Why Activision and Bungie Aren’t Calling ‘Destiny’ an MMO

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Activision and Bungie haven’t referred to Destiny as an MMO despite its online characteristics, which heavily resemble games in the MMO genre. Company pages and press releases use words like “persistent online world” with “cooperative, competitive, and public gameplay” to skirt around the subject. Marketing insists on labeling it a first-person shooter (FPS) before even touching on the fact that it’s a massively multiplayer online game. So, why would Activision want to avoid the calling it as such?

MMO carries a stereotype — one that Activision would rather avoid. When consumers hear a game falls under the MMO genre, visions of World of Warcraft raids and YouTube videos of Leroy Jenkins suddenly flood in, and it’s not an attractive image. It’s a genre that would instantaneously alienate consumers with word association. First-person shooter — now that’s sexy. Call of Duty and Halo blockbusters are titles that a lot of people buy, and that’s what Activision’s marketing team is aiming for.

But even with words like FPS and names like Bungie (creators of Halo) backing Destiny, it has still received lukewarm reception. At E3, Sony announced PlayStation 4 owners would receive exclusive access to Destiny’s Alpha, and its been the best decision Activision has made. Across the Internet, game critics and consumers have opinions about Destiny – no longer muddled expressions when discussing it. Conversation — good or bad — is what the game has needed, and is finally getting.

Call it whatever you like, I’m excited for Destiny after spending the weekend with the Alpha. Here are my impressions.

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Stunning character creation and odd navigation

Starting the game, I had three choices. Play as a Titan, Hunter, or Warlock, which can be broken down into three gaming tropes: tank, rouge, or space wizard. I played as a Hunter for the duration of the Alpha. I moved on to selecting a gender (male or female — I chose female), as well as race. Human, Awoken (blue-ish creatures), and Exo (robots.) I was quite taken with the Awoken’s beautiful style, so I went with that. I was given hair options, basic face options, eye color, etc. Not quite a deep as Skyrim’s character creations, as Bungie may have dumbed down the options for the sake of jumping into the game as quickly as possible.

Navigating the menus was a bit different. I had to move the joystick around like a mouse. Curious decision, as the PS4 has a perfectly capable touchpad to take advantage of. Granted, this game is in Alpha, so changes could still happen.

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Setting the scene: Welcome to Old Russia

The Destiny Alpha dropped me right into the action with no direction, just hit the ground running. It was a bit jarring, but after pushing through and taking a few minutes to get my bearings, the game had me.

The landscape tells a story. Wading through the ruins of ancient Russia, Peter Dinklage’s voice chimed in and told the story of what once was from the remains. Passing by a launching station, I was told that this place was going to transport colonists to the stars and beyond. But now, this once prosperous land resembles something more like Chernobyl. The snow-caped mountains spring forth inspiring towers — a test to how far mankind had come, now reduced to a city huddled under the shadow of The Traveler. I’m curious to learn more about the lore surrounding this world and how it will unfold with me as one of many who are mankind’s last hope.

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Gameplay

Calling Destiny and MMO would restrict this game to something that it’s not — or doesn’t feel like to me. Characters aren’t dancing about in the middle of an area — save that for The Tower (get to that later.) It also doesn’t seem as cluttered or “alone in a crowd” as World of Warcraft made me feel when I played. I felt a sense of camaraderie taking down a whole horde of Fallen together.

If I were to compare Destiny to any game, it feels more like Borderlands 2, you can play with your friends, but also play along with others if you like. The gameplay also feels like Borderlands 2 with damage coming off enemies, and other aspects of gameplay. I felt like I could take on this environment alone or go at it with a team. Often, I found myself helping out a fellow Guardian in a firefight and others coming to help me. I felt like I was among friends in this world, and the co-op play resonated with my console tendencies.

Public events have been done before in MMOs, like Guild Wars 2, and their addition in Destiny was a great move. Their inclusion added a bit of excitement to break up running around doing missions. Every player within a certain radius would gather around to protect a point of interest or take down a big boss. Seeing the community rally and flock to the event that appeared on everyone’s map was great fun.

Running and walking isn’t the most efficient way to get around in this big world, so Bungie gives you a “mount” from the get-go. It looks like a speeder bike from Star Wars, and actually has some uses other than getting from point A to point B. One mission had me map out a cave network. After much searching, I realized there was a strategically placed plane wing that was pointing into a cave hidden in the top side of a cliff. Clever. I had to boost my hover bike at just the right time to make the jump into the cave and come out guns blazing.

Fights in the open air and within a derelict factory have very different moods. Out in the world, I could bounce around, double-jump in the air, and run over Fallen enemies with my hover bike. But when a mission took me into the cramped, pitch black hallways of a derelict building, the mood quickly shifted. I was actually a little scared on one mission. My vision was limited to a small area lit by my gun’s flashlight. Then I saw the glow of the enemy’s eyes, and the Hive descended down on me. I ended up spraying gunfire wildly and died. I popped back outside the area and went in ready to run and take a more strategic position, ultimately surviving the fight the second time around.

The battles I fought were all about popping out and laying down fire until my health was low, and hunkering down until it regenerated again. In tight situations, flinging a grenade was a good cover to spread the herd, but there would be a cool down until I could use another one.

My Hunter’s “Golden Gun” ability was another trump card I could unleash on higher level enemies or bosses. But the ability only allows for three shots down a less-than-accurate iron sight, so each one has to count. The iconic Revolutionary War saying, “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes” was never so true than when I used the Golden Gun. Standard weapon recoil added a bit of a learning curve to hitting the perfect burst, adjust, repeat firing ratio.

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Smart AI

The enemy artificial intelligence (AI) deserves to be highlighted. Battling against Fallen and Hive warriors was all about moving and taking cover. The AI, in turn, would take strategic points in their designated area and pop out to take cover, and commanding enemy officers would retreat back when I took down their support.

The most MMO thing about Destiny

The Tower is the most MMO place in the game. It’s your hub located under the huge orb known as The Traveler. Here in the last city is where you’ll get all your wares and talk to your class specialist about stuff. It’s also where you can pick up bounties, which were very much like achievements. I could only take a limited number — I couldn’t just horde a bunch like in World of Warcraft. But they encouraged good play, like getting X amount of assists.

Missions scattered about the world in the form of blinking beacons were also another MMO characteristic. A voice would chime in to tell me to map out this area, and some areas I went into several times with different missions. They mostly consisted of fetch quests (go here and do this, map out this area, clear out this area of enemies, etc.)

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