In a modernist hotel lobby on the outskirts of Barcelona I sit face to face with the President. He's pretty casual as far as presidents go, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, wearing sunglasses even though we're inside. He's got a tattoo up the underside of his forearm which reads 'Neverdie'. It's his alias, but more of a name to him now than Jon Jacobs ever will be. He is President of Virtual Reality. It has nothing to do with Oculus Rift or VR goggles, and it's not some silly title in a game. President of Virtual Reality means president of all virtual realities - World of Warcraft, Eve Online, Destiny, the lot.
Warmind, Destiny 2's second and latest expansion, offers a short but sweet helping of new story which will last you around three hours. The campaign is spaced across five missions where you fight our old friends the Hive, meet characters previously teased in obscure lore files, and which moves the overall Destiny story along... if only by an inch.
A note from the editor: Jelly Deals is a deals site launched by our parent company, Gamer Network, with a mission to find the best bargains out there. Look out for the Jelly Deals roundup of reduced-price games and kit every Saturday on Eurogamer.
Destiny 2 is here! Have you noticed? Oh, I have so many memories of the first one: those huge Romantic skyboxes, that tangle of rusted cars, piled high against a patchwork wall, the roar of the shotgun, the endless hunt for Xur and his bargains.
It's eight in the morning on a Saturday and there's a message on my phone - "You aren't free morningish by any chance?"
In April 2014, veteran Bungie composer Marty O'Donnell took to Twitter to say he had been fired. Only afterwards, amid a messy lawsuit between the two parties that spilled out into the public domain, did we learn that his work on Music of the Spheres, which was intended to be a musical prequel to online shooter Destiny, had caused a rift within Bungie's board of directors. The court papers said Activision had little enthusiasm for releasing Music of the Spheres as a standalone work, and that Bungie management felt O'Donnell was elevating his interest in publishing Music of the Spheres over the best interests of the company. The upshot was that its release had been canned, and Marty, who had spent two years on the project, was furious.
Destiny's latest update The Dawning is more than just a Christmas event, Bungie has said, and after half a day's play I'm pretty happy to agree with that. There's more here than just a snow-capped Tower: Bungie has returned a fan-favourite activity, built yet more onto Destiny's core gameplay and responded to several important points of fan feedback.
Oh, and it even manages to get Nathan Fillion out of retirement to steal the show once more.
The Dawning is a free update for Rise of Iron owners which brings Destiny up to version 2.5. It is headlined by the return of the much-loved Sparrow Racing, although its second big feature - the introduction of a new challenge mechanic for the game's strikes - will likely leave the larger impact.
Next week marks a year since Bungie added a microtransaction store and its paid-for Silver currency into the world of Destiny.
Last night, in anticipation of the upcoming Rise of Iron expansion, Bungie switched on the ability to create private multiplayer matches in Destiny for the first time.
Destiny is getting a new lease of life this month with the arrival of long-awaited expansion Rise of Iron, a new raid and a fresh playable area for fans to explore and pore over.
If you want to weigh Destiny's April update by the new activities it adds, then you're going to be disappointed. In terms of new content, to use the c-word, there's far less meat on this beast's bones than in any add-on before it. There's far less, even, than December 2014's disappointing Dark Below. There's no new raid, the one new strike is instantly forgettable and the refreshed Prison of Elders arena feels like something Bungie should have added months back.
Destiny first launched in September 2014, yet here we are in April 2016 and the game continues to enjoy a huge audience. Certainly, what was great about the original game has not been diminished: the core gameplay Bungie perfected, the worlds it featured and the moment-to-moment gunplay which still lies unparalleled. These are the things the April update focuses on bringing again to the fore. Head back to Destiny and you'll find yourself getting more loot, discovering new ways to tailor your personal experience and character, and you'll find refreshed - if still familiar - activities.
After so long, it's a relief to find many of the game's barriers to progress have been lifted. After so long, Bungie now seems happier for you to play once a week rather than every night. There was a time when a bunch of us would play Destiny most evenings - even a year on, when The Taken King expansion landed. But, logging in to play the April update, my character first picked up a reward from February's lacklustre Valentine's event - after trying a round or two of that, I decided I was finally out.
In February 2013, Bungie invited the world's press into its Bellevue, Washington studio to show Destiny for the first time. Except the studio didn't show Destiny. Rather, it talked about Destiny.
Crimson Days, Destiny's new attempt to pull back players, is all about couples - but it fails to properly address either of the game's two biggest problems. Once again, players are faced with a limited amount of things to do. And, once again, players are being left feeling like that haven't been properly rewarded for their time and efforts even if they do choose to engage and take part.
There's 90 seconds until the extraction is complete and I'm eyeing the clock. I'm standing next to a guy I met up with a few blocks back. He was pinned down by looters. We finished them off together and exchanged jumping jack emotes, then headed off to the extraction point to secure our reward.
Destiny has grown stagnant.
Destiny: The Taken King launched months ago, long before the rush of autumn releases, yet millions of players still play for hours every day. It's a vote of confidence for Bungie but also a neverending workload, as the game's intensely loyal fanbase constantly demand fresh content.
In the run up to the release of Halo 5, I thought a lot about the state of the series in 2015, how my feelings about Master Chief and Cortana and the endless fight to save the universe had changed over the years, and Destiny.
"Did you hear about Paul? He's a 304. I'm a 303, but Paul's a 304!"
Before it was a rocket launcher with target tracking and devastating cluster rounds, Gjallarhorn - from the Old Norse "yelling horn" - was the instrument sounded by the herald god, Heimdall, to signal Ragnorok. The noise of Gjallarhorn, in other words, meant the end of the world - which, in a way, is just as true of its deadly, wolf-headed descendant in Destiny, a gun which proved so powerful it called down an armageddon on itself.
It's hard to remember exactly when Gjallarhorn became the essential destructive accessory in Bungie's RPG-ing online shooter. As players hit the level cap and explored the endgame and metagame beyond, exotic weapons were earned and upgraded, perks were tried and tiered, and certain guns and gear - outliers and exceptions within Destiny's carefully balanced economy of violence - became highly prized.
Gjallarhorn was the top prize. A combination of functionality perks and brute-force damage-dealing made it a monster. A fully-levelled Gjallarhorn fired rockets that homed in on their targets, then exploded on impact and released a devastating secondary wave of Wolfpack rounds that also homed. It was beautiful to watch, and always made me think of the Japanese word for fireworks - hana-bi, literally "fire flower" - with its twinkling incendiary packets pluming away before arcing murderously back onto their victim. It also held two rounds in the clip and, as a consequence, delivered precise and overwhelming damage to anything players decided to point it at in a very condensed pocket of time. It was bullying, and extravagant. And it was so good.
Talk to Bungie about Destiny and it will readily admit the game's imperfections. Speak to the Destiny's passionate fanbase and they will likely tell you many of the same gripes, only louder. Plenty played Destiny during its inaugural year and kept playing through the game's many ups and downs. Others did not. By Bungie's own metrics - three million loyal players logging on every day - the game sounded nothing short of a success. But many who tried the shared world shooter left for good, feeling burned by expectations of the vision Bungie had laid out.
"Level 20 was a shelf point," Destiny: The Taken King creative director Luke Smith says to me. It's been a couple of months since our last meeting at E3 2015 and I'm at Bungie headquarters in Seattle to play through all of the new expansion on the developer's test servers. Well, all of the expansion apart from its new raid - there are still folk at Bungie yet to be allowed into that.
The Taken King arrives today, a week after Destiny's 2.0 update made sweeping changes to the game regardless of whether you shell out for its new expansion or not. Chief among 2.0's alterations was a retooling of the confusing Light system that originally gated the top third of Destiny's levels. Progression beyond level 20 meant learning the game's secondary gameplay loop: grinding old content, playing raids and hoping Bungie's random loot generator was feeling generous enough to hand over a full set of raid gear.
Mars spirals above you as your boots land on the surface of Phobos, the red planet's largest moon. But for the first time in Destiny, you and your fireteam don't feel alone. Ships of the Vanguard soar overhead, the might of the Tower behind you, their radio chatter in your ears. Down the dusty path lies chaos, a Cabal base that's being evacuated. But you aren't the danger here, and neither are the militaristic Martian conquerors. They are fleeing a threat far larger than themselves, one that The Taken King will see you slowly meet, comprehend, and then shoot in the face.
Destiny's first major expansion opens in a shower of fireworks and a mission packed full of story teasers on a location never before visited in the game's campaign. From the moment it begins, it's evident that The Taken King is a step up from the two add-ons that Destiny players have seen before. Which is good - and not just because of that price-tag. It's good because it marks a step-up in the story-telling ability of the game, something so sorely lacking in last September's vanilla release.
"Phobos is a place you're going to start off... and probably going to return," The Taken King creative director Luke Smith told Eurogamer at E3. But the real meat of the expansion will take place on the Dreadnought, the command carrier of the game's legendary Oryx, father of Crota. He's parked out by Saturn - the furthest that players have ventured from Earth so far - and stands ready to take the whole of the inner solar system by force. Angry old Oryx is rather annoyed that you killed off his son back in The Dark Below - with his own sword, no less - and has turned up on a quest for revenge.
Each spaceship holds a friend, and you're orbiting round a planet together in a gang, showing off your rides. Custom paint jobs. Some dude in a giant red lorry of a ship. Last minute gear checks, discussion of loadout and then your team all turns perfectly together and sideslips down to the planet's surface. A moment of black and you're in control of your avatar and everything kicks off. Or it's PvP and you teleport down to the planet's surface and are shown posed like you're in a Saturday morning TV show for a beat before the flag rolls out. A second to breathe and then you're being hunted. Destiny is full of these tiny moments that show you're with your tribe.
Every Friday - we call it Xur Day - a special non-player vendor character arrives in the Tower, Destiny's social space. The mysterious merchant, eyes burning white, tendrils reaching out from within a face cloaked in shadow, sells Exotic weapons and armour, but there's no way to predict which ones. Xur, Agent of the Nine, is a law unto himself.
Everything about expansion two for Bungie's "shared world shooter" Destiny makes sense to me. The changes to the competitive multiplayer portion of the game we reported on last week give PvP, for the first time, a proper endgame. The new upgrade system means any Legendary or Exotic weapon and armour piece can be made level 34 - without it losing progression. And the new Prison of Elders arena mode, revealed by Bungie today, is a cool twist on wave-based fighting and a lot of fun for three-player Fireteams.
Destiny's competitive multiplayer, called Crucible, doesn't reward player "investment" in the same way the player versus environment portion of the game does. That is to say, Crucible rewards are muck. Six-player groups take on Destiny's wonderful Raids in the pursuit of powerful Legendary-class weapons and high level equipment that can only be obtained by completing difficult encounters and defeating computer-controlled bosses. There's an element of randomness to the coveted Raid drops, so on any given run you may not get that helmet you've been after since Destiny launched in September, but at least you know which items you're in with a chance of getting.
"All the viewers that are watching, this is a glitch to get your characters above 20, I guess," 11-year-old Henry Kramer told his viewers on Twitch.
Recently I've been thinking about cheese, and not the cow stuff. Cheese as in taking advantage of a game's weird AI behaviour or a level glitch to bypass the 'correct' way of doing things. Surely we're all guilty of cheesing it up, whether for laughs or more mercenary reasons, but one game has finally managed to... well, make a game out of it.
Three months into Destiny's projected 10-year lifespan and there seem to be as many people burned out by its protracted grind as there are in thrall to it. The Dark Below, Bungie's first significant expansion for the game, isn't going to change that. It's not an overhaul in the style of Blizzard's ground-shaking expansions, or an introduction of new, exciting systems that can win back those who have turned their backs on the game. It is, instead, a sliver of content gently inserted into the existing world, prolonging that grind in a way that will delight as many as those who will despair.
Remember the loot cave? Of course you do. If you loved Destiny, it was your guilty pleasure. If you hated Destiny, it was your smoking gun. Everyone agreed that it laid bare the way Destiny is underpinned by a mixture of grinding and randomness. The difference is that those of us who loved the game simply enjoyed the novelty of tipping things in our favour, however briefly, before returning to our other satisfying routines.
Here are some recent thoughts of mine: I am playing too much Destiny. Also, games might be an expression of the futility of the human condition.
Destiny's story failed. Most agree on this point.
It was a disjointed, bizarre effort that made little sense. Exposition amounted to a short blurb from one of the game's few nonsensical characters as by-the-numbers story missions were loaded. The few cutscenes that did make the cut came across as cobbled together at the last moment, with instantly forgettable dialogue that made us clamour for the pre-release days of Peter "Tyrion" Dinklage's infamous "that wizard came from the moon!" line. And the less said about the text-based Grimoire cards, unhelpfully hosted outside of the game on Bungie.net, the better.
Why are we killing these aliens, a million Guardians wondered? I don't even have time to explain why I don't have time to explain, Destiny answered.
So I was browsing the UK video game charts the other day when something dawned on me: there are only 15 games in the top 40 this week that are about firing guns.
Finally! After weeks and weeks of nonsense, Bungie has had a word with Master Rahool. Destiny's Cryptarch has been winding up the game's players for nearly a month now, but the latest patch means the rewards he hands out will be a bit more consistent with our expectations in future. Legendary engram? Legendary item.
This is definitely a good thing, because going to see the Cryptarch should be like visiting Santa at the North Pole. I should advance on his shack with a spring in my step, arms trembling under the weight of encrypted engrams, eyes alight with wonder and anticipation, and he should hoist me onto his lap, ask what I want for Christmas and then whip out a legendary chest plate to complete my armour set. The reality, of course, has been like waking up on Christmas morning to discover you've been burgled and they've taken everything except a couple of Toblerones and a Mote of Light.
The chances are, then, that from now on when you return to The Tower after a few rounds of Rumble or another go on the Vanguard playlists, you will feel a bit better about things. Even so, if you're still playing as much Destiny as I am a month on from launch, you probably have other concerns that the new patch doesn't address.
From Destiny's E3 2013 reveal at Sony's media briefing to its final PS4 and Xbox One release, Bungie's sci-fi shooter has seen a number of significant changes. After replaying the PS4 version for comparison with footage of its reveal, it's clear there's been a radical review of Old Russia's aesthetic overall, both for better and worse. In the wake of Ubisoft's Watch Dogs, which saw the final game shorn of many of its most impactful rendering features, we wondered whether these changes are technical in nature - perhaps driven by a shifting console spec - or simply the result of refining and improving the visuals over the remainder of the development period?
According to its creators, Destiny is the start of a series that is expected to span a decade of games and content. In storytelling terms though, it's off to a slow start, making the poor decision to hide a lot of vital background in unlockable cards on the Destiny website and companion app and only reluctantly telling its story through dull mission descriptions and vestigial cut-scenes that take hours to trickle into view.
"What is Destiny?"
With our full Face-Off feature under way for this weekend, it's the Xbox One release of Destiny that poses the biggest questions. Having already seen Diablo 3 go from 900p to a full 1080p (albeit with some occasional frame-rate hits), we now have Bungie's sci-fi goliath attempting to pull off the very same technical wizardry. But given its ambitious, effects-heavy, open-world design, has matching the PS4's full-HD output required any downgrades elsewhere?
Bungie graphics engineer, Chris Tchou, said in a previous exchange with IGN: "This is the same resolution, the same frame-rate as PS4. We basically got together with Microsoft, and got a bunch of engineers here optimising and taking advantage of the system [Kinect] reserve - basically the extra GPU time that Microsoft gave us, and got it up to 1080p... the beta will run at 900p, so it's a little less. But rest assured by the time we ship we'll have it at 1080."
So our first port of call is checking the resolution itself; a pixel-count during both campaign and Crucible modes showing Bungie's promise has been kept. The Xbox One now delivers the maximum 1920x1080 frame-buffer allowed by its front-end settings, with each pixel revealing its own matching stair-step on vertical and horizontal edges. It's the real deal.
This is an early impressions piece, culled from just over a day's play. To find out more about when to expect our review, please refer to our recent editor's blog.
Sony is treating Bungie's first-person shooter as a first-party PlayStation game, despite it also being available on Xbox.
The recent Destiny beta left developer Bungie with mountains of feedback and more hard data than it could possibly hope to digest. But it's trying.
There was a time when the first-person shooter was considered the exclusive domain of the PC, a bygone era where the games console was thought unworthy - and indeed incapable - of hosting a competitive multiplayer FPS. Halo changed everything, and in the process Bungie didn't just redefine a genre - it made Xbox and then Xbox 360 the home of the console shooter. 13 years on from the release of Halo, things have changed. The studio is no longer exclusive to Microsoft and its latest game is a multi-platform project - but Destiny is still special in that it's almost certainly Bungie's Xbox 360 swan song. Has it gone out with a bang?
With a clear visual divide between Destiny's PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 beta builds, both versions nevertheless come out looking very respectable indeed. A locked 30fps is a core mandate for each platform, it seems, and with the Xbox One release open for access since Wednesday, it's clear this version is no exception. However, with resolution currently locked at 900p for this Xbox One build - and 1080p being targeted for release - are there any other sacrifices being made to suit this console's more restrictive specs?
Scalability is at the heart of Bungie's new in-house Destiny engine, but the good news is that it appears that no major alterations are made from the PS4 release to accommodate Microsoft's platform. Sparing the resolution downgrade to 900p, the Xbox One beta handles its lighting, shadow rendering, and even level of detail scaling at the exact same grade of quality as Sony's newest platform. No nips, no tucks. Having pored over the introductory cut-scene set outside Old Russia's walls, and compared long views across the Steppes area, any contrasts we see stem only from shifts in the game's day-night cycle.
Of course, the difference between the current 1600x900 throughput on Xbox One and the full 1920x1080 on PS4 is perceptible, even through the heavy FXAA post-process anti-aliasing in effect on both. When it comes to broad overviews of Destiny's landscapes, a degree of clarity is compromised the further afield we look. It never affects gameplay on Microsoft's platform; enemies always remain visible on the horizon. However, it does manifest across foliage and high-frequency normal mapping past a certain distance, both suffering from the additional upscale. Put side-by-side, the Xbox One produces slightly fuzzier detailing on these elements, though the actual quality of textures - and filtering - is a complete match between the two.
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.
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.
As its first cross-generation, multi-platform release, Destiny represents a huge undertaking for Bungie. With just a scant few months left until its release we still have yet to see the game running on anything other than PlayStation 4, leaving many questions hanging. Just how scalable is this engine? What level of performance will other platforms deliver? At the very least, things are looking up for the Xbox One version with the recent revelation that the updated Xbox One XDK allows Bungie to hit 1080p30 rather than the previously rumoured 900p. But in the here and now, it's all about PS4 - and based on the rich quality of the alpha code released this week, that's absolutely fine by us.
When we had the opportunity to get our hands on the Destiny alpha this week, we wanted to do something special. Anyone who has played a Halo game can attest that, when it comes to delivering breathtaking scenery on a massive scale, Bungie is a true master of its craft. Our initial steps on the ruins of planet Earth in Destiny call to mind those moments when we first emerged from the escape pod back in the original Halo. Just taking a moment to pan the camera slowly around and take in the scenery before us reminds us why this developer is one of the best in the business.
Destiny's competitive multiplayer is all about ammo.
Remember the contract between Activision and Bungie for Destiny, published in 2012 as part of the lawsuit between Activision and Call of Duty creators Jason West and Vince Zampella? It said Destiny would launch in the autumn of 2013 as a timed Xbox exclusive.
In Bungie's new online first-person shooter Destiny, everything levels up. But what happens when you hit the level cap?
A shooter is only as good as its sniper rifle. In Halo, the UNSC Sniper Rifle System 99 thunders with each pull of the trigger, as if Zeus himself has hurled a bolt of lightning down from the heavens and into the skull of your enemy. Zoom. Thundercrack. Headshot. Reload.
Marty O'Donnell's departure from Bungie came as a shock to many people, but one of the more unusual aspects of the reaction was what he actually did for the Destiny and Halo developer. We're used to storytellers and game designers attracting attention when they leave or are dismissed, but this is the first time I can remember that a composer got fired and people realised what a big loss it would be.
We've had our say already, and typically we were probably well wide of the mark, so it's now your turn to let us know what games you're looking forward to over the next 12 months. Thanks to all who voted (but no thanks to whoever suggested Pong, and to the handful of people who put forward Half-Life 3, well... I'm sorry). The top 10 are presented in reverse order below - and it was incredibly tight out at the front, with the top result beating out the runner-up by only a couple of votes. We've also included some of your comments, although since the submission form was anonymous we can't say exactly who made which point. Sorry about that - if you feel particularly proprietorial about one of your insights that we've highlighted, tell the world in the comments. Onward!
2014 is upon us, and it promises riches and glory unlike any year before it. With their launches under their belts, the next generation of consoles will, hopefully, show us what they're made of. Virtual reality headsets may make their mark on the mainstream. And with a raft of crowdfunded games due out over the next 12 months, 2014 should tell us whether all that money we pumped into promising projects on Kickstarter was worth it.
We need to talk about Destiny.
Traditional MMOs have gone out of fashion lately. It used to be that every gaming brand had exciting untapped MMO potential and every publisher wanted an MMO in its stable, but the gold rush inspired by World of Warcraft yielded little precious metal, and a lot of publishers got burned in the process - especially Electronic Arts with Star Wars: The Old Republic - while the term "MMO" has become taboo when discussing a new breed of games that includes The Division and Destiny, even though in many respects they are both massively multiplayer and online.
When Bungie gave its online sci-fi shooter Destiny its gameplay debut on the Sony stage at E3 last week, there were a number of telling moments, but my favourite came early on. A dropship deposited studio founder Jason Jones' character before us (we were viewing the game through story lead Joe Staten's eyes). There was a slightly awkward pause and Jones chuckled. Then his character, a hunter clad in lightweight armour and cloak, busted out a cheerful wave and jogged over.
During its hotly anticipated session at the Game Developers Conference last week Bungie's design director Joe Staten and art director Chris Barrett discussed the Halo creator's world-building process, going over much of what it revealed during Destiny's own reveal earlier this year.
"I'm not directly managing third-party relations," says Shuhei Yoshida, when I ask him a question that pretty much has nothing to do with the area of Sony Computer Entertainment for which he is responsible.
In 2001 Bungie revolutionised console shooters with Halo. Over a decade later it hopes to repeat the trick with Destiny, one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken by a game developer. But exactly how it will manage to do so remains shrouded in mystery.
Earlier this week press from across the world sat down inside the studio's in-house theatre to see perhaps the most anticipated game in development, but executives failed to pull the curtain back as we'd hoped they would. Developers took to the stage not to show off screenshots and gameplay footage, but to instead show concept art and describe the grand philosophy. As a glimpse at the post-apocalyptic future world the studio has been rehearsing since August 2009, it was as frustrating as it was tantalising - a bit like the first act of the Matrix, during which Morpheus tells Neo in his deep, knowing tone that you can't be told what the Matrix is; you have to see it for yourself. Except right now it's without the next two acts that let us see it for ourselves.
With those two acts set for PR beats later this year, it is easier to explain what Destiny is not, rather than what it is. Activision Publishing boss Eric Hirshberg says it's not an MMO. No, it most definitely is not an MMO. And Activision most definitely will not charge a subscription fee for it. "As we saw Destiny come together," he says, "we realised it belonged to a genre we couldn't quite pin down."
New IPs, we're told, aren't really feasible at the tail-end of a generation, so it's heartening to sit down and discover that a sizeable part of the games industry is sticking its tongues out at the likes of Yves Guillemot and Peter Moore; 2013's looking like it's going to be an absolutely stellar year for Actual New Games.