Activision and Bungie appear to be sinking an incredible amount of resources into their upcoming next-generation MMO shooter Destiny -- one rumor suggests the game will need to move a remarkable ten million units in order to approach profitability -- so perhaps it's no surprise they're going to great lengths to create an aura of mystery and hype around the game. Prior to this year's E3 presentation, they'd only speak about Destiny in vague, grandiose terms, as if its inner workings were entirely too advanced to explain to its audience in a mere 10-minute stage presentation.
Unfortunately, that sort of enigmatic hand-waving is kind of like a monster movie, in that both seem a lot more impressive when they're shrouded in uncertainty. But like the creature that turns out to be very obviously a guy in a rubber suit once revealed clearly, Destiny isn't nearly so incomprehensible in practice. On the contrary, by all appearances it looks like a combination of Bungie's own Halo and Gearbox's Borderlands. That's certainly no bad thing at all (the two franchises sit at the pinnacle of both sci-fi and cooperative shooter design, so combined they should make for a fantastic mixture), but it does seem awfully prosaic in light of all the puffery directed at the game earlier this year.
While the game itself seems very much an of-the-moment sort of affair, the marketing push gives off a decidedly old-school vibe. The PR-driven Destiny "mystery" is the sort of thing that worked a decade ago when audiences were less savvy, less Internet-connected; maybe not so much anymore. Back then, guys like Hideo Kojima could totally hoodwink us with Metal Gear Solid 2, but it's precisely that sort of sucker-punch that has made gamers into the scowling cynics they are today. Now, excessive hype is more likely to blow up in a publisher's face than to blow up into an industry-defining hit.
Destiny certainly looks great. The minute-to-minute action comes directly from the latter-day Halo games, with the what appears to be the same heft and gravity to its combat. The weapon loadouts should be familiar to fans of Bungie's older games, with a mix of ballistic and energy weapons that seem to play different strategic roles in combat. There's even a glowing projectile that appears to use the same audio samples as the Needler -- not to mention the floating A.I. companion voiced by Peter Dinklage, who comes off as a sort of a slightly exasperated mix between 343 Guilty Spark and Tony Stark's J.A.R.V.I.S.
Structurally, though, Destiny look like it plays out as something more akin to an amped-up take on Borderlands. Cooperative play is a key component of the action based on the demo Bungie was showing off at E3, but Destiny takes place in a larger, seemingly persistent world. The climax of the game's public showing revolved around a seamless, drop-in, instanced event which saw the two demo players join in with remote players to fend off a massive tank-like monstrosity. And, we're promised, players can go wherever they like, as Destiny is one of the roughly two dozen big-budget games from this year's E3 with an open-world design.
It's all very impressive and tremendously promising. After all, Borderlands excels as a grindy, loot-gathering, team-based experience, but the fundamental shooting mechanics honestly aren't nearly as meaty or enjoyable as Halo's. Meanwhile, the Halo series has played at multiplayer design, but it was always limited to coop play through the very linear campaign or nuts-and-bolts deathmatch. Combine the expansive world feel of one with the superior play mechanics of the other and you have a game that promises to be quite a world-beater.
However, it's not a game, I think, that's particularly hard to understand. For all of Bungie's proclamations of changing the very nature of video games, Destiny looks like a thoroughly enjoyable and mildly progressive logical next step for shooters. Perhaps there's more to be shown off (besides the character skill customization slots that they acted so mysterious about in the E3 demo), but we'll see.