Could Destiny be the first MMO to really work on console?
There's been an odd reticence since Destiny's reveal to pin down what exactly it is, or to even mutter that dreaded term 'console MMO' - as if incanting it will stir the ghosts of APB, Huxley or the disappointing Defiance. But that's exactly what it is, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Destiny mixes the gunplay of Halo with the compulsion loop of World of Warcraft, the crack-crack-crack of an auto-rifle underscored by the ding of a levelling system to make one heck of a harmony. It's intoxicating stuff.
There have been other MMOs to try their hand on console, of course, and recently they're having more success. Final Fantasy 14's new incarnation A Realm Reborn has managed to find a loving home on PlayStation 4, and both Planetside 2 and The Elder Scrolls Online should prove there's nothing holding back huge connected worlds on console, whenever they deign to turn up. Destiny, though, could be the game that gets a broad audience of millions comfortable with the vagaries of MMO design. Not only could it be the most popular console MMO yet, it could well be the one that turns the tide.
You can feel every cent of Activision's $500 million investment on the screen
The amount of money being pumped into Destiny could well be enough to fund a manned mission to Mars, but you can at least feel it seeping out of every corner of the beta's Cosmodrome. It's an astonishingly well-produced game, and the polish extends across Destiny's broad scope; it's there in the swelling space opera score that exposes the ambition for this to be another cultural cornerstone on the scale of Star Wars, and it's there in the small details like the elastic snap of an auto rifle's reload animation.
Is it money well spent? It's interesting to compare Destiny with Borderlands, a common reference point given both game's predilection for complimenting gunplay with ever-escalating numbers. If you're going to play the numbers game, Borderlands wins out - no matter how much work Bungie puts in before September, there's no competing with the amount of hardware Gearbox spews out at its players. When it comes to quality, though, it's a different story - there's an incredible amount of personality in Destiny's guns, from the fatal thwomp of a pulse rifle to the piercing crash of the DMR descendant auto rifles. Whether that slick personality can win out over the more homespun charm of Borderlands, though, is likely a matter of taste.
Hunter's OP, the Interceptor's OP - but the balance is in the balance
There are some horrible imbalances in the beta right now, at least to these fairly untrained eyes: the Interceptor, Destiny's thundering floating tank, has a tendency to tear apart opposing teams who aren't quick to get a turret trained on it, while a quick look through the rankings suggests the Hunter class is a little too effective. As to how it stacks up in the Iron Banner, the multiplayer mode where all level restrictions are stripped away, I can't honestly say seeing as it's only playable in the beta well past my bedtime.
But, as should be obvious but is no doubt worth repeating, it's a beta: there's a lot of balancing to be done between now and September, and even the smallest changes can have huge repercussions. Just ask anyone who was enjoying the overpowered savagery of the Galahad in the alpha, only to see it muzzled mere weeks later.
343 has got its work cut out with Halo 5 Guardians
Halo 4 wasn't a bad game. It might have disappointed some of the core fans, and its multiplayer numbers faded away far too quickly, but it didn't detract from the sterling work put in by 343 Studios. Microsoft's new studio created a blockbuster that was stirring with its ambition, and with its spectacle - and a game that was ultimately much more than a tribute act to Bungie's own efforts. Halo 4 was, at the time, a glorious return for the Master Chief.
Except it maybe wasn't the Halo sequel many were pining for. The one where Bungie's infamous 30 seconds of fun is spun out to new and exciting places, or where fresh ideas are folded into the formula. It's Destiny that fits that billing, of course, and it's the evolution you sense Bungie was yearning for when it saw out its last years alongside Microsoft with Reach.
343, then, is left stranded on Halo's rings while Bungie takes to the stars with Destiny. There are worse places to end up, of course, and Halo 4 showed there's the talent and drive to make spectacular things happen with Halo 5 - but the inevitable success of Destiny adds a little more pressure to Master Chief's new guardians.
Dinklage isn't the only one whose voice acting needs work
Even if you haven't touched Destiny in the past few weeks, you probably know where that wizard came from. Talk post-alpha was about Peter Dinklage's detached performance, and immediately post-beta it's been about Bungie's corrections - effectively a little robotic filter to Dinklage's voice and the excision of that most memorable line (I'd be shocked, too, if it didn't make its way back in somehow for the final game come September).
All this talk of wizards and moons has distracted from the fact the voice work elsewhere needs a bit of an overhaul, too. The multiplayer announcer's a serious offender, a flat, strangely bored British voice that sounds like it's someone half-heartedly auditioning for a role in a BBC Three serial. Obviously the beta is a beta, and there's plenty of room for improvement - but is it too late to hope for the return of the brilliant Jeff Steitzer?