Sparrow Racing League is well and truly into its three-week run, and although I was a little shocked at the announcement myself (as I, like many others, was expecting Bungie to announce upcoming DLC more closely akin to “The Dark Below” and “House of Wolves”), I was somewhat keen to give it a shot. This was mainly due to how much I already valued my sparrow capabilities in game, and I wanted to see these “mad skillz” deployed on the track. And it reminded me of Wipeout, which was an added bonus.
Sparrow Racing League (SRL) presents a single mode (6-player racing) on two courses – select SRL, and you are thrown into matchmaking, and then into 3 laps of a random course. In that way, it’s quite limited. The courses on offer are very different, both in terms of artwork and layout – the only similar feature between the two is in the shimmering blue gates that are used to boost players speed (these stack 5 times – each miss drops you back to the previous speed level).
Campus Martius, the Mars course, plays out on a relatively flat landscape, with some tight turns thrown in for good measure, and a series of large fans straddling the track – the blades slowly rotating to provide a moving obstacle. Much like the Mars environments we’ve come to know and love, it’s a blur of greys and browns, and comes across as an oppressive and unforgiving environment. That seems to flow on to the track itself, as I found it far more difficult to place well, usually finishing somewhere in the middle of the pack. That said, I think this difficulty applies to most players, as there are rarely clear leaders on Mars, with most races being very close for the duration.
Infinite Descent, the Venus course, is primarily a long straight run – essentially a descent down a lengthy slope. At the end there is a portal, which spits you out back at the beginning, creating a false loop. Much like the (fictional) Venus we have been playing for the last year or so, Infinite Descent is lush and green, with rocky outcrops and pools of liquid everywhere you look. While there are some sharp turns, some frustratingly placed obstacles, and some big drops, there are some pretty clear racing lines on this track, and if you can hit the shortcuts perfectly, you can leave the others in your wake. So much so, in fact, that there is often one clear leader on this track, while everyone else fights for second and third. Occasionally (and I guess this is due to varying experience of players), the positions can be spread out somewhat evenly across the track. While I do love Infinite Descent and I find myself in first place more often than not, there is clearly an issue when winning the race simply comes down to getting in front of the pack before anyone else.
Sparrow racing physics is unlike any other racing game you’ve played before – sparrows were already designed to behave in a certain manner, and making changes to this for SRL likely wouldn’t have made much sense. As a result, sparrows are flighty (or should I say floaty?), highly impacted by inertia, and seemingly randomly affected by gravity (I am yet to work out why sometimes I can drop from certain heights without losing speed, and other times I will hit the ground, which has a devastating effect on my speed). However, it’s important to note that this is the experience of all the other racers as well. In this way, it feels like a looser version of Wipeout, somewhat more haphazard and out of control, and I feel that suits the mode immensely.
In fact, I’d go as far as saying that I REALLY enjoy playing SRL, so much so that I’d very much like to see it become more of a mainstay in the core Destiny experience. Racing is fun and competitive (part of the appeal is that this is a PvP component that anyone can join and have a good time), losses very much come down to mistakes made on the track, and there are some damned fine rewards on offer.
Not initially, of course. In fact, it will take quite a few races before you start seeing some good rewards (depending on your level, of course). Rewards offered at the end of a race can range form the usual (strange coins and motes) through to brand new cosmetic gear (all armour and class items have new designs intended specifically for SRL). These are pretty streamlined, and wouldn’t look out of place in modern-day racing. Most pieces are devoid of light, but helmets and class items can initially drop at up to 290 light level (later up to 310) – and yes, they can be infused into other items. Players can aim to collect sets, or mix-and-match to their desire. There are also a BUNCH of new sparrows, some designed for tricks, some with a focus on boosting (to the detriment of armour, so they explode more readily). There are new shaders to be found (including the more-popular-than-expected neon pink), and… horns. Of which there are many. And in case you were wondering- they are immensely annoying.
Once you reach Rank 3 though, helmets and class items can drop at up to 320 light, and these drops are NOT infrequent (in one half-hour session, I played 5 races, and received one 314 helmet, and one 317 warlock bond). On top of that, Three of Coins can be used to improve your chances of an exotic drop – and given the races are only 5 minutes, you could expect a couple of exotics per hour, but you will BURN through your Three of Coins. As a result, SRL is pretty much a must-play for those trying to level up their characters – even for high levels trying to improve their helmet or class item defence level.
The biggest issue with SRL? Microtransactions. In general, I’m not opposed to Microtransactions, and when it comes to Destiny, if Microtransactions really are going to lead to more free content (like SRL, and future content, as per this week’s Bungie Weekly Update), then I’m all for it. I’m even happy to drop some real money on it from time to time – just to do my part. However, this implementation is far from ideal. While there are a few few new emotes to choose from, which is no big deal, I have two main issues with the other offerings. On one hand, there’s the SRL Handbook, which logs best times and counts the number of tricks, wins, and so on, the problem is the price tag – it costs 1000 silver, which translates to around $13AUD of real-world money. That’s a LOT for a book that really doesn’t record much, and represents only two tracks. Sure, there are some (purely cosmetic) rewards that players can get from certain challenges that the book provides, but it does very little for what I consider to be a high price tag. The other thing is worse, though – there are two cosmetic items on sale: the Sparrow Toolkit and the Custom Horn Kit. These are 500 silver each, which isn’t a terrible price, EXCEPT FOR THE FACT THAT THE REWARDS ARE RANDOM. If I was paying $6.50AUD for something, I’d want to be able to choose EXACTLY what I want. Hiding this behind RNG was a really bad idea, and I hope Bungie shies away form this in future.
Again, I’m not completely against Microtransactions – I bought the Handbook, and that was my decision. I knew what I was spending, and I knew what I was getting – and in the end, it was my conscious decision to support SRL and future DLC. But I still think that items should be priced accordingly, and NEVER be random (except at reduced cost). Bungie is still learning their way in this regard, so we’ll see what the future holds, I guess.
Apart from that, my only other gripe is the limited number of tracks. Sure, this is a bit of a test, but a three-week event with only two tracks means it’s going to get stale very quickly. Of course, one bonus is that the casuals amongst us will actually get a chance to get some good time in with the tracks, but even they will likely tire of them soon enough. I’ve played each of them probably around 100 times by now, and while I still enjoy them, I’d like some new tracks in future – in fact, I’d like a few larger changes, to be honest.
Which is a good segue – what do I want to see come out of this? I can see a few options, each with their own pros and cons. For one, SRL is almost good enough to become a Crucible staple – probably not something that could be added as a daily, but perhaps offered with some regularity. The problem with this option is that there just aren’t enough maps. In order to represent an acceptable offering, there’d have to be at least 6… maybe more. That would take quite a lot of development time. The second possibility is that this could become a regular event – perhaps not as frequent as Trials of Osiris, but maybe akin to Iron Banner, offered for one week, once a month. Two maps for a one-week event would possibly be acceptable, but there would need to be multiple maps to select from in order to shake things up month to month (3-4 initially, with new maps added over time). Personally, this would be my ideal choice, as it could potentially be rolled out sooner than the first option, and the monthly event nature would suit the mode well. The final possibility is unfortunately what I’m expecting – it may end up being something offered only at this time of year. This would allow plenty of time for additional development, and wouldn’t result in any user burnout. Maybe we won’t find out until Destiny 2?
TL;DR: SRL shows a lot of promise. It’s a little light on content at the moment, but there’s enough there to show that this could become a core component of Destiny. Surprisingly, it really works – it’s fun to play, and doesn’t feel tacked on at all. I’m really enjoying it, and can’t wait until all of my characters have 320 helmets and class items (which means Bungie needs to give me another reason to play next time)! If you aren’t playing SRL yet, get on it – it’s basically digital Santa Claus, giving out pressies to all and sundry. Be warned, though – there’s only one week left!