If you are reading this instead of playing Destiny right now, my condolences, but I’ll ask you to kindly wait until you finish reading this article and then go out and get with the latest innovation in first person shooters, because if you’re a fan of the genre you aren’t going to want to miss out on Bungie’s latest addition to a career that has been defined by exceptional world-building and constantly-evolving multiplayer functionality in the Halo franchise. Let’s take a trip down memory lane for some perspective before we come back around to look at their newest addition to a legacy of awesome gaming.
Every Halo super-fan knows it was originally conceived as a real time strategy game, which would have been a tragedy that robbed gamers of one of the greatest shooter franchises of all time and Microsoft of the foothold they needed to get their Xbox brand off the ground. Halo: Combat Evolved impressed mainly with an amazing story, extraordinary enemy AI, and some of the smoothest gameplay ever seen in a console shooter. But what a lot of people still remember to this day is the flawlessness of the multiplayer.
Playing Combat Evolved split-screen for the first time was an experience as magical as the first time you fired up Goldeneye on the N64. It was a literal game changer. When you hopped into a Warthog with a friend in cooperative play and drove around the map running over and gunning down any living thing you could find together, the feeling was unlike anything else at the time. And adding that vehicle combat to competitive play? Yes, please.
In competitive play the mixture of sprawling maps and intimate little arenas lent itself to any type of game you wanted to play, as did the wealth of options available to players to customize matches. If you and your buds wanted to play a deadly little game of hide-and-sneak, have a balls-to-the-wall shootout, a demolition derby, or a sniping contest, you were covered. The weaponry was well-balanced and the original Halo might still be the only shooter where most players are perfectly content to go into PvP combat with just their sidearm. The deadly scoped pistol was the perfect tool for almost any occasion that involved shooting someone in the head.
As much as everybody loved the first game’s multiplayer, it was locals only. A lack of online functionality was the closest thing Combat Evolved had to a flaw. Halo 2 could have –and some might say should have- simply taken the exact same mechanics, added online play, and had an even bigger hit with minimum effort. But instead, Bungie decided to expand upon it, implementing an intriguing dual-wielding mechanic in which some guns were single-handed and could be doubled up on or paired with any other one-handed weapon and fired independently.
This added a massive layer of complexity to the multiplayer dynamic. A lot of people missed the consistency of the original pistol, but I couldn’t get enough of mixing and matching different combinations of weapons. For instance, Covenant plasma weapons are great for taking down shields while good old-fashioned human lead-chuckers eat up health like nobody’s business. So with a plasma rifle in one hand and a SMG in the other, you could trash an opponent with auto-fire in seconds if you lit them up with the rifle first and then finished the job with a sub-machine spray. More conservative competitors could go with a charged plasma pistol to take down an enemy’s shield with one go with a single headshot from a standard pistol in the other hand to finish the job. Also, one Needler equaled fresh meat; dual Needlers equaled murder machine.
A lot of gamers (me included) still swear that Halo 2 was the highlight of the entire series, and it remained Xbox Live’s strongest game even after the 360 dropped; until the next game came out, of course. Halo 3 was the first game of the franchise to disappoint me as a single player story, but adding four player campaign co-op helped salve that wound and Bungie once again changed up and rebalanced the entire game to keep the competitive multiplayer as fresh as ever.
Gone was the dual-wielding, and in its place were awe-inspiring new maps (and upgrades on classics), killer new weapons like the vehicle-decimating Spartan laser, and a renewed sense of balance and strategy built around controlling power weapons and mastering the long range burst-fire of the Battle Rifle. At this point a map editor was added along with the ability to review and record your gameplay so you could create and share clips of your exploits online.
Like its predecessors before it on the original Xbox, Halo 3 proved its quality as an indisputable system seller for the Xbox 360 and is a game that people bring up often when they discuss perfection in a multiplayer shooter. For most gamers, this was the peak. You’d think Bungie would be done tinkering with the formula by now, but you’d be wrong.
For some added co-op flavor, the spin-off game Halo: ODST introduced Firefight, in which a team of players could take on waves of enemies together in an attempt to survive as long as they could. No matchmaking was a big bummer, though, and since it was an extension of Halo 3, ODST only included extra maps to add to the content of the main title rather than anything else that was its own in PvP play.
Firefight made a big online splash in the next game with lots of customization and matchmaking. Halo: Reach had a ton of great features on hand for their co-op showcase that extended the life of the game a lot for me while the competitive multiplayer underwent yet another massive shift in basic gameplay mechanics with Armor Abilities and custom loadouts now part of the mix.
With any given player able to choose extra abilities like active camouflage or jetpacks and begin with their weapon of choice in their hands rather than the standardized loadouts of the past, the strategies and tactics players perfected in years of Halo 3 were now caput and even the precision of the beloved Battle Rifle was replaced with the recoiling semi-automatic DMR, one of many new weapons added to the mix. People weren’t pleased, but being a fan of improvisation over glassy-eyed perfunctory tactics, I was, so screw them.
Reach also featured Generator Defense, a multi-tiered objective-based battle where opposing teams took turns as invading Covenant Elites storming a Spartan base defended by the other team. Whoever did a better job protecting their base during their turn on defense won the match. This and Firefight were where I spent most of my time on this final Bungie Halo title.
I was a big fan of the various change-ups Bungie implemented from game to game during their run with the defining multiplayer shooter franchise of the last two console generations. Whereas Call of Duty puts out new games every year with only minor tweaks to gameplay, new Halo was something that only came along every few years and it was always a whole new game. It always felt like Halo, but there was so much changed from game to game that it was kept fresh in a way that made every release special whereas annual franchises are something people seem to buy and play out of habit with most of the installments blending together.
And that, dear readers, brings us to this week, where Bungie’s Destiny awaits us. It’s been four years in the making, and if the beta was any indication it’ll be well worth that wait. The PlayStation faithful will finally get a chance to fully experience what the studio that helped put Microsoft on the console war map can do for them. And what they’ve done is almost entirely remove the barrier between the single-player and multiplayer experiences.
Destiny takes the silky smooth gameplay, believable enemy AI, and sci-fi aesthetics that made Bungie’s last franchise such a massive hit and adds role-playing element like branching class abilities and stats along with a new seamless multiplayer interface. It functions sort of like a MMO on a basic level. While playing through the story, the player will randomly encounter other players and teams that are currently exploring the same area, which is really cool.
The various activities in-game are all linked through space travel, meaning rather than exiting to the main menu to change from single-player to multiplayer, the elements are all integrated through your ship. While orbiting you can choose to go to the Tower where you can gear up, hang out with other players, and trade in loot, or explore the planet and undertake story missions or Strikes (larger scale co-op battles taking the place of Firefight), or go to the Crucible to throw down with other players in a variety of match types. For most competitive modes level stat boosts are wiped to make everything fair, but for the hardcore there’s the Iron Banner tournament, where the strongest can really test their mettle.
So Destiny is basically Halo meets Borderlands meets Defiance with no wrong way to play. Be a loner, be a competitor, be a teammate, be an explorer, be a loot whore, be a dancing machine; it all depends on what you want out of the experience. Me, I’m going to do a little of everything. Bungie appears to have built something really amazing here and I’m excited to get back to playing it. And now that I’ve said my piece, I recommend you go do the same. And you, Bungie; you get back to innovating and changing the face of multiplayer shooters as we know it, ‘kay?