As reputations go, developer Bungie’s is among the best around. With its various Halo titles, the studio helped Xbox become the console brand that it is today. Bungie’s latest game, some four years in the making, brings the fantastic feel and combat of Halo to a much larger arena, in the form of Destiny. Know what else makes Bungie the best? The fact that they’ve decided to surprise us all by releasing the Destiny Xbox One beta a day earlier. That’s right, you can start playing Destiny right now! Before you dive in (or while you’re downloading the beta), let’s break down a bit about what you can expect to see once you’re in. While Destiny is, like Halo, essentially a sci-fi first-person shooter, the setting and context have changed dramatically. It is, in many ways, a merging of Halo with the likes of Gearbox Software’s Borderlands and more traditional massively multiplayer role-playing games. It’s quite a diverse blend of gaming influences and helps the game feels singularly unique. The role-playing elements of Destiny will be evident to you immediately. Players are given a choice of Titan, Hunter, and Warlock classes, each of which has its own specific set of skills and progression trees. The Hunter is focused on stealth and speed, for instance, while the Warlock is character that feature powerful special abilities, along the lines of a standard mage character. You can choose between three races – human, awoken, and exo – and change your gender, face, hairstyle, and other accoutrements. This is a shooter in which your avatar becomes very much your own to develop and understand over time, and later-level upgrades ensure that it will be worth the effort to acquire them (and show them off). One thing that may become apparent during your time with Destiny is the fact that this is a game best enjoyed cooperatively with two other people (ideally, of course, friends), a dynamic that is referred to in-game as a Fireteam. It’s easy to find teammates at the Guardian Tower – Destiny’s hub for meet-ups, shop upgrades and various other ephemera – and because each mission is shown on a world map with recommended team size and difficulty level, the game retains a certain structure that’s often absent in cooperative shooters. It’s also impossible to ignore the fact that the game’s next generation graphics shine on Xbox One. Dynamic lighting and particle effects set the mood extremely well, while bump mapping and clean, high-resolution textures do much the same for the characters themselves. There’s a level of polish and shine to everything in Destiny that’s really impressive, even in the modern world of blockbuster game development. One of the more interesting aspects of the game is the way in which the play states subtly change. Beyond hub and traditional cooperative multiplayer scenarios, there are also public areas in each map where Fireteams meet each other and fight massive enemies (or huge hordes of them). In these and other single-player situations, Destiny activates a “no respawn” mode: If all three members of your Fireteam die, you have to restart the section from scratch. It’s just one of many ways Bungie is attempting to flip the multiplayer shooter on its head. Look for more coverage in the coming weeks and months – we’ll be following Destiny quite closely as it moves from public beta to final retail product. See you on the battlefield!