Thursday, July 24, 2014

Destiny Beta Day 1

I had a chance to play the Destiny beta, and I think they're off to a decent start. I can't call it a game changer, but they have everything in place for that. Overall, I thought it was pretty good. Not great. Pretty good. I'm dividing my review into good and bad, and I'm curious what you think.

The Bad:
It's more like Defiance, which is SyFy's "game what is also a tv show" than Halo. In fact, it's a LOT like Defiance. And I'm not a huge fan of Defiance. The repetition in it, combined with the same enemies that do the same things, just gets old after awhile. It really doesn't seem like the plot is moving forward at all. Destiny is a little better at this, and right now it feels like the plot is at least kinda advancing.

It has a storyline that runs throughout the game, but if you're not careful, it's easy to accidentally go back and replay parts of the game. Why? Because it doesn't give you a clear indication that you already played that part of game. If it's there, it isn't completely clear. It would be nice to get a little note that says, "completed" or something, so I know I can move on if I want.

Instead of a linear plot, the plot is laid out on a giant map screen. But you usually take trips back to "The Tower" to buy new guns, talk to people, check messages, and generally screw around. So you will revisit the map screen often.

It usually works like this: shoot some stuff, have fun, collect magic beans and garbage, then go back to the tower to trade your beans for new stuff.

Note: This plot device is in most game stories, and it pisses me off. You're Earth's last great hope, called a Guardian. And all the darkness is coming, etc., but you still have to go buy your damned gun, and the gun dealers won't just give you their biggest, baddest gun, even if you have the money. They'll only give you the gun your "experience level" grants you. It seems like to me that a better approach would be to give your best guns to your "last hope soldier", so they have a better chance of staying hopeful. Maybe have a training area if needed. But I guarantee I can work a shotgun. Gimme mah shotgun. Oh, I can't work a shotgun, but I can have this shitty pistol. Fantastic. But I suppose that's how wars go.

Anyway, you have to go to the tower a lot. If you can remember where you just were before you went to the tower, it will help you play the game's plot. Otherwise, you'll replay parts of the game. And it reuses level terrains a lot, so it'll take you awhile to figure out you're in the same point you were in earlier. That gets frustrating. Oh, I'm salvaging for a warp drive again? So I can ... wait a minute, I already salvaged my warp drive. Dammit I'm Groundhog Troopin'!

As with all modern games, you have a shield, which magically restores itself. This was actually something unique in Halo, when Bungie first thrust it on us, which allowed players to progress through the game easier than finding "stem packs" or whatever to magically heal you. Now it's just expected.

And as usual, you can't shoot out all windows, even with a shotgun or rifle. Throwing an incendiary grenade on a tree won't set it on fire. You also can't open closed doors, though you can jump twice the height of a small building, and kill giant monsters with your steak knife. Maybe if I could kick, I could open more doors. I wonder if I can buy the ability to kick open doors in the Tower, when I'm level 30.

And like newer Halo games, if you stray too far off course, it will tell you to go back in 10 seconds or you die. That's an interesting approach. In Halo, they just made it difficult to get "out of the map", by adding tall buildings or walls or natural structures that kept you inside a sandbox. People figured out crafty ways of getting out anyway (like stacking grenades under the Warthog, and driving their way through the sky), so you could explore all over the place. This non-explorable world kinda ticks me off. You can go do anything you want, except look behind that shed, or you will fucking die.

Defiance gets around this by putting everything on an island. Sure, you can swim, but not for long, or you die. Or hit a magic wall. In Destiny, you get a warning if you wander too far away, then you die.

Like Defiance, you can fall from an absurdly high altitude and not die. Why? Because dying because you fell off a cliff is annoying. But if you fall off the *wrong* cliff, you will totally die, because they don't want you going over there.

Like Defiance, you can summon a vehicle (hover bike), which will magically appear in front of you, so you can get to the next plot point quickly.

Like Defiance, it's a ground game. No flying. No banshees, no hornets. Maybe that will change later.

Like Defiance, your storyline isn't the storyline other players on the same level will see, so you'll be standing next to a busted space ship looting it, while some other guy is wandering around looking for magic beans. To you, it just looks like he's wandering around looking at the ground. To him, it looks like you're missing all the best beans, while you stand there looking at that busted space ship.

Like Defiance, as far as I can tell, there are no multiplayer vehicles. So right now it's a bunch of guys on foot. Clearly they have the ability to magic up a hoverbike to get around, but the idea of using a tank in combat against an enemy tank hasn't occurred to anyone.

The good:
The bad guys have a more realistic AI than in most games. In Defiance, for example, the bad guys know you're sneaking behind that wall of busted cars. I have no idea how. But if you shoot from one location and sneak to the other location, they're waiting for you. Here, if you shoot at them from point A, and sneak around to point B, you'll notice that they're still fixated on point A, so you have the advantage. This makes it almost feel like you're "hunting", which is much more fun than randomly shooting at an omniscient AI, hoping for a lucky shot.

Friends, and I mean other people playing Destiny who are on your side, are all over the place in the game. So it's like a constantly coop game. That makes it pretty enjoyable. The enemy will sometimes drop in reinforcements, but that's no match for a small army of Guardians.

Occasionally, it will drop in a 'big boss' enemy. The sky gets dark, and everyone in the area is swept into playing a giant coop mission. That's a lot of fun, and they did that well. My only gripe is that (again, like Defiance) the baddies appear to just have a lot of hit points, so you just keep whacking at them with your rocks and knives and guns until they die. Like a giant, sometimes lethal, piƱata.

So yeah, it feels a lot like Defiance. Not that that's a bad thing, but it's not the game changer I was hoping for.

I was hoping for a more open world. Something that felt gigantic. Multiplayer vehicles, so you could have that "here comes the cavalry" moment, or even *be* the cavalry. I was hoping for multiple non-linear stories, all over the place. Instead, you can collect some metal plants, which I assume will be good for something later, and do whatever you're supposed to be doing at the time.

So we'll see. It was definitely good, and they nailed the pacing. I *wanted* to keep playing. I can see the repetition, but this is only the beta, and I know they're watching. Always watching. I have high hopes for this one.