We head back to Bungie's shared-world shooter for another taste of Destiny.
The hub world is part of what sets Destiny aside from most of its shooter brethren, and indeed the entire past works of Bungie. More than anything else it's the fact that we're exploring this environment in the third-person that tells us we're in an MMO. Then there's the vendors, dotted around the Tower, waiting to sell new and improved weapons, or help us customise our appearance and thus allow us to stand out from the crowd.
The Traveller - the dead celestial being that for hundreds of years nurtured and then protected humanity from extinction following the demise of what was once a solar system-wide empire - hangs in the distance as a constant reminder. The vista is jaw-dropping, the architecture is bold and striking. It's impressive stuff, and we know we'll be happy spending plenty of time here in the future, levelling up characters and upgrading equipment.
It's not where our demo started, though. Our first taste of the E3 build of Destiny involved a simple foray into enemy territory. Fallen (Covenant Elite allegories) litter the dusty sandbox, grouped around certain landmarks and interesting geographical features. Just like riding a bike, we don't forget our combat staples and quickly get into the groove and dispatch our adversaries. Our subconscious screams MMO when later we double back and the same enemies are waiting at the same point ready for a dose of the same treatment, although happily each encounter still retains Bungie's trademark stamp of quality. It's a shooter first and foremost.
During this demo we're exploring Old Russia, a sandbox that'll be immediately reminiscent to fans of Halo. |t's new, yet familiar, with muddy surfaces and outcrops of rock littered with abandoned buildings and the broken remnants of human civilisation. As we move between small clusters of enemies hiding in the carcasses of downed aircraft and obscured by the contours of the environment, we can already start piecing together clues as to Destiny's backstory. Even here on Earth, we're not the dominant species. This is a tale of adversary.
Our first task is delivered to us via our AI companion, a voice that talks us through events and prods us in the right direction. We're to head to an old radar station, there to find out what the Fallen are protecting/hiding within. After punching our way through the enemies en route, we come to the mission's climax, a battle with a floating miniboss. We strip his shield and send him to the afterlife, defeating waves of Hive minions in the process (if you want a point of reference, think Halo's Flood). We meet both Hive and Fallen units throughout our time here, and often they're fighting between themselves.
After completing this introductory mission we're sent to the hub to upgrade our gear ahead of future travels. There's opportunity to tinker with appearance and hardware alike, and there's nooks and crannies to explore, with four clearly marked areas, each housing different points of interest. There's a mailbox for the collection of messages, vendors for each class, places to unlock rare loot/items and purchase new emblems, and - as with traditional MMOs - other player's avatars can be seen either sprinting from NPC to NPC or standing around, idle.
Once we've pruned and preened and upgraded as best we can, we're back in search of adventure. There's only one area to explore - Old Russia - but it's pretty damn big. We can either have another crack at the opening mission, explore the entire sandbox on our own (picking up side-quests as we go), or we can warm ourselves up with a run through the Strike mission that formed our first hands-on. We do the latter, and this time we see it through to the bitter end and take down the boss - a giant Guilty Spark-like enemy (for more on our previous hands-on you can head here).
On the way to that battle we defend an AI companion during a lengthy hack, repelling waves and waves of enemies that descend on our position. The Fallen forces range from standard lightweight units, to cloaked enemies, sword wielding heavies and long-range snipers. These different classes of enemy give combat an appreciable ebb and flow, which in turn kept things interesting, especially when later we meet the Hive who are altogether more bold and relentless.
Later we spent what felt like an age filling a six-legged enemy tank full of bullets until it submitted to our relentless pressure. These Devil Walkers can take a pounding, and as well as their huge turrets, they also have internal compartments that occasionally open to unleash waves of airborne drones. We weren't the only ones who got tagged by the Walkers' devastating turret, and we revived our teammates as many times as they did for us. The Strike's climax was the fight with the aforementioned sphere, although that was probably the least-challenging of the three set pieces. It would teleport erratically and it too had a powerful blast, and was supported by waves of Fallen soldiers, but hugging plenty of cover and well-timed sniping was enough to win the day at the first time of asking.
After the Strike mission we went exploring. We called our Sparrow, and rode around the dusty landscape in style, all the time thinking about landspeeders from Star Wars. The ride was nippy and simple to control (twin sticks to steer, boost on one trigger, break on the other), to be expected really, as the vehicles in Halo were always satisfying to control. Using our increased speed we uncovered more of the map and embarked on some missions, activated via flashing beacons discovered on our travels. These are usually no more complicated than go there and scan this, or head there and check that. Sometimes we had to kill a certain number of enemies, but at the end of the day there wasn't an incredible amount of variety in any of the tasks.
We spend a lot of time chasing markers, tapping the DualShock's touchpad to bring up waypoints. However, going off the beaten track revealed plenty of distractions, even during this limited slice. Caves and tunnels beg for exploration, while dilapidated structures have deceptively complex interiors. All are filled with enemies to kill and XP to earn, and completing side-quests pulls you to all corners of the map, revealing unexpected depth and complexity at every turn.
There's three classes on offer. Titans are powerful, combat-focused and able to smash the ground in battle. Hunters can summon a flaming pistol and are best-suited to ranged attacks. Warlocks can manipulate energy to devastating effect.
We spent most of our time playing as a Warlock, which meant a powerful but limited-use melee attack (think Force push from Star Wars), and a grenade that unleashed a vortex that lingered longer than the explosion of the standard issue. Later we unlocked a special move - a Super - that momentarily sent us into the third-person as we fired off a potent Nova Bomb at our enemies. There's similarly powerful attacks for all the classes, and although we didn't get to explore them all to the same extent, different Supers and jumps (double jump, glide) for different classes means altering playing styles and variety in gameplay.
We experimented with a variety of different weapons, from scout rifles to shotguns, via hand cannons and pulse rifles, with both primary and secondary weapons on hand, when ammo ran low it was simple to switch (not that it happened much - plenty of ammo drops from fallen foes). Unlike Halo, you can also carry a third, offering increased tactical options. We opted for a rock launcher, although we didn't use it all that much. It's not a massive game-changer, and the gunplay overall isn't impacted massively by the numerical increase.
Destiny makes a good first impression. Having played several hours and undertaken many different missions, we still want to explore deeper, to scratch harder and see what's under the surface. We've seen nought but a small slice so far, and we're genuinely happy with what's already there. While it's undeniably an MMO, it's also a Bungie shooter. The shared world might scare some prospective fans away, but not us, we can't wait to see more. Bring on the early access alpha, and then July's beta.