When Bungie parted ways with Microsoft and the Halo franchise, fans of the developer’s work were sad to see them leave their creation behind. But when information began to leak about their ambitious plans for Destiny - to build a new big budget, epic sci-fi franchise that would span years of installments on new consoles, the bittersweet feeling became a lot sweeter.
An online shooter built on mysterious lore with co-op elements, competitive multiplayer, RPG progression and class-based playable characters, it’s been a challenge ever since its announcement for Bungie and publisher Activision to send clear messaging on what the game is really about. Is it just like Borderlands and Halo? The devs would tell you that Destiny will “rewrite the FPS Rulebook” explaining how it cost $500 million to develop and market. But we’ve not seen that.
Even the media outlets who spent time with it at Bungie’s studio weeks before E3 came out with mixed reactions. The game looked good, but it never appeared to offer anything new or different – what Bungie had been touting. To offer some clarity, test the game’s online servers, and let PlayStation 4 players have even more bonus content, Bungie launched a public alpha at the end of E3, beginning last Thursday and planned to end yesterday evening. Fortunately for us, and everyone who snagged codes from Bungie’s official Destiny site or at E3, they’ve extended the alpha for additional server testing, game tweaks and updates – and what Bungie describes as “dangerous experiments” which we can only hope refers to some cool in-game events.
Thanks to the extension, I spent some time this morning creating a new character and exploring some of the starter missions and side quests to highlight the gameplay mechanics, character creation and beautiful interface and presentation values. The character creation is up top and just above are two videos showcasing the first mission and boss battle. Below you can see what happens next with side missions and exploration, followed by a quick look at the hub world (the Tower) where players can meet up and purchase goods from vendors.
The alpha – like a significant chunk of exclusive content – is only available on the PlayStation 4 and while the beta comes in a month, Bungie does confirm that all four versions of the game will have beta period before the game’s September launch. Sadly, we say “four” versions because Destiny isn’t coming to PC, at least not yet. Despite building the game on PCs, testing it on PCs, and claiming it makes sense to have the game at PC during countless interviews last week at E3 2014, it’s still not. Speaking to Polygon, Erik Hirshberg, the CEO of Activision Publishing, reiterated that a PC version of Destiny is a point of discussion internally so there’s a glimmer of hope.
“It is [a good fit], and it’s something we’re talking about and looking at very carefully, and obviously it makes a lot of sense with the genre and the type of game it is. Again, no announcements, but it’s something that’s a heavy point of discussion. And you asked how are we dealing with the complexity of developing for so many platforms, how about one more on top of that?”
“You know, developing on PC is a different animal than developing for consoles and so we just want to make sure that we’re putting one foot in front of the other and getting it right, and that it’s of the highest possible quality. But obviously I see the same things about the natural fit.”
Hey, Grand Theft Auto V eventually was announced for PC, right? We can’t knock the devs for ensuring quality and all this talk will hopefully lead to a PC release eventually, a release that will only be better thanks to what the devs learn and tweak in post-release patches. Continuing on the theme of disappointments though, the game’s community manager Eric Osborne tells GameSpot that unlike all the Halo games Bungie developed, they won’t be supporting local play for Destiny. No splitscreen for you.
“We’re actually not supporting split-screen in Destiny. We love split-screen. Obviously we have a legacy of supporting it. We know a lot of players love it. We love it. But we really wanted to untether guardians. Even if you’re in a fireteam, you can go wherever you want. That level of freedom was really important for us. We know some players really like split-screen. Ultimately, you can’t build a game to suit every single player out there.”
It’s a shame that a multiplayer and social-focused game doesn’t let you play a game with someone in your house, especially given the “next-gen” nature of Destiny and the developer’s pedigree. The explanation above tries to make it sound like it was the better option and a design choice, but what it really represents is one less important option for games to have if they wanted and/or needed it. As we get better tech and bigger games, we’re seemingly continuing to lose this basic function in the largest of triple-A gaming experiences. You can only play with your pals over the mic and the must-pay-to-use PS+ and Xbox Live services. More reason to not buy a second controller.
As for the game itself, from our limited time with it over the weekend and this morning, Destiny is highly polished and fun to play – in the end, that’s what’s going to matter. Have you tried it yet?
Destiny will arrive on PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One on September 9, 2014.
Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes.