Review by solidraidens

Reviewed: 09/22/14

Destiny, The Starter Pack

Destiny is the latest outing from Bungie, probably most well-known for the immensely successful Halo series. During its five year development cycle, it was described by Bungie as an immensely open world experience, filled with planets and events that keep the gamer interested in a new universe that always stays alive. Bungie was dead set on giving gamers a new IP that had a lore that was beyond comparison to other games of its kind. The company also boasted that it would be an open world first person shooter that focuses on the social aspect of gaming, as well as carrying many elements borrowed from the MMO genre (although they were adamant on not describing the game as an MMO itself).

Earlier this year, an alpha and a series of betas were released for Destiny as a way of giving the vast majority of players a chance to test things out, as well as getting a taste of what’s to come when the full game comes out. What resulted was a massive popularity spike, with many gamers marking their calendars and counting down the days until the game itself would finally be in their possession. You could say that this was the best kind of advertisement that Bungie could hope for; many players had high hopes for the game, praising the teamwork aspect and many other mechanics.

When you start up the game, you get to make your character. You have the option to pick your class, and depending on your choice, will seriously affect how you play the game in general. Each class has its own tree of upgrades and specials which you will unlock as you further play through the game. You could be a Titan, whose main strength is in brute force and getting up close and personal with your enemies. There’s the Hunter, which is for the player who likes having speed and range on their hands, having an advantage with range. And finally there’s the Warlock, whose strength is in “magic” or force attacks, keeping a varied arsenal depending on the situation at hand. Each class has a default skill tree, which after attaining a certain amount of levels, can even obtain sub-classes that can completely switch up your playing style and give you more variety. And for those who want to experience all three classes? The game lets you create up to three characters on one account, so the adventurous gamer could make one of each class if they so desired.

Beyond the class decisions, the rest of the character creation is purely cosmetic in nature. The game allows you to choose your race; a human, the robotic Exo, or the white-skinned Awoken. From there, the game gives you your typical ability to customize your character’s appearance. You decide your character’s gender and make modifications on their physicality. Unfortunately, the cosmetic aspect of the game leads to my first issue. This is the only time you can make cosmetic changes to your character, as once you get started with the game; you are stuck with whatever hair style, color, or tattoos you apply. And moving forward a bit, the game doesn’t really let you show off how you created your character, as the only time we see our character in its base form is when they are on the tower and during select cut scenes. During actual gameplay like missions, patrols, and multiplayer, we instead see how your armor looks instead. This is a minor gripe though, and not a huge dent on the experience.

After finishing your character, the game throws you into a cutscene taking place in an area called “Old Russia, Earth”, where a floating orb called a Ghost (voiced by Peter Dinklage), comes over to your corpse and resurrects you. But before he has any time to explain, a hostile race called the Fallen is starting its approach on you, and your first order of business is to get yourself a weapon and fight your way to a ship so that you can escape. After completing this first mission, you are then brought to a hub called “The Tower”, where many of the games supplementary activities take place. Here you can buy weapons and armor, decrypt mysterious orbs that you find out on the field, and gather then cash in bounties. It’s from here where Destiny really takes off.

The gameplay is pretty solid; it’s very fluid and gets the job done pretty darn well. The gunplay is spot on and feels very akin to Halo, with every gun having its own stats and characteristics. There are many choices on how you can arm yourself, as you have a variety of primary weapons (Assault Rifles, Hand cannons, etc.), secondaries (Shotguns, Sniper Rifles, and Fusion Rifles), and even heavy weapons (Rocket Launchers and LMGs). The game lets you carry one of each of these on your person at one time, and should the situation call for a different weapon than the ones you have equipped, it’s very easy to change out what you have with another one in your inventory. Each of the classes have their own specials, with the Titan’s ground smash, The Hunter’s Blade mode, which puts you in a 3rd person perspective while chopping things up, and the Warlock’s heavy magic attacks. That’s not even scratching the surface either; the classes have two different sub-classes with different specials as well. The game feels amazing, with the movement being very responsive and the controls are easy to map out and understand.

The story missions make up the main campaign in Destiny, and it’s recommended that every player play through and finish it, as it’s the only way to unlock other planets to explore, and strikes which we will get into later. When you start up a story mission, you get the option of choosing the difficulty for the mission, ranging from Easy (you are over levelled and it will be a cake walk), Normal (You are matched in enemy abilities), Hard (You slightly under levelled and will be rather challenged), Very Hard (You are very under levelled and the mission will be incredibly difficult to finish), and Impossible (You are so under levelled you can’t even attempt it because your attacks can’t even harm the enemies). The benefit to choosing a higher difficulty is that you get more experience and better equipment in the form of drops. The story missions themselves seem to follow a rather repetitive nature. You always in the same area on every planet and you must then ride your vehicle to a certain area, shoot some baddies, plant your Ghost to unlock a door while covering him from baddies, kill a mid-level boss, plant the Ghost again, and cover him from more baddies, and kill a level boss. This makes up about 90% of the story missions for Destiny, and it gets predictable and rather boring quickly. The enemies spawn in waves of mobs and the way to advance is killing them, and this is about the entirety of the main game. Once you finish them, there’s little incentive to go back and try them again.

The enemies in the game are made up of four factions, and you encounter them each as you go further along in the game. The Fallen, an alien race that is currently hounding Earth. The Hive, which is a mostly underground race of aliens that are enemies to Humanity and The Fallen. The Vex, a robotic race that operates on a Hive mind, and the Cabal, who are an Imperial race focused on dominating planets and aren’t above destroying planets if it suits their agenda (whatever that may be). As far as gameplay goes, there is no real distinction between these guys, apart from where you should aim to do more damage. As the story in the game really doesn’t flesh them out, it’s really difficult to talk about them each in detail, as they are rather uninteresting on their own. The only race that really gets any major attention is the Vex, who seem to be the main antagonists of sorts, and they are the only race whose weak point isn’t the head.

The bosses in the game are rather underwhelming, and the term “bullet-sponge” is really appropriate for them. Each boss pretty much runs in this form, they spawn with a yellow life bar, and are surrounded by infinitely spawning mobs. What it boils down to is shooting the boss as much as possible while occasionally killing off mobs for ammo drops or to thin the herd so that you don’t get overwhelmed. There’s really no danger for the bosses themselves; their attacks aren’t really dangerous, the ranged attacks are easy to dodge and any smart player would know to stay away from being in melee range except when pulling off a special. After fighting a boss long enough, it’s easy to find a pattern in their movements to exploit, so the only real question one has to ask is, “How much health does this guy have?” The bosses are really just tanks, slow moving enemies with a ton of health.

Aside from the main missions, there also exists Strikes, which are basically harder missions that require you to have a fireteam of three people. A fireteam is basically the game’s term for a party, a team of players that you are grouped with. You can set up a fireteam with your friends and coordinate with them to complete these strikes. Don’t have any friends available? That’s okay, because in Strike mode, the game will have the matchmaker group you up with two other people to complete the mission. There exists only one problem with this though; you cannot use voice chat with anyone you have been paired with in matchmaker, only with friends you have added to your fireteam. This is a serious issue, as it takes away the coordination aspect away, so unless everyone knows what they are doing, you can’t really communicate. This really takes away from the experience. As for the actual Strike missions, it’s nothing more than a longer, tougher story mission. I have even seen Strikes finished solo by some people who were levelled up enough.

If Strikes weren’t enough for you, there are the Raids. Raids are where things get interesting, the concept is that the players are given a general idea of an objective, and are sent off on their own. Little is given to you in the form of instruction, so it’s up to you and your team to figure things out and finish the raid. Raids are incredibly difficult to finish, as they are high levelled, long, and require 6 players to even attempt it. At the time of writing this review, there’s one out, and you have to be Level 25 to launch it. Raids also do not have the matchmaking aspect from Strikes, which was hand waved by Bungie as needing the voice chat ability to figure things out and coordinate as a team. This leads back to my previous point, they should have made voice chat available for matchmaking and we wouldn’t have this issue. As for the Raids themselves, they are as advertised, grindingly difficult and confusing without a guide. This isn’t bad, but the matchmaking issue really kills it, as you need 6 people to play them.

Aside from the missions, each planet has a “Patrol” mission, where you are set loose on the planet of your choosing and allows you to explore. From here, you can do a lot of things; you can go around and hunt enemies down, hoping for good drops. You could also take part in random community events that pop up, usually defense missions that bring people together and reward you with a nice bit of experience. You can also go around and look for collectables like “Dead Ghosts”, there are many of them spread around the different planets, and if you find enough of them, you can get a special item for your troubles. Other than that, it’s a mode used mostly for exploring, and (personally) taking in the wonderful setting and atmosphere that the game has.

Now, despite how lackluster the Campaign mode is, the Crucible multiplayer (on the other hand) is absolutely fantastic. The game puts you up against other players in different game modes with different objectives. There’s control, which is a game of capturing different bases with 6v6, and killing other players while having them captured for a point boost, and whatever reaches the point limit wins. There’s Rumble, which is a straight up deathmatch versus 5 other players and whoever reaches the point limit first wins. Skirmish, tactical deathmatch that is 3v3 and you have the ability to revive other players. And finally Clash, which is your basic TDM with no gimmicks, just 6v6. These modes are all simply fantastic and full of fun. Every match you win gets you Crucible points, which you can use to buy more equipment at the Tower, whilst also maxing out at 100 points a week so players don’t become too advantaged. The only issues I can find is that there are some bad lag at times which can lead to some unfair deaths, or the classic killing them after emptying a full clip into them. The Crucible, however, is honestly the best part about the game, and you will likely find yourself playing this mode for hours and gaining much experience from it.

Now with all that said, what is the overall objective of the game? Well, the game’s focus is on levelling up and getting good gear. You do these by completing missions and doing Crucible matches. In the beginning, the game treats itself like a typical level up system, you gain X amount of experience until you level up. Every time you level up, you can also upgrade your class and sub-class set ups. Basic, but it gets the job done. Your equipment also can level up while you use them, and they also gain perks of their own. And once you find better equipment, you can dismantle your old ones for parts to use on other pieces for upgrades. A pretty solid system that makes the game fun and engrossing to keep playing.

However, once you get to Level 20, things start getting weird. You no longer level up from XP at level 20, instead you have to acquire equipment that has a “light stat”. How do you find these pieces? Well, that’s when the game turns into a grind fest. You will find yourself constantly doing missions and Crucible matches over and over in order to find armor that has a higher light stat. This normally wouldn’t be an issue, but this all comes falling apart under how the game handles drops. It’s all 100% random. You could be doing a strike with your team and be the best performing player, and end up receiving nothing, while the teammate who died about 20 times could have ended up with an armor piece that has 30 points of light. The game doesn’t take performance into consideration, and just operates on completely random generation. That’s not good game design, that’s just lazy and a huge flaw. I have even seen players take advantage of the infinitely spawning enemies on Patrol missions, just sitting there for hours and killing them, hoping to get higher levels of armor. I’m sorry, but that’s not fun, and it’s a bad game mechanic when you have people relying on that.

When it comes to the story in the game, it’s hard to describe it as anything but a convoluted, confusing mess. You take the role of a resurrected Guardian whose duty is to defend the Traveler, an alien orb that floats over the tower in a dormant state, from the forces of Darkness. From what little the game gives you in story, it can be deducted that the humans were in a serious war with an extraterrestrial threat, and the Traveler came in and saved humanity from certain destruction. Its presence also terraformed nearby planets such as Mercury, Venus, and Mars. There is now only city left on Earth, appropriately named “The Last City” and it’s your job to push back the Darkness from killing the Traveler and finishing humanity off for good. You might be asking, “What is the Darkness, what happened to humanity, what the heck is going on?” Well, I’m sad to say that not only does the game not answer these questions, but it also has the audacity to hint that there is an answer to these questions, but you won’t find them anywhere in the game.

As far as the game’s moving plot is concerned, you and your Ghost run into a strange female Exo who warns you of a great evil known as the Black Garden, and tells you to go kill it. That’s all it really boils down to, the pre-mission dialogue does nothing to enrich the player in the lore, and will do nothing much more than confuse the player, which can be extremely frustrating to some gamers. The game does include some further story aspects not included in the actual game in the form of Grimoire Cards that can be earned in game and viewed online on Bungie’s main website. These do provide hours and hours of supplementary content to the game’s lore, and are quite interesting. However, this does not excuse the lack of story content in the actual game, as supplementary content is supposed to be just that, supplementary to a main product, but that product is severely lacking here.

One area where the game absolutely shines though is the setting. Oh my goodness. The game takes place on a few different areas, namely; Earth, Venus, The Moon, Mars, and currently only for multiplayer, Mercury. The amount of detail that has been put into these areas designs are simply breathtaking, you can see that the art team really put everything they had into making this game look absolutely gorgeous. I have to give a special mention to Venus, which is probably the most beautiful area in the game, with jungles that feel absolutely alive, plant life growing off of abandoned buildings, and rainfall that occasionally comes in to supplement it. This particular area of the game actually made me go into patrol mode just to explore and see just what was out there. Another area of special mention goes to the moon, which has probably the most detailed sky-box I have ever seen. You can actually see the Earth turning, as well as space debris always stays in view.

The music is wonderfully orchestrated and composed to each situation, as a matter of fact, I would be hard-pressed to say that there is not a single piece of music that didn’t get me into the moment, or got me pumped up for a boss fight. The music, composed by Martin O’Donnell is a shining example of how game orchestrations should be. Each piece is applied to each situation, and it felt that O’Donnell actually had sat through the game and wrote to it as opposed to being mixed in where appropriate. This soundtrack is so good that I would actually go out and buy myself a copy of it, only to find that as of the writing of this review, there is no copy of the soundtrack commercially available yet. This is disappointing, but only because the music is just that good.

Destiny is not a bad game; on the contrary, it’s a game with a wonderful combat system and in-depth upgrading abilities. But it’s a game that is holding back severely. My biggest issue with this game was the story, and this points to the fact that Destiny has been signed on for a 10-year plan with Activision, and there are already two expansion packs planned for release in the coming months. Bungie is constantly releasing more stuff to do on a weekly basis for free, and these expansion packs are expected to flesh out the game and the story far beyond what the game is currently offering. So why am I being so hard on it? Because a game needs to have solid aspects to make one interested in the first place. The base game has an extremely barebones story of good versus bad, and monotonous main missions that get rather dull quite fast. Not to mention a completely non-intuitive way of levelling up past 20. I have no doubt in the world that Bungie will fix these issues and give us even more in these expansion packs, but honestly, if it weren’t for the multiplayer, this would have been a lost cause. It wouldn't have been so bad if it were advertised as a Starter Pack, and I think that's a good description for what the game is. With all this being said, Destiny is a good game and I look forward to what the expansions hold in store.

Rating: 7

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

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