Home > Gaming > Hands on: Destiny Sparrow Racing League

Hands on: Destiny Sparrow Racing League

Destiny hover bikes get a slick, speedy Star Wars-like race mode

Destiny’s new racing event finds a great use for the game’s awesome but underplayed vehicles.

Ever since planet-hopping shooter Destiny offered players the chance to jump on what are essentially Return of the Jedi’s speeder bikes to jet around Mars and the moon, players have been waiting for the chance to hone their hovering jetbike racing chops.

Developer Bungie announced this weekend at the PlayStation Experience convention in San Francisco that they’ll finally get their wish as the second year of Destiny comes to a close. Players will see a limited-time racing event pop up in the game starting on Tuesday.

Up to now, Destiny’s sparrow vehicles have mostly been a utilitarian way of getting around the game’s huge worlds. The developer previously gave players “trick” sparrows that let them do barrel rolls and other stunts, but up until now, the floating bikes haven’t done much but move you from point A to point B. In the Sparrow Racing League event, obviously that’s a bit different, but the great part is how well the mode makes use of the way that the sparrows already handle — basically, any player will be able to hop into a race and immediately become a contender.

Need for Speed

Racing on Destiny’s sparrow tracks is mostly about driving through special “gates” that give your bike a temporary boost of speed. They encourage you to swing around corners carefully and keep up your acceleration, but since all sparrows are more or less created equal, the focus is on precision handling more than anything else.

Short, lateral boosts can knock other players off course or even help crash them into stuff to gain an advantage. Like in other racing titles, slamming into obstacles at high speed will blow a racer up, penalizing them with a short respawn time before they can rejoin the race.

Even if it’s limited to only two tracks, the Sparrow Racing League is a lot of fun, thanks to the already unique feel to how sparrows drive and handle. They’re quick but wispy in terms of handling, tending to drift hard around corners and slam into walls, and requiring players to judge not only the sharpness of a turn but the roughness of the terrain. Bungie’s two courses are well-designed to put the bikes, and their riders, through their paces. Playing at PSX, the two races players could run always felt close and intense, too — it seems as though it’s somewhat difficult to lose really badly, which helps competition stay exciting.

Destiny is all about earning better, cooler, rarer equipment, and racing comes with its own unique gear.

The mode also does a great job of making its levels feel specific to the Destiny world. Each goes through known areas of various planets and even has you whipping past enemy combatants. It’s possible to run them over, which is fun in its own right, or catch a laser shot or grenade explosion that can mess up a race. One detonation in particular scrambles the player’s vision for a few key moments and can be especially devastating.

All the elements combine to give the Sparrow Racing League a bit of a Mario Kart feel, while harkening back to old Star Wars games like Star Wars: Episode I Racer or Shadows of the Empire on Nintendo 64. Destiny’s races manage to feel just as dangerous and lucid as those games, with elements from the game world spilling onto the track.

Cash and Prizes

Like everything in Destiny, the thing that will keep players coming back to the Sparrow Racing League is going to be the loot drops. Destiny is all about earning better, cooler, rarer equipment, and racing comes with its own unique gear — you can buy new, special sparrows using the game’s new microtransaction system, and it’s possible to earn special helmets and suits while playing that convey bonuses while driving.

Unlike in other modes of Destiny, weapon and armor stats don’t factor into racing, which means players of any level can enjoy the mode. It also means that most of gear earned through racing will be about giving players prestigious, unique gear to show off, but which isn’t particularly great for anything else in the game. A few particularly special items can be pumped up to make them wearable in Destiny’s story missions or competitive multiplayer, but mostly, racing gear will mostly only be good for racing, and showing off.

Destiny Sparrow Racing

That doesn’t mean it won’t be fun and rewarding to gather it all, though, as players learned with the Halloween-themed “Festival of the Lost,” Destiny’s last major timed event of this nature. It was full of collectible Halloween masks players could unlock by playing (or through purchase), and while masks didn’t amount to much more than a hilarious novelty, the Festival quests did provide something new to do and earn — especially for those die-hard Destiny players who like to show off their dedication with unique stuff.

The Sparrow Racing League is positioned in much the same way, and its three-week running time will allow it to be an interesting diversion without overstaying its novelty.

Keeping Destiny Fresh

In fact, the timed event is something of a test to see how players respond to the idea of including sparrow racing in Destiny in a larger way, said Jerry Hook, project lead for Bungie’s Live Team.

Sparrow Racing League has a bit of a Mario Kart feel, while harkening back to games like Star Wars: Episode I Racer or Shadows of the Empire on Nintendo 64.

“We want to hear feedback from our players, we want to hear feedback from the community, what works and what doesn’t work,” Hook said. “And then we’ll figure out how to bring it back if the community wants us to.

“Live Team spends a lot of time with our community managers and our forums,” he explained. “We do regular reviews of what’s going on, what’s happening with the players, what are they talking about, with ourselves also reading things, and that helps make up our list of what we want to end up doing. Sparrow racing, like most of the things we want to be able to do for new experiences, comes from the community, but also the passion we have on our own team. So when you see both at a high-passion moment, you’re like, ‘Yeah, that’s going to go near the top of the list, we’re going to go make that happen.’”

Destiny’s live team is responsible for keeping the game feeling fresh and alive, Hook said — it’s the group that was responsible for the Festival of the Lost, as well as fixing major bugs when they pop up, and working with other groups on things like weapon balance and other issues in the game. Short, timed events like these help give the greater Destiny team a look at what the community likes or dislikes, giving the benefit of variety that can keep Destiny interesting and reward players at all levels of commitment, while also finding out what new ideas resonate without necessarily committing to making them into full-on game modes.

While the Festival took place on Halloween, the Live Team is trying to create fresh content more in line with Sparrow Racing League, rather than just continually celebrating new holidays.

“One of the challenges a lot of live games have, they get stuck in a rut of just being about holidays. And I think players want more than that, they don’t want it to just be a holiday-specific thing,” Hook said. “…The main thing that you’ll see that we want to try to do different is, we don’t want to just be locked into a seasonal model of you’re doing things just based off whatever the holiday is in the season. Like, if World Cup comes out with something, and fans are like, ‘What can we do around the World Cup,’ let’s do that. Those are types of things we want to hear. It’s not just about holidays, which frankly, worldwide, are different anyways. It’s these types of events that really bring these new experiences that surprise players with things they don’t expect.”

Conclusion

The Sparrow Racing League feels like it could be the kind of short-lived but exciting event that generates a tight following of players, like the Iron Banner multiplayer event that shows up every few weeks. It’s well designed as is, and offers a new thrill to jaded Destiny players — and it definitely feels like it could become something much larger and more involved in the future.

Highs

  • Hey, something that’s not just shooting a million aliens!
  • Fast-paced racing with sparrows’ unique handling
  • Long, interesting courses through familiar territory
  • Event-driven content that gives a good reason for coming back
  • Timed event means sparrow racing won’t outlive its novelty

Lows

  • Voice-over during races is really, really annoying
  • Loot drops aren’t too useful outside of racing context
  • More new microtransactions, for better or worse

Available at: Amazon