By now, you’ve probably heard all about Destiny. It’s the coming together of the makers of Halo and the publishers of Call of Duty. It’s the creation of one of the most hyped shooters in years. The inspirations from massively multiplayer online games is going to revolutionize the genre, etc. This game was seemingly bred for greatness.
Of course, as we’ve learned over the years, hype means nothing. Aliens: Colonial Marines had all the hype in the world, and was by all accounts a god awful game. Meanwhile, games like X-Com Enemy Unknown had little hype and ended up winning game of the year awards.
It’s time to see if Destiny lives up to the hype.
The story of Destiny is something that I’m not entirely sure of, despite playing through all of it. To call it minimalist would be an understatement. A giant orb thing called The Traveler appeared to humans at some point, led them to a golden age, and then everything went to hell. A collection of evil alien races called The Darkness attacked the solar system and brought humanity to its knees. In its dying breath, The Traveler created Guardians to defend what was left. You play as one of those Guardians.
From there, the story sticks to the most generic of plots. There are bad guys, you kill the bad guys, the world is saved, but the world is still in danger because there needs to be future installments. Little is done to create interesting characters or fill the player in on the backlog. In fact, one of the few characters in the game even says something to the affect of “there’s no need to tell you of what happened”.
The character who gets the most attention is Ghost, a robotic entity that follows you around. Voiced by Peter Dinklage, the character tries to be informative and funny. However, it comes off as wooden at best, and useless at worst. The dialogue is often nothing more than Ghost telling you to run or to take out enemies. There’s no real plot to be found here. If you go in expecting any sort of story, you’re going to come out disappointed.
You can see that Bungie spared no expense when it came to the presentation. While the PS3 version of the game isn’t as impressive as its current-gen counterparts, it still looks pretty darn good. The character models are slick and well designed, the levels are expansive and full of detail, and the effects are pretty sweet to boot. It’s not all great though. In order to keep the moon from looking like a white desert, they had to dot the place with various buildings and bases. These buildings will start to blur together after a point. Also, the shadows in the game are downright bad. They are a pixel nightmares that rarely, if ever, match your movements. The draw distance and motion blur can be a bit much at times as well. Some sacrifices had to be made to make these large maps playable by several people at once, and it shows. However, the overall look of the game is damned impressive in terms of what it accomplishes. Borderlands famously switched to a cell shaded look to hide graphical problems, but that’s just not necessary here. While it might not stand up to the more impressive single player games out there, I’d say Destiny wins among the online shooters.
On the aural front, the game does a pretty good job. The music is a great mix of orchestral delights and harder tracks for combat. It aims to create that epic feel we crave so much, and does a decent job of it. Of course, you won’t often hear the music over the cacophony of gunfire that permeates your time with the game. The guns sound good, and the melee attacks are brutal. I had no problems here at all. If there’s one problem, it’s that the voice acting in the game has absolutely no sense of urgency. It doesn’t matter what’s going on, the characters just sound bored. It’s a shame. The overall aural experience is quite positive though.
If you’ve played one shooter, you’ve played them all. Destiny does little to rock the boat in terms of the controls. You move and aim with the sticks, fire with the trigger buttons, jump with Cross, swap weapons with Triangle, etc. You’ll feel right at home with the controls almost instantly.
Where Destiny does mix things up is in some of the mechanics at your disposal. Early on, you’ll unlock a double jump that allows you to glide through the air, descend slowly, or other effects, depending on your chosen class. This will allow you to reach high outcroppings or leap great distances with ease. You can’t control yourself too much when you’re in the air, but you’ll get where you want to go as long as you aimed properly. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be zipping around maps like a madman.
Also in the game are super attacks. These attacks charge over time, or when you gather “orbs of light” that other players drop. Each class and subclass has their own super attack, and each of them are incredibly useful in their own right. When the move is charged, you need only tap two of the shoulder buttons at the same time in order to activate it. Warlocks throw giant balls of energy, titans create protective domes, and hunters get to use a super weapon for a bit. Choosing what class to main is often about which super fits your style.
The basic gameplay of Destiny is simply great. The controls are exactly what you’d want, the gun play is tense, and the scalable difficulty allows you to give yourself whatever kind of challenge you’re after. It’s honestly a lot of fun when you’re first going through it. The problem with the game is that you’re going to quickly run out of things to do.
There are three primary PvE missions available to the player. Those are story missions, strikes, and patrols. There are also a few different PvP variants to tackle should you be in the mood to fight other people.
Story missions move you forward in the story, and unlock new missions and planets to visit. They often involve running from one side of the map to the other. You’ll drop off your ghost in order to have it scan items, fight boss characters, and mow down hundreds of generic bad guys. The setup rarely deviates from this.
Strikes are similar to story missions, but are stand alone adventures meant to played with three people. This is the only PvE mode that will match you up with other players. Strike missions have you run through a gauntlet of tough enemies and boss characters until you face down a massive boss that can only be fought in said strike. These big bosses tend to have massive health bars that will take you probably over ten minutes to bring down. Bigger versions of strikes, called raids, are available now as post-game content, but require you to have spent countless hours grinding for legendary equipment.
Patrol missions are basically short missions you do to boost your standing with the Vanguard. Since having a high rank with the Vanguard unlocks high level equipment for purchase, you’ll want to do these when you can. When you do a patrol, you start off on one of the maps and are free to roam it to your heart’s content. By finding beacons, you can be given random missions on the fly. These include scanning a particular area, killing a certain number of enemies, fighting off a low level boss, and so on. You can do several of these in a matter of minutes if you get lucky.
The Crucible is where you’ll go when you feel like getting competitive. The modes available include the standard deathmatch, team deathmatch, and control. Destiny offers no unique modes of play, but playing in the PvP arenas will help you earn experience and unlock better equipment. There are shops in the game’s hub that offer rare items only if you’ve proven yourself in the Crucible. The gameplay holds over well in multiplayer, especially the gliding and melee mechanics. It’s not my favorite aspect of the game, but it certainly offers an exciting mode of play.
As you might have guessed, you level your character universally. Experience earned in single player carries over to multiplayer and vice versa. You’re capped at level twenty, but you won’t be able to have earned all of your skills in that time. In fact, the experience bar for your skills is separate from your numbered level. Your level really only determines if you’re allowed to access certain areas of the game. For example, you can’t bring a level one buddy to a level ten mission.
After you’ve capped your numbered level, you can still earn additional levels by collecting armor with “light” on it. Earning these bonus light levels, again, does not give you new skills. You’ll just be able to access the hardest versions of levels, as well as those raids I mentioned earlier. It’s also a prestige thing.
The game has a rather limited inventory system. Your weapons are restricted into one of three categories: primary, special, and/or heavy. Primary weapons include the standard rifles and pistols. Special weapons are not unique to classes, but rather cover sniper rifles, shotguns, and plasma rifles. Heavy weapons are high caliber machine guns and rocket launchers. You can have one of each weapon type equipped to your character at a time. That means if you want to switch your pistol for an assault rifle, you’ll need to go into the menu. For armor, you simply pick the best stats for each slot. It’s nothing exciting. Rarer equipment can be upgraded as you gain experience. You’ll need money and basic supplies to do this, but you’ll rarely run low on supplies. Weapon parts, for example, are accrued every time you dismantle a weapon. Dismantling is like selling and scrapping mixed into one, so you’ll be doing this with every outdated weapon drop you pick up.
The game’s biggest problem is that it lacks variety. Apart from PvP, you’ll be doing the same two or three types of things over and over again. You’ll scan countless computers, kill countless enemies, and fight the same bosses repeatedly. This wouldn’t be so bad if the game didn’t run out of missions so quickly. Also, the lack of interesting characters means the enemies you face are just a mindless mob. They’re only as interesting as the level of danger they provide. There are no villains that you just have to beat, nor friendly characters you feel like saving. It’s just a grind for the grind’s sake.
The good news is that the game will be constantly updated and expanded upon. Raids, for example, weren’t even available until a week after launch. With the promise of new story content, modes, and gear, it’s quite possible that Destiny will be all it can be someday down the road. For now, it’s a safe buy, but not the must have that it was purported to be.
Short Attention Span Summary
Destiny has a lot going for it. It has a solid gameplay foundation and a good framework for future updates. The presentation is nothing to sneeze at either. It’s certainly a lot of fun to play. The downside is that the game does nothing to create an interesting universe for you to explore. It become a mindless grind. You’re only scanning that object because the little robot told you to. You’re just following your objective marker from one side of the map to the other. If Destiny really wants to build a great legacy, it’s going to have to do something down the line to be memorable. As is, the game lacks personality. If it didn’t play so well, it would have been a major disappointment.