It's undoubtedly one of the biggest games of 2014, as the shared-world FPS could be "destined" for greatness (forgive the bad pun). Bungie's Destiny is a hugely ambitious game that will boast a gigantic amount of content, and it should result in a game that offers countless hours of entertainment. In fact, we've heard the developers will continue to support the game for a full decade. There's the concerning possibility that microtransactions or a subscription service may eventually kick in (this is an MMO, after all), but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.
The beta test, scheduled to launch on July 17 on the PlayStation 4, will feature more players and more gameplay. However, what we've seen in the alpha test is hardly disappointing: Strictly from a shooter standpoint, it's difficult to find fault with this work-in-progress, as the control is already crisp and smooth - without sacrificing a grounding sense of weight - and the AI isn't exactly stupid. Exploring the vast landscape helps when you can immediately summon a hoverbike of sorts, which lets you cross much greater distances in a shorter span of time. This is only one of the slick features that will help streamline the experience and add appreciated depth.
Admittedly, there isn't as much to do in the alpha as I would've hoped. Then again, this is an alpha, so we can't really expect too much. At the very least, we can check out the basic mechanics, the world that will eventually be filled with friend and foe, and the in-depth character advancement system. Even if you can't team up with anyone, you can always do some solo hunting, which will inevitably result in valuable experience. As you might expect, you can utilize this experience to earn new skills and unlock class-specific skills. What will be interesting is to see how distinct each of the classes become the more you play; it's difficult to tell based on just the alpha.
However, there's no doubt that each class will require a different approach from the player. Akin to the various vault hunters in Borderlands, your choice of class has a definite impact on the gameplay, and how you'll approach encounters. This is the way it should be, too; it's not technically a role-playing game, but it's not a straight shooter, either. This isn't merely about weapon and equipment upgrades. When you pop out of the map and head into orbit, you can explore a central hub of sorts, during which time you wander around in a third-person view. This is where you get a sense of your character's potential, which will rely entirely on your efforts in the field.
I did run across a few bugs, especially when Bungie extended the test. That's to be expected, of course. For now, I don't have any serious concerns, although I do wonder about the balancing between classes; that's always critical and it's tough to examine that aspect at this point. As for those who call it "just another shooter," that's true and false. On the one hand, Bungie has retained the core principles of the standard FPS (which I think is essential if you want to appeal to those fans); on the other hand, they've added depth and customization that feels like a natural evolution of the genre.
I will say I had fun with the alpha, and I could imagine dozens of players and enemies running around, leveling up, working together, and having a blast. I won't analyze it much more, simply because I need to see and experience more. But for the time being, I'd say Bungie is definitely sitting on a winner.
6/17/2014 Ben Dutka