By Jonathon Dornbush
September 09, 2014 at 11:02 PM EDT

The onslaught of fall video game releases officially kicks off today with the arrival of Bungie’s Destiny, which debuts for the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, and Xbox 360. Published by Activision, the shooter is being touted as the next big franchise, and the industry has taken notice—almost no other major release is scheduled until the end of September. With several weeks to keep players’ attention, Bungie has the difficult task of not only hooking players for the fall season, but, as their plans indicate, for several years to come.

So why is Destiny such a big deal, and does it have a hope to succeed? Let’s dive in and find out, Guardians.

What is Destiny all about?

After colonizing several planets in our solar system, humans faced a collapse that pushed humanity to the brink of extinction. The last pockets of human life exist only on Earth. You play as a Guardian, tasked with saving mankind from an alien threat and attempting to restore hope for humanity both on Earth and its neighboring planets.

How does Destiny play?

Destiny is a first-person shooter, though your Guardian will have a few special abilities to spice up combat. Players can fully customize their Guardian’s look and weapon selection, as they travel from planet to planet, completing missions and gunning down alien foes.

Destiny heavily encourages playing with others by including competitive multiplayer options and aspects of the MMO genre that have made World of Warcraft and similar games such a success.

If Destiny is similar to other games, why is it such a big deal?

The answer to that lies in its developer and publisher—Bungie and Activision, respectively—and the scope they have set for the game. Activision has ruled the sales charts with Call of Duty for the last few years, and Bungie is known for creating one of the most important shooters, Halo. The adventures of Master Chief have become some of the most important experiences in modern gaming, popularizing the genre in a more widespread fashion than ever before.

Bungie left the franchise, which still continues on, to go all-in on Destiny. It’s not just Bungie’s main project. Destiny is the studio’s only project. And they hope it will be for a long time to come.

So how does Destiny differ from Halo?

The two franchises certainly share some connective tissue. Both have a robust multiplayer portion, and the fight between humans and aliens is familiar territory for Bungie. But Destiny is less about making the player feel like another, established character than about making the player’s individual character matter. Destiny is supposed to be your story, and it has much loftier ambitions than its predecessor.

How did Bungie build up the hype?

Activision and Bungie have smartly rolled out news and opportunities to engage fans months before the game’s release. This past June, the Destiny alpha, a small, early slice of the game, was announced and released on the first day of E3. Bungie then ran a beta of the game, which offered players a sneak peek at both the story-focused missions and the competitive multiplayer options.

The beta was a big success. Bungie revealed a series of impressive stats from the beta, including that over 4.6 million players tried out the beta, a number of players most games would only dream of attracting.

Since then, Bungie has teased content for the game, and debuted a live-action trailer for Destiny during the NFL’s season opening game.

All of these efforts, including releasing the game as a bundle with a new white PlayStation 4, seem to be paying off. At the recent Gamescom conference in Germany, Activision announced that Destiny is now the most pre-ordered game from a new franchise. To give some context, a similar record previously belonged to another game released this year, Watch Dogs, which sold four million copies in its first week. In April, that was the highest number of copies sold for the first entry in a new series, and Destiny looks primed to sell even more.

What does  success mean for Destiny?

The scope of Bungie’s new project dwarfs that of many similar games, as the studio already plans to have the franchise around for the next 10 yearsDestiny, in a sense, is Bungie, and the $500 million price tag reportedly associated  with the game demonstrates how big a bet this game is for the studio and Activision. They even brought in a Beatle to work on the soundtrack.

That heavy cost isn’t just about releasing this game, however—it’s about laying the groundwork for the entire franchise. Bungie already has content planned for Destiny after it launches, and the Guardian you created is intended to live on in each successive title in Destiny‘s universe.

So while all the lead-up to the game’s release promises a bright future, the series will really live or die by how much it grabs players in the next few months.

So…is Destiny actually good?

It’s difficult to say at this point. The beta felt great thanks to Bungie’s pedigree, but there’s no denying the familiarity for some Halo fans, and whether or not the story is any good remains to be seen. The full game needs to prove Bungie has built a fascinating enough world that millions of players won’t mind spending the next decade sinking dozens, and likely hundreds, of hours into it. Luckily, the developer not only has a strong sense for world-building, but they’ve also added a smart and much-needed customization system to let players craft their own world.

But Destiny will have to prove it’s more than just a more expansive Halo. It needs to hook players, either through its story, or the MMO elements that integrate multiplayer aspects into so much of the experience, and not lose them too quickly in the process.

Destiny servers have only been live for a day, so even press outlets with earlier copies have only had a 24-hour head start on the game. And Destiny doesn’t feel like the type of title players can fully grasp after a day or two of playing.

In that spirit, EW will be analyzing the game in an ongoing Destiny Diary. Several of our writers will relate their experiences as an ongoing exploration of whether Destiny delivers on its promise. Stay tuned for the first post later today, as we fight alongside Lance Reddick and Peter Dinklage.

Good luck out there, Guardians.