When I fired up the Destiny Beta yesterday afternoon (after wrestling with PSN like everyone else), I was almost immediately taken by a strong wave of deja vu. Not for Halo, but for another sci-fi shooter-Mass Effect 2.
It happened when I reached the end of my first mission and was met with a status screen. After the summary was complete, Destiny handed me a couple pieces of loot, patted me on the head, and sent me on my way with my goodies. As I headed for the Tower, I couldn't help holding a moment to see if Martin Sheen would show up. Alas, he didn't.
Still, Destiny seems to be very much in the Mass Effect mold of RPG in that it's eager to hustle you through the "boring" bits of customization so that you can get back to shooting things. Hence the skill tree that seems to unlock itself; loot being available mostly from vendors or after the completion of a level, and a surprising lack of character customization (though some of that may be coming in the full retail release). In my first few hours with the game, the most meaningful choice I made was whether I wanted a shotgun or a sniper rifle. I opted to stick with the sniper rifle.
If Destiny shares Mass Effect 2's weaknesses though, it also shares its strengths. Destiny is already a vivid and memorable space adventure, with weapons and armor that are cool to look at and feel appropriately weighty, and sweeping vistas that bring to mind the scope of Last of Us. Bungie knows better than anyone the value of good, memorable art, and they've truly gone all out with Destiny.
"Ultimately though, I think [Destiny and Dark Souls] share the same goal in introducing online play as a means to enhance the single-player game, rather than the other way around."
Moreover, it also retains the excitement of cruising around the solar system in a starship. As with Mass Effect, Destiny's universe just feels big, even if it's actually confined to our solar system (and in the early part of the beta-Earth). It's the little touches, like the fact that the astral charts in the navigation screen look almost as if they were pulled from the ship of a 19th-century seafarer, or the extensive amount of background that is poured in almost from the beginning (a Bungie trademark). Bungie has positioned Destiny as an epic; and thus far, despite my concerns that there might not be enough content in the end to placate early adopters, it looks the part.
Beyond that is where Destiny begins to get interesting. At the risk of getting people unreasonably excited, it feels a bit like Bungie is trying to follow in the footsteps of Dark Souls in the way that they are seemingly making Destiny a massively single-player game with some co-op elements. Granted, Destiny and Dark Souls have little to nothing in common otherwise. One's a dark medieval fantasy, the other is a shiny sci-fi epic. One's really hard and mercilessly deep, and the other is quite fun and easy. Ultimately though, I think the two share the same goal in introducing online play as a means to enhance the single-player game, rather than the other way around. Both want players to feel as if they are adventuring through a living, breathing universe; and in the end, both want to make a game with as few seams as possible.
With that, I think it's safe to put to rest the notion that Destiny Beta might have anything in common with traditional MMORPGs. Certainly, there's a hub and various classes of loot, and I'm sure that it'll have "end-game" content after a fashion, but Destiny is a more traditional shooter than it lets on. As I've said, I feel like they see the game's persistent universe as a means to an end. Not only does it make it easy to call in friends for co-op; it unites Halo's two strongest halves-single-player design and multiplayer-into one cohesive whole, which Bungie will now hopefully leverage in new and interesting ways, much as Dark Souls has done with great success.
I'll grant that I'm a little skeptical as to whether Destiny will ultimately have staying power. The single-player is pretty fun, but the scant customization options makes the fact that I have my own character avatar seem almost moot. Part of the fun of an RPG is that character creation goes well beyond whatever armor you happen to be wearing; it's also about coming up with a coherent strategy that is reflected in everything from what skills are chosen to what weapon runes you favor. I suppose I'll reserve judgment for now, but I haven't really seen anything that deep in Destiny, which makes me that people will be less inclined to grind for loot. But who knows, maybe the combination of a strong multiplayer mode and cool art will be enough to get the job done.
Otherwise, Destiny is pretty much expected-a shooter with lavish production values and a high ceiling, but also plenty of question marks. Regardless of whether it reaches its potential though, it's nice to see Destiny building on some of the better elements of Mass Effect 2 and Dark Souls. Come September, we'll see whether Destiny can surpass them and become a truly great game in its own right.