Destiny is a complicated game to review. It doesn’t fit into any one box of being a first-person shooter or an RPG or an MMO, and because it tries to be so many things and appeal to so many different people, it feels a little like a game with no real identity of its own.
From a purely technical perspective, the game is fantastic. Bungie has always done a good job of making pretty games, and Destiny is no exception. The sky boxes, the character designs, even the music all evoke a world with a lot of depth and splendor. I do wish there were more customization options available for the characters and armor sets, but the options presented are definitely more than for a typical FPS.
The tight controls, precision aiming, fun melee, and jump boosts all blur the lines between traditional Halo gameplay and more modern reflex-based first person shooters, and it’s a match made in heaven. The aim assist for headshots can be a little heavy, but that’s really only prevalent in the multiplayer, and it balances out between you and all of your opponents.
As for the characters you play, I have to admit that I’m a little disappointed in the variety. Each class (warlock, titan, hunter) have unique abilities, but they all move around the same and have access to the same weapons. Their armor looks different, but everything comes to the same stat breakdowns: armor rating, melee, recharge speed, grenade recharge speed, super recharge speed, etc. It’s really up to the player to customize as they see fit, but there isn’t a ton of variation. It would have been nice to see Bungie follow more of a traditional MMO model with tanks, DPS, healers, and the like, only more tailored to a shooter. As it stands, the only reason to choose one class over another is if you like one super more than the rest, or if you think a certain class looks the coolest.
After playing the Alpha/Beta and seeing all of the marketing for the game, there was a large amount of mystery on what the actual story of Destiny was. We knew there was a mystical Death Star type world that kind of showed up on Earth and rocketed our technology forwards, and that there was some other, darker mystical force coming to wipe us out, but that was kind of it. We didn’t know what role our character would be playing in the story (though it was safe to assume we were the savior of the universe because it is a video game after all), we didn’t really know where the game would be taking place beyond the remains of “Old Russia” seen in the Beta, we didn’t even know who the major characters in the game would be. It was really kind of bizarre to see such a high profile game have so little known about it. But after playing through the game, the answer is obvious. We didn’t know much about the story because there isn’t much story in the first place.
You wake up from death (How did you die? No idea.) and are told that you need to save the world and blah blah blah you’ve seen this a million times before. But, as we already know from games like the Mass Effect series, “savior of the universe” stories can still work if done well. Unfortunately, Destiny’s story doesn’t build to anything. We’re just along for the ride, doing what Peter Dinklage’s bored “Ghost” tells us to do, pushing buttons, killing aliens for which we have no context, and going to the same areas over and over because now there’s something new that we need that we couldn’t have just gotten the first time around because reasons.
If it seems like I’m being incredibly harsh on Destiny’s story, it’s because I am. The universe they set up showed so much promise, from this seemingly sentient world structure that came out of nowhere to all of these different aliens races vying for the top spot that was once occupied by the human race, the story could have been so cool. Star Wars for a new generation of gamers. But what it turned out to be was a series of missed opportunities that led to me zoning out whenever a cutscene happened, which was thankfully rare.
It’s worth mentioning that there are “cards” that you unlock throughout the game that give more insight into the different factions, characters, and weapons, but they’re only accessible through the game’s website. That decision just completely boggles the mind. The story is completely nonsensical without that added information, and they put it somewhere that guarantees only a small fraction of players will ever see it. So a player (me, in this example), would choose to play as an “Awoken” and never figure out why they’re blue, why their species live on an asteroid or something, why they have a grudge against humans, why there’s some robot chick following us around all game acting mysterious, why there’s a dude who says he speaks on behalf of the giant world and everyone just believes him, and on and on and on. And these aren’t questions that I’m excited to see answered in a sequel, these are questions that make me think that Bungie doesn’t understand character development or basic storytelling principles.
The game is laid out in an odd way, too. Instead of being in an open world and traveling around from mission to mission, you’re always loaded into a particular instance of said world, with less than a dozen other players present. And in between these instances? AGONIZINGLY LONG LOAD SCREENS. I mean, how are you supposed to get any sort of momentum in the story or the gameplay when every time you complete a mission, you’re shot back up into orbit after a thirty-second load screen? And then if you want to go right back down to the planet for another mission? Another long load screen just to spawn you back into the same spot you spawned last mission. It doesn’t matter what mission you’re on, if it’s a story mission, an open world “patrol” mission, or a strike, you’re always spawning in the same spot. As small as it seems, if they would just have you spawn into different areas of the map, a lot of the mission complaints wouldn’t be as large, because at least it would give some semblance that you aren’t just doing the same thing over and over.
But don’t get me wrong, you’re doing the same thing over and over. You ride your speeder bike to a place, kill some aliens, press a button to deploy your ghost, fend off a few waves of enemies while the ghost does science, and then mission complete. And you do this twenty or so times and then you beat the game. There are those “patrol” missions, where you’re allowed to free roam on a planet doing which equate to side missions, but those just mostly end up being “kill this many dudes,” so that experience wears thin pretty quickly. Some of the bosses have well-designed attack patterns, but most end up being larger versions of enemies you’ve already fought, only they take a lot more bullets to bring down.
Now, if this is all adding up in your mind to Destiny being a really bad game, I have a plot twist for you (and no, it’s not an actual plot twist because Destiny isn’t even interesting enough to try one). I can’t stop playing, and it’s because of the post-game loot grind.
Bungie came out and said pre-release that “the real game doesn’t start until you hit level 20”. To me that read more as “we know the story sucks, but stick around and you’ll have fun in a few hours”, but I digress. I will give them credit for building a deep leveling curve that only gets more interesting and complicated when you hit the soft level cap of 20. The true level cap is 30, but you can only reach that through equipping armor that has a “light” stat attached to it, and that stat only comes on rare, legendary, or exotic armor. For example, I hit the level 20 cap, but through equipping all four pieces of rare armor with a light stat, I was able to hit level 24. I now have legendary boots and an exotic helmet with my rare gauntlets and chest piece, and I’m sitting just under level 26. So, the better (or rarer) the armor, the higher level you’ll achieve when wearing it. It’s a really cool way to get people to jump into the grind of unlocking better and better stuff, but as it stands, the percentage of getting that top tier gear is so low that it’s become more frustrating than fun.
The reason for this is that the best way to unlock rare gear or get enough points to buy it yourself is to jump into strike playlists, which have you playing the same missions you’ve already played, but at a higher difficulty level. I understand that this is pretty standard for an MMO, but I’d have liked to see something a little different from Bungie. I’m not asking for a dozen completely new missions, but if they could have just changed the enemy make-up or had you fighting in different areas of the map each time, the strikes would at least be able to stay interesting. Now that I’m level 25, I hop into the level 24 strike playlist and play one of about six different strikes over and over, and it’s exactly the same every single time. There’s no way that stays fun over an extended period. Bungie has a lot of work to do when it comes to the unlock progression of legendary gear and the grind of strike missions, but I’ll give them credit that they’re at least listening to community feedback and making adjustments where they can.
It’s worth talking about the multiplayer, if only because it’s a significant part of the post-game experience. My competitive multiplayer days are well behind me, but Destiny’s multiplayer will likely have a lot to offer fans of Halo or Call of Duty. But as it stands, the netcode just isn’t reliable enough to offer a consistent experience. I end up trade killing (where you and an opponent kill each other at the same time) more often than not, which isn’t something that should happen with non-projectile weapons. And there are too many things that can kill in one hit, from shotguns to supers to melee to fusion rifles to grenades. It just isn’t fun to round a corner and die before you have any opportunity to react.
From a gameplay perspective, Destiny doesn’t really have anything new to offer either. There’s a domination mode, a team deathmatch, a free for all, it’s all pretty standard fare. There is a 3v3 mode for people looking for more intense firefights, but I don’t recommend getting in there unless you have two people to play with regularly. Going in blind with random players is a sure way to have a frustrating experience. But the maps are well designed and have the same beauty to them as the story maps, so at least they’re nice to look at.
I won’t sugar coat it, Bungie has a lot of work to do if they want Destiny’s sequel to sell as well as the first game. But the good thing is, they can lay that ground-work over the next several months with updates and expansions to the current game. They can’t fix the story as it stands, but there are two large, story-focused expansions coming out in the next 6 months. I’m sure they’re already well into development on both of them, so huge changes can’t be made, but I’d love for them to give more insight into the existing characters. We’ve only seen four or five characters other than the protagonist, and the only two I can name are “The Speaker” and “The Queen” (and those aren’t me labeling them, those are their actual names. Not exactly riveting stuff).
They’ve already been building the Awoken and The Queen up with this most recent update offering specific missions and gear from her, so why not dive into more of her backstory? How does the Awoken political structure work? What does her douchey brother do other than sneer and look greasy? How does she have Fallen under her control? Just give us something more than “The Queen demands you go to this area and press square”. And that could be said of any expansion they offer. Focus on world and character building, give us a real villain to fight against instead of four generic armies, take us to a new place (and not just another planet in our solar system, make this story span galaxies).
Build some momentum going into Destiny 2, because as it stands, while I’m mostly having fun despite the grind, once more games come out in the next few months, I just don’t see anything to keep me in this world other than checking in when expansions and updates hit.
I’m sure this has read as an overwhelmingly negative review, and while there are myriad things wrong with this game, it can’t be overstated that I’m still coming back to it almost on a daily basis. True, a lot of that has to do with there not being a ton of AAA gaming experiences out there right now, but more than anything, the hopes of getting a new legendary piece of armor or unlocking an exotic weapon bounty make me want to play just one more strike, win just one more control match, complete just one more bounty. I don’t have any large plans like hitting the level 30 cap or completing the current raid, but as long as the expansions and monthly updates offer new gear and an occasional new mission, it’ll be enough for me to check up in from time to time.
Destiny wasn’t the game changer that everyone wanted it to be, and I wouldn’t even call it a great game in its own right, but there is a solid foundation under the story and mission structure missteps. I hate saying “wait for the sequel”, but if Bungie learns the lessons they seem to be learning, and they continue to listen to player feedback, the sequel could truly be something special. It’s just a shame that Destiny isn’t.
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