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Destiny preview: Bungie's persistent world shooter is gorgeous, but still a mystery

By Shaun Prescott on Wednesday 12th Jun 2013 at 4:20 AM UTC

Bungie may have won hearts already with its grand concepts for Destiny, but the studio has a lot to prove when it comes to how it will play. We've heard broad strokes declarations about persistent online gameplay, but how will it work in practice?

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Today's E3 behind-closed-doors session was essentially a repeat of the demo shown at Sony's press conference. A Bungie rep told us that seven studio staff were playing live at the front of the room, but the session played out exactly the same as what we saw on Monday. Even the banter was similar.

It goes like this: two players penetrate and cross a huge wall in Old Russia. Along the way they shoot enemies and collect loot, in a manner that suggests loot-hording in Destiny will be hopelessly, life-ruiningly addictive. Later, on the other side of the wall, a "Public Event" occurs, which involves a fleet of drop ships dispatching a mech-bug enemy called a Devil Walker. The team, which has now grown to seven players, shoot at the Devil Walker until it is dead.

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It's a stunning looking game, but the demo hardly seems representative of what Bungie has been promising. How does this seemingly orthodox co-op shooter mission fit into the Destiny universe? The demo is undeniably reminiscent of other opt-in, open world co-op shooters, like Borderlands for instance.

Speaking to Bungie community manager Eric Osborne, he's very careful to avoid the many topics the studio "isn't talking about yet," but he did shed some light on what you'll be doing when you sit down to play Destiny, and most importantly, who you'll be doing it with.

First of all, the player count - i.e. the maximum human users the player can feasibly encounter at one time - is not being talked about at the moment, but Osborne does confirm that players will frequently encounter other humans as they explore the world, whether they like it or not.

The player is free to treat these encounters however they wish: they can choose to ignore other players, help them, or fight alongside them. When asked whether the player can antagonise fellow humans with a jolly assault rifle round to the face, Osborne laughed the suggestion off, reinforcing that this is, at its core, a co-operative shooter.

Co-op has been the focus for Destiny from the start, but players are welcome to treat it as a single-player game: the world will continue to change and other humans will pop up, but if you want to be a steely, loner Titan than you are very welcome to do so.

So yes: what we're dealing with is a shooter MMO, but it's an unprecedentedly beautiful one.

So what is Bungie trying to do? "We're trying to take the genre of the first-person shooter and change it, but we also want to change what people expect from a Bungie game," Osborne said.

"It means that co-op is fundamental to the game and it means it's living and persistent and it does change over time. The player takes the role of the hero and as they complete missions and defeat their enemies, they will grow and change over time. Take all those things with added connectivity and it's a huge opportunity to do something new and great.

"It's great to have players come back to their tower with loot, but it's the story they take back that we want to be special."

After all this time - and now finally some footage to stare at - we still don't know the whole story about Destiny: we don't know how consequential Public Events will be, and details regarding looting, how the narrative will be manipulated in real time, and the leveling system is all off the discussion table at present.

What we do know is that Destiny looks like a damn fine shooter, and that it promises a whole lot more is very exciting indeed.

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