Review by Xero759

Reviewed: 09/18/14

Fundamentally adequate

During the lead-up to it’s release, Destiny suffered from an identity problem when presented by Bungie. It was slated to be the next big shooter by company with a well known pedigree for the genre, but it would to attempt to mix in RPG statistics with a loot game. It would also try to present a persistent online world with numerous activities to do at any time, but the creators didn’t want to classify it as an MMO. Class and character customization would be a feature so everyone could tell their own story, but the extent of this customizing was left nebulous at best. The general gaming public seemed to be intrigued if nothing else that Bungie would be delivering on a new experience that they couldn’t classify.

In the end however, the vague remarks seem not to indicate a new breed of shooter, but rather a game that seems to have a sort of identity crisis that lacks focus on what exactly it wants to be. Halo mixed with Borderlands or Diablo is probably the easiest shorthand to what Destiny is most analogous to, yet this new intellectual property, perhaps one of the most hyped games for this console generation, leans heavily on it’s predecessor. What we get is something that is familiar, not revolutionary. There’s a solid foundation of game here, but so many divergent parts to the experience that you end up with a slightly hollow experience

The story for Destiny itself is by far the weakest aspect of this new experience. The concept starts out strong enough: In the future, humanity finally makes it to Mars and discovers that we aren’t alone in the universe. The Traveler, a mysterious and alien orb hanging on the sky, as big as a city and smaller than a moon, helps to propel the human race forward technologically. This vaunted golden age helps to spread human influence across the galaxy, going so far as to terraform new worlds, along with extending human lifespan. Things are great.

But it turns out this Traveler it turns out, has it’s enemies. The just as vague “Darkness,” is portrayed in opposition, with a host of alien races under it’s control. Factions such as the Fallen and the Hive eventually descend upon humanity during the golden age, essentially ending it and driving humans back to Earth. Now a single city remains, under the Traveler’s protection, and your job as a Guardian, is to help fight the darkness, restoring humanity to it’s former glory.

That’s a quick summation anyway, and as a set-up for a backstory, it is suitably timeless, playing off of simple tropes of good vs. evil, and allowing for a sort of sci-fi / fantasy shorthand setup. This is all told within the first five minutes of the game, and as far as plot, that’s all there really is. Your Guardian is revived from the dead at the beginning by a Ghost, a mechanical construct as a direct offshoot of the Traveler, your main storytelling voice for the game, and Bungie’s excuse to throw in another AI construct while making the protagonist a strong-silent type a la Master Chief.

Concerns during the beta of Destiny that Peter Dinklage was essentially “phoning it in” when it came to the roll of the Ghost have more or less been confirmed. The writing for the character is absolutely asinine, with Dinklage’s performance comparable to a lukewarm bowl of oatmeal. Humor falls flat, fantasy jargon gets mixed with technobabble, and no emotional bond of any kind can be formed with this soulless entity. This would be a minor complaint if he weren’t so integrally present for all the exposition of the game, and if Bungie hadn’t proven that they know how to do good character writing. Artificial Intelligence personalities have been their specialty in the past. Cortana in Halo showed a great amount character, with a mixture of signature snark and comradery. Even the writing for the A.I. trio in the Marathon series show more passion and character. The Ghost isn’t just overshadowed when compared to it’s lineage, it’s practically disowned.

Other characters are barely worth mentioning throughout the plot. There’s a host of recognizable celebrity sci-fi voices attached to class masters in the tower, the Guardian home base, but they are woefully underutilized. You’ll be lucky to hear them as exposition for specialty missions, but don’t expect to get character driven cinematics or fleshed out backstories.

The way more lore and backstory is handled in the game is also a big disappointment. Facts and tidbits about locations, enemies and history do exist, but they are not accessible in the game proper. Instead, you’ll find collectible Grimoire cards will unlock as requirements are met, but must be accessed from Bungie’s website. Why these cards and lore stories don’t have their own dedicated menu in the game seems like a huge oversight.

This is all exacerbated as an issue when you compare it to some of the fantastic visual and audio artistry that’s on display in the game. While it won’t stand as being a definitive paragon of current-gen visuals, there’s still a lot of detail on display for the senses to feast on. Lighting is fantastic, shadows look wonderful, animations are smooth and crisp and particle effects are ample. Designs for the Guardians and the enemies have a level of cohesion that help to sell the universe, mixing the space-marine edge with a sort of timeless fantasy feel. The worlds themselves are also a visual treat, each being varied and containing their own feel. The terraformed Venus for my money really stands out as a setting to go out adventuring.

The other clear saving grace for Destiny comes with the moment to moment action that permeates the game. Destiny definitely feels like an evolution of a Halo game, and fans of the series will feel right at home. Gunplay feels tight and responsive with aim down sights gameplay being optional, not required. Enemies in the overworld often use weapons with bright, slow moving projectiles, allowing for players to dodge and weave out of gunfire. The floaty jumps of Spartans also make a return with a vengeance, with classes able to get extreme amounts of air and control.

The RPG fantasy twist comes with the addition of a class system, coupled with unique and varied powers. What looks like the initial classical trio of tank-dps-healer selection ends up playing out more for flavor than anything: Titan’s start out as burly armored space soldiers, Hunters define a faster, more finesse playstyle, and Warlocks attempt to fill a lighter sort of stellar magic role. These are just starting points for classes however, and don’t completely define gameplay styles. Every class can use every weapon to equal degrees of success. If you want to be the tanky Titan with a shotgun ready to dispatch your enemies, that’s your prerogative. But a Titan that stands back with a sniper / scout rifle is an equally viable option.

The design of having class unique powers in the form of a grenade type, melee override and super move are what help to drive playstyles and vary up combat. What starts out being a somewhat slow progression ramps up as these options unlock. Eventually, you’ll be flipping between three weapon types, tossing specialized grenades, getting up close and personal with some very satisfying fisticuffs and unleashing havoc with whatever devastating area attack is at your disposal. There’s room for a lot of variation here, and it all feels super responsive and very satisfying to use.

Statistics on armor, along with the loot game for weapons is somewhat hit and miss in regards to the game system. The amount of guns and clothing being dropped is much less than something like Borderlands, and not always as significant. Common statistics on armor for example only do two things: decrease the amount of damage you take, and lower cooldowns on certain special abilities. Getting more strength won’t make every melee attack hit harder, but instead increase the frequency you can use your melee override. This makes stats very subtle when it comes to gameplay. You can aim to focus on using a special ability more that you enjoy, or try to spread out cooldowns evenly, but if you want to be faster, recover health quicker, that’s dependent on passives found in the skill trees.

Weapons fare a bit better. There are nine different classifications of weapons, and a few variants of each for players to mess around with. Better yet, both weapons and armor have their own skill trees that allow players to invest resources and get some customization in how they use their tools. You might get helms that reward extra cooldowns to skills when using grenades or supers, allowing for more effective loops on abilities. Weapons will get straight damage buffs, while also letting you pick options with tradeoffs, like long range scopes, or better reloading. The progression on gear helps a lot with feeling like you’re making significant character gains.

These are the best of the MMO trappings, yet a lot of chaff has come along with some of these systems. Leveling is mainly used as a very visible gating mechanic, making you do less damage with enemies you aren’t on level with, but not allowing you to necessarily overpower enemies under your level. It’s a sort of give and take when you go back to lower level areas and find that enemies can still be a threat. It’s great for keeping the game interesting, but leveling loses some of it’s luster without a clearer feedback of power gain.

The travel system of going between worlds doesn’t feel great either. After the first mission in the game, you’ll be given a ship that’ll be used to go between worlds, but the amount of time spent loading into a new world or home base makes space feel less like the final frontier and more like a glorified lobby. This gets worse when you find that you need to be constantly go back to the Tower to turn in bounties or identify ingrams. Couple this with being in a group of three and you’ll feel like there’s a lot of time being wasted compared to other MMOs.

The systems at play for multiplayer may be one of the most impressive things for Destiny that has been understated about the game. Having friends seamlessly drop into a story to give you covering fire or help defeat a boss feels spectacular. On more than one occasion I found myself feeling outnumbered by the task presented, only to bullets whiz by head and a familiar face help to turn the tides. Destiny on it own plays great, but when you throw teammates into the mix, you feel like you can take on the universe. Abilities and playstyles synergize in smart ways and eventually give rise to tactics. If there was one piece of advice to take away from this it’s to play the game with friends.

Multiplayer as a facet here also ends up playing out quite well. While I wasn’t a huge fan of the initial 6 vs. 6 large scale battlefields, other smaller playlists focused on 3 vs. 3 combat feel much better. Skirmish as mode always being up, as well as special weekend playlists such as salvage felt like a much more interesting dynamic, relying on squads watching each other’s backs and making coordinated strikes. With at least 10 maps available to everyone and a good handful of playlists, chances are you’ll find something here to your liking.

FInally, the endgame of Destiny seems to be pretty standard for an MMO-like experience, but with a noticeable dearth of content at launch. Most players will probably finish the story before hitting the soft level cap of 20. Options then to replay story missions or strikes on harder difficulty are one option for progression, or more multiplayer as an alternative. At the time of writing, only one piece of exclusive high level content exists: a level 26 6-man raid. When it comes to a property that parallels so much with MMO’s, this isn’t very encouraging, yet Bungie claims there will be a host of free updates, along with the upcoming expansion packs. Time will tell if they can keep the community alive.
Bosses aren’t great

I’ve definitely enjoyed my time with Destiny, mostly playing with friends when I can. The game is probably one of the most overhyped products in a long while (so good job marketing team I guess), not living up to the lofty expectations vaguely speculated at us when details were beginning to reveal. There’s fun to be had with the gunplay and moment-to-moment action, but it’s disappointing that the universe and story leave so much to be desired. I suppose expecting a revolution every time Bungie creates a new property is expecting too much, but it’s disheartening how derivative and lacking parts of the overall experience. I expect many will get their shooter fix from the game, yet it’s hard to see Destiny spinning out into full blown cultural phenomenon the way something like Halo did. The game is good, just make sure to temper your expectations.

Rating:   3.5 - Good

Product Release: Destiny (US, 09/09/14)

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