Bungie’s first title outside of the Halo franchise since Oni in 2001 has been one of the most eagerly awaited and heavily hyped games to ever take the medium’s stage. With that in mind, I know that nothing anyone says about it matters. No matter it’s problems or failings, it’ll be the commercial giant that Activision and Bungie have gambled and estimated over $500 million for development and advertising on. Tragically, that does not mean that it’s a game that can forgo review or if they’re not glowing that Activision won’t say that it’s only whiny internet trolls. You guessed it… this is apparently a whiny troll’s look at Destiny.
The Traveller, a giant, possibly sentient, celestial body was found on Mars and its discovery triggered a golden age of peaceful exploration and technological advancement that lasted for a hundred years. Then came The Collapse and The Traveller’s ancient enemy called The Darkness. The only known survivors on Earth were saved by The Traveller as it sacrificed itself. Now, 700 years later, The Traveller hovers dormant above the only safe city remaining on Earth and hostile aliens have taken residence in humanity’s ruins. Taking the mantle of a Guardian, who are given strange powers known as The Light taken from remnants of the dormant Traveller, you are tasked with the daunting challenge of defending the City, reclaiming the species place in the Universe and maybe one day reviving The Traveller itself.
Character creation offers three species to choose from, this selection only has cosmetic value. Humans have a standard militaristic look, reminiscent of the look in Bungie’s Halo series. Awoken are your basic Elven race, lighter armor and blue hued skin. Exo are self aware machines that pre-date the Collapse. After choosing a race there are three classes to choose from. Titans are the heavily armored giants, a standard warrior class. Hunters are more lightly armored and thinner, a standard rogue class. Warlocks are the lightest armored but have more special light powers from The Traveller, a standard wizard class. All classes use the same armor and weapons. Eventually, with leveling up, all the classes split into two subclasses and their skill trees eventually establishes great differences between all. It’s too bad that it takes so long for this difference to be really felt and appreciated. For far too long, class seems almost as meaningless as race selection and individualization takes almost to the soft level cap of 20 to really notice.
Gameplay is a solid, if generic, first person shooter offering. The controls are wonderfully responsive and tight on a level that is never seen on a console. Not once did it feel like everything would work better with a keyboard and mouse. Destiny offers some incredible firefights, tense and overwhelming odds as you blast your way into a Hive base… all of which become repeated so often that by the third time you start to wonder how you could have possibly found it interesting the first time around. While the first 3rd of the story missions pass quickly but even in the early stages the shadow of the coming repetitiveness starts to be cast over the proceedings once you realize you’ve shot your way through the path you are on four times already. Enemy AI is just too stupid to keep you on your toes. Enemies will take cover, try to flank or charge you directly. This never changes no matter how many times you go through these firefight. They only change up is on occasion they will deploy in a slightly different manner, it’s a nice break up if only it was because the AI was testing you and not because you’d blasted your way through the group three times already.
The graphics can be breathtaking. When you first enter an area it is absolutely gorgeous. The background and distant views promise fantastic and unique places to explore. You never get to any of these locations. You instead spend your time on what is really one large map on each planet, running from the same starting point through the grounds your past missions took place to a new corridor or cavern. After a short while the maps begin to look their generic reality as you stumble through the same firefights a dozen times. Coming across another player on a map is one of the highlights as you can either briefly team up or sit back, allow them to blast their way through and wait for the enemies to respawn before taking your go through an area. Tragically there’s no fall in or out team ups, meaning if someone comes on into your open map firefight that you’ve spent the last 10 minutes fighting through, they can grab the lone drop your trying to get, leaving you to repeat it all over again… and sometimes again…
Boss fights, especially in strikes, are some of the most boring ever put in a shooter. Every boss is a giant bullet sponge. You can hammer away at them for nearly a half hour in story mode, and even longer in strikes. To make matters worse, after blasting away for twenty minutes, you will often get hit with a one-shot-kill blast, which requires you to start the whole damn thing over again. This isn’t immersive, it isn’t a challenge… it’s just cheap.
While there is nothing wrong with a little grind, Destiny relies on it too much as you approach the end of the story missions. If you thought that the endless revisits to areas was bad in the normal course of the game, the grinding through them for hours just get get a single level up is almost torture. Thankfully, Bungie must have realized this as they also allow you to level up, and at a much faster pace, in their PvP arena known as The Crucible. Like most of Destiny the PvP is strangely limited. There are eleven maps in the Playstation releases and ten on the Xbox releases with four modes that unlock as you play. PvP is a mixed balance. While most weapons and armor rates are balanced out, there is no balancing for special skills. So while skill can be a major factor, a splash damage attack can also wipe everyone else out in a matter of seconds. There’s also a strange lack of competitiveness in PvP. Regardless of how you do, you receive a fair amount of experience and the lack of leaderboards, an odd oversight from Bungie that the community has been quick to rectify on their own with leaderboard tracking sites, take the edge off of it. So even the most embarrassing beating your team takes is still a completely worthwhile use of time.
Besides the beautiful backgrounds, Destiny’s strongest element is its score. It swells and falls and blends seamlessly into the experience. Martin O’Donnell has pulled off an amazing feat with it. If only Bungie had point the same amount of care into the script. It’s lazy and often nonsensical. Too often it goes for a sci-fi nonsense that they often tell you they can’t be bothered explaining. One of the first lines uttered is “I don’t have time to explain why I don’t have time to explain”. It’s almost insulting how little Bungie has bothered to flesh out this universe. Almost as sad as how underused the majority of the genre favorite stuffed voice cast is. Gina Torres, Nathan Fillion, Bill Nighy, Peter Stormare, Lance Reddick and Claudia Black all have a few lines but they come and go so fast it’s a wonder that they even to shell out the cost for them. Almost the whole of Destiny’s narrative drive is placed solely on Peter Dinklage’s performance of Ghost, your AI sidekick. To his credit, Dinklage has some great reading that in a lesser actor would have just sounded as goofy as it really is. Tragically, these moments are few and far between and many of the lines you hear most often must have come at the end of a long day of recording as he sounds barely awake.
Bungie has spent many hours talking about Destiny’s social aspects. After hours of playing, I still have no idea what they were talking about. The only chat is when you are in a fireteam and only with your fireteam. Outside of it you are limited to waving, pointing or dancing. This isn’t social interaction, it’s just goofing. The social hub area is completely pointless, unless you want to just point at others. There is no sound there, no text communications to find a team. For a title that has spent so much time and effort to talk about it’s social element, it’s distinctly lacking.
To be completely fair, I don’t think today’s Destiny will be the same beast it will be a year from now. Bungie’s ambition seems to have over reached their skill but they’re also playing a long game here so maybe it’s really too early to call it a hit or miss. Maybe the future plans will raise Destiny to something resembling the experience that we’ve been promised since it was first officially announced back in 2011. Maybe no one will care by then.
Destiny- 7/10 There’s a lot of potential for the future here but it’s just not there yet.