Bungie’s new multiplayer persistent online shooter Destiny – an MMOFPS by another name. I recently got into the PS4 Destiny alpha test, and am here to tell you how good Destiny is, and just how much of Destiny can be played solo.
Destiny is sort of like an always online Borderlands but good. That’s the simplest way to describe it. Destiny takes the MMO loot and quest drip-feed and places it into an FPS with a persistent online world populated by other players, and makes you enjoy pretty much every second.
Destiny’s universe is truly vast, offering a massive world full of secrets and hidden paths. The one playable area in the alpha, Old Russia, offered a desolate, ruined snowscape full of broken down structures and hidden tunnels. Surface exploration felt like genuine discovery, with small openings concealing winding tunnels and entire facilities that would be entire stages in another game. What’s best is that these areas are completely easy to miss, making it feel like you’re discovering a secret hideaway nobody has been to before. It’s actually quite magical how cleverly designed these maps are, and if the entire finished product echoes this philosophy Destiny will be very special.
Getting around the world is simple, with your ability to spawn a vehicle in any open area. This helps you zip around the world faster and with little fuss. You can also leave for orbit at any point, removing yourself from the fight and letting you start the area again at any point. You don’t ever have to worry about getting so lost that you can’t find your way back home again. My only complaint is that there is no map system in place, apart from the proximity radar for enemy detection, however this might change before release.
The party system in Destiny is rather straight forward. You can meet players in the field and talk to them, or choose friends from your friends list, and offer to join or have them join a group of up to three players called a fireteam. It’s quick and simple, and very smooth. It’s also (mostly) entirely optional, meaning you’re free to solo away for the most part.
The UI is perhaps the slickest part of Destiny. Taking a cue from PC gaming, you navigate by moving a cursor rather than direct selection of boxes. It can be a little slow, but it feels wonderfully crisp and responsive, and it looks amazing to boot. The rest of the game’s visuals look great as well, of course, bringing the sci-fi desolation to life.
As a shooter, Destiny does a lot right. Bungie’s pedigree with the genre is clearly on display. It handles more like Halo than Call of Duty, of course, with its slow drifty aiming and generous hitbox detection and auto aim. Guns feel heavy, and the damage readouts when you hit an enemy offer pleasing immediate feedback.
There are some issues, which may change before release. Highest on the list is voice acting. Most of it is passable. Sadly, the top-billed and most frequent voice heard is Peter Dinklage as your companion AI. While I love Dinklage in Game of Thrones, there can be no argument that his performance so far in Destiny is nothing short of atrocious. As in “master of unlocking, Jill sandwich” bad. Actually, worse, since those voice actors actually had some form of emotion in their voice. Dinklage sounds like he is completely phoning in his performance, and it’s extremely jarring.
On a technical and balance level, Destiny also has some issues. Mob respawn rates are way too high for one thing. Bosses absorb way too much damage, making boss battles a tedious war of attrition. On top of that, you can’t hold enough ammo, meaning you have to kill mooks regularly to replenish your ammunition supply. I found loot drops a little too rare for my liking, but I come at this from Diablo, rather than a WoW background. I also experienced horrific connectivity issues, booting me from the game every few minutes – although this stabilised somewhat on my second day of playing. Getting booted from the server keeps your player’s progress, but resets your quest progress and map position, making the experience of getting booted very frustrating when you want to progress through an area or complete a quest.
Despite these current flaws – which may be subject to change before release – Destiny is a thoroughly enjoyable game.
No matter how good Destiny is, there’s a specific question that we need to ask here at OnlySP – can you play the game solo? What does Destiny have anything for single players?
From the gameplay on offer in the alpha, you can sort-of play Destiny solo. Mostly. Across the five gameplay areas available in the alpha, the amount of solo play on offer varied.
One area was the dedicated PvP multiplayer area known as the Crucible. While participation in this mode is optional, there are item and XP rewards offered for your character for completing various challenges in that mode. PvP is entirely optional, but missing it will leave you without some (mostly cosmetic but sometimes tangible) items and upgrades.
The social hub is a safe area, dedicated to delivering loot storage and merchants, as well as bounties and sometimes quests and rewards. This area is entirely solo-able, from what I saw in the alpha. You’ll also run into other players here, hanging out and doing their own shopping. It’s a great place to meet people for creating fireteams, but again, that’s entirely optional. You miss nothing by going solo in the social hub.
On the ground itself – in the game proper, that is – I’ve run across three types of areas. The first is a main story questline. The first one available was entirely solo-able. In fact, it was encouraged, since you begin at the start of this quest immediately with no time to party up first. Every step of the way of this first main story quest was compatible with solo play, although a fireteam would no doubt find it slightly easier to complete.
Once this first story quest is completed and you’ve visited the social hub, the world opens up for you. You get dropped into Destiny’s massive world areas to do as you please. Exploration of the world areas is suitable for solo play, allowing a traditional single player open world experience. Quests are randomly generated from beacons found scattered around the environment, all of which are solo play enabled. Exploration and questing is completely compatible with solo play. You do run into other players doing their own thing in the world, but communication and participation in their activities is optional.
You do occasionally discover random public events, such as enemies dropping from the sky and trying to take over a place, or a tough unique enemy emerging and wreaking havoc. While these are technically possible to complete solo, chances are the notification will draw other players to the area to help. You do not have to join a fireteam with them, you do not have to work cooperatively with them, you’re free to do whatever you want solo. Some of the unique enemies are very tough, though, and a solo player might find them difficult to tackle completely alone. Other players again can help by being there, and you never have to join a fireteam with them or actively communicate. Public events are technically solo-able in that you’re never forced to team up or communicate with anyone, but other players do inevitably turn up to get in on the action.
Finally, there are specific instances that are broadly comparable to boss raids. These drop you at the start of a lair, push you through some objectives, and then put you up against a unique boss monster. The one mission available in the alpha was not solo-able at all. Initiating the boss raid started a matchmaking system, finding you a fireteam to be a part of. You teleport to the fireteam’s location in the raid map – whether it’s the start or the end – and you proceed from there. You can technically play this part solo, but being in a party of three does make things significantly easier. You don’t have to communicate with the team, and can go off and play the quest solo, but you all end up following the same route through the level anyway. I didn’t try leaving the fireteam after initiating a raid, so I’m not sure if a pure solo experience is possible. Either way, you’re initially placed into matchmaking, and on PS4 these questlines are locked off behind PS+, so a completely solo experience for boss raids is impossible.
There you have it. Most of Destiny is completely solo play compatible, although you will inevitably run into other players. If you want to enjoy all the non-PvP exploration content such as boss raids, however, you will need to suck it up and play with another person – even if they are randomly found through matchmaking. You do not need your own dedicated party, you do not need an extensive friends list of Destiny players, you do not need to synchronise time zones across servers. Destiny’s multiplayer components slot almost seamlessly into the whole game, and you’ll barely be required to make any concessions to the MMO genre.
Destiny, from the alpha I played, is going to be utterly fantastic. The huge world, interesting experiences, and unobtrusive multiplayer elements make it a great game for solo players. As long as you can get and keep a stable internet connection to the Destiny servers, of course.
Destiny, made by Bungie and published by Activision, comes to PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One (but not PC… yet) on September 9th. There is also a beta for those who preorder opening up on July 17th.