The beta is in full swing, and we've been taking in the view.
For those of you who haven't gotten on the Destiny beta, either yet or at all, there's plenty of new content to tell you about, from new multiplayer maps to an expanded story experience. It's an expansion on what we've seen so far in the Alpha, but more certainly more polished than before, and there's quite a bit more to do.
Single-player and co-op activities will be familiar, given that they're set on the same Old Russia map that we saw last time around. The Dark Within features once again; it's a story mission that appeared in the alpha, that featured two new enemy races - the Fallen and the Hive - and the now infamous (and, incidentally, now removed) line "that Wizard came from the moon". However, there's more content now, and this time we start at the beginning of the adventure.
First up we're treated to the opening credits. Man on Mars, the Traveller, a golden age. All stuff you'll be familiar if you watched the E3 trailer (below), but fresh details if you've been trying to remain spoiler free. The first mission starts with the AI companion - your faithful Ghost - voiced by Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones) - searching for someone (you) while Fallen scurry over a graveyard of rusted cars. The mission gives us clues as to our character's origins, but for the most part it remains fairly ambiguous.
We're in Old Russia, we're blasting through enemies. After a while we come to a ship and our floating AI buddy manages to get it working well enough for us to get the hell out of town. Then we get our first glimpse of The Tower; the hub where players can meet, upgrade their gear, and customise their loadout. As before, when we're visiting this communal area, we're in the third-person.
Before we can access any of the PvP content in The Crucible, we have to hit level 5, and so it's back into the story missions to gain the prerequisite experience. First up there's Restoration, a mission where we head back into harms way to rescue the parts needed to get our ship ready for interplanetary travel. Then we're back in The Dark Within, the mission that we played to death in the alpha, that now stands minus the aforementioned line of dialogue voiced by Dinklage.
While we're on the subject of Dinklage's VO, it is definitely an improvement. We weren't as worried as some where the first time around, even if the oft referenced moon quote did raise an eyebrow when we first heard it. There's a more digital finish to the delivery now, no doubt added in post-production, and it's better for it.
The last two missions, The Warmind and The Last Array, see us continue our exploration of Old Russia. In the first we end up defending our AI Ghost from a few waves of Fallen Captains (think teleporting Elites), and in the last we end up battling a Hallowed Knight and repelling waves of Hive enemies that are brought in on drop-ships during the mission's climax. The three-player strike - The Devil's Lair - also makes a return, and you can also explore the Old Russia map and take on simplistic missions as and when you discover the beacons dotted around the map. For more on that you should check out our extensive alpha coverage here, here and here.
Once that lot had been completed our character was up to level 5, and so we were off to The Crucible for more fun and games. Destiny's hub for PvP multiplayer once again features two maps; this time it's Shores of Time (which is set on Venus), and First Light (which is set on the Moon). First Light is the very same vehicle-centric map that featured in the alpha, so it's Shores of Time that will be new to everyone.
Set in ruins on Venus, there's a surprising amount of plant life considering the planet's location (obviously a nod to the golden age of humanity mentioned in the opening credits, and something we're no doubt going to explore further in the story campaign). There's a cubic feel to the environment, lots of right angles and raised platforms. Old caves and stone structures sit side-by-side, and although there's a couple of open spaces where long-range gun battles can transpire, for the most part this map will see you getting up close and personal with your opponents; it's worth having a close-quarters weapon handy along with a mid-range option. Again we're playing a solitary game mode - Control - so the focus is on capturing and holding three zones on the map and fighting off the attacks of the opposing team.
There's actually four maps in the beta, not two. The other two became temporarily available in the Iron Banner playlist, a competitive arena that Bungie opened briefly over the weekend. Here players can once again sample the delights of Rusted Lands (which returns after a tour of duty during the Alpha), as well as new map Blind Watch (which is set on Mars).
Blind Watch was a real highlight, and its composition took us back to the glory days of map design from Bungie's Halo games. It's set on Mars, so the dusty visual finish isn't entirely unexpected, but there's multiple levels, twisting corners, small rooms, open areas, and plenty of opportunities for flanking and outmanouvering your opponents. We'll be bringing you gameplay footage of both new maps very soon, so you can see them in action for yourself (in the meantime you can always amuse yourself with footage from games played on Rusted Lands and First Light).
As before, the beta we played was on PlayStation 4 (although you can play on PS3 should you wish), although this time Xbox owners will finally come in from the cold and will be allowed to get their expectant hands on the game on July 23 (until the beta finishes on July 27).
It's been confirmed that progress can be passed between console generations, and not between platforms, but Bungie has yet to clarify whether they're going to let beta players keep their progress when the final game launches on September 9. If do they then it'll be a nice reward for beta players come the launch, if not, it's not going to be a massive hardship to go through this first batch of content one more time; Destiny's shaping up very nicely indeed.