In the last few days a lot of words have and are being written about Bungie's shared-world shooter, Destiny, and a good majority of them are focusing on co-op play, strikes, solo wizard killing, uninspired vocal performance and so on.
What people don't seem to be talking about in any great depth is The Crucible, Destiny's PvP element, and for huge numbers of you out there, the single-player and co-op content are, simply put, trimmings, and it's only the thrill of competitive multiplayer that will hold any lasting interest, and the lack of discussion on that key facet of the game has been frustrating.
This is, therefore, an attempt to remedy that, but don't confuse this for a review. If you want to know our definitive assessment of Bungie's follow up to Halo: Reach, you'll need to wait a little while longer yet. So then, to The Crucible, and all the nuance that comes with it.
Immediately it becomes obvious that this is the follow up Halo: Reach. It feels like a Bungie shooter (and for many, including us, there's no higher compliment). Halo 4 was a great forgery of Bungie's Halo, but it lacked that special something, something almost intangible, something that held it back from greatness. That "something" is present and accounted for in Destiny.
So far there's five modes available to play. There's two 6v6 playlists; Control and Clash. Control is the mode that everyone who played the alpha and/or beta will be familiar with, it's a domination-based mode played out on the larger maps, with three capture points to fight over, and where holding said points will increase your team's score as you chase down victory. It's a great mode that anchors the play around key hotspots on the maps, it invites a co-operative attitude amongst teammates, and it offers more defensive-minded players a genuine reason to hang back and wait for the action to come, and come it will.
Clash is the standard deathmatch mode. Also 6v6, games tend to sprawl more evenly across the map, with flashes of gunfire erupting here, there, and everywhere. There's a satisfying simplicity to the mode that brought us comfort, and it's the simplest of the five to slip into when logging in for PvP whilst on your lonesome. It's also a nice mode for newcomers, its straightforwardness and the team size offering a degree of anonymity to players still finding their feet.
The smaller the number of players on one's side, the less places there are to hide. The 3v3 playlists both require concentrated teamwork, and failure to act in cohesion with your allies will result in defeat nine times out of ten. Like the larger playlists, there's one straight up slugfest, and another objective-based mode. Skirmish puts three players into battle against each other, but the limited team size means that tactics executed with precision are keenly felt, and flanking moves can be devastating if executed at the right moment.
Salvage, the mode that was most recently added to the roster, has elements of king of the hill, with "relics" appearing at select points across the maps that must be captured and then protected for the duration of a countdown. Successfully protecting the relic earns the most points, but a team are also rewarded for breaking their opponent's grip and shutting down the timer. Like Skirmish, Salvage is best played with a full fireteam of three, with guardians all singing from the same sheet.
Finally there's Rumble, which from that name Halo fans will recognise as Destiny's free-for-all playlist. Here there's absolutely nowhere to hide, and a weak player will be naught but cannon-fodder for the more skilled competitors. We've never really enjoyed these playlists, and therefore it's probably the place we spent the least time, but for those who like to lone-wolf it, this is the ideal mode to take numbers and show you're the best of the best.
All of these playlists have level advantages disabled, so for the most part players go in on an even keel, and it's skill that separates the best from the worst. The only thing of significance that segregates players is the three classes. There's the Titan, Warlock and Hunter that are chosen when every player starts their journey, but at level 15 these classes branch for the first time and a sub-class is made available, which means even more options are opened up.
We're playing as a Hunter, and so at the first available opportunity we changed to the sub-class - Blade Dancer - and moved away from the golden gun super ability that we like (nay, love), to the new ability that grants the player limited-time one-hit-kill melee attacks. We actually prefer the original setup, but we'll continue to level up the sub-class and see if there's any new tricks that we appreciate (the grenade that splits off into four grenades upon impact is one we could grow to like).
Of course, even if you've got more than one character, you can't switch between them mid-match, but what you can do is change your loadout should the need arise. For the smaller, more claustrophobic levels, something with rapid fire - the auto rifle or the pulse rifle - might be in order. However, on the more expansive maps, it might be best to go with the scout rifle. If you find yourself with the wrong weapon in the wrong situation, you've always got the option to switch it out for something more suitable. It's time consuming, it can leave you vulnerable (best do it quickly once you've been killed to avoid the risk of leaving your avatar unattended while you flick through menu screens), and there's no guarantee that it'll make any difference, but the option is there.
When you hit level 20 you stop increasing rank through the experience you earn, but instead can boost your level by wearing specific types of armour. Light is an attribute linked to certain bits of legendary armour, than can be buffed by developing said piece of armour. It doesn't make too much difference in the PvP, because everything's stripped back, but it does give you an indication as to how much time your opponent has spent grinding away in order to get their level up to 24 (or even higher).
A smart loadout can make all the difference in battle, even though most people go for a fairly standard setup. A good mix between primary and secondary weapons is the most obvious way to ensure total coverage. We tend to go with a sniper rifle as our backup weapon, as it gives us the option to go long-range when the situation dictates, but for someone who plays with auto rifle for mid-range encounters, a shotgun might be a nice foil. Ammo for these secondary weapons can be found in plentiful supply, via the green crates dotted around the level, and it's the same delivery method for heavy weapon ammo, which drops at certain points in the match.
When the heavy weapon ammo drops, in purple crates on opposite sides of the map, it reminds us a little of Halo 3, of those moments where the team would be watching the clock, waiting for the moment when the weapons would respawn. We'd nearly always loiter around the rocket launcher, and although we've not got the timing down here (yet), we still rush to the heavy ammo as soon as it appears.
Grabbing ammo for the heavy machine gun, or the rocket launcher, and making the most of it, can be a game changing move, not just on a macro scale, but also on a personal level. The confidence boost of getting a double kill, or dislodging a whole team from a capture point with some sustained machine gun fire, can't be underestimated.
One of our favourite features is the new-look radar, that offers a ballpark idea of where incoming players are in relation to you. There's eight different segments surrounding a central point, and if these segments flash red they indicate the angle of your enemy's approach. When the centre circle lights up your enemy is on top of you. A solid circle on the radar denotes a vehicle. Crouching isn't full on stealth, but it does mean your opponents only get intermittent feedback as to your whereabouts, so it's still worth keeping a low profile wherever possible.
Many shooters can be fairly simplistic when it comes to visual language, but Destiny has plenty to tell you about the players around you. The super abilities in particular are easy to spot, so if you see an enemy with a gun in hand that looks like it's flaming, they've probably just activated the one-shot golden gun and you should definitely run the other way. Once you've spent enough time playing with and against different classes, it's easy to see who is packing what, and adjust your abilities accordingly. If you've got a team of Titans, for example, you might want to equip weapons that are good at medium to long-range, because if they get too close and unleash the Fist of Havoc, you're basically toast.
The super abilities are ALL over-powered, and no doubt there's going to be a vocal minority that don't like this at all. We're of the opinion that it's a good thing, and that they offer a moment in every game where each player will have the chance to feel badass and unleash some serious damage on the opposition. Titan smashes, the Hunter's golden gun, the Warlock's Nova Bomb; in the right hands these powers will be enough to punch through stubborn resistance, and potentially turn the tide at a crucial moment in the game. You could almost liken these moments, when the player becomes "super charged", to the moment in Titanfall where your titan unlocks and you can bring down your mech suit and (potentially) do some serious damage.
Balancing so many different powers and abilities must have been a nightmare, and while we're sure it's not perfect just yet (and Bungie will no doubt be pouring over data and tweaking and adjusting), in its current state it feels fair. With the level advantages disabled, armour and weapons are standardised. You still get the bonuses from the skills you've earned, but that sexy armour you've upgraded after hours in the campaign, well now it's just the same as everyone else's.
In the Iron Banner, this isn't the case, and all that high level gear players toil for will come into its own here, but for the rest of the playlists, it's a fairly even playing field. I've read forum posts arguing that all the different classes have the advantage (perhaps the class getting the least attention being the Warlocks), but in our opinion this just isn't the case, and knowing Bungie they'll be keeping a close eye to make sure that if any of the abilities are marginally over- or under-powered, they won't remain so for long.
We haven't even mentioned the maps yet, so let's do that now. Anyone who played the beta will know the Moon-based First Light well enough (even if some of the vehicle spawn points have moved), and Venus map Shores of Time, with its cubic architecture, dank caves, and open spaces, will also be familiar. Rusted Lands appeared in the alpha, and for a short time during the beta, and it's one of our favourite maps, especially when playing Control, with crumbling walls and open spaces aplenty. Blind Watch, which is a dusty map set on Mars, appeared only during the the Iron Banner playlists, so it wasn't available all that much during the beta, but it's a cracking map with enclosed spaces, multiple levels, and decent lines of sight that offers players of all types opportunity to express themselves.
The new maps are equally good. Indeed, we'd go as far as calling them among the very best that Bungie have made. There's no large-scale playlist, and so for the most part they're not too big, but even though they're not the biggest, there's plenty of character, and some spectacular features.
Twilight Gap is set in a rust-covered facility. There's a deadly drop around the outside that players need to be mindful of, and plenty of places for defensive souls to lurk. There's lots of little corridors and small rooms to patrol, and plenty of bottlenecks where teams regularly clash. Exodus Blue is the PlayStation-only map, and like Twilight Gap and Rusted Lands, it's set on Earth. It's a decent map set in a long-dead colony ship around the Old Russia area that players will be more than familiar with from the campaign.
Anomaly is the second Moon-based map, and it's a smaller map that's used for 3v3 and free-for-all match types. There's a central room with a moving mechanism that turns around constantly, with inter-locking passages on the periphery, and external areas where returning players usually spawn.
Firebase Delphi is set on Mars, and as such the outside part of the map is red and dusty, but inside there a series of rooms, with elevated platforms, bottlenecks, and plenty of opportunity for stealth co-ordinated attacks. The last map set on Mars is Bastion, and this is probably the biggest of the lot (put it this way, it can be fair jog to return to the action once you've been taken out, and many a player will summon a sparrow to get them back into the action quickly). There's plenty of open spaces for snipers to thrive in, vehicles spawn regularly, and there's some internal areas as well, for players who prefer to get up close and personal.
Burning Shrine is the only map set on Mercury, and it's probably one the very best maps that Bungie has ever made. There's huge circular stone doors that rotate constantly, allowing intermittent access to the main chambers running through the centre of the map. There's open spaces outside, and these also see plenty of action, but it's inside the spectacular structure where are all the fun happens.
Of course, there's more to come, and we hope that the community adopts the new maps as and when they become available. Perhaps it would have been nice to have a few more, but when you think of all the other content that shipped with the game, the huge sandbox areas, the strikes, the campaign missions, the patrols; perhaps we're being greedy asking for more.
So, if you've got to the end of all that, you'll know by now that we like the PvP content that came on the disc. The multiplayer is, in our mind, very well balanced when all things are considered. The matchmaking seems to be very good, and we were regularly dropped into evenly stacked games, an achievement when you consider it's still early days. Bungie has once again proved how adept they are when it comes to this key area, and as players accrue more and more experience, this process will only become more refined.
There's a wonderful dynamic to the trio of classes, and if you can work it so your team has all the bases covered, you'll have a formidable force indeed. There's definitely a focus on skill and gunplay, but super abilities also give everyone a chance to have their moment, which is important in a community shooter like this.
At the end of the day, when the campaign is long forgotten and the strikes have all been played out, those who remain will be in The Crucible, blasting seven shades of crap out of each other. Rinse and repeat. This PvP arena has been custom built for return visits, and we envisage coming back again and again. We're not going to offer our opinion on the rest of Destiny; it is what is, and the definitive review will be on Gamereactor UK soon enough, but we are going to tell you this: The Crucible is everything we hoped it would be, and we're thoroughly impressed with what Bungie has achieved.