As far as demos go, Destiny has been a tricky proposition for Bungie.
The Bellvue-based developer has been ready and willing to show the world concept art and answer questions. It was quite willing to serve up a marquee spectacle at E3 last year. But the sheer size and scope of this persistent-world shooter has made it difficult to place it in players' hands.
Destiny isn't just a triple-A release, it's a blockbuster master-plan spanning several years, as has been revealed by the list of trademarks that have already been filed.
So presenting a preview of the game has to be something of a logistical nightmare. A full version, naturally, isn't possible, so Destiny's Alpha is what we have available in the meantime. It's Destiny in larval stage and it looks and feels like a mere smorgasbord of the experience that Bungie hopes to release in September.
Fortunately, however, there's enough content on display here to answer several of the questions that players have been asking since it landed on the radar.
Destiny Gameplay Alpha Preview
Bungie has always said its new IP has been built from the ground-up to be a co-operative shooter. It has also said that competitive multiplayer will be part of the game. And it promised that Destiny will be a persistent-world experience - it's an MMO without the subscription fee. So will all these seemingly disparate aspects gel together? How can the developer keep players from griefing one another in a sprawling open world shooter?
The answer, as demonstrated by the Alpha, is simple; Destiny is partitioned.
Players all have an orbital drop-ship that is essentially a hub from which they can decide which environment they'd like to travel to. The Alpha has only five arenas - The Tower, The Crucible and three missions set in Old Russia, but rest assured, it'll take players the better part of an afternoon to rinse it - and chances are they won't stop playing even then.
The Alpha doesn't start at the hub, though. It starts with the player picking a character class for their Guardian - the soldiers tasked with defending earth in Destiny - from three options: Titan, Hunter and Warlock.
The Titan is essentially your assault class, Hunter is a scout and the Warlock is your magic user, wielding guns and Traveler tech. As you'd expect, each class of Guardian has its own separate talent tree, which the player unlocks with XP.
You can also pick between three races - the robot-like Exo, the elven Awoken or the bog-standard Human - but in my playthrough I didn't notice any difference in how they handled. The character customisation in the Alpha is template-based, with different faces, hairstyles and markings being proffered. Each class also starts with an automatic rifle and a shotgun, although as one progresses, one finds more weapons along the way.
Things kick off with a story-based mission in which the Guardian is tasked with entering a radar tower in dilapidated spaceport in Old Russia. The grounds around the place are filled with an enemy called The Fallen, but players will likely make short work of them.
It's a nice introduction to Destiny's world; the spaceport, once a link to the stars, is littered with broken spacecraft, rusty warehouses and launch towers and radars that point accusingly at the sky. It captures the 'broken sci fi' aesthetic of Destiny perfectly; there are even pockets of dust that sweep through player's vision.
It's here, the player also gets their first glimpse of their Guardian's Ghost - a cube-shaped multi-tool and companion spoken by Peter Dinklage. Along with issuing a stream of tips and story background, the Ghost is able to hack doors. Most usefully, though, players can use it to highlight their objectives, summon their hover bike and return to the orbital drop ship if they fancy ending the mission they're on.
New screens: Inside the Destiny universe
Perhaps the most interesting of the three missions available in the Alpha was the open-ended 'Explore Cosmodrome' mission, which planted me in the map from the story mission.
Instead of sticking a linear narrative over the top to drive me in one direction, 'Explore' was peppered with mini-quests that sent me scrambling all over the map. Not only did this give me some sense of the size of it - it was far larger and more intricate than I'd imagined - it also showed off the smooth drop-in play of the co-op mode.
If you meet up with a player (or some players) it's worth forming a Fire Team with them so you can share the XP. Also, watching them allowed me to pick up a few tips; I didn't know before I noted my new compatriots leaping through the map that I could double-jump. Or, indeed, dance.
The character movement shares some similar beats with Halo. Like Master Chief, the Guardians feel like they're walking on air, yet are able to dish out a heap of punishment to all comers. They don't, however, feel like tanks - even the Titans - and the world of Destiny is a brutal place; I managed to find a couple of enemies in the map that I couldn't even make a dent in before they killed me with one blow.
Aside from Old Russia, the two areas open for exploration in the Alpha are The Crucible and The Tower. The latter is a secondary hub where players can pick up quests, buy equipment and vehicles, and secure upgrades.
The Crucible is basically the game's competitive multiplayer. It's framed as a training mission where Guardians hammer on each other in teams of six, but given Bungie's pedigree, it's a safe bet you'll get tea-bagging in their about an hour after the Alpha goes live.
So the Alpha is a pared down version of an epic space opera to come. It'll still take players ages to get sick of, as it's impeccably well made; The Crucible alone will probably keep them going for a month. What's staggering, more than anything else, is that this is just a very small part of Bungie's epic plan.