This Thursday, 17th July, Bungie will open the doors to the Destiny beta, and hundreds of thousands of players - potentially even millions - will assault its servers. Those who have pre-ordered the PlayStation 4 or PlayStation 3 versions of the game go first, with Xbox One and Xbox 360 owners going second on 23rd July. That timed exclusivity, alongside a raft of exclusive content relating to weapons, emblems, vehicles, space ships and even the expansion pack, is the result of Sony shelling out to make Destiny, set to be one of the biggest games of 2014, feel as close to a PlayStation exclusive as it possibly can without it actually being one.
For Bungie, still crunching hard on the first-person shooter it has had up its sleeve for what feels like an age already, the beta is of huge significance. The recent PlayStation 4 only alpha teased players with a glimpse behind the curtain (check out my impressions in our competitive multiplayer-focused Destiny preview). But the beta will pull it back, revealing more of Destiny's innards than ever before. Expectant players are waiting, and for Bungie the time for mystery is nearing its end. Once the beta launches, there will be no-where left to hide.
Is it really a beta, or just a glorified demo? What, exactly, will be on offer? And what's going on with Peter "that wizard came from the moon!" Dinklage's voice acting? We cornered Bungie's David "Deej" Dague for a quick chat about what players can expect from the Destiny beta - and what Bungie hopes to get out of it.
When players first access the beta what will be the first thing they will be presented with?
When you first play the beta the first thing you need to do obviously is create your character. You'll choose your class, your race, your gender, then customise your appearance, and then send that Guardian out into the wild.
We've got some new things for even alpha veterans to experience in the beta. In many ways it is the beginning of your Destiny adventure. It has more of the story to experience. We've got more of the Crucible to experience. And obviously there is the exploration of Old Russia. So, we're looking forward to the fact that while much is known about Old Russia from people who played on the PlayStation 4 and streamed or shared components of their experience, we're taking everybody in the Bungie community who wants to play this game and we're turning them loose.
So, people on the PlayStation 3, the Xbox One and the Xbox 360 join the fray, and they all get to understand what people have been talking about since we first started to let a small slice of the endgame experience download to their console.
What exactly will be new for those who played the alpha?
We're expanding on the portions of the story. We're giving you more opportunity for leveling up and earning promotion. We started you very much on your adventure in progress in the alpha. With the beta we're starting you from square one, so you can really understand what it's like to take your first steps in the boots of a Guardian.
And then we are taking you along an adventure that has somewhat of the same logical conclusion as what you might have seen in the alpha, but we are expanding on that process. So if you played the alpha there will be some new things for you to enjoy in the beta, but we do need to be sensitive to the fact that for many players this is their first step into the world of Destiny. If we took everything from the alpha and said, well, we don't need to do that again, I think a lot of people in our community would say, hey, wait a minute, I didn't get my chance to do Sparrow jumps, to do Sparrow barrel rolls in Old Russia, I didn't get my chance to stand in the shadow of the Cosmodrome.
So we need to catch up a lot of people in our community to what has been known in the alpha, because even if you watched people stream Crucible gameplay for hours on end, there are still so many things about being a participant in the alpha that are not known. Even people who have spent a lot of time in front of Twitch or YouTube are going to say it's a completely different to have the controller in your hand and to be able to choose your own path. And we wanted to make sure people could do that.
At the same time we're giving people who have invested dozens upon dozens of hours in the alpha new things to enjoy, so they have their own motives to be a willing and active participant in the beta.
The alpha started you at level four and set the level cap at eight. If you start the beta at level one, what's the level cap for the beta?
It's not something we've revealed yet. But all will become apparent within a matter of days.
What will be available from the Crucible in the beta?
We do have new environments. There are new maps. But in terms of the gameplay modes, that is something we have yet to reveal. That will also become apparent as soon as people make the download. In the Bungie Weekly Update we let slip a couple of glimpses of some of the new environments where people can go and fight in the Crucible in the beta, and it'll send them to destinations they have yet to even touch down on.
What will be on offer from the Strikes?
I've said as much about the beta and the complexity of the experience and the components of it as I can. In typical Bungie fashion we're keeping our cards close to our chest because we want players to enjoy the exploration fantasy of Destiny. We want them to enjoy the act of discovering things in a vast landscape. So I would rather for your readers leave some of these things to chance so you have something in the game that can surprise you instead of me just blurting it all out in my usual boring fashion.
What is Bungie hoping to get from the beta in terms of feedback and data?
We're launching our most ambitious project ever on 9th September, and we certainly don't want that to be the first time anybody gets hands on with this game. Every time someone plays a build of Destiny we learn something about what we create. We learn how it can be better. We learn how we can better support it behind the scenes.
When you start to play in the beta you're going to instantly observe some of the different things we've changed in direct response to feedback we gained during the alpha. Some of those things will be front and centre - you won't be able to miss them. Again, I'll let you discover those things for yourself.
Every time somebody plays this game we learn more about how we can balance the experience between the different classes of Guardians. We learn about weapons that stand out too much in the sandbox. We learn about how we can refine the sandbox so if there is an explosive, exciting place for players to explore, everyone has an equal shot at victory, and there are many different decisions a player can make to embrace different types of power. If there's one logical choice in that sandbox, if there's one logical choice for you to make when you are standing in front of the gunsmith, we have failed. Things like the alpha and things like the beta are wonderful opportunities for us to identify those things and act upon them.
We're also opening it up to four platforms, so the sampling will be so much larger. Now we have a pretty good understanding of how this thing works on the PS4, we can see if that proof of concept holds up on the other three platforms we have yet to see.
You've said you're updating the Ghost dialogue. What work has been done on that and how has it changed?
That was exactly one of the things I was referencing when I talked about us acting on the alpha feedback. You'll understand how the Ghost dialogue is different as soon as you invoke your navigation mode.
I hope you've kept the "that wizard came from the moon!" dialogue, which I liked.
Time will tell.
Will you be able to carry your progress over from the beta into the main game?
The beta is a test. It's extremely unknown as to what the outcome will be. So, it's certainly not a promise or an announcement that we're making at this time. It all depends on what we learn and how things shake out. So, we're certainly not telling players they can carry their progress over, but we haven't made any announcements either way.
So we reserve the right to talk about that later.
Was there any feedback from the alpha about Guardian balance you're acting upon for the beta?
We're actually pretty satisfied with the balance between the Guardians. There have been hundreds if not thousands of hours stacked in the play test labs here at Bungie to make sure the Hunter, the Titan and the Warlock are all complimentary from a strength and combat perspective.
If you spent any time in the Crucible you probably saw a lot of people carrying a venerable and highly-coveted assault rifle called the Galahad-C. I can tell you Sir Galahad has gone under the microscope because it was the only logical choice. It was the first and last word of weaponry at the Crucible. And these are the sorts of theories we're able to prove in something like the alpha. We were able to take that weapon and say, we want people to enjoy using this weapon but we don't want it to be the only way to win. Those are the sorts of things we look for, if there's anything that sticks out like a sore thumb on the gunsmith's rack. That is one notable change we admitted to having made, eliciting official comment from our sandbox designer Josh Hamrick.
That was even a flaw we perceived before the alpha. We were like, well, the Galahad seems way too strong, so we'll see how players react to it in the alpha. And then coming out the other side of it, it was like, yep, you're getting nerfed Galahad. Sorry.
Did you get any feedback in terms of the pace of the combat in the Crucible? It felt to me like a fast-paced game where Guardians died relatively quickly and it was pretty easy to kill opponents if you got the drop on them. Is that what you're going for or might you tweak it further based on the beta?
In embarking on this adventure and creating the new Destiny sandbox and deciding how Guardians would behave in that environment, we did want to design a game with higher lethality. Destiny is an experience that is nuanced and will become refined in many different directions. As Guardians become more powerful, as they become more familiar with the maps and how to truly use their vertical movement mode to evade combat or slide out of the way of danger, people will find new ways of countering these attacks.
But we definitely wanted a faster-paced game. We definitely wanted a game where people felt more instantly powerful. And in many ways the Crucible performs exactly as we intended. For some of the players of our legacy experiences, that will represent an evolution. It will represent something to adapt to. But that is the overall player experience of Destiny. You'll always be evolving as a character and adapting to new threats. This is just the first step in that process.
Certainly, we collect a lot of feedback from the alpha and we can debate those things internally. The player sampling for how we decide how to refine the sandbox went from a couple hundred to many hundreds of thousands. So these are the conversations we will have.
Support and sustain teams are already starting to come together at Bungie with the objective of making Bungie an enormously player-focused developer over the longer term, much as we have done in the past. This conversation will rage on our forum, in our design labs and on our internal email distribution lists for the months and years to come. And we are always listening, arguing and debating internally as to how this game can be best for anybody who picks up a controller to play it.