Can previous generation consoles handle Destiny?

With no PC version announced, we can say that it is the PlayStation 4 version of Destiny that shows Bungie’s new Destiny engine at its best. Producing some of the most impressive post-processing effects and dynamic lighting seen to date on a console, it could be said that previous generation consoles are going to have big problems in offering an equivalent experience but the Bungie built its engine with the ability to convert to mind and the arrival of the PS3 beta together with its main console suggests a high level of confidence in the previous generation offerings.

The engine is confidently described as the foundation for all upcoming projects for the next decade, it is uncertain how many games in the Destiny series will support the previous generation. However, we have a convincing start with what has already been presented. With a size of 5.6GB for the beta (against 13.2GB for PS4), the PS3 version shows the firmness with which Bungie intends to optimize all its versions for the launch day.

There are obvious cuts compared to PS4. Placed side by side in slow motion, courtesy of our comparison video below, the detail of the world is inferior. The density of foliage, rock and debris is less – and many of these details come in a much shorter distance on PS3 via a waterfall. The geometric elements on the wall, just outside Old Russia, have been removed on PS3. Still, the geometry in the scene is the same between the two – and even the number of enemies remains on the oldest console.

Overall, PS3 offers a game world surprisingly close to that of PS4. The main difference here is in visibility, the conversion of the level of detail and pop-in proved to be a bigger problem – especially when traveling on a Sparrow at high speeds through the Steppes area. Running at 1024×624 and supported by a heavy post-processing FXAA, the image quality suffers an expected drop compared to the clean 1080p on PS4. The PS3 presents only 30% of the total number of pixels – creating a more blunt image in the process – this easily stands out as the biggest difference between the two.

It is a sacrifice but a reward in other areas. The consistency of the lighting engine, for example, happily remains intact on PS3. Lakes and puddles in the mud reflect the whole world effectively on both consoles – the water shaders are slightly better on PS4 and render fuller waves. Interestingly, shot down enemies and bullet trails are the only elements without reflection in the water, although this is common to both platforms. However, the day / night cycle is also on PS3, although the interior lighting is simplified in some points, by cutting off light sources.

After the sub-720p resolution, the most striking cut is in the quality of the shadows. Sunlit areas – such as the main site in Old Russia and the outer segment of the tower – show acceptable soft shadows at each foot of the Guardian. Everything changes inside; the direct spotlight creates shadows with an ugly aliasing artifact, without any filter to help.

On PS3 we see cuts in the quality of the texture filter, detail on the top of the wall and density of foliage in the suburbs of Old Russia.The PS3 behaves well on multi maps like Shores of Time but the lower resolution affects the clarity of the higher levels.In contrast to the refined and deferred soft shadows on PS4, the strong spotlights on PS3 produce shadows with a lot of aliasing and no filter.The quality of normal maps is greatly reduced on PS3. Not only that, but the shadows also give way to detail in the foliage, making the areas appear lighter.Light effects such as twilight rays and lens flare are on PS3, as long as there is a light source to produce them.Both versions benefit from a full cycle of day and night, object physics and rag doll, along with full screen motion blur. Here we see Old Russia at noon.The smoke columns behind our character here use sub-native alpha, causing the stem to pixelate on PS3. Fortunately, the alpha in the shootings is not affected.The detail of the world is reflected in the two but the PS3 uses a more subtle wave animation. Lower resolution, simplified skies also look less pleasant.

These shaking shadows are undoubtedly the biggest problem for the eye on PS3 but seeing them is, thankfully, limited to the interiors. However, the shadows on PS4 appear to be deferred and their coverage is complete across the landscape. Comparatively, PS3 has another cut here; pieces of shade in exchange for foliage, even around fences, are removed to produce a clearer landscape in the beta of the previous generation. The characters and buildings still react to the light in a logical way, without major commitments.

Although most of them have been visually unchanged since the alpha version, the PS4 beta achieves impressive improvements in lighting. Twilight rays are among the inclusions on PS3, allowing shadow lines to pass through any object – like your ship – dimming the moon’s lighting. A JJ Abrams-style anisotropic lens flare and crown glow also embellish the smallest directional lights – despite the intensity of each mute being when compared to PS4.

The treatment of effects is strange in PS3; alpha used for smoke effects during multi has a much lower resolution here – causing distortion in the outlines of objects ahead. But on the other hand, particle and alpha effects produced by weapons and grenades remain mostly as they were – despite the alpha set being highly reduced for splashing effects. However, PS4 players receive all the treats in terms of physics, we have the presence of dynamic objects, rag dolls and physics for clothes.

In terms of the work of the main assets, normal maps suffer a blow to resolution – although this will go unnoticed unless you look down. Downgrading also affects the skies – an area that defined Bungie’s visual flourish. Unfortunately, the distant clouds around the tower seem more two-dimensional on PS3, layers of background and lighting have been removed.

That said, PS3 visuals – even in beta – hold up very well given the seven-year difference between platforms. Retouching and adjustments have been made – it is true – but the Old Russia look still feels consistent.

Performance on PS3 also has a point to be proud of. Similar to the beta in the new generation, it achieves fixed 30fps with v-sync. Only the occasional stutter in streaming when using a fast vehicle interrupts our reading here, otherwise the two Sony consoles produce equal results.

Unfortunately, the PS3 version suffers from the same frame rate problem seen on PS4 – an unbalanced set of frames that, despite having an average of 30fps, causes a sensation of flicker on the screen. This points to an error in the engine itself and we expect it to be fixed in all versions at launch (a comment on NeoGAF by a Bungie employee looks promising). The use of full-screen motion blur on the PS3 softens the bursts of chatter to some extent but for the sake of the multi experience – which is also affected – the game should benefit if any attention is paid to this area.

Overall, it’s hard not to be impressed by Destiny’s PS3 beta. Yes, textures, lighting and effects are lower at various levels and the image quality suffers a noticeable impact when switching between versions. But the world continues to look consistent – and if Bungie’s focus is on the priority of a stable 30fps experience during the campaign and multi, this is already a good job.

Let’s not forget that this is a beta. Although we assume that it is highly representative of the final game, it can only get better from now on in terms of corrections and optimization. Our experience with Watch Dogs suggested that the previous generation was out – the old consoles simply couldn’t keep up with the demands of the new era of video games. Destiny may have its commitments, but the beta suggests a solid cross-gen experience with all the features. Two of the four versions we’ve played so far look amazing and we look forward to testing the Xbox One and Xbox 360 versions when they arrive at the end of the week.