It's been a long time coming, but Bungie and Activision finally unveiled Destiny—Bungie's first post-Halo game—at a special event last week. With a host of other journalists invited up to Bungie HQ in Seattle, we saw and heard first-hand what Destiny is going to be all about.
The good news is that everything you've heard is true. It's a sci-fi first-person shooter with elements of massively multiplayer games. It sounds like it's going to be huge, and it will hopefully combine the best elements of multiple genres.
Unfortunately, the good news is also the bad news, as everything you've heard, through leaks, rumors and other sources, is just about everything Bungie and Activision were willing to divulge. We didn't learn much in Seattle beyond what was already known or suspected, though our official first look at Destiny did give us some insights as to just how Bungie is hoping to revolutionize the shooter genre next.
A DECADE-LONG LEGEND
Some gamers may be skeptical of Activision and Bungie's 10-year deal, but both companies will benefit from it in the end. Activision gets a cut of Bungie's tasty, tasty sci-fi-pie, of course, and Bungie gets heaps of money from the publisher. But Bungie also gets job security, as Destiny's story lead, Bungie's Joseph Staten, said during the company's presentation in Seattle.
"We signed a big deal that lasts for a long time," he said. "But if you're a storyteller, that's not terrifying. It's exciting.
"What it means is we can plan for the future. We can drive giant stakes into the ground. We can build a big world rich with history and mysteries that in some cases aren't going to get unraveled for years to come."
We smell some cliffhangers coming, but if Bungie can deliver them in a compelling way (and given our love of Halo, we believe they'll be able to), then Destiny may become the first epic series of video games conceived as a project spanning an entire decade.
Speaking of that big, rich world and all its history, Bungie has finally elaborated on the game's setting and story. It's set on Earth long after a cataclysm of epic proportion, from which humanity was rescued—by the skin of our teeth, the way it looks—by a floating, city-sized orb called "The Traveler."
The Traveler, mysterious and awesome, hangs now above the last human city on the planet, shielding and comforting the dregs of humanity. Hostile aliens from across the solar system (and presumably beyond) are trying to take advantage of our sorry state, and it's up to the Guardians (that's us), who can channel some of the Traveler's residual power as magic-like attacks, to keep humanity and Earth safe.
Sound interesting? Bungie promised that the plot itself will be "literary," and Activision CEO Eric Hirshberg called it "elevated in its tone." But Staten added another layer: "The most important stories we tell?" he asked. "They're not going to be told by us. They're going to be told by players."
Remember the first time, playing thatgamecompany's Journey, that you encountered another player in your world? Of course, that player interpreted it the other way—you were the interloper on their turf. Either way, it happened so naturally that it may have caught you by surprise. There was no loading screen or pop-up; the game connected you to another player behind-the-scenes, and the only indication that anything had happened came when your new companion's avatar lept into your view.
That's exactly how multiplayer in Destiny is going to work. When you embark on a mission—taking your custom space ship (more on that later) to Venus or Mars to mine the ruins of dead civilizations, for example—Destiny automatically begins matching you with players in the same area. When it finds a match, players will be connected without ever seeing an alert or menu. You'll just suddenly be fighting in the same world.
It's going to be truly organic, according to Bungie, and something that's seldom been seen before, particularly in a first-person shooter. Why? Bungie co-founder Jason Jones said they asked themselves: "How do we take this genre that we love so much—the first-person shooter—and turn it on its head?" The answer is Destiny.
THE HUMAN ELEMENT
It's this human element, in our opinion, that will ultimately keep players coming back over and over. There's nothing a game developer can design that can match the influence of real, human players on an experience like this. And though we barely got to see the game in action at all this week (we were shown about ten seconds of gameplay in Seattle), Staten spend a good long while describing a typical play session to those in attendance.
He described a situation in which he and a friend, pinned down by Martian enemies, were rescued by another player who, in her game, had simply happened upon them at the right time. Temporarily a trio, they set off together and completed their mutual goal, parting ways only once the loot had been acquired (in this case, some fancy new weapons, including a unique thorny pistol).
"Our goal here is every time a player sits down to play Destiny, they have a different experience than the last time," Jones said. Are single-player games really a thing of the past? If Bungie can deliver on everything they're promising with Destiny, and it turns out as great as we think it sounds, they just might finally be after all.
Details are scarce beyond the brush-strokes ideas that Bungie presented to reporters this week, but we did manage to glean some things here and there about character customization in Destiny.
For one thing, every single thing you do in-game will generate rewards. Bungie expressed a desire to make the game accessible to everyone—if you've got the coordination to play a first-person shooter at all, Destiny is for you ("If you enjoy first-person shooters," Jones said, "Destiny is going to be the best shooter you've ever played.") Of course, they still want to make it challenging for advanced fans, and we think this is where some sort of loot system is going to come into play.
During his story about an average play session, Staten mentioned that he knew his friend had been doing well in competitive multiplayer (PVP, in MMO terms) because of his shiny, new space ship. It sounded like every elements of a ship will be customizable, so that when you take to the stars and travel from planet to planet you can do so in style.
The same will go for players' characters themselves, and maybe even the guns. It's definitely too early to tell, and Bungie wouldn't say much of anything at all. They dodged questions about character classes (though some, including "warlocks," were shown off readily), for example, but it seems different classes will have their own special clothes, weapons and powers.
There's some speculation here, and as Bungie and Activision were sure to remind us time and time again, nothing is nailed down yet when it comes to Destiny. On that note, don't forget to watch the new Destiny vidoc above and draw your own conclusions. Let us know what you think of Bungie's next epic!