Preview: Destiny Alpha Hands-On

“We stared out at the galaxy and knew that it was our destiny to walk in the light of other stars.”

Halo played an enormous role in the landscape of the modern first-person shooter. For a long while, it was the template and standard by which all others were measured, Bungie blazed a trail for so many, resulting in countless wonderful games. After Reach, Bungie’s parting Halo, the team moved on.

To what? Well, they haven’t exactly gone beyond comfort zones with Destiny. One could say its roots lie especially close to home.

As soon as you pick up Destiny, it becomes immediately apparent that the Halo blueprint, one that is two generations old, has helped Bungie lay the foundations for what they expect to be their next big franchise. From the feel of the guns in-hand, the wondrous vistas of a planet under duress and even ‘Ghost’, Destiny’s own ‘Guilty Spark-esque’ companion.

It’s all reminiscent and eerily familiar.

But it strikes as odd, too. While it plays like a Borderlands and Halo lovechild, experiencing something so akin to the latter on a PlayStation feels peculiar to me.

The alpha doesn’t offer a wide breadth of things to do—hard to expect otherwise—as you’re able to tackle just one story mission; a tense, albeit brief, dungeon raid that sees you uncover a darkness, thought to be banished from earth. It doesn’t serve up a great deal narratively, but it serves as the serviceable jumping off point that Destiny needed. As a mute hero, your source of both company and laboured exposition is Ghost, an A.I. companion voiced by Peter Dinklage.

He’s best known for some medieval courtroom drama that I caught wind of on social media recently, but it’d appear that Tyrion refuses to take this material seriously. He’s flat, disinterested and horribly one-note. But who can blame him, with a script like this?

“The Hive haven’t been on Earth in centuries. That Wizard came from the Moon!”

Borderlands—the first one at least—suffered from not having any semblance of a plot. Destiny can’t afford to make this same mistake, it needs to have something beyond the hoi polloi massive-multiplayer elements that are, in the current market, becoming so commonplace. As a big fan of Halo lore, Bungie have earned the benefit of the doubt, but if the alpha is anything to go by, it looks a touch grim as far as the story goes.

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So sayeth the Dinklage.

Outside of the story mission at Old Russia, there’s a separate “explore” avenue players can take, which places them within the same region. This is more of a free roam mode, where you’re able to complete small tasks, found through in-world beacons, for small rewards. I found unearthing the beacons a mildly irritating task. By no means difficult, but made dreary through an inelegant ‘guide’ that’s more bells and whistles than it is functional.

With a press of the touch pad, Ghost will be summoned and hover over the palm of your hand. In this brief moment, each open possibility is shown to you with a distance accompanying it. But a moment later, it’s gone.

So often I’d have to resort to repeat checks simply due to losing track of my course, or stopping to admire the scenery. It’s a small thing, but these things can make or break a game.

Outside of exploring Old Russia and The Steppes, you’re able to retreat into orbit to visit The Tower, which acts like an off-world hub full of merchants and the like. It reminds me a lot of Mass Effect’s Citadel, home to a lot of Shepard’s favourite things. It’s here that you can take on bounties, shop to your heart’s content and communicate through dance with the many denizens inhabiting Earth’s Last City.

For a game still in alpha, Destiny is beautiful. The game’s ability to slip seamlessly from a sprawling and desolate open world to a claustrophobic radar array sub-station that has long been abandoned, much like all else, is just great. It feels like a world truly beyond the brink and yet you accept the burden of playing its protector so readily. And it sounds like Marty O’Donnell’s apparent swansong for Bungie is set to be one of his finest, something I’ve hoped for since hearing his score accompany the game’s stirring “Law of the Jungle” trailer, featuring Giancarlo Esposito.

Even though there’s not a whole lot to bite off in the alpha, there’s still a sense that, if executed properly, Destiny is going to be a game with a lot to offer. You can see it in the skill trees, the many varied wares for sale and through a player’s want for exploration.

I’ve tasted it, I just hope I can savour it long enough to last me until next month’s beta.

Because right now, September feels like an age away.