When Bungie first announced that it was handing the reigns of its Halo franchise to Microsoft and 343 Industries, the gaming world waited with bated breath to see what the venerable studio would come up with next. It was soon revealed that Bungie signed a ten year deal with Activision to publish its new IP and subsequent games, and that it would be working on another sci-fi influenced FPS title. That little project morphed into Destiny, and as Bungie released assets for it, its hype and fan excitement steadily increased to a boiling point that all came to a head on September 9, 2014 when the game was unleashed upon the eager gaming public.
The hype paid off from a sales stand point with the game setting all sorts of sales records for a new IP, officially making it a success, but its reception by fans and critics has been mixed at best. Many feel let down by the relatively weak narrative and the repetitive nature of Destiny’s mission structure, but that hasn’t stopped gamers from logging over 100 million hours with the game in just one short week, so can it really be as vanilla and lackluster as others have reported?
The answer is a confusing yes and no, but Destiny is far from a poor video game experience. It is easily one the most mechanically sound and fun-to-play games released this year, and for the first time on consoles gamers have a true FPS MMO to play that can keep them busy for the foreseeable future if they want to explore all that Destiny has to offer after the game fully unlocks at level 20.
Bungie definitely has another hit on its hands with Destiny, but the hype factor and weak narrative have damaged its reputation with more than a few gamers. This oversight is a shame because the world Bungie created has amazing potential for lore, and there’s no reason why its narrative can’t be as deep and fleshed out as Halo’s, which has gone on to spawn multiple sequels, books, a live action web series, and a soon to be released web series based on Halo 5. Destiny’s campaign just doesn’t fill in the gaps enough to keep you highly engaged and attached to the world and how your Guardian (the last protectors of the Traveler and humanities only city) fits into it.
A majority of the lore is found through the game’s Grimoire cards, which can only be read on Bungie.net, so unlike other MMOs that have text for you to read in-game to flesh out its lore and characters, Destiny forces you to leave the game and read about it online, which just doesn’t bode well for an engaging narrative. It would have been nice if the game employed some sort of codex system for these cards similar to what was done in the Mass Effect franchise, because at least then you could read up on the game’s universe without having to leave the game world itself.
There is a clear lack of cutscenes and dialogue to help progress the plot and develop the main characters, and you really don’t get any juicy story details until almost five hours in, but by that time you’ve already checked out of the narrative and have shifted your focus to just enjoying the stellar first person shooter gameplay that Bungie is known for. Every main character you meet is generic, which is also reflected in their names, with characters sporting monickers such as the Speaker, the Traveler, the Queen, and other non-descriptive titles.
Outside of the opening cutscene that glosses over the tale of the Traveler, which is a sentient AI that allowed humans to become highly advanced space explorers, Destiny doesn’t offer much more detail about what the Traveler really is, why something called the Darkness is hunting it down, and why other races of aliens hate humans and embrace the Darkness. Bungie created four alien factions all with unique appearances and fighting styles, but not once are you ever given much detail about them in the game itself. It’s never clear why the Hive hate humans, whey the Fallen hate humans, or how any of the races are involved with the Darkness.
Bungie really missed an opportunity to weave another fantastic and highly memorable sci-fi video game narrative in Destiny, but in the end the game plays extremely well, and features the same type of addictive loot-based dungeon gameplay that keeps Diablo 3 players running through the game over and over again to perfect their loadouts and increase their legend. The campaign is probably the weakest component of Destiny’s gameplay modes, mainly because of the issues described above, but also due to the repetitive nature of the missions. Every single mission features the exact same structure. You retread familiar locations on Earth, the Moon, Venus, and Mars until you find the new location for a specific mission. Once that is found you then have to scan something with your Ghost, who is lazily voiced by Peter Dinklage, which then kicks off a scripted battle between waves of enemies that must be conquered to progress. This formula is present throughout each mission, which compounds the weak narrative issue thanks to the lack of mission variety in the campaign. Sprinkling in a vehicle based mission, or just alternate objectives to scanning things would have been a welcomed change of pace.
Although, the controls, visuals, and co-op gameplay are all top-notch, which helps to ease the pain of the uninspired narrative and the repetitive missions. Bungie once again has shown why its billed as one of the premiere FPS video game designers on the planet. The gunplay is tight and responsive, and the three available classes (Titan, Hunter, Warlock) all have unique loadouts to set themselves apart from each other. Mowing down enemies with friends to gain loot is a blast, and can definitely lead to overly long gameplay sessions if you allow it.
Destiny also looks mesmerizing on both the Xbox One and PS4 thanks to the vibrant color palettes used in each location, and the detail of the environments, enemy factions, and the Guardians themselves. There are no framerate issues to be seen, so the twitchy firefights are seamless, which is crucial because Destiny is littered with them. The masterful soundtrack and audio design also help to round out Destiny’s high level of polish, even if it has hints of Halo’s musical scores within it (in general that game does share many similarities with Halo).
Outside of the campaign, players also have Strikes, Patrols, Raids, and PVP modes to explore to earn more loot and upgrades. These modes are all key once you reach level 20, which is the point where Destiny really begins to open up in terms of scoring high-end Legendary equipment to boost your Guardian past the level cap. The process of earning Vanguard reputation and marks to do so is a bit confusing and unclear like the narrative, but the allure of finding purple Legendary loot is enough to keep you grinding away in Destiny’s various game modes for quite some time.
It would have been appreciated if Bungie did a better job of explaining how Guardians must level up once they hit 20, because the process isn’t clear at all and involves equipping items with Light Points to do so. Without a bit of reading and talking with friends I really wouldn’t have fully understood how to go about increasing my Guardian’s prowess post level 20, which shouldn’t be required, and is another oversight on Bungie’s part.
Strikes are easily the most fun aspect of Destiny, as they resemble a traditional dungeon looter experience. You and up to two other players take on a set of objectives en route to battling a menacing boss at the end of each Strike mission. These affairs are the only way to unlock Vanguard marks, which are needed to buy advanced Vanguard weaponry and armor, so they become a staple to your Destiny diet once you hit level 20. The Strikes are very challenging, especially if you don’t have a full Fire Team, and they really can’t be completed alone due to the difficulty, but by completing one you will be graced with a feeling of accomplishment that is typically shared with your teammates through a Guardian dance or salute of approval. The bosses are very formidable and require teamwork for any chance of survival, which does make Strikes feel like a strategic community oriented MMO experience, albeit a lite one at that.
The MMO nature of Destiny really shines in the game’s Patrol mode and the Tower, which is a gathering place for Guardians to buy goods, get bounties (specific mission criteria objectives that yield XP), and have dance offs with other Guardians. Patrols allow Guardians to freely explore each of the main planets and complete mini-missions for XP. The reason this mode exudes Destiny’s MMO aspects so well is due to its random Public Events, which appear on the map and signal every player on the map to a marker to kick off the action. These events usually entail taking out waves of advanced enemies, a singular super duper tough enemy, or protecting a location on the map. Seeing multiple random Guardians join in on the action gives you a sense of camaraderie, and perfectly illustrates Destiny’s MMO nature. The Patrol missions themselves are rather generic and repetitive, but they do offer an alternate method for gaining XP, at least before you hit level 20, so they’re worth experiencing to complete a bounty, or to score some quick XP.
In addition to its MMO gameplay modes Destiny also features a PVP arena called the Crucible for players to test their Guardians against other Guardians. The Crucible is the game’s traditional competitive multiplayer mode, and features similar match types to other shooters such as deathmatch, team deathmatch, and at least one control point game mode. In the Crucible players can earn XP and items that carry over to the core game, which is a nice feature to allow players to level up their Guardian in any manner they see fit. The matches are balanced, so player stats and loadouts don’t give advantages to those who have put more time into the game, but there will be a game mode that allows Guardians to test their might in a true setting with no handicaps in place.
Overall, the Crucible features solid multiplayer FPS gameplay, but it’s missing the hook that franchises like Halo and Call of Duty have to keep players coming back for more and more. I just never felt like playing PVP matches because the other modes are so much fun, or it could be because I suck at multiplayer and don’t like getting my ass kicked over and over again, but for some reason Destiny’s traditional competitive multiplayer mode just feels like an add-on, and not a fully detailed experience that will keep gamers in its clutches for months beyond its release.
Destiny is a very challenging game to review thanks to its polarizing campaign, its pre-release hype (our review isn’t based on hype factor though), and the murky details surrounding the leveling process past level 20. With that being said it’s a fantastic video game experience that has all the potential in the world to be gaming’s next big franchise. Considering gamers have already logged 100 million hours in just a week the game is being played, and played a lot, so contrary to what you may have read in other reviews the game isn’t a flop, or a crappy title by any means. Narrative and repetitive mission structure issues aside, the game still packs in amazing FPS gunplay that can be enjoyed, if not enhanced by playing with friends, and its loot system will ensure that you keep playing long after the credits roll on the main campaign.
Bungie’s latest video game definitely has a “one more level” mechanic to it, making it very hard to put down even though you’re essentially grinding through the same maps and enemies over and over again in hopes of leveling up and finding Legendary loot. This formula should be very familiar to MMO fans, but those of us who haven’t spent much time in a large open world with other players may find the lack of an engaging story and repetitive grinding to be off putting at first. I for one did, but as I kept playing and got to level 20 I realized how much fun I had doing so, and I curiously found myself wanting more, and have had a hard time putting down my controller since.
Destiny’s massive hype train surely led to the dissatisfaction many gamers felt after finally playing it for the first time last week, but like wine, Destiny gets better with age and by sharing it with friends. The introduction of Raids this week will only add to the game’s high replayability factor (Vault of Glass reportedly takes 12-14 hours for six level 26 Guardians to complete), and Bungie also has two expansion packs in the works to add to the game’s lore and challenge, so for $60 its full of entertainment value. Bungie may have made some odd choices with the game’s design, especially its narrative, but in the end the developer has crafted another masterful video game experience that offers gamers plenty of content to play in 2014 and beyond. Read past the headlines by playing the game for yourself and formulate your own opinion, because like me, there’s a great chance you’ll end up falling in love with Destiny the more you play it thanks to the care and effort Bungie poured into it.
“Making you a better geek, one post at a time!”
Review Statement: This review is based off of the Xbox One version of the game that the author paid for, as well as snippets of the PS4 version that was furnished by the publisher.