Destiny Review

By Jonathan Barnes, 2 years ago
Hype is a cruel mistress. It sells games and raises expectations, but it can also toe the line between fact and fantasy. Destiny is the latest game to board one of the biggest hype trains in gaming history. Bungie's pedigree, Activision's money and backing, and the expectations of millions of gamers who either loved or were envious of Halo have weaved themselves together to create an unstoppable train of wishing and hoping that this new game will be the next big thing. Unfortunately, like most runaway trains, there is no pumping the breaks and we, as gamers, are in for a letdown.

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The game opens in epic fashion as your character is literally raised from the dead by a Ghost, your character's robotic companion. Within moments you get a gun and start shooting aliens. After you've shot a small army of aliens, you'll generally be asked to hold down your "X" button to activate your Ghost to do something, and then (occasionally) you might have to shoot more aliens. Every mission ends the same way, however: You're kicked out of the game and back to the "Orbit" menu screen (forcing a minute-long loading time to get anywhere). This basic structure repeats for the entirety of the game's story missions (of which there are nineteen spread across four locales). While that general description is a bit of an oversimplification that could describe many games, those basic gameplay mechanics usually work to deepen a relationship with something more, be it a character, a place, a story, or a mission. Destiny offers little-to-none of that. While there is a story, it's paper-thin, confusing, borderline nonsensical, and even attempting figuring it out is requires you to use game's online Grimoire, which is only accessible through Bungie.net or their app. There are beautifully designed environments, including the last safe city on Earth, but they're largely void of anything interesting and you're given no reason to care about going to them. Other characters are present, but, likewise, there's nothing to motivate any type of attachment to them. The game is basically, "Go here, shoot this, press "X", "More info on Bungie.net", and repeat."

That isn't to say that the shooting isn't great, it is. As one should expect from a company with the pedigree of Bungie, the core shooting aspects of the game feel amazing. Nailing a headshot feels wonderful and plugging away with an automatic weapon satisfies the inner Rambo. The weapons feel powerful in your hands (until you and your enemies out-level them) and provide satisfying feedback with a great, tactile feel. This great shooting, however, is inhibited by the game's limited armory. Each character may carry a primary weapon, a special weapon, and a heavy weapon. There are four primary weapon types from which to choose: Scout Rifles (single shot, DMR-style rifle), Pulse Rifles (three-round burst), Auto Rifles (full automatic fire), and Hand Cannons (Dirty Harry would love them). Special weapons have even fewer options divided between Shotguns, Sniper Rifles, and Fusion Cannons. Heavy weapons go down another notch, limiting to only Rocket Launchers and Machine Guns. While there are different models and variations on each of these gun types, they all feel relatively identical and lack the thrill of discovery when they're equipped. Likewise, each character has unique melee and grenade abilities, but these are (sadly) on a cool down timer, which impedes the flow of combat when things go sideways.

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For a game (purportedly) this big, it's also not begging to be explored. Destiny lacks any kind of an accessible, in-game map and forces you to navigate either by waypoint (in story missions) or aimless wandering (in patrol missions). While the world does have a few things to discover, that discovery - like many other aspects - feels underwhelming and shallow. Discovering a dead Ghost prompts another message to check out the Grimoire on Bungie.net, while chests and other location-specific collectibles never feel valuable. During patrol missions, vanquished enemies respawn within minutes (if not seconds) and frequently start shooting you in the back as you try to move on to other areas. While this quick respawn keeps the world populated with enemies to kill, it ends up feeling cheap and enemies turn into disposable chores rather than exciting encounters.

The game's economy also struggles under the weight of multiple different currencies and collectibles that have little-to-no explanation as to their form or function. In my playthrough I picked up nine different materials and three different currencies and am only clear on a few of their actual purposes. Loot is also poorly implemented. Any time you pick up an "Encrypted Engram" you need to return to the game's hub to get it identified, making it useless until you finish the mission and sit through another long loading screen. Similarly, the game's Bounty system also requires you to go back to the Tower to turn in any completed Bounties. In short, you will become all too familiar with the game's loading screen and music.

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Bungie and Activision have, at times, vacillated on whether or not Destiny is an MMO, but one thing is for certain, it caters to playing with friends. While it is possible to play through the game's Story Missions and Patrol Missions by yourself, it only serves to reinforce the hollow feeling that permeates the experience. Having a dedicated group of friends with which to tackle the game is the best way to consume what Destiny has on offer. Those without that dedicated group can team up with randoms in the game's Tower Hub, but there are few other ways built in to actually find partners, which is problematic as you get into the end game content centered around Raids.

The co-op focus is also central to the game's Strike Missions, which task three Guardians with taking on a tough mission in co-op. These Strikes take place on each of Destiny's four mission areas and typically charge the fireteam with running through a portion of the map taking down enemies as they go. The mission typically segues into a few wave-based skirmishes that feature increasingly difficult (or proliferative) enemies and a large-scale boss battle at the end. Supporting this final boss are unending waves of smaller enemies that pull focus away from the boss, while also dropping much-needed ammo. This ammo is "much-needed" because these bosses are bullet sponges that make the encounters feel like tedious slogs, even when over-leveled. Unfortunately, the bullet-sponge bosses and never-ending support enemies inflate the challenge through "non-fun" means and make Strikes an annoying grind rather than an exhilarating challenge. Furthermore, while the Strikes do have a matchmaking mechanic, they (like the rest of the game) are best played with friends or, at the very least, compatriots who will communicate. The biggest downside of the Strike experience unfolds when being abandoned by partners in the middle of the final boss fight (which happened to me on several occasions). While the final encounters are long, boring tests of patience, they can be accomplished by three Guardians, but going down to two is a recipe for failure and a waste of time.

In addition to the focus on co-op, Destiny features a robust PvP multiplayer suite in The Crucible. The Crucible allows you to bring your Guardian (complete with weapons, armor, and unlocked powers) into one of five different game types: Control (Domination style), Clash (6v6 Team Deathmatch), Skirmish (3v3 Team Deathmatch), Rumble (Free For All), and Salvage. The only game type to really differentiate itself from the crowd is Salvage, which tasks teams of three with capturing a randomly spawning location somewhere on the map and holding it against the opposing team for a set amount of time. Once that location is either captured (or overtaken by the opposing team) a new location is chosen at random. Points are earned by either securing the location for the entire time, breaking the opposing team's hold on the location, or scoring kills. While the multiplayer definitely feels like something Bungie invested time and thought into, it suffers from some balancing issues. While Level Advantages are disabled, abilities are not and it's not uncommon to find yourself killed at the hands of an ability that you didn't even know existed. Furthermore, there's a clear separation between weapons that are good for taking on enemies in the campaign versus weapons that are functional in the PvP versus other humans, meaning that you'll probably want to have more than a few guns in your inventory at all times as you play.

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As we mentioned in the Achievement Preview Spotlight on Destiny, the game's achievements have a good spread of easy unlocks and long-term grinds. If it wasn't perfectly clear from reading thus far, you're definitely going to need some friends to get the completion, as there are pops for completing a Raid with a full fireteam consisting of only your clan members and completing a Strike with a full fireteam consisting of only your clan members. Furthermore, the game does have three achievements for fully upgrading each character class, as well as one for having all armor and weapon slots equipped with Legendary or Exotic gear. In short, this is a game designed to be played for a while (60 hours would be a conservative estimate) for a full completion.

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Throughout my review playthrough, I kept trying to search for the right phrase to describe Destiny, and kept coming back to the thought that it lacked a soul. This game contains almost all of the aspects necessary for success, but it lacks a unifying element, a personality to pull everything together, make it click, and keep you playing. Bungie made its bones on creating a shooter with smart AI, great controls, a compelling story, rich lore, and razor sharp gameplay. While the running and gunning is still top-notch, the rest of the experience is mediocre at best and more often than not, easily disposable. The story and world that Bungie has created is obfuscated behind poor cliches and hidden away (as if they knew what they had) on their website rather than being placed in the actual game.

Summary

In the cutscene that plays after completing all of the story missions, one of the more mysterious (and never fully-explained) characters approaches yours and says things like, "There's so much more out there," and, "All ends are beginnings." Bungie has said (and MMO players will often parrot) that a game like this doesn't really begin until you hit the level cap and start experiencing high-level, end-game content. While this may be the case with Destiny, the grind and experience up to that point are barely worth the time investment. Gamers have waited a long time for Destiny and perhaps this is the beginning of a larger (and hopefully better) experience, but right now it's worth a pass for all but the most hardcore of shooter and MMO fans.
3.5 / 5
Positives
  • Shooting and gameplay feel amazing
  • Fantastic aesthetics
Negatives
  • Obtuse narrative
  • Lack of content
  • Repetitive grindfest
  • Frustrating Light system
  • Best experienced with friends
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent approximately twenty hours playing through the game, popping 19 of the game's 41 achievements, raising his Guardian to Level 21, completing all Story Missions, Strike Missions, and testing every Crucible mode. This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game which was purchased personally by the reviewer.
Jonathan Barnes
Written by Jonathan Barnes
Jonathan has been a news/views contributor since 2010. When he's not writing reviews, features, and opinion pieces, he spends his days working as an informal science educator and his nights as an international man of mystery.