I Lost an Entire Weekend Playing the "Destiny" Alpha and it Was Glorious, Get Excited

Destiny stole my weekend and it was amazing. Bungie extends the alpha of their upcoming sci-fi opus.

I can already tell that Destiny is going to consume me entirely when it drops this September.

I'm a huge proponent of honesty when it comes to foreseeing just how much of my time is going to be invested into Bungie's forthcoming space opera; it's going to be a long Winter and Destiny has the potential to keep the hearth tended low and warm long past the projected release date of September 9. 

A caveat before we begin to dissect just where the last 72 hours of my life has gone: This is an alpha build of the game and doesn't represent a fully finished product. So much of Destiny is still behind a velvet rope and the content available to players participating in the alpha can hardly be considered to be representative of the whole experience. The alpha, however, while limited in scope, did successfully give me enough of a taste to light up the addiction nodes of my brain like a pinball machine powered by ether and nuclear fission. 

The alpha, while limited in scope, did successfully give me enough of a taste to light up the addiction nodes of my brain like a pinball machine powered by ether and nuclear fission.

Destiny is an MMOFPSRPG. If that string of letters seems impenetrable, consider it a tip of the hat to Bungie for being able to balance a mass multiplayer online title with both first-person shooter and role-playing game elements. Franchises like Borderlands have incorporated role-playing elements into the shooter genre before, adding skill trees and experience points to a first-person shooter title with massive success.

Where Destiny begins to assert its identity is in its scale and its social networking of other players outside of multiplayer matches. Your play-through of the campaign will be dotted with other players, all in the midst of their own missions.

Bungie should also be given a huge high-five for choosing not to follow the traditional MMO model of subscription based service and giving you the entirety of the game for a single entrance fee. Bethesda's The Elder Scrolls Online has created an MMO for consoles that relies on a monthly subscription fee on top of the $60 disc. The title has been stumbling to find its footing and attract a dedicated user base since its launch.

Destiny has a sterling pedigree to live up to. It's the newest project from developer Bungie, the people behind Halo, and up until the alpha, the game had been hard to talk about. Most of what we saw were trailers and in-game footage provided by Activision. E3 2014 gave the public their first chance to get hands on with the title. Talking about Destiny is never going to do it justice. It's like trying to show off a photo of the Grand Canyon on your phone. Sure, you can do it, but nobody's going to give a shit because it doesn't come close to capturing the scope of the thing. 

Destiny is poised to re-capture the science-fiction sprawl of richly mythological titles like Mass Effect, and, yes, Halo. Humanity had spread out to the stars, colonizing the Moon, Mars, and beyond. This galactic manifest, ahem, destiny was spurred in part by the arrival of The Traveller, a celestial entity of bleeding edge technology that provided mankind the tools to navigate the cosmos. The Traveller takes the form of a massive sphere hovering just above the last human city on Earth, The Tower. After centuries of exploration and advances, humanity had reached a golden age of peace and prosperity. Naturally we were invaded. We essentially put up a massive 'open for buisness' sign to the entire universe. We were attacked, defeated, pushed back, and ultimately cordoned off to our last refuge as the Earth fell into disrepair and abandoned. Destiny's Earth is kind of dump. 

That's where we come in. As Guardians, it falls to us to head out into the frontiers and reclaim our birthright. Sign. Me. Up.

Not only does Destiny proudly display the fingerprints of Halo on its aesthetic, but it also pays very serious homage the work of science-fiction authors like Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, and Issac Asimov. The design of the derelict Russian fueling refineries of old Earth, for example, look like they could have been torn out of a late '70s issue of OMNI magazine. The races of destiny are broken down into Human (ya'know, us), Awoken (distinctly Elven flavored ), and Exo (Cyborgs or technologically enhanced). Classes are also broken down into three distinct camps: Warlocks, Titans, and Hunters.

Warlocks are essentially area-of-effect/magic-users, Titans are your tank/assault class, and Hunters are a combo of long-range/precision sniper type. Again, maybe this is because of the alpha, there are no class-bonuses tied to race. The race selection seems purely cosmetic, and if this is the final decision it seems like a bit of a missed opportunity on Bungie's part.

During the alpha, I was presented with either heading to Earth in order to play through several missions that crescendo-ed in public events, large battles open to multiple players coordinated in real-time, or, heading to the Crucible. The Crucible is Destiny's multiplayer arena where game modes like death-match and capture the flag are translated into Destiny's universe. Control was the only mode available during the alpha and was a 6-vs-6 hold the base type affair. Winning victories in the Crucible will reward players with reputation and currency for high level loot and gear for purchase back in the Tower. 

The level cap for the alpha is set at eight, so as of right now there's not much else to do with my three maxed characters besides heading to the Crucible. I've got more money than I know what to do with and the rest of the gear for sale is for level nine and above. There's also no way to carry over your characters from the alpha, so don't get too invested. 

The story missions were all set on Earth in Russia and were a combination of solo side-quests or larger 'strike missions'. These strike missions were organized like a traditional MMO dungeon raid, where random players are teamed up to overcome a group goal. It's been forever since I've played an MMO and the sense of instant cooperation with perfect strangers was hugely enjoyable and something I'm looking forward to even more during the beta.

This walled off playground of one corner of Destiny continues to be visually stunning. From the character models to the environmental rendering to the user interface of the menus, Destiny aims to keep players constantly in awe of what ever is in front of them. Between missions players may visit the Tower, the social hub of the game where weapons can be bought and sold, bounties claimed and redeemed, and upgrades to any of your vehicles can be made. It's stunning and I caught myself more than once spacing out over the ramparts of humanities last city. In awe of the scorched Earth beyond the walls of the Tower.

My biggest complaint about Destiny thus far was that there's simply not enough personality behind the game. Again, this is the alpha, so I'm hoping against hope that this is going to change, but my characters are frustratingly mute and my on-board personal assistant sounds like Siri getting aanesthetized before getting her wisdom teeth pulled. This bummer is further compounded by the fact that my personal floating smart-phone is voiced by Peter 'Tyrion Lannister' Dinklage. Dinklage should be zinging me every other fire-fight, but he delivers his lines with a Saharan Desert like dryness. Aside from a few stock phrases I heard repeated during the strike missions, I really, really hope Dinklage is put to good use as the voice of your Ghost, the sentient, floating computer/heads-up display.

Easily one of the simplest and most satisfying components of my time with the alpha was utilizing the Ghost's ability to summon a speeder bike out of thin air.

 Simple, elegant, and un-fucking believably cool. 

I didn't get a chance to upgrade my speeder bike or my personal spacecraft, but the options were available in the hangar of the Tower. I really think that space combat could be another pillar Destiny could build upon to differentiate itself from the other shooters dropping this Fall. The game feels like an amalgam of all the best parts of Borderlands, Halo, and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.

Destiny is a pulsing hulk of potential and ambition at this point. I know that most of the plot presented during the alpha was thin, but I know what Bungie can accomplish when it comes to world-building and I know this is going to be a science-fiction epic worthy of investment.

The alpha was recently extended by Bungie in order for players to continue to get a feel for the title.

There's a rumor that the #Destiny Alpha might be extended to allow dangerous experiments. Play beyond the official close at your own risk!

Destiny makes me optimistic about a new sci-fi epic. And as much as I love Borderlands, the humor can hit the same note more than once in a single sitting. Destiny feels alive and brimming with serious science-fiction aspirations. My weekend disappeared into Destiny and I couldn't have been happier about it. Here's to hoping we see even more of the universe of Destiny during the beta.

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