There’s a lot to say about Destiny. The intervening years between inception and release have bred a hype-train like nothing seen before it. In the end, this is Destiny’s biggest enemy. Bungie and Activision’s promises, and subsequent marketing of Destiny, have created an expectation of their product that was always going to be hard to realise. You will have seen plenty of opinions on the game up to this point and I’m fully aware of that while writing this. I will attempt to explain not only the game, but why certain feelings appear to have been cultivated in the time since release.
The aim of mixing RPG, MMO and First Person Shooting is something that is quite popular right now and Destiny does things very differently to most of its competitors. The feel of shooting is second to none. This is Bungie and they are not new to this. The controls are tight, the shooting comes with a great weight and feeling of impact and movement around the world, using your class-specific jump is immensely satisfying.
Unlike other games in its genre, it seems less focused on the RPG and MMO elements and instead uses them as a light dusting to cover the solid foundation, that is the core FPS experience. Never before has an online shooter ever felt so much like a single-player game. The mechanics feel like you’re not having data sent back between you and a server, but that it’s all happening on your own box in front of you. In the PvE (Player vs Environment) sections, there is no lag or hit registration issues to speak of, which is a huge achievement for a game that is for all intents and purposes, an MMO-lite.
So what of the MMORPG parts of the game? Consistently you are reminded, that while it might feel very smooth, you’re connecting to instances and not to one huge server. You’re constantly brought back to orbit, after every mission, to decide where you’d like to go next. This does serve to slow the pace of the game down but, like everything else in the game, is a deliberate choice. Giving time for players to go over what they have just done and what they want to do next, in an environment that doesn’t put stress on the rest of the servers, is a fantastic idea and one that has created a game that I have had very few connection/server issues with.
There are several small MMO elements that have been cherry picked to create the world of Destiny seem far larger, and have a longer lifespan, than it otherwise would have. Take daily bounties for instance, they’re just daily quests that keep players coming back to level up their character. The parts that Bungie leave out are the things like communication. Shared-World-Shooter may be the term coined for this game, but that is all it is. Shared. Without the ability to talk to anyone without being in their fireteam, meetings with other players are fleeting and not anything interesting.
What has been given to players is the ability to dance, point, wave and sit down. This does add some hilarity to encounters and can lead to some killer dance parties in the social hub area (The Tower) and after completing Strikes. This has lead to there being an established etiquette of how to celebrate wins and created a community where there is very little anger, and more pure celebration. Again, this is seemingly a choice on Bungie’s end to foster positivity and not let random shouting and 12-year-olds playing music irritate the rest of the player base.
The leveling is something that can, at first, seem simple and rapid but once you reach the level cap of 20, very soon after you’ve completed the main story missions (another deliberate choice), you’re shown how XP has been redefined in Destiny. Instead of causing the levels to just get harder and harder to achieve, like most games would do at this point, Destiny introduces a new system known as Light. This is incorporated into Rare and higher pieces of loot as an extra stat and can be increased along with the rest of the armour’s abilities, eventually allowing you to increase the amount of Light you have and thus moving your Light level up.
Along with this system, a lot of extra content is introduced to allow you to obtain the loot that will help you gain your aforementioned level. Strikes are introduced slowly as you move through each planet’s story missions. Do you remember Firefight from Halo: ODST and Reach? Well, this is basically the obvious evolution of the defensive wave-based mechanic, with the occasional boss that needs dispatching. As someone who has fond memories of Firefight from ODST, including the now infamous ‘Vidmaster: Endure’ achievement, as much as the five available Strikes are repeated over and over with varying levels of difficulty (and increasing rewards), I never got bored of memorising attack patterns of different enemies and spawn locations of certain mobs.
There are also daily and weekly challenges on offer that allow the gaining of materials and XP, which after level 20 allows for the gaining of Motes of Light (another currency within the game). There are also Raids that promise to grow in number with the addition of content but right now there is just one that has plenty of difficulty with the average time taking to complete coming to around the four-to-six-hour mark. This is a huge departure for a console shooter, moving away from short sharp shocks of enjoyment, and the famous Bungie “30 seconds of fun”, to keeping players engaged for an extended period of time. This Bungie manages with ease.
With all of these methods of gaining materials, you are able to level up your gear (both armour and weapons). Bungie have created several essential currencies that allow the game to keep from becoming a grind fest. With Motes of Light being something you will earn naturally for doing extra activities and earning XP, that would earlier have gone into leveling, and Glimmer (the basic currency) being something else that comes naturally, anyone can earn enough of something to level their character up and stay competitive.
There are also two other forms of currency that you can collect which are harder to get but come with greater rewards. Strange Coins can be awarded from high level unidentified loot drops and from certain Weekly Strikes and can only be used with the frighteningly absent ‘Xür Agent of the Nine’. This specific salesman only appears on Friday and Saturday selling exotic items, the rarest sort in the game, and several rare upgrades to your personal Sparrow (We’ll talk a bit more about that later).
Lastly, you can gain Marks in two different variations for both PvP and PvE. These allow you to buy legendary equipment from any of the several vendors around the Tower, after obtaining the required reputation rank with that vendor’s faction. With so many ways to interact and keep playing after the main story finishes, Destiny really does hold its own in the late-game department.
Unfortunately, whether you’ll get there is a question of patience and how much drip-fed story you can handle. Being a spiritual successor to the Halo franchise, and treading much of the same ground, it was considered a given that the story of Destiny would be as good as the ones crafted for almost all of its predecessor’s incarnations. Instead of giving a straight up easy to digest story, Bungie seems to have gone with the idea of leaving questions to be answered later down the road.
The story that is presented is lackluster at best and seems to fall flat, which is highly unexpected from the myriad of talent on display. Peter Dinklage gives a less than convincing, at times downright lazy, performance as your ‘Ghost’ companion who accompanies you everywhere and basically acts as a narrator. There are barely four cutscenes in the entire game that give no real extra detail at all. While this is all pretty bad, Bungie seem to have put a lot of time into designing the areas and making sure there is plenty to know, but all of the lore is located on cards that can only be read on the companion app or Bungie’s own website.
This is unfortunate as there is a lot of promise on display.
The worlds that are built here are second to none. Every planet has its own feel and aesthetic that stands out and is immediately recognisable from the moment you step foot on it. From the yellow shores of the Ishta Sink on Venus to the red wastes of the Buried City on Mars, areas are distinctive and creative. With each of these new environments comes new enemies and these, like the locales, are all distinctive and have their own quirks. The Vex are an army of machines who are pure evil, while the Caval are a race of huge warriors who require space suits to stay alive outside of their homeworld.
So, while the story is delivered poorly, the universe of Destiny is anything but. Each new planet gives new incentives to explore and find new treasures. Be those chests, materials or just an amazing vista, it doesn’t matter as you’re given free will from the moment you land on your chosen planet. With your trusty Sparrow (a clear Star Wars homage: looking like a speeder and sounding like a podracer) allowing you to traverse each environment quickly, your exploration is not constrained. There is no map of each area and this, again, is a deliberate decision taken to have players memorise their surroundings rather than watching a picture with an arrow on it. This is a great move as it causes the players to have to engage with the world they inhabit, and with the production values of this game it’s more than worth your time to look around a bit.
This even extends to the competitive multiplayer maps. PvP is something that has also seen time lavished upon its design and feel. This is very much Bungie at their best. With map design that flows extremely well and looks gorgeous, the only real issue is the balancing of the mode itself. There is supposed to be balancing in all normal modes that takes away specific damage modifiers for weapons allowing everyone to be on a even playing field, regardless of level and gear. Unfortunately, rate-of-fire being way more important than damage means balancing is extremely difficult and makes little difference when certain super attacks are overpowered.
Each Class within the game has two different subclasses that can be leveled with a unique supermove. This does give some incentive to keep leveling your character, but this is the only difference between the classes. Titans, Hunters and Warlocks can all wield the same weapon types and have different animations for their melee attack, but they all do the same thing. The only time I’ve seen these make a huge difference are in Raid, which is the very latest of endgame content. All weapon types get upgrades as you level up your character, along with the armour, and it is even more of a reason to keep playing.
So overall, Destiny is a game that has some bad storytelling and some unbalanced multiplayer, but the core gameplay is one of the best in the genre and the design of the universe is one of the finest examples I’ve ever seen. The years Bungie have put into this game’s development are clearly seen here. With plenty of content to continue to play past the end of the story, and more coming, it’s a great game that deserves your time.
Destiny (Reviewed on Xbox One)
Excellent. Look out for this one.
Destiny is a game that has some bad storytelling and some unbalanced multiplayer, but the core gameplay is one of the best in the genre and the design of the universe is one of the finest examples I’ve ever seen. The years Bungie have put into this game’s development are clearly seen here. With plenty of content to continue to play past the end of the story, and more coming, it’s a great game that deserves your time.