At the release of Destiny’s beta many started to discuss on how it compared to the alpha. Some have been looking for the smoking guns of the usual (real or imagined) “downgrade,” others thought that the beta comes with improved visual fidelity. Bungie itself mentioned in an interview on the PlayStation Blog that the builds after the alpha already looked better than what we got to play back then.
“Looking better” is a rather vague definition, but as you’ll be able to see below, it could possibly be considered a slight exaggeration depending on the point of view, unless Bungie is still holding back those new builds.
When I mentioned that you can play “Spot the Difference” in the headline of this post, I wasn’t trying to be tongue-in-cheek. It was a pretty serious statement. The differences are, indeed, pretty minimal.
Below you can see twenty pairings of screenshots from the two versions of the game. The alpha version will be on top while the beta version will be below it. Both versions were captured with the PS4’s share button and copied to PC via USB to guarantee exactly the same amount of (minimal) compression. Efforts have also been made in order to reproduce each picture’s angle and lighting conditions.
Of course you should click on each picture to open a full resolution version, and then flip between tabs in order to see the differences better.
The first noticeable difference is that Bungie changed by quite a bit the way the camera interacts with our character in third person. This made finding the right angle for the comparison quite difficult, but we managed somehow. The depth of field effect on the parts of the character closest to the camera has been strengthened. The sun is also slightly more blinding when looked at against an object, as the overall brighter picture shows.
This pairing is almost identical, while the night sky is just slightly brighter. Unfortunately one thing that did not change are the horrible jagged shadows that appear only at some angles, as shown just above and to the right of the Iron Banner gate in the middle of the tower.
This pairing is also very similar, and the worn-out wall shows very well that the texture resolution did not change at all, but there is one very subtle difference: the texture of the dry leaves on the floor has been cleaned up considerably, with the removal of artifacts that marred it in the alpha.
This pairing is pretty much identical. The fact that the beta picture doesn’t show the birds on the railing isn’t because Bungie developers decided to go hunting, but simply because they’re dynamic. If someone walks too close they’ll fly away.
This pairing shows a slightly better lighting in the area beyond the wall in the beta, and the stotlights are also brighter. On the other hand, most of the glass remains around the window have been removed for some reason.
Basically the only difference here is in the neon light on the top right, which has been “turned on” to match the illumination of the room.
This one is fairly interesting, as it shows an almost undetectable improvement on the grating in front of the closest fan. It’s now thinner and more realistic. The difference is so small that it’s easier to spot by looking at its shadow on the ground.
Lighting has been slightly altered at sunrise (the time of the day is the same, as you can see from the position of the shadows). It’s now slightly less orange.
This one is very hard to spot, but it’s visible if you squint at the top of the closest lamppost on the left. The railing shows a visible anti-aliasing improvement, and now looks perfectly solid instead of being broken by aliasing like it was in the alpha.
The anti-aliasing improvement is a bit easier to spot on the pairing above. At the top of the structure on the right, close to the middle of the picture just left of the patch vegetation, there’s a small metallic element. In the alpha aliasing make it look broken in three pieces, with two literally floating in the air. In the beta it’s nice and solid.
Here we can see another slight change of lighting at sunset (the time of day is again the same, as you can see by the position of the shadows), with the beta taking a more reddish tint. The slight anti-aliasing improvement is also visible if you look at the antenna in the middle of the satellite array of the Skywatch. It shows just a little bit more detail.
In the two pairings above you can see one of the most welcome changes in the environment. The radioactive “snow” floating in the air has been toned down. It was a bit distracting before.
I actually botched the comparison above, as the lighting conditions are different, so ignore that part. I still included this pairing because it reveals an interesting touch: reloading the tower changes some of the NPCs. If you look at the worker on the bottom left, in the first picture she has brown hair and a yellow uniform. In the second she has a green uniform and red hair. I checked, and it’s not a difference between the beta and the alpha, but it changes between different reloads in the beta as well.
The pairing above shows very well that the texture of the leaves on the ground has been cleaned up. There’s no other relevant difference in sight beside a shifting of the shadow due to a slightly different position of the sun, but that’s not a discrepancy between the two versions.
In this pairing a few panels were removed from the railing on the right. They didn’t look very good anyway.
The cleaned up texture of the leaves is very visible here. The wall on the left is interesting, as the normal map is just slightly more detailed, making the cracks stand out a little more.
In conclusion, there definitely hasn’t been any downgrade. As a matter of fact graphics have seen a very small improvement. Unfortunately it isn’t anywhere close to groundbreaking, and it’s more akin to tweaks here and there with a few minor elements and details added or removed. To be honest Destiny looked great in the alpha already, so it’s hard to find any reason to complain here.
It’ll be interesting to see if there will be a bigger improvement from the beta to the launch version. There are still a few spots that could use some polish, but so far so good.