What is Destiny offering that’s new and different?
Imagine yourself, back in 2001, playing the spectacular Xbox space shooter Halo. Now, imagine swooshing forward in time, to here, to 2014, playing Destiny.
As well as being impressed by the graphical fidelity of the new game you would understand, without being told, that these two very different games share a fundamental and intimate connection. Separated by 13 years of significant hardware and game design evolution, they are nonetheless family, very obviously so, in their looks, style and atmosphere.
Bungie has changed a great deal since it gave us Halo, one of the most important games ever made, the moment when epic hi-fi shooting transitioned to consoles. Gaming and the nature of games players has also undergone massive shifts. But here at the cutting edge of next generation game design, you are still running down corridors, leaping over barriers, firing laser blasts into the faces of squawking aliens.
The question is: What is Bungie doing with Destiny that moves shooting games forward?
Halo, first designed in the 1990s, was set in a universe dominated by structured military organizations. Destiny is about the power of individuals who come together organically. It is a tale of shining knights.
“That might say something about changing social norms,” said Bakken, “but it might speak more to the fact that Destiny is this place that you really want to feel like a living, breathing world that you want to continually go back to. We want Destiny to be such an inviting place that you want to come back to. Hardcore military might turn off a certain segment of the population. They don’t want to go in there and just be all about the military.”
“The reason I love Bungie games, is they try to cast you in the role of a hero,” said Osborne. “Some of it was really driven from looking back at pure fantasy stuff. Heraldic knights, Camelot, that idea of an idyllic city on a hillside, a white city surrounded by evil, and going out into the world and carrying that light. But our guys really love the fantasy of space travel and that new frontier. A lot of our guys are inspired by seeing JPL [Jet Propulsion Labs], the Mars rover guys, and the space race.”
“Obviously we love Halo, and that’s a lot about two military industrial mights coming together. And that’s not the world we were building,” said Parsons. “This is mankind that was just beginning to climb back towards and rediscover its lost golden age. And to do that, we need brave souls, brave guardians who are willing to go out and adventure in the wild. Destiny is about you and the character and the character you’re going to build. It’s not about the Master Chief character. You are going to invest time building and growing you, and so, to build that world, we wanted to make this rich, vibrant, interesting, hopeful world where you could become whatever you wanted to be as a guardian.”
“The way we like to think about it, is not everybody is going to want to play Destiny, but everybody is going to be able to play Destiny if they want to,” Parsons added. “We’ve made significant improvements to the way players are going to play. People are surprised at how quickly they master the controls and get up to speed and having a great time.”
“It might not feel new compared to some of the other things that have come out recently, like Titanfall,” said design lead Lars Bakken, who added that there are changes, like free-floating double-jumps that can last for a long time. “But we’ve been prototyping for a long time and we’ve created experiences that you’ve never been able to experience before in the previous games that we’ve made, especially because it’s inherent to your character.”
Supers are special powers that are earned and replenished by picking up loot. Each class (Warlock, Titan, Hunter) has a selection available in their progress tree. They are powerful weapons that, MMO-style, take a while to charge. Linked to multiplayer experience, and the notion of leveling up characters, Supers speak to the non-core shooter ideas that Bungie is trying to embrace.
“I’m partial to Arcblade for the Hunter class,” explained Bakken by way of illustration. “It allows you to summon this electrically charged energy blade, and then zip around the environment and cut the enemy to shreds really quickly. It allows you to go into a dangerous situation with multiple enemies and burn through them really quickly and clear out a space for your team to be more safe.”
“Supers allow you to channel magic and just literally lay waste to everything in your path at the press of a button,” added Parsons. Cooperative players can help to feed one another’s Super meter, adding to the heavy focus Destiny places on social gaming.
“I like the Warlock’s Nova Bomb,” said community manager Eric Osborne. “It’s a nice risk reward. You have to get aerial to use it typically, so you’re in the air, you’re exposed, but you throw down this awesome, epic blast of purple light. And if you play it right, you can really do some damage.
“The variety of our sandbox is hugely expanded from what we’ve been able to do in the past,” he added. “And that comes with a lot of opportunities for players to really figure out how they want to play and tweak the build for their own personal play style.”
There is a nice navigational screen in Destiny that shows the solar system laid out as a schematic, with mission trees for each planet. It offers a glimpse of the game’s vastness, how it seeks to offer up a series of environments.
In Destiny‘s mythology, the worlds are decayed remnants of human expansionism, now infested with alien invaders. Humans and their allies are seeking to take back that which was once theirs. So each planet has its own take on crumbling infrastructure and a lost golden age.