Today, the video game community has a new adventure at its fingertips: "Destiny," the latest effort from Bungie, developer of the "Halo" franchise.
On the surface, at first glance, the similarities between "Destiny" and "Halo" appear obvious: Heavily armored soldiers populating foreign worlds, shooting at everything that moves. While common threads exist between the two franchises, "Destiny" is very much its own, new and unique beast.
Here's what you need to know about "Destiny," beginning with Bungie's origin story:
The "Halo" Effect
Founded in 1991, Bungie was responsible for some of the decade's greatest games, including real-time tactics "Myth" and the first-person shooter "Marathon." The latter game proved to be an important predecessor for "Halo," the massively successful Xbox shooter that dominated players' attention and bank accounts throughout the 2000s, and remains a household name.
Bungie produced three "Halo" games while owned by Microsoft, before becoming an independent company again in 2007. Though Bungie remained involved with the "Halo" franchise through 2010's "Halo: Reach," the company began to focus on new endeavors — including "Destiny," announced in February 2013, and finally launching today.
The World of "Destiny"
Set several centuries in the future, "Destiny" is an online multiplayer shooter set in a world where humanity has colonized numerous planets, marking a Golden Age for mankind. But that period of peace and exploration came to an abrupt end during an event called the Collapse, which saw the destruction of all of the various colonies, save for the people left on Earth.
Following the Collapse, a group of soldiers called Guardians are tasked with defending the last safe city on Earth from the aliens who destroyed and now occupy mankind's former colonies. These malevolent creatures now have their sights set on finishing what they started: Destroying the remaining humans on Earth, and fulfilling their extinction agenda. It's up to you as the Guardian of your choosing to stop the threat, both by defending your home turf, and traveling to other far-off worlds like the Moon and Mars to bring the fight to your enemy.
The Guardians (and Ghosts) of the Galaxy
The keyword in "Destiny" is "flexibility." It's a fluid experience, described by Bungie as "a living, social world," that leans on its players to keep it up and running. Players can choose the race and class of their Guardians, ranging from human bounty hunters to robot space wizards. As these customizable characters, the player is tasked with defending the last city on Earth from the alien invaders, while also setting out and investigating the colonies beyond Earth's reach.
Guardians come equipped with Ghosts, effectively an A.I. system that guides the player through the world and assists in each mission. "Game of Thrones" veteran Peter Dinklage provides the Ghosts' voice, and he sounds like this:
So there's that.
On Further Review
Bungie designed "Destiny" to thrive on the participation of other players, to guide you in the completion of campaigns, and to bolster the community aspect of the world. In other words, the full experience hinges on the participation of the other players.
With that in mind, Bungie did not release the game to reviewers early. Instead, they turned "Destiny" servers online only yesterday, giving critics nothing more than a one-day lead on players across the globe. As such, reviews of "Destiny" are few and far between, and thin at best, on the first day of launch. It's a risky proposition, as acknowledged by Bungie themselves.
"We fully anticipate seeing day one reviews from folks who decide to kick the tires, but don’t have the time or patience to take our ride for a nice, long road trip," writes Bungie.net community manager DeeJ of the decision to withhold the game from reviewers until a day before launch. "Some of you might wait to pick up a copy until you read the final verdict from your most trusted review house. We’re okay with that. We’ve created something we’re proud of."
In short, don't expect full reviews of "Destiny" until critics have had more time to play with the game, with the fuller community the game requires. Furthermore, Bungie insists that "Destiny" truly begins when the story ends — which means it could be as late as next week before the arrival of the first truly comprehensive reviews.
While reviews remain in flux, several critics have gotten their hands on "Destiny," and are unleashing their first impressions through Twitch steaming, as well as fuller-formed write-ups.
In what he describes as a "review in progress," GameSpot.com's Kevin VanOrd writes that "Destiny" "feels absolutely fantastic" in "the most mechanical respects," even if it hasn't yet arrived at "greatness." That greatness could arrive as soon as today, now that "Destiny" is available for the video gaming public. VanOrd acknowledges that the "downside of playing before the game was available to the general public has been the relatively small community," and that the game has been at its most pleasing when others join in the fray.
PlayStationLifestyle.net's Chandler Wood echoes that sentiment, saying, "If you don’t have people to play with, or have an aversion to teaming up with strangers, 'Destiny' might not be the game for you."
Metro UK's GameCentral reiterates that the greatest strengths of "Destiny" aren't "the action, the loot, or the graphics — it's the other people."
"It’s when working as a team that the landscapes suddenly stop feeling so empty, and you realise that this is the way the game was really meant to be played," they write. "It also makes you appreciate the enormous efforts that Bungie must’ve gone to in order to balance the game, so that’s it’s both fair and challenging no matter how many people are playing."
DigitalTrends.com gaming editor Adam Rosenberg says that comparisons between "Destiny" and "Halo" (especially "Halo 2" and "Halo 3") are valid. "Those games featured similar corridor-style shooting sequences that fed directly into larger battle 'arenas' that offered a more open-ended tactical approach to taking down Covenant forces," he writes. "'Destiny' plays out on a grander scale; simply, the maps are more massive than anything from Halo by a wide margin. The sentiment is the same though." He adds that "Destiny" always keeps the player "anchored to the moment," and that everything about the game "feels like it was designed to make the player feel like a badass."
Finally, and maybe most importantly — the Dinklage of it all. While the erstwhile Tyrion Lannister's voice acting was the object of some derision over the past few months, early impressions of the completed game indicate that Dinklage's work has improved.
"Peter’s line exhibits panic and desperation, which is a far cry from how it sounded in the Beta. A few more of his heavy exposition lines are even enjoyable to listen to; now when you hear his dialogue, it’s actually delivered with investment and some level of passion," writes Alex Connellan of Gamespresso.com. "Given that Peter Dinklage’s voice acting was one of my few gripes with 'Destiny,' I’m incredibly happy that they’ve improved it – it may be minor in some areas, and more obvious in others, but at least it’s improved."
"Destiny" is available now.