Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Whiskey Reviews: The Way The Cookie Crumbles (Destiny)

Platform: Xbox One
Release Date: 23 July 2014 (for the Xbox One beta)
Developer: Bungie
Publisher: Activision
Where to get it: All over the place
Price: Preordering the game

Please note this is a review of the beta release of Destiny and as such the information and opinions presented below are subject to change with the final product.

Lets start by clearing the air, a lot of people have been bandying about the term MMO to refer to Destiny and they're wrong. There's other people in the game, on the same map, fighting the same enemies but it's not massively multiplayer. Unless you think six people is a massive crowd. In which case, you're wrong.
So what is it? A first person shooter with social hub towns and spontaneous cooperative play with random people who just happen to have been loaded onto the same instance of the map as you. Oh, and there's a bit where you get to shoot each other but we'll get to that in a minute.

Bungie's knack for writing a mysterious and compelling lore has once again come out to play, we've got a giant space bollock called The Traveller that's come to humanity for... actually that's not explained but there's a big evil thing called The Darkness that's chasing The Traveller and has, in the past few centuries, beat the piss out of humanity and The Traveller and now there's only one city on Earth and a bunch of dead people are being resurrected as Guardians by spiky little robot bollocks called Ghosts that are made by the giant space bollock. Pretty straightforward so far.
As far as the beta goes the lore is only briefly touched on in the handful of missions and cutscenes that are available but it's enough of a taster to give you the impression of whether you'll be interested in the talky bits or the shooty bits more.

While we're still on the topic of story it has to be said that the Ghost's voice actor, the brilliant Mr Dinklage apparently couldn't be arsed when in the recording booth and he's mediocre and uninteresting at the best of times and downright terrible at the worst ("There's a Wizard here. You have to kill it.") It's impossible to tell whether this was bad direction or intentional or whether his voice-over is only placeholder for the beta but we can only hope that it's not going to make it into the final product or the spiky robot bollock will be a very tiresome experience.

Bungie have promised that the final game will run in 1080p on release in September but the beta runs in 900p which honestly doesn't make one bit of difference to the quality of the visuals while you're actually playing. I'm sure if you grabbed a screenshot at each resolution and pored over it you could find some discrepancies but the fact is that when in motion, with muzzle flash and motion blur and all kinds of stuff going off all at once the graphics are quite impressive even missing those extra 86400 pixels (assuming the game is running at 1440x900 and not some weird hipster resolution).
The special effects are pretty standard fare, though two stand out common effects are the way streams of light emit from the neck-hole of a headshotted enemy and the Hive Knight's darkness shield in which with a wave of its arm the hulking robo-insect-gimp thing pops up a huge shell of impenetrable darkness. That said, there's not much here that'll make you say "wow" but it's most definitely not a bad looking game and I expect it'll be the standard by which to judge future Xbox One titles.

Sound design is fantastic. The guns actually have punch, with assault rifles and machine guns having a nice heavy bang to each shot and larger caliber weapons like sniper rifles and rocket launchers can sound like they're going to explode your poor speakers. Truth be told I had a headache after about seven hours playing from the near constant gunfire but that's a pretty hefty session to have on little sleep.
Musical design is well done too, providing an appropriate score to set the mood in each situation while not being intrusive. You know the music is there but it's at the back of your mind, blending in to the whole experience and influencing your mood and approach subtly like a proper soundtrack should.

The shooty bit is where the game both excels and falls a little on its face, though not hard enough to ruin the experience. It feels like a mixture of Halo and Borderlands in terms of gameplay, with your equipment and level determining how much damage you take and dish out with skill still playing a large part in dodging as much enemy fire as possible to keep you in the fight until you're the last thing standing.
Sadly this is also the part where the shooty bit falls a bit flat, no matter how much skill you have if you've only got a level 3 gun and are only level 3 yourself, you can never hurt a level 9 enemy as you simply can't do enough damage to bypass their armour. It feels like a bit of a jip when you're asked to recognise attack patterns and react in a split second with accurate fire to a lunging invisible alien but then told "sorry, you gun's a bit shit but you can come back later when little Timmy feels like playing."
Similarly a bit of a let-down is the auto-aim. Most of the time it provides a nice assist so that the shooting feels much like Halo - easy to pick up and play with enough of a skill ceiling to make it a skill game but occasionally the auto-aim will seem to take over and on more than one occasion I had my crosshair stick to a zig-zagging target running up a hill 20 meters away while I was trying to fight another target far closer that was standing still. It's a little niggle but it breaks the immersion and feels like it needs a little more tuning to eliminate the issue.

Also present in the beta is the Crucible, a multiplayer arena where you take in your character with your own equipment and battle it out in 6v6 PvP matches. While this mode shows Bungie's other knack, multiplayer gameplay and map design, it also shows their lack of experience with stat based weapons like these. I went in at max level (8 in the beta) and with some gear I thought was pretty serious hardware only to get absolutely annihilated time and time again by players who had better guns and armour than me.
The same issue persists in competitive play in MMOs like World Of Warcraft where your level and gear follow you into the match and each tier of PvP is a lesson in humility for anyone who doesn't have the best gear and max level for their little league. For those who enjoy PvP a lot there's plenty to love despite the flaws but personally I'm not into PvP that much so I found more frustration than enjoyment in the mode.

Overall the Destiny beta is a good chunk of content and enough to get a good feel for the game. The game itself is typical Bungie excellence but there are a few scuffs around the edges that the devs may want to take a look at before the game ships. Hopefully they're actually treating it as a proper beta and not a glorified demo.
There's a lot to love, and nothing to really hate. Time will tell if the few niggles are worked out and the final game turns into one of those rare near-perfect experiences. There's a solid chance that Destiny could become the Metal Gear Solid/Final Fantasy 7 of its generation - a must have experience that defines the consoles it's released on.

Score: 9 out of 10 disinterested spiky robot bollocks.

EDIT: Competition closed due to the beta going open to all.

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