Bungie knows how to get the best out of next generation hardware in Destiny.
The sun slowly set behind glowing clouds and dappled the rolling landscape with fingertips of light. The crumpled, rusted car hoods proved the harshness of this old earth. A flock of black birds cawed and fled the firing gun of a hooded traveler: you. Destiny takes place in our solar system, in our future Earth, but it feels used up, empty and yet lived-in nonetheless. The team calls it "mythic sci-fi." I call it marvelous.
The atmosphere of Destiny infects every facet of the game. From the picturesque open landscape to the close quarters exploring techno-ruins, you feel you are in a completely realized world. The detailed lighting is extraordinary, and the dynamic, sweeping soundtrack from old pros Martin O'Donnell and Michael Salvatori all contribute to making the player forget his mundane existence. Bungie wants Destiny to be your life.
But I was thankful the developers realize we have real world obligations too, and this persistent multiplayer shooter doesn't need to take all of your free time to be rewarding. "We all have families and lives too," said Bungie's community manager Eric Osborne. "We want Destiny to be just as rewarding for those of us who can play only 30 minutes at a time."
After showing me the wonders of the landscape, it was time to bring in a companion. I saw a dot in the sky grow larger before it grew wings and finally witnessed one of Bungie's artist Natasha noisily drop in with her hunter. Our so-called "fireteam" then descended into the ruins to explore what lies beneath. A glowing spark showed itself and began speaking to me. This was Ghost, an A.I., one of the recurring characters within Destiny. It flew ahead and the shadows it cast on the vast internal structure once again showed off Bungie's skilled visual design. Unfortunately, Ghost might have powered too much of the ruins ancient systems and turned on the lights, alerting its inhabitants to our presence. And they weren't too happy about it.
In combat, I watched the Bungie fireteam quickly aim at the colorful alien enemies, and smoothly duck behind cover to loose a grenade. While I couldn't get my hands on the PS4 controller myself, the combat proceeded almost sensuously. The special abilities of the warlock class seemed easy to learn; by tapping the shoulder buttons, you could throw a purple blast of energy to take out tough-to-kill enemies. Both the grenades and the special attack are on a cooldown, which was a shame, but I see how that system alleviates the need for a replenishing resource.
After shooting the larger boss in the head a few hundred times, he dropped some loot. Destiny has clothing and armor, but I thought the most interesting piece was something called an exotic weapon - Rolling Thunder. "We want these guns to feel like named swords, and be identifiable on sight," said Osborne. Rolling Thunder was that, lightning charging across the barrel denoted the electric attacks it could unleash. Other named guns I saw was a sniper rifle called Closing Time and a rocket launcher called Galahorn. One of the cool things about the loot system in Destiny is that each player will get his own drops. The game won't punish you for playing with friends - everyone will be rewarded.
I tried to pepper Osborne with as many questions as I could, but he was clearly used to dodging anything the studio wasn't prepared to disclose. Because of that, I don't know if Destiny supports single screen co-op or how often the random world events will occur or any concrete details about the way story will unfold beyond the fact that it's going to be a "cinematic narrative" that's somehow delivered without a main character or a linear progression.
Here's an example of Osborne's skill in deflecting questions. I said the voice of the A.I. Ghost sounded a lot like Peter Dinklage from Game of Thrones. "We're not making casting announcements at this time," Osborne said.
"Holy crap," I said, impressed with the casting choice. "Well done."
"It would be sweet," he replied. Is it true? Is Peter Dinklage in Destiny? I'm 90% certain it was his voice so look for an announcement sometime in the next year. (It turns out Bungie already confirmed Dinklage's appearance in this demo at least last week.)
Even if it's not Tyrion Lannister and the story feels disjointed in multiplayer, there is enough atmosphere in Destiny to convince me this game is going to be one of the most successful on this new generation of consoles.
Look for Destiny in 2014 on Xbox One and the PS4.