The Destiny beta came and went last week, giving players the ability to snack on a bite-sized chunk of the first post-Halo world Bungie has created. In those handful of days, not only did many people jump into the fray to walk around and kick the tires, but it also ended up being the largest console beta of this generation with over 4.6 million players taking part in it. Quite an impressive feat! In my play time, I ran across a number of people who obviously spent their time upgrading to the beta level cap of 8, a sure sign that things were interesting enough for the majority of the people involved in this testing process.

The lion’s share of my time was spent playing with a friend of mine, so I had a chance to experience benefit of the Bungie-touted fireteam concept. While I do not understand why they went with three member fireteams versus the more common four-man groupings found in games these days, I can say that having familiar faces around you, offering cover fire or taking down a rushing enemy, provides a modicum of comfort in a high tension encounter. Even when my friend and I played the Strike mission and were matched up with a random person, we were no longer two friends and a random guy by the end of the scenario. We were a well-oiled machine capable of taking down any opposition. Everyone had an assumed assignment and we played our roles (almost) flawlessly.

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Welcome to the Tower.

When we’d reached the level 8 cap, after having played through the storyline missions and Strike mission, my friend and I ventured to the exploration section of the game, where there is no real overarching objective, save for roaming the map and looking for small missions and random encounters. It was in these times that we had some of our most laughable moments. Typically, these involved trying to sneak past Bungie’s version of the invisible walls you find in demos/betas: insanely powerful enemies invulnerable to damage from our puny weaponry and who deal one-hit kills to us. There was one such place inside a bunker, where we traversed downstairs and around a corner only to be met by a swift death at the hands of [Level Skull and Crossbones] Hallowed Acolytes. I brought my Sparrow down there, trusty speeder that it is, to try to ram them and take them down that way.

Spoiler alert: It didn’t work.

In another area, close to the shore, it was level 20 Dregs that were our undoing. They had duty of blocking the path, but there was much more room to move about, so we once again mounted our trusty Sparrows and made it through there, only to get crushed by immune super-enemies. Undaunted, we kept at it and eventually made it past that group. And the next group. We were playing a dangerous game of dodgeball against these insurmountable obstacles until we reached a cave, dove off our Sparrows, and rushed inside — to be met face to face with Hallowed Acolytes once more. And that was that.

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Some nice armor and weapon variety shown here.

One of the main concerns I had as I made my way through the ranks, picking up rare armor or weaponry and getting acclimated to the new environment, was that the gameplay seemed very similar. I felt as though I could distill my experience into a simple formula:

Run into area.
Kill Adversaries.
Run into next area.
Kill Adversaries.
Run into final area.
Kill wave after wave of Adversaries.
Finish.

I was dismayed almost immediately upon making this observation. What Bungie is putting up on offer here is fantastically well-done, but if this is all there is — if I felt like I received a full game experience in the few days of the beta that I was able to play — how could I possibly justify the purchase price of this game? I reviewed things a bit more broadly later. At their cores, most games can be reduced to a similar formula for their gameplay with few exceptions. It did not fully assuage my hesitancy about gameplay, however. This, coupled with news reports going around the Internet that the beta storyline missions comprised roughly 20-25% of the total campaign, made my heart sink.

Destiny - Inbound Flight

Red leader, this is — oh, wait. Wrong franchise.

Then, I remembered: this is Bungie that we’re talking about. Bungie, the company who created a universe and supported it to the point of it becoming the standard against which all other FPS and competitive multiplayer games were compared, is at the helm here. Surely, they would not leave us lacking in both variety of gameplay and overall content, right? As we reported earlier this week, a breath of fresh air came in the form of a NeoGAF post by a Bungie employee, telling us that the plan is not to just give us a little bit of content, but rather to start a shared experience with us. Of note from their post (emphasis added by me):

With Destiny, we’re looking to exceed what we’ve done before, not just in terms of scale — the Moon is our smallest destination — but in terms of scope and breadth of activities. That’s true for day one, as you expect, but it also means we want Destiny to have super long legs.

Scope and breadth. Awesome.

If we’re fortunate enough to have you playing months after launch, you still find lots of compelling stuff to do. That will manifest itself in a myriad of ways, from straight up content to cool activities we’ve yet to show off.

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Ooh, sparkly. Or … Sparky?

Different activities are always welcome. For example, I was very happily surprised to find my first daily event kick off while I was tooling around in Explore mode by myself. When the ships came in over my head, dropping off not only a bunch of enemies but also a Devil Walker tank, which I’d only experienced once before in the Strike mission, my heart started racing. The four other people that happened to be in the area stuck around and what ensued was a completely random and exhilarating firefight for which we were all well-rewarded afterwards.

I was further encouraged by how the Bungie employee indicated that they were viewing this as more than just a film, but rather television programming. That they were really only able to cater to the competitive player with the Halo franchise is something they want to move away from with Destiny. That was music to my ears, since I was one of those Halo players who moved through the campaign, loving what I played, and then never touched multiplayer. I have nothing against it; I just don’t have the time to invest in it to the point where it’s not just needlessly frustrating getting no kills and being fodder for far more experienced players. Hearing Bungie’s dedication to giving the non-competitive gamer more content to devour was quite satisfying.

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Giant Orb Of Death tells you to just try it.

For me, the bottom line of the Destiny beta is this: if what I experienced truly was a small fraction of what I can expect to play out of the box on launch day, color me quite excited. Bungie has a proven track record of high-quality and successful games with a ton of post-launch support, so I will remain optimistic, albeit cautiously, that is is going to be a game that hits and makes a big splash in the industry and sticks around to revel in its own glory rather than to fade quickly from the collective memories of the gaming public.

Prove me right, Bungie.

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