Bungie’s next game and its first title under the Activision banner has finally been revealed. At least, bits and pieces of it have been. There are still several questions that need to be answered, but one thing is very clear: Destiny is an extremely ambitious game.
When Bungie announced that it signed a publishing deal with Activision for four games over 10 years, the gaming industry stood up and took notice. Thanks to Halo, the developer had solidified an impressive reputation that it began to foster years earlier with games like Marathon and Myth. But ever since its founding in 1991, Bungie has always worked on a limited number of systems. When it began, it made games specifically for Mac. It then expanded to Linux and PC, but stayed away from console games, with the exception of 2001’s Oni on the PS2, although the actual console port was handled by Rockstar Toronto. Then came the Halo franchise, which has become synonymous with the Xbox brand. Destiny, however, will be everywhere.
Bungie has yet to confirm what systems the game will be released for, but it will be multi-platform. Despite protestations from Bungie, the safe money is on a next-gen release along with PC, possibly Mac as well. This will be Bungie’s largest release, and those who haven’t followed Halo are going to soon be introduced to one of the most influential developers in gaming.
Earlier this week, Bungie and Activision invited a handful of gaming journalists to Bungie’s Bellvue, WA, offices to get a first look at Destiny, a sci-fi based first-person shooter. We do not yet know every detail about the game, but what Bungie laid out was both intriguing and ambitious, if a bit vague.
“There have been a lot of rumors that we are making an MMO FPS, whatever that could be; rumors that we are making a social game,“ Jason Jones, co-founder of Bungie claimed. “The truth is this: if you enjoy shooters, if you enjoy first-person shooters, Destiny is going to be the best shooter you ever play.”
The World of Destiny
The setting of Destiny is still something of a mystery, or at least the details of it are. It takes place centuries, or possibly millennia, after the end of the golden age of humanity, when the solar system was colonized and great civilizations grew before being swallowed by the ravages of time. The human expansion has stopped, and the last great human city stands as a safe haven against alien aggressors that roam the planets and moons near us, as well as countless other dangers.
Haunting the galaxy alongside many unknown enemies will be a group of aliens known as the Cabal, consisting of “War Rhinos,” which look like intelligent rhinos armed and wearing armor. Spider pirates will also populate the solar system along with space zombies, and – interestingly – time travelling robots.
The player operates out of a “Tower,” located in the last city on Earth, situated underneath a mysterious but benevolent orb known as the Traveler. How this object fits in remains a secret, but the Tower is your central hub. From here you can access stores, mini-games, and what you do next. It is also the central source of commerce, and a social hub as well.
With each major quest you complete, you earn a reputation that influences the path of your story. Bungie hasn’t laid this all out yet, but your character will be known for the missions you complete and the choices you make. It’s an intriguing idea, but one that raise more questions than it answers.
The game spans the length of the solar system. From ruins on Mars to the swamps of Old Chicago on Earth to alien controlled outposts on Venus, exploration and variety play a huge part of Destiny. Bungie is even using real information to help design the planets – to a degree, at least. Mixed in with real geography and characteristics interpreted through the prism of Destiny’s sci-fi setting will also be several alien locations, as well as some surreal places born of pure imagination that will pop up now and then. Your journeys will also take you to the alien controlled Hellmouth on the broken remains of our moon, the uncharted “reef” in space, a derelict fleet in orbit around Saturn, the mysterious obsidian pyramid ships that Bungie isn’t talking about yet, and many other locales.
Bungie described the narrative path as several books within the main story, and each book contains unique narrative story arcs with its own beginning, middle, and end that intertwine. If that sounds to you to be a bit like Skyrim and games like it, you aren’t alone. But imagine Skyrim with a much bigger world and other real people to play it with.
You’re never truly alone
Destiny will require a constant online connection. It is being dubbed a “persistent world,” which should strike an immediate chord for MMO fans. Bungie claims it is not an MMO, but rather something altogether new. While Bungie wouldn’t rule out microtransactions, it did confirm that there won’t be a subscription fee.
The game features co-op but in an untraditional way, and it was built from the ground up with co-op in mind. You will still have the option to pair up with friends and form a “fire team,” in order to head out and complete missions together. Bungie didn’t say how many players can join each team, but this is where one of Destiny’s more distinctive features comes in.
“Everything that is fun to do is more fun if you’re doing it with your friends, and everything that’s fun to do, is more fun to when other people are around you.” Jones said, explaining some of the philosophy of the game.
Part of the reason Destiny requires a constant connection to the internet is that behind the scenes you will constantly be jumping between servers without knowing it, in a fashion somewhat akin to how your cell phone jumps from one tower to the next for service. As you travel from one server to the next, you are entering a zone with other players that you may never even see – or you may run right in to by accident.
For example, you and your co-op partner may be on a mission and find yourself in a firefight with alien hordes. As you engage the enemy, suddenly another player might see the fight and join in. They could then help you fight off the aliens and leave to complete their own objectives, or join your quest. They could even continue on their quest and stay with you as long as your paths coincided before leaving, or they could ignore you altogether and leave you to your fate.
These meetings can happen at anytime, anywhere, in a manner similar to Journey. Oddly, Bungie would not discuss voice chat, instead hinting that communication will be more complicated than that. While the core of the game is built around the single player narrative, there will be missions that require groups to complete. Some missions will simply be too difficult to tackle alone, while others require multiple players for other reasons Bungie wasn’t ready to discuss. These missions will be optional though, and a solo player will have the chance to go it alone. Each encounter will also help to further your own story without impinging on the story of others.
“If we’ve learned one thing over the years, one lesson that’s critical for the success of Destiny, it’s this one: The most important stories we tell, they’re not going to be told by us,” said Joe Staten, story lead for Destiny. “They’re going to be told by players, and these stories are going to players’ personal legends that they build over time out of their shared adventures.”
Being that this is Bungie there will, of course, be competitive multiplayer mixed in as well, but how that will be worked into the game is being kept under wraps for now.
Your personal journey
Each character will play as one particular class that affects your method of gameplay. Bungie didn’t say how many classes there will be or even how exactly you will select your class, but each class will have its own unique look and feel. There will also be a massive number of weapons to find, including rare and exotic weapons. They even have their own names, like “Thorn” and “Super Good Advice.” Bungie has added customizable outfits as well, including rare clothes and items.
Another customizable option will be the ship that you use to navigate the solar system. How this plays in to the gameplay and whether or not you can engage in space combat isn’t known; but there will be an economy in the game, and part of that will be used to increase things like the type of ship you purchase. And there will be some impressive rides to be had. Although none were displayed during our meeting with Bungie, other vehicles will be available for use throughout the game as well.
As you progress, your character will grow and change to fit your unique style, which suggests an experience system built around an ability tree of some sort. The economy will also play a part in your character’s growth, and although the competitive aspect wasn’t discussed, Bungie did confirm that what you earn in competitive multiplayer will also carry over to the rest of the game. If you want to stick to solo play, you can also accept bounties and side quests specifically to earn money.
Rebuilt from the ground up
Destiny was built completely from scratch. Bungie went to work and created a new, interactive world editor known as “Grognok,” and the game will feature a completely new graphics engine that places a huge emphasis on light and shadow to compliment the original art work. Destiny will also feature a time progression mechanic that changes the settings from day to night, making the lighting all the more important.
Everything you do will be part of a “shared universe” and your actions will have an impact on how others see the game. What exactly that means isn’t quite clear, but it does signify that the servers will need to matchmake in the background to allow players to interact seamlessly. The technical demands for Destiny sound staggering.
So far, Bungie is remaining quiet on what platforms Destiny will be available on, but to fulfill the promise of this game a next-gen release seems more than likely. During Activision’s recent earnings call to discuss the last year and to highlight what is coming in 2013, investors were not told to expect a Bungie game this year. Activision Publishing CEO Eric Hirshberg later confirmed this. With the next consoles from Microsoft and Sony expected later this year or early into the next, it makes sense that Bungie’s next game would take full advantage of the power available to them.
Destiny is not just Bungie’s first game since Halo, it is a new universe that is the lynchpin of its 10 year contract with Activision. For now, there are more questions than answers – we haven’t even seen more than a few seconds of actual gameplay – but the potential is impressive.
What has been revealed portends a massive game that spans the entire solar system, with an interactive story that you help to design through your choices and interactions. With the matchmaking and server integration constantly working in the background to introduce you to other players, there promises to be a fluid and dynamic feel that is constantly changing.
Bungie claims that it is not just a first-person shooter with an MMO flair, but rather something new and different. What the developer has revealed sounds a bit like a cross between Skyrim and Borderlands 2, but that may underestimate Destiny’s scope.
It is an ambitious game from one of the top developers operating today. Can it live up to the potential? Time will tell.
(This article has been updated to correct typos.)