Following that; it’s onto the fight!

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My first map was a lunar base, First Light. Check out that spawn animation. Divine.

GIF by AstonishingArcticEquestrian via Reddit

The match opens each one with a sweeping view of the landscape you’ll be fighting in. It’s fucking gorgeous, with truly next generation visuals on the PS4. The map itself was quite big, with vehicles available at the spawn points; the smaller Pike, and a larger tank called an Interceptor. These can be freely ridden, exchanged, and stolen during gameplay. New ones will drop as time goes on. Control games are time-based, not kill based.

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I became intimately familiar with the Moon during my Crucible play on day one. In the four hours I played these PvP matches, only four times did I go anywhere else, and each of those was to my next entry, Venus. Sadly the Moon has been ‘terraformed’ within the fiction of the world and so the gravity is exactly like that of Earth. I found this quite disappointing as I’d hoped we’d be permitted to leap and bound like true astronauts.

Maybe in the final release, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

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My second map, the Shores of Time on Venus, was an oddly lush location.Using Traveller technology, the human race terraformed these planets. Mercury is a now garden planet… somehow. Don’t ask. Blame science. It’s gorgeous with swaying grasses and tall trees. Even within these Crucible maps, lighting changes dependant on time of day; above was my first playthrough, below one much later.

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Venus was a lot smaller than the Moon. Not claustrophobic by any means but without vehicles or vast open spaces. The image above was looking away from the structure itself. Three zones as before, with some contained in inner areas, closed off from outside snipers. There were a lot of twisting caverns here, gaps to be jumped, and a central area with spoke-like corridors extending outward. My biggest issue with the Crucible games was the lack of voice chat. I couldn’t talk to or strategise with any of my team mates. It all felt very disparate. Run and gun. Pay no attention to what the rest of your group are doing.

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The final two maps were at first limited to a brief, limited time event called The Iron Banner, which due to my Australian residence and the unfortunate start time of 2PM PDT I was unable to enjoy. They did however promise that the doors to the Iron Banner would open again, and open they did. For everyone else. Bungie seemed almost determined to keep Aussies out. The two times available were (in West Australian Standard Time) 5AM or 10AM, both on a weekday. Sadly, I do have a day job. That just wasn’t going to happen for me. I can give some brief details based on “research” though.

Blind Watch is a Martian map, featured previously by an IGN walk through. The final map on the Iron Banner tasting plate was Rusted Lands, set on Earth in the Cosmodrome we had already experienced in so much depth. I’m still hoping for access after the shutdown period. A boy can dream, right?

Co-operative Play

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After playing so much multiplayer and reaching the Beta level cap of 8, which still allowed me to progress my stats and abilities, weapons and armour if not my qualitative numerical rank, I joined a friend, Andy, who had also entered the Beta and was working through the lower missions at his current level of 1. I joined his fireteam (a cumbersome misadventure that I will discuss more in my Gripes section at the end of this article) and left everything in his capable hands. In Destiny only the leader of your fireteam, a group of 1-3 players (despite oddly having six slots on the screen), can make the decisions. So he took me were he needed to go.

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We were unable to get voice chat to work in any way through the Destiny interface. Similarly to my experiences in The Crucible, there is no native voice chat within your team, something I was certain they had announced. Instead we went the alternate route of a PSN party which was slightly more convoluted, considering how well voice chat has worked in previous Bungie games.

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Going through the levels again was familiar, but with a comrade to chat with a completely new experience. I was already high enough level that killing the enemies – at least to start with – gained me no glimmer and only negligible experience, so I stayed content to explore, find chests for us to loot, defend my self if needed and only assist Andy when requested. I pointed him in the direction of the gold chests, four of which I had attained myself, so that he could share in their bounty. The fifth and final chest I would reach later, in The Devil’s Lair strike.

I really enjoyed going through the map again. I found new caves, and enjoyed the tactical nature of planning attacks with a buddy. I’d miss out on this experience in The Devil’s Lair due to the total lack of non-party chat in the game, at least at present, so I was glad to experience it. It’s in that co-operative play that Bungie’s game truly shines. Occasionally joined by blue-titled strangers it was during this co-op session that I completed my first public event. In the past, during the Alpha mostly, I’d attempted them but due to the sparse population at the time I was, sadly, forever alone.

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This time there were three of us, and by the end a fourth. When first announced the sky blackens as in the screencap above and a warning siren of sorts blares once. Our task was to defeat the Fallen extraction crews here to steal our planet’s precious minerals. Three crews. Three locations. We had fifty seconds to reach the first and commit to the event. Me and Andy raced to it. When we got there a third player was already battling the Fallen. That crew defeated rapidly, we three raced to the second location and were joined by a fourth. The dropship unloaded a batch of enemies, each crew more dangerous than the last. The final contained three servitors; purple orbs of glowing purple metal and light, as well as two Captains.

I, as I shouted to my comrade, would “take care of the bowling ball motherfuckers” – unfamiliar with the names of the enemies I would frequently use off-the-cuff descriptions to ease translation – and let him and the others deal with the numerous two-legged enemies. We won. Glimmer was awarded. We danced. Our two travellers continued on their way. Like another favourite game of mine, Journey, the way  other players enter and exit your experience seamlessly is marvellous. There’s always someone around, but never too many that the area is crowded and everyone is doing their own thing. In the Tower, the game’s social hub, everyone wanders around together – still instanced to prevent overload – and it feels more and more like a living, breathing location.

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We completed the Level 5 mission The Last Array together, which culminated in an exciting, and heart pounding finale. As wave after wave of Hive encroached upon us, we defended with all we had. The Knight took some killing, my heavy machine gun doing most of the work, followed by a grenade as he raised his impenetrable shield. Meanwhile Andy was between shotgun loads, punching the Thralls in the face again and again, beating them down until the flood abated and he could finally reload.

It was an experience. Despite having done it before, I found I was both excited by the action, concerned for Andy’s wellbeing (he didn’t need reviving though, to his credit, once during the fight) and engrossed in the narrative tidbits delivered by our Ghosts. It was an exhausting, yet exhilarating rollercoaster, helped in no small way by the outstanding score.

This is a game that delivers an experience, and nothing less.

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Playing with Andy made me yearn for more co-operative time. I gamed a little with Leo, another mate, who despite his lack of mic was still able to work with me, and I with him, towards the exploration of the Cosmodrome. The game rewards social play; Destiny is a much more rewarding experience in a group. But that group dynamic needs to be fixed somewhat (see below).

The Devil’s Lair

I decided to give The Devil’s Lair a go, a Level Six strike aimed at fireteams of 1-3 people. Not having a fireteam at the ready, I was matched with two strangers.

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Instantly I felt the loss at being unable to communicate with them. We were not PSN friends, we were in a fireteam of a temporary nature only. Our sole method of communication was through waves, points and dancing. We managed though and eventually, through teamwork, lots of strategic flanking, and more than one very welcome revival, faced Sepiks Prime, a gargantuan Servitor with a bajillion health points and the support of frequent enemy drops.

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Overall it was a lot of fun, despite the lack of available communication between the three of us. I wasn’t satisfied though, and when Andy was ready we went right back in there, the two of us and a third, match-made teammate. Sadly said teammate dropped out – which has happened once or twice to me too, it’s a beta after all, and we were a duo for a while until a new teammate joined us.

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The game was no less difficult, but was definitely more tactical with voice chat enabled. Thankfully Crashmonkey was skilled, and on the ball, as he (or she) came to our aid when needed. The Devil Walkers, a large spider-tank like enemy, are a ton of fun, but they’re hard to take down, and it’s important to keep up with the waves of spawning enemies below.

The same goes for the final battle with Sepiks Prime, which we fought hard and well. Those spawning enemies are more than just another obstacle to be overcome; within Destiny they’re the primary method of ammunition gathering. Kill enemies and they drop white (primary weapon) ammo generators or green (secondary weapon) ammo generators. They’re like a way for your ghost to 3D print more bullets. The third type, purple is for your heavy weapon and is nowhere near as ubiquitous as the other two. Only enemies with a heavy weapon, like a Hive Knight or a Fallen Captain, will drop heavy ammo when killed.

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But we won, and revelled in the victory. Collected a gold chest. Danced a bit.

The game is fun, and rewarding, but with all that said it’s not yet perfect.

The Gripes

1. Joining a fireteam is a hassle. Correction; joining one by invite, is a hassle. Andy invited me to his fireteam, but the invitation never arrived. I invited him to mine, and he was told it was full. Full of whom I couldn’t tell you, as I was alone. I then opted to join his fireteam rather than him inviting me, and that eventually worked. Took all in all around ten minutes.

Fix: Streamline this. Have the option for on-the-fly fireteams, for a simple invitation and RSVP system.

2. There’s no simple voice chat system and any voice chat they have implemented doesn’t seem to work. To be able to converse, me and Andy, and later Matt, joined a PSN party and were freely able to talk to one another, but to nobody else. Outside of PSN parties there is, in the beta, no way to communicate other than gestures. This is a big problem, particularly during co-op games with on-the-fly fireteams and team games in the Crucible.

Crucible matches were, despite ostensibly being a team on team affair, nothing more than a wild free-for-all. Team mates ran to and fro, collecting this, killing that. We didn’t know what anyone else was doing, so we just did what we wanted and it leads to a very disparate experience.

Fix: Voice chat should be automatically enabled for fireteam members, and teammates in the Crucible. This isn’t going to help with those few strange folk who for some reason don’t have a mic (one came with your PS4 for fuck’s sake) but for the majority of us, it will let teams chat in a way they should be able to better finish their fight.

3. Team member identification in the Crucible is, to be frank, horrendous. In Control there are two teams; Alpha (blue banner) and Bravo (red banner). However, regardless of your team affiliation your team is always blue and the enemy team is always red. This is just the first of the confusing choices in multiplayer. To make it worse, while enemy names are in red, their health bars (which are much easier to spot given the narrow typeface chosen for the floating ID tags) are white.

This all pales in comparison to the biggest issue with team mate identification: everybody drops into the game with whatever they were wearing outside of it. My armour is mostly red with some white; in a team game where I am on the blue-bannered alpha team this does not change. My team mates had yellow, brown, blue and red armour and uniform. The opposing team had members with blue armour, and red. This makes at-a-glance spotting of enemies impossible. By the time you’ve identified them by their name, they’re shooting you either because they’re firing wildly, paying closer attention to their radar or have a better connection and see my name faster than I see theirs. It’s not a minor gripe; frequently I wasted ammo on members of my own team because I thought they were enemies.

Fix: As with Halo, team games should automatically skin players with a solidly coloured or at least tinted armour type. If you’re on bravo team, your team names should be red and so should their armour. That way you can follow the blues and shoot them in the face.

4. In multiplayer, you lose your heavy ammo when you die. Heavy weapon ammo loss is, as far as I’m concerned, nonsense. Considering it only drops infrequently, and you can be killed a half second later having never managed to load it into your gun, you shouldn’t then lose it all when you respawn. It’s silly and means many players just never use their heavy weapon.

Fix: Don’t do this. There’s no reason for it.

5. While we’re on the subject of heavy weapon ammo, more enemies need to drop the purple cubes. Our fight with the Devil Walker could have gone smoother if any of us had heavy weapon ammo, but it just doesn’t drop. It’s so rare as to be pointless in this beta build of the game.

Fix: I get that only enemies with a heavy weapon drop it, but things like Shanks and Servitors should also drop heavy ammo.

6. Damage indicators. An equilateral triangle is not an indicator, it’s a distraction.

Fix: Give us an arrow. Make it point, clearly, to the side of the screen from where damage is coming.

7. Let us turn the Ghost flashlight on manually.

The Shutdown

The game is in shutdown now, a two day hiatus where Bungie can run tests, analyse data, remove known bugs and so forth. When it returns we’ve been teased as to new content, with the developers stating the Beta is like a rocket; “deploying in stages”. It’s also when Xbox 360 and Xbox One owners can get their mitts on the game.

The Beta runs until the 27th, so if you haven’t yet there is still time to pre-order and secure an access code. The more the merrier, and the better quality of data Bungie can obtain. This isn’t a demo, it’s a stress test and the more stress we can put the game under, the better the final result can be.

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I’ll be back in when the shutdown ends.  Gimme a wave if you see me, and most of all enjoy the hell out of this game. For Part Two of this Destiny feature, be sure to come back when the Beta concludes.