Destiny: Bungie's Next Big Thing

Let’s get something out of the way: Destiny isn’t Halo. It might look a lot like Halo, and even have the same general sci-fi theme, but once you take a deeper look at the world of Destiny, it becomes clear that it’s nothing like Bungie's prior work.

Bungie likes to call Destiny the world’s first shared experience shooter. That sounds weird, I know, but it will all make sense in a second. Destiny is an always-online, cooperative, narrative-driven first-person shooter set in our own solar system sometime in the future; or at least, it seems that way. I say it seems that way, because I didn’t actually get to see much of the game in action during my visit to Bungie earlier this week.

During my time at Bungie I heard a lot about the world of Destiny and the experiences that players can have, but I didn’t get to have those experiences for myself. This was a bit of a disappointment, but as I sat in a crowded theater deep within Bungie, my fellow games writers and I heard a story. It was about two friends meeting up inside Destiny. They joked around, talked about their armor and ships, and set out to save the galaxy together. While they were exploring, they became overrun and thought they would soon be dead, until another player came and saved them. It wasn’t someone that they knew, just another person exploring the same area in their own, separate game. Destiny had seamlessly matched the players together and placed them in the same game.

This experience isn’t something that you’ll only come across once or twice, either. Bungie believes that this seamless cooperative and collaborative experience is the most exciting thing Destiny has to offer, and I’m inclined to agreed.

Destiny is set in a time when Earth has been overrun by an alien race and humans have been pushed back into one giant city. We've been told the core gameplay of Destiny is regaining control of Earth and its surrounding planets, but that there’s also much more to it than that. One things for sure: based on all the art we saw we’re going to get a large variety of environments, each unique to their planet and area. Clearly players will have access to interstellar travel technology, but Bungie isn't sharing much about how humanity hit the stars or why the stars hit back.

What they would show us was pretty pictures, and lots of 'em. We know that when you get to Bungie's Mars you won’t just see red sand everywhere, but the ruins of ancient buildings unearthed by sandstorms. They also showed us a time-lapsed video of the creation of a moon base to demonstrate the new lighting techniques employed in Destiny. Bungie claims that since so many different areas need to be made quickly, global lighting just isn't practical. They redesigned their entire lighting system for Destiny, focusing on using ambient occlusion to mirror how light acts in real life. In layman's terms, they basically made sure that the shadows are actually, well, shadows; that is, if light can’t get to an area, it should be hard to see. You should have to turn on a flashlight.

To shed light on that point, our Bungie demonstrator jumped into the actual game and we watched his character navigate the moon base for a few seconds before everything became dark and the screen cut out. That’s really the only gameplay that we saw the entire time, but it was enough to make some educated guesses about the direction Bungie is taking with Destiny.

No weapons were fired, but we saw a character bring up a scoped rifle in a style that looked more appropriate in a Call of Duty game than Halo, suggesting there’s likely going to be a more modern, fast pace to Destiny. It's a minor change, but the opportunity for change is one of the most exciting aspects of Destiny. While some of the areas we saw seem familiar,  for the most part Destiny seems very different than any game Bungie has made in the past. It has a chance to start fresh, change things up, and it seems eager to take advantage of that opportunity.

Marty O’Donnell, who composed every Halo game Bungie ever made, played us a few tracks from Destiny to set the tone for what we might experience. Despite some somewhat familiar tones, the Destiny soundtrack is completely original. I closed my eyes, and the music was powerful enough to transport me to the world I had only seen in concept art. I started to imagine the music playing as I ran through the world with my friends. Meanwhile, O'Donnell talked about working with a large symphony and Paul McCartney at Abbey Road, something that he believes lends the Destiny soundtrack a large, unique sound.

While I didn’t see as much of Destiny as I would have liked, it gave me a taste of what’s to come. There’s still so much about Destiny we just don't know, and despite how frustrating that can be sometimes, I can’t help but feel it’s for the best. I just hope it’s worth the wait.

Bungie did stress that it is only talking about Destiny for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 at this time. 

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