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To The Moon And Back: The Highs And Lows Of The Destiny Beta

by Mike Futter on Jul 28, 2014 at 11:50 AM

Now that the Destiny beta is in the history books, we can talk a little bit about the things we loved and the elements we’d love to see improved. With six weeks to go before we return to Bungie’s latest vision of our future, there’s time enough to refine, polish, and tweak based on beta feedback.

Playing with friends

What we loved
Each instance of The Tower (Destiny’s first social hub) gives us the chance to meet new people, dance with them, and see all the great armor and facial customization. It’s here that Destiny feels most like an MMO, and sitting around, looking at the vista, and chatting with friends is a great way to pass the time.

What we’d like to see improved
The Towers have a hard population limit, which makes it a bit tricky to join up with friends. They don’t have the expansiveness of towns on a PC MMO server, which means you’re unlikely to randomly find one of your friends roaming around the tower. If possible, larger (or more carefully filtered Tower instances) might help foster a sense of community.

Fireteams and joining friends

What we loved
Jumping into a mission or exploration with friends is great fun, and I’m glad my first trip to the Moon wasn’t a solo affair. The waypoints and directional indicators for keeping track of your comrades are well designed, and the independent loot means not fighting over gear.

What we’d like to see improved
Joining a Fireteam is a bit cumbersome, requiring a game invitation through Xbox Live or PSN. Finding a way to integrate that system into the game would help in a number of fronts.

Switching characters requires you drop from the Fireteam and then receive a new invitation to join. Integration might allow players to simply swap without the additional steps.

Right now, you need to be in a Fireteam before starting a mission. During an E3 video last year, Bungie showed players dropping in right near their friends. Fighting with friends is great, but being able to do so without so much coordination would be better.

(Note: It has been pointed out that you can join your friends from orbit if there is room in their Fireteam. What you cannot do is easily join a friend that is running the same mission separately without one of you needing to abort your instance. So, you can join a friend mid-mission if you are coming from orbit or you can start a mission together. You cannot meet up as you're doing the same mission independently.)

Finally, being able to plant waypoints for your friends would be most useful. Multiple times, a Fireteam member found a loot chest and needed to describe where he or she was. A beacon would make it much easier.

Loot (and equipping It)

What we loved
The cursor-based user interface is intuitive, and holding buttons means fewer accidents in menus. No one wants to accidentally dismantle a primo piece of gear, and the failsafe works well.

We also learned that Destiny isn’t cloning Borderlands’ approach to loot. Drops aren’t terribly common, and most of the best ones come in the form of “engrams” that don’t turn into something usable until you return to the tower.

This minimizes the amount of time you’ll spend in menus and looking at gear, keeping the action moving. Everything except the most common gear can be upgraded through use, giving you a reason for sticking with a weapon to unlock its potential.

Even though the individual elements have been used before, the combination of shooting, MMO, and min-maxing feels fresh in Destiny. There are some places that things can be polished up, though.

What we’d like to see improved
It is exceedingly difficult to swap out gear during battle, which means you might find yourself in a situation that calls for a shotgun instead of a sniper rifle and no easy way to fix the situation. You can hold three weapons at once, a primary weapon (hand cannon, scout rifle, pulse rifle, or auto rifle), a secondary weapon (sniper rifle, shotgun, or fusion rifle), and a heavy weapon (machinegun or rocket launcher), each using its own ammunition type.

We’d like to see some way to speed up loadout changes, perhaps through presets that can be more easily toggled (at least in cooperative play). The upgrade menu can be a bit confusing also, and we noticed it’s changed quite a bit over time.

Weapons used to have an extensive upgrade tree (and perhaps some of the guns later in the game still do). Right now, the aesthetics have changed so significantly, that the individual weapon “lore” doesn’t feel quite as magnificent as it did. We still haven’t seen how unique and legendary gear works though, so this could be a matter of the (necessarily) limited content available in the beta.

Missions, exploration, and strikes

What we loved
Whether you want to drop into an area for a short, focused experience or a more flexible shooting gallery excursion, Destiny has something for you. My friends and I killed a couple of hours wandering around Old Russia, taking on enemies, and earning glimmer (Destiny’s currency).

When we wanted something a bit more in-depth, we were able to start the single Strike that was available for us. These missions are longer, with multiple larger fighters culminating in a boss battle.

It was great to come upon random players, assist some lower-leveled, outgunned Guardians, and move on with our game. The public events that popped up (and even one larger battle in Old Russia that happens daily) provided thrills.

What we’d like to see improved
Unfortunately, each of these required a Fireteam invite and coordination in advance, which is a different solution than Bungie originally promised. Dropping into a friend’s game as was shown at E3 2013, isn’t a possibility yet.

E3 2013 

When Destiny launches, I hope we see something closer to these promises. The public events in the beta weren’t the grand social combat experiences I was expecting. Trion’s Defiance (for all its many problems) got some of that right with the Arkfall world events. It also featured a “go to friend” option to teleport you right to a comrade.

We’re hopeful that Bungie has some social refinements planned between now and launch. Destiny is at its best with friends, and flexibility in matchmaking gets us into the game faster.

Lore (and how it’s presented)

What we loved
Bungie knows how to weave a tale, but its best efforts are often outside the game world. As an MMO-like experience, the lore needs to be available in the game, even if through subtle cues.

The Traveler, the ghosts, and the Guardians are the pieces of a potentially fascinating story. The enemies have the potential to be terrifying (and the Hive could serve the same creepy role as Halo’s Flood). Give us more detail.

What we want to see improved 
Senior associate editor Jeff Marchiafava tackled this subject recently, identifying some of the confusing aspects of Destiny’s storytelling in the beta. Right now, most of the detail is offered via unlockable Grimoire cards, which can only be read outside the game in the Destiny app or on the website. 

As an example, players are asked to pick one of three races up front (Human, Awoken, and Exo). These are entirely cosmetic, but as any MMO player will tell you, knowing what sets those races apart makes a huge difference. I played hours of the beta (and read the Grimoire card) and still don’t know what makes the Awoken different (other than skin tone) or why the Exo are sentient robots (I assume). MMOs are about identifying with your character. We hope that’s more accessible in the retail release.

Destiny’s future

Destiny is purported by Bungie to be a 10-year project. There is much we’d like to see added to the title to make it more robust. 

Make things faster
During the beta, we spent a lot of time in loading screens. Hopefully this was simply a factor of non-final code. Our fingers are crossed for speedier starts to our missions in September.

Home sweet home
There are already a number of cosmetic options for players, but the Tower is ripe for hosting customizable residences. We’ll be engaging in strikes, fighting unique enemies, and building our clans. Having a place to show off our trophies would be quite satisfying.

Space combat
Right now, the ships that appear on the loading screens are purely cosmetic options. We noticed that they all seem to have weaponry, though. Some day in the future, we hope to take the fight to the armies of the Darkness in the stars and not just on the ground.

Crafting and the economy
We don’t know much about Destiny’s crafting system yet, but there are items designed for that purpose. We’d love to see players find their way to becoming gunsmiths, armor craftsmen, and shipwrights. There’s no hint of an auction house system yet, but it would be wonderful to see Destiny develop a thriving MMO economy (just no real money transactions, please).