Update 25/7/14 12:40: Frame-pacing issues - manifesting as judder during gameplay - have now been fixed for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One betas, and while Xbox 360 and PS3 still exhibit the issue, that should be resolved in the final game.
It's been a month since we put the PS4 alpha build of Destiny under the microscope, revealing an effects powerhouse with a day-night cycle that lent itself to some beautiful time-lapse shots. With a handful of new story missions added for the beta release on PS3 and PS4 this week, we're currently working through a full comparison for you to enjoy in the coming days. But in the meantime, a quick look into how the PS4 version stacks up to the alpha build is in order - and whether this update addresses any of the curious issues raised at the time.
Weighing in at 13.2GB, there's certainly plenty of meat to this download. Starting with a tutorial section on the outskirts of Old Russia, we're tasked with taking our newly-created Guardian through a towering wall into the main Steppes area - kickstarting a scout for parts to restore a spaceship. Technically, this hinges on the same area as the alpha build's Devil Within mission, but takes us on a tangent that shows us some new cut-scenes and previously unseen bosses.
It remains a sight to behold for all the right reasons; the 1080p resolve on PS4 is intact of course, as backed by the FXAA post-processing seen in the alpha. For the sake of presenting Bungie's gorgeous skybox designs, plus the vast acreage of Old Russia as seen from the highest points, this pixel count does the game a great service. Detail is rendered from a great distance while outside - with little pop-in aside from small rocks and rubble fading into view while boosting with a Sparrow.
Exploring the gloomy, interior areas shows off the game's dynamic lighting in the best manner, with lens flares and light coronas still making the grade. Little has perceptibly changed from the alpha in this area; character shadows blend seamlessly with the scenery, while all objects benefit from ambient occlusion to add depth. The faint dithering to our character's silhouette is still in place from the alpha; a minor blemish to an otherwise impeccable lighting engine.
Its strong visual assault aside, Bungie's alpha experiment wasn't all smooth sailing. In fact, we noticed at the time a locked 30fps read-out from our tools, with the average frame-rate showing little threat of dipping to the nether. That said, in practice the game clearly feels less smooth than it ought to, and this is where the principle of frame-pacing comes in.
Unfortunately, the beta version of Destiny continues to show signs of an uneven spread of frames, which while averaging out at the promised 30fps, produces a judder sensation to lateral camera movement. As a shooter played largely from the first-person view, the camera pivots more aggressively than most games, making this issue easier to pick out. It's very much playable, but we feel Bungie is doing itself a disservice given its in-house engine is clearly capable of pushing out a rock-solid frame-rate.
The outlook isn't wildly different for the Crucible multiplayer experience. Having played domination matches on the Shores of Time temple stage, plus across the lunar base seen in First Light, it's clear fluctuations between 16ms and 60ms are an issue for controller response here too. These are the only maps in rotation as of writing, though an additional pair of online arenas are promised.
Destiny's alpha build proved astonishingly well-rounded, and early server strains aside, this beta sample also makes an encouraging showing of what we can expect of the final release. A few extra story missions have been added, but from a technical standpoint there isn't much change to the game's core design - which is a good sign. Bungie's sterling effects work and lighting remain perceptibly as-is from a month ago, and it's clear the studio's time is being spent on subtle tweaks (notably to voice-work) rather than grand brushstrokes.
However, as Destiny's September launch draws closer, it's a little disappointing that the frame-pacing issues are still present - we saw them in the E3 debut at the Sony conference last year, they were still present in the alpha and it's surprising to see this obvious judder persist into this more advanced code. We're still hoping that Bungie can fix this before the final code is unleashed. Over and above that, there's still the matter of the other versions of the game to consider. The PS3 version of the beta rolled out yesterday and we're looking at that now - the big question is, are the last-gen consoles suitably equipped to handle Bungie's vision for the game? We will of course report back next week once the Xbox versions of the code arrive.