Earlier this week, Bungie invited the press corps up to their new studio in Bellevue with the intention of taking the wraps off Destiny, their long-rumored follow-up to Halo. As everyone sat down, the anticipation over what Bungie had to show was palpable. Several hours later, the excitement was still there, but there were plenty of questions as well.

What is Destiny? It’s not entirely clear. Bungie chief operating officer Peter Parsons seems reluctant to classify it as an MMO; he refers to it as a first-person shooter with a heavy emphasis on co-op that makes use of social media and mobile technology. A first-person shooter that also happens to be an always-connected shooter in which people can meet up in large social areas, form into parties, and go on quests together.

If Bungie seems vague on this point, it may be because they aren’t quite sure how to classify what they’re creating themselves. They talk of a massive open world that will be at once appealing to both solo and cooperative players, fully-featured PVP with tangible rewards like special spaceships, and mobile apps from which it will be possible to interact with the game… somehow. Right now all that’s really clear is that it’s going to be big; big enough that Bungie now has more than 300 employees — triple their Halo 3 levels. They think that they can define an entire generation of shooters with Destiny, much as they did with Halo. And all hyperbole aside, they may even be right, assuming that Destiny is everything they say it (might) be.

Let’s start with the setting, which was one element that Bungie was willing to delve into in some detail. The story is set on an Earth of the far future, which saw its golden age ended by an attack by a mysterious race. Humanity was saved by something called The Traveler — a giant sphere that now hovers over one of their last cities — and are only now venturing out into space again. The heroes of humanity are called Guardians, all of whom wear fully customizable Dr. Doom-like power armor and wield a variety of sleek, futuristic-looking rifles.

Beyond Earth, it will be possible to explore every planet in the solar system in your customized starship. The moon, for instance, features an ancient base that seems to have been taken over by an unknown intelligence (“Something has turned the lights on,” says Bungie art director Christopher Barrett as he shows off the concept art). Mars is being run by a cabal of monsters called… The Cabal. There are time-traveling robots, space zombies, and also mile-long “tomb ships” floating through space. It’s what Bungie terms “mythic science fiction” — a mix of technology and fantasy set within a recognizable (but noticeably altered) solar system.

It’s an appealing universe — the kind of stuff that would make for a great tabletop RPG. But when it comes to actually experiencing that world, things get a little murkier. Bungie is willing to confirm that each planet will have its own arc, for instance, but it’s unclear just what form Destiny’s overall narrative will ultimately take. Right now, Bungie design director Joseph Staten is referring to Destiny as if it were a series of novels like Game of Thrones or Harry Potter, even going so far as to show an image depicting a series of dusty-looking tomes featuring the Destiny logo, which raises further questions. Are they planning a lot of sequels? Do they plan to lean on expansion packs? Bungie won’t say.

We do know is that Destiny will have much more in the way of RPG elements than Halo, though Bungie says that elements like traditional mechanics like the progress bar won’t be present, likely to avoid scaring off FPS fans. There will be character classes, three of which were unveiled at the briefing — the gun-toting Titan, the Warlock, and the Hunter. All have class-specific skills, and if a few early shots of a proposed mobile app are any indication, each will feature an extensive amount of armor customization. Bungie is cryptic on this front as well though. When asked how deep the stats and customization will ultimately go, Staten’s only response was, “As deep as you want.”

By Kat Bailey