Destiny, the next game from Halo creator Bungie, is a lot of things. It's a first-person shooter, combined with a massively multiplayer game where you fight alongside — and against — other real world people. It has Diablo-like elements giving you lots of loot to gather and plenty of options to customize your fighter and spaceship. At the same time, it attempts to tell a sprawling space opera that will eventually spawn multiple games. In short, it's a ridiculously ambitious project that will cost publisher Activision half a billion dollars to produce. You can't get a sense for many of these elements during a 30 minute demo of the game; what you can get a taste for is how it feels, what the moment-to-moment action is really like. As it turns out, Destiny feels a whole lot like Halo.
I played a mode called "Strike." It's essentially a series of short cooperative missions where you infiltrate an area, kill lots of bad guys, and try to take down a boss. I started by driving a speeder bike through the ruins of Old Russia alongside two other players, before entering a fairly generic industrial building. It was the kind of place filled with lots of huge crates and metal staircases, but also weird armored aliens wielding laser swords and floating space wizards that hurl magical energy bombs your way. Making my way through the dilapidated building felt a lot like it did in other FPS games: there was lots of cover to hide behind, and when you entered a big room it soon filled with enemies. One sequence involved fighting off multiple waves of bad guys while a robot assistant slowly hacked through a security system.
The combat itself feels solid, if not particularly distinct or memorable. The laser guns have a satisfying kick, and the controls make it easy to scroll through weapons and toss grenades without fumbling too much. You can even summon your speeder bike just by holding a button, which is incredibly cool. But, at least in the limited time I played, it didn't really feel all that different from playing Halo. The mission structure was standard, and even with a few neat enemy types — space wizards are a real pain — it mostly just felt like a standard FPS firefight. Shoot some guys, move to the next room, revive your buddy if they die. Rinse and repeat.
The ruined sci-fi aesthetic of Destiny is beautifully bleak
Of course, there's a lot that I was missing out on. I only got to try one character class, of which there are at least three, and I never got to experiment with customizing my hunter with new gear or weapons. Finding loot is usually one of the more satisfying aspects of these games, something that can make an otherwise boring mission worth the trouble. Likewise, I explored just a tiny portion of one small area of the game, though what I did see was gorgeous — the ruined sci-fi aesthetic of Destiny is beautifully bleak, sort of like Halo set after a futuristic apocalypse. My favorite part of the demo was just racing through the mountains, seeing the burnt landscape of what was once Russia speed by. Destiny may take place in a time when humanity is on the brink of extinction, but it sure is one beautiful way to go out.
Even without experiencing everything the game has to offer, it's clear that Destiny takes a lot inspiration from Bungie's previous games: it's a fast and highly polished experience, one that does an excellent job of guiding you down the path the developer wants. Even the laser weapons feel the same as in Halo. That's not a bad thing — Halo is one of gaming's biggest blockbusters for a reason — but for those looking for gameplay as fresh and innovative as Titanfall, it's a bit of a letdown. With enjoyable but unremarkable action, Destiny will have to rely on its more ambitious, and still unproven, features to truly live up to all of the hype. The blend of online multiplayer and story-driven campaign needs to be seamless, and the sci-fi universe so deep you can get lost in it. Those aspects will help make it feel fresh and new, because the shooting is very familiar.
Destiny is launching on September 9th, with a beta available to PlayStation 4 owners on July 17th.