In hindsight, it was kind of weird I was ever that excited about Destiny. I’ve never liked MMOs, I only like the first Halo and Halo: Reach, and I’ve been kind of burned out on Borderlands after the second one left me feeling cold (and sick of internet memes). Surprise to everyone, then, that not only does Destiny outshine this stew of cynical-but-not-entirely-wrong comparisons, but I actually found myself having a great time!
I’m pretty hermetic when it comes to my gaming habits – a long look at any of my console libraries or the various achievement lists therein reveals I spend much of my time in single-player mode as opposed to, really, any time online. If I’m playing an online game, it’s co-op, and if I AM playing co-op, the odds are good I’ve dragged my computer to someone’s house and it’s being accomplished over LAN. Needless to say, the prospect of people running around in Destiny‘s persistent online mode while I’m minding my own goddamned business trying to save the goddamned universe made me…nervous.
But lo and behold! I think my favorite thing about Destiny is how un-intrusive the co-op is. True to my BADASS LONE WOLF nature, I spent easily the first two hours of gameplay completely by myself, getting plenty accomplished. The enemy placement and strength was fair and balanced, everyone was dropping just enough loot to make me feel sated without being an ammo hog (or reminding me how alone I was by dropping ammo for three people), and I didn’t even have that hard a time with the bosses, even in those stupid “YOU CAN’T RESPAWN HERE BECAUSE OF EVIL” areas (they’re only stupid because I’m bad at them). So there I was, trucking my way through the world like a one-man slaughterhouse, my interaction with other players being limited to dropping in on the occasional randomly-spawning Event throughout the levels, fun little encounters revolving around being in a specific area and doing a specific thing, usually guarding a target from waves of oncoming enemies.
I should take a moment to mention how awesome the combat feels. Everything works like it does in Halo - even on a PS3 controller, if you spent any substantial amount of time with Halo 2-4, you’ll remember exactly which button does what. But, as opposed to the weirdly insubstantial Master Chief, your character carries a great deal of weight. Every melee attack lands with a thud, your jumps aren’t as hover-y, your turning is far more precise, and the ever-present Halo auto-aim is still there but more subtle this time. Even if the game around it wasn’t fun, moving and shooting in Destiny would be worth doing just to experience its weight and fluidity.
But even the Lone Ranger needs a sidekick sometimes, right? (The Lone Rangers? How can you pluralize Lone Ranger?) So after proving to myself I can make it out there on my own, I danced my way into the heart of a nearby stranger, and this is when the first thing about Destiny‘s co-op impressed me: it is super easy to join someone else’s game in-progress. I accepted a politely generated game invite from this fellow adventurer, my screen went black for a second, and next thing you know I was off on the same mission I was just on - but this time with a friend!
And, just as accommodating as the single player was, the multiplayer was just as seamless. Realizing how lame it is to potentially be at the mercy of some idiot that doesn’t know how to drive a tank/buggy/tank-buggy, everyone gets their own Sparrow – a futuristic between-the-legs space bike straight outta Endor – allowing everyone to travel on their own to maintain autonomy even as part of a team. The loot gets divvied up evenly, and after the mission is over one of the NPCs in the Tower (the game’s main social town hub) holds onto copies of all the items your teammates took just in case you wanted something that got scooped up. Destiny, for all of its potentially derivative qualities, seems to have learned a lot of lessons from the more frustrating parts of co-op shooters and MMOs, and is all the better for it.
My time spent as part of a firetime was one of joy, mirth, and violence. There we were, shooting and slicing our way through dilapidated Russia – I as a Titan Exo, a robot resembling Kamen Rider a bit who plays much like any other beefy space marine except for the double-jumping and cool hammer-smash-fists super move, and they as a Warlock, who is basically a space wizard – complementing each other’s powersets very well, spreading the wealth after a harder fight, and even welcoming a second stranger into our midst just before a particularly trying battle with this awesome looking beetle-tank-thing..When I had to sign off, I almost regretted leaving my squadmates, but it was time for me to hit that dusty space trail.
Later, I would dive back in to see how the competitive multiplayer fared, and it was, in a word: okay. It seems, at least at this point, to revolve mostly around a series of king-of-the-hill matches where three checkpoints are hotly contested by all present, each team fighting for an in-game faction in exchange for fabulous prizes. It was, frankly, sort of bland, and really just worked as a better-looking Halo without all the Covenant trappings, but if you were into the multiplayer for Halo 3 and Reach you’ll find much to like here. One gets the impression Bungie is both banking on the multiplayer to keep people interested in Destiny and to get them more interested in the single-player than many Halo fans were: your class abilities and equipment carry directly over from the campaign to the arena, and the best way to get better stuff is to…play Destiny. In that way, Bungie is almost forcing you to go out and make friends before you stomp off to kill strangers. I’m not saying this will lead to a new golden age of people being civilized on the Internet, but it might at least cause you to reconsider that next uncool joke about someone’s mom and/or sexual preferences – you might be relying on your victim to pull your butt out of the fire when some giant Fallen come stomping around.
I have to say, even just having it on PS3, I don’t feel like I’m getting cheated of the experience in any way. The graphics may be downgraded, but this is still absolutely one of the best looking games yet released for the aging third PlayStation, and everything on the technical side of things (load times, connectivity, etc) is just as solid as you should expect from Bungie. In a way, the PlayStation 3 version (and presumably the Xbox 360 as well) carries with it some advantages. Anecdotal evidence, surely, but I heard complaints about connection issues and downed servers from a number of friends of mine in the next/current (is it really the current gen yet? That’s a whole ‘nother article) gen version, whereas my experience was nearly flawless. More experience writing netcode for the two prior systems, perhaps, or maybe just fewer players – but even then it couldn’t be THAT many fewer, as everywhere I went was well-populated. I’m not in any big hurry to buy the PS4 I know I’ll inevitably buy, and frankly the stellar experience I had with the last-gen Destiny beta is causing me to delay this purchase all the further.
Really, if I’m being honest, I’m still surprised at how much fun I had with Destiny. The list of features looked at first glance to be a 60-40 split between things I want in a game and things I avoid, but having spent time with it in person it quickly climbed to the top of my list of games to play for the rest of this year. Yes, it isn’t the most innovative or groundbreaking game in the world – but let’s face it, other than the console-friendly controls, was the first Halo? Or, for that matter, Marathon? Bungie has a knack for seeing what works in an established genre, tweaking what doesn’t work, and slapping that all into a well-realized an interesting world, and it seems that’s what they’ve done yet again with Destiny. It warmed my curmudgeonly single-player heart, and I imagine it will sway a lot of others the same way.