Last month, the developers of acclaimed sci-fi shooter franchise, Halo, lifted the lid on their latest project, Destiny. After the handing over of the Halo brand to 343 Industries in March of last year, Bungie shifted its focus away from the IP that made them a household name, embarking instead on a new venture, something…big.
In terms of lore, Destiny and the studio’s previous works aren’t too dissimilar. Humans have just recovered from the brink of extinction, sheltered by “The Traveler”, an alien vessel which keeps watch over Man’s last city. After a period of reconstruction, the humans begin to venture once more into space, where they become part of what can only be described as an interspecial battle royale. Players will take on the role of Guardians, defenders of humanity charged with ensuring mankind’s survival against a host of scaly, smelly and wholly unpleasant extraterrestrial species. The whole “remnants-of-civilisation-must-battle-against-the-odds-to-save-humankind” thing might be getting a bit old, but it’s through the gameplay, design and social infrastructure of Destiny that Bungie plans to show us that this is, in fact, a profound departure from the Halo series, and a new direction for the genre as a whole.
Having said that, it would be a shame if the developers didn’t get the chance to draw on their impressive portfolio of ideas and designs in the development of this new IP. Indeed it’s clear when you look at some of the concept art for the game that the immense artistic talent behind Halo has survived the studio’s three-year hiatus.
So, just what is new about Destiny? Firstly, Bungie seems pretty reluctant to label it a first-person shooter, even if the footage we’ve seen suggests otherwise. This is a fairly standard marketing technique when developers try to convince gamers that they’re creating something truly groundbreaking. Destiny definitely looks like it’ll be a shooter, but we’ll humour them for now. Regardless of the identity crisis, the game is certainly exploring some novel concepts. The story unfolds in what is described as a “persistent world”, in which other players can interact freely with each other. Bungie has been keen to stress however that this is not a MMO, in that there is no obligation to participate in group events, but when needed, other players will turn up and lend a hand, or they can simply be observed from a distance. This aspect is reminiscent of games like Dark Souls and Journey, which were largely praised for their unobtrusive “multiplayer” components.
Destiny is intended to be a shared experience, and co-operative play is encouraged, although to what extent will be dictated by the player. One potentially off-putting dimension of the “persistent world” is that the game will require a constant internet connection. Whilst inconvenient, Bungie states that this is a necessary step if each player’s world and story are to evolve and progress as intended. Crucially, however, there are no plans to incorporate a subscription model. Presumably the game will be monetised (beyond its initial purchase) through the implementation of microtransactions, a system which, for better or for worse, we’re now well used to.
The game also features a class system, of which three have so far been announced: Warlock, Vanguard and Scout. It’s not hard to imagine what roles these classes will play, but Bungie alleges that this will not be a number-crunching game. Armour and weapons will be important aspects of Destiny’s character progression, but its creators don’t want us getting hung up on things like stats and talent specialisations. Rather, the focus is on bona fide badassery, with extensive customisation the order of the day when it comes to the evolution of your characters.
A welcome aspect of the game is how it will facilitate exploration, which makes sense seeing as the story is about humanity’s rise from the ashes of the earth to once more take on the galaxy. Players will be able to travel between various celestial bodies in our solar system, so expect to be hanging out on Mars, Venus and a few of our other galactic neighbours. Customisation won’t just be limited to your Guardian, but will extend to his or her spaceship as well. Yep, you read that right. Expect space combat to make an appearance too. The idea is that every aspect of your experience will be tailored to the individual, although just how deep this element runs, remains to be seen. There’ll be cities which will act as social hubs, and a sort of dungeon system which will take the form of stronghold invasions. All in all, it’s fair to say that Bungie is striving for a varied and unique take on the shooter, a genre which at times during this generation, we may have felt has run its course.
Destiny’s release date is as of yet unknown, but Activision, the title’s publisher, stated that it is not planning a 2013 release. Currently, the game is scheduled for release on 360, PS3, and ambiguously, “other future console platforms”. Cross-platform support is also a mystery at this stage, but with all Bungie’s talk of an expansive, connected world, we’re not ruling it out.
So whilst we don’t have a whole lot to go on when it comes to Destiny, there’s no doubting the pedigree of those behind the project, and if anyone can reinvigorate the genre, it’s Bungie. Over the coming months we’re sure to find out if Destiny is headed for the stars, or if its ambition is a classic case of flying too close to the Sun.