To say that Destiny was riding on the wings of high expectations would be an understatement. Afterall, it’s the big new brand from the creators of Halo that’s being published by Acitivision, who is best known for the Call of Duty series. It has been my observation that this new generation is almost bloodthirsty for “next-gen” content, with more people than ever buying into new IPs that have been subject to major advertisement. It’s great to see people excited, don’t get me wrong, but this process has clearly set the precedence for “over-hype.” As a result, I knew this wasn’t going to be an easy game to review, and doubly so as Destiny is meant to be a 10-year project. For these reasons, I want to clarify that this review is strictly based on my impressions of the launch content, so all my conclusions are subject to change.
Destiny envisages a future where humans discover an alien entity known as “The Traveller,” during a present day mission on Mars. Conveniently, this entity turns out to be somewhat benevolent, and proceeds to help humanity advance their technological capabilities, as well as terraform near-by planets for colonisation. This era is what history now refers to as the “Golden Age,” as the game is set beyond this time; beyond the “Collapse,” a currently unexplained end to prosperity. As it turns out, The Traveller was actually hiding in our solar system because of another entity known as “The Darkness” – which we now know is responsible for the post-apocalyptic state of the world. 700 years into the future, The Traveller is weak, dormant, and only able to protect one remaining city, which is the hub of all life in the solar system. This is where “Ghosts” come into the picture, who actively seek out people who can harness The Travellers light to combat The Darkness. We refer to them as “Guardians,” and they are our last hope for survival.
Overall, it’s a solid premise for what’s meant to be an on-going experience; even if it’s laced with quite a few cheesy cliches. I do however appreciate that the game doesn’t single you out as the only chosen one, but instead embraces that there are lots of other Guardians too. The problem from here though, is that this is the most detailed explanation you’re going to get from the launch content. The narrative of the game is unreasonably thin and primarily delivered through forgettable dialogue via a Ghost (voiced by Peter Dinklage), that follows you around talking the entire game. Basically, the launch content acts almost entirely as a way to introduce you to the universe, the alien species within (conveniently, a different race occupying each planet), as well as a couple of potential antagonists – there are almost no definitive conclusions. This doesn’t mean there isn’t a deeper lore to discover though; the problem, however, is you’ll need to read about it via the mobile app or website. There is a lot of narrative potential, but it’s currently wasted.
When Bungie first explained that Destiny would be a “Shared-World Shooter,” I don’t think many of us quite understood what that meant – “so it’s an MMO, but not an MMO?” I heard many people ask after the announcement. However, that’s exactly how I would best describe it too; having played it now. You will often encounter other players, but it is not a big open-world with a consistent online population. It’s more like a seamless version of the multiplayer in Dark Souls where you will team up with people temporarily, but not really talk or interact. Furthermore, the game is split into three core components: story, “PVE” (Strikes, Patrols & Raids), and “PVP” (Crucible), as well as a place called “The Tower”; a social hub where players can purchase items and equipment, decrypt engrams, and manage bounties.
Story missions can be played either solo or with friends, and must be completed to unlock additional planets; of which there are currently four: Earth, The Moon, Venus and Mars. “Patrol” mode subsequently provides the player with open access to each planet, as well as generic missions which can be completed for experience. It’s also the most tedious component of the game too. Alternatively, “Strike” missions are intended for co-op, placing several players against a trudge of difficult enemies in order to face a unique boss; these missions are further expanded in the “Vanguard” for additional rewards. Finally, there is the “Crucible” (PVP) which currently has four match types over ten maps. It’s a lot of fun to play with friends, but it doesn’t reinvent the genre. It’s precisely what you’d expect from the creators of Halo.
Fundamentally, Destiny is well designed and incredibly approachable. In fact, so much that I could see even the most casual FPS/MMO players taking no time at all to get their head around it. You begin by selecting one of three classes: “Warlock,” “Titan” or “Hunter,” followed by a character creation process similar to Mass Effect. While your appearance is just for superficial reasons, the classes do provide the player with unique perks, special abilities, equipment, and boost jump variations. From experience, the different classes will alter the way you play the game, but to date there are no missions that mandate a combination of these classes, which I thought was a wasted opportunity. With the first “Raid” inbound soon, I hope Bungie uses it and additional content to further define the strategic value of each class.
Overall, there are actually a lot of smaller design choices I appreciate. For example, I like how clean and simple the menus are, and that the game never burdens you with too much micromanagement. I also really like the freedom of the large open gun battles, as well as the darkness zones which raise the stakes by preventing quick respawning. Simply put, there is a lot of core ideas that Bungie got right and will only get better with time. The problem, however, is that no matter how good the fundamental design is, it’s going to be quickly overlooked if the main content of the game feels cheap. To clarify, there is very little variation to the core missions, with the majority comprised of driving across the map on your sparrow, deploying your ghost, and then fighting hordes of enemies until its finished fixing something. If you’re playing with friends, you may be less likely to notice this as the game absolutely thrives socially, but when playing solo and relying more on narrative, it becomes clear how underwhelming the launch content really is.
I’ve never had more fun playing a modern shooter with friends than I have with Destiny, which probably sounds a bit surprising given the aforementioned discussion of lacklustre exposition and repetitive mission structure. Mechanically speaking, Destiny has been absolutely a delight to play. The weapons feel empowering, gun battles are often chaotic and exciting, the AI is more intelligent than most, and the space players are given to experiment with helps to alleviate even the most stubborn genre fatigue. It actually reminds me a lot of Halo: CE in terms of the battle scenarios, which is something I really liked about it. I don’t think the vehicles have quite as much of an impact on gameplay as in the Halo series, but I also can’t deny how awesome it feels to just jump on a sparrow and speed off into the distance.
Loot also plays a large role in Destiny, with new equipment, items and engrams (encrypted loot) being picked up by all players on a regular basis. It’s not quite to the extreme that other games such as Diablo or Borderlands take it, but it’s still apart of the fun, and definitely helps to drive the endgame as special equipment is the only way to move beyond the current level cap. I could easily feel the difference between each of the weapons, as well as the improvements that the upgrades can unlock for each gun. I did find the variety for each type a little lacking though, so I’m hoping that is something that will be improved with new content. Where Destiny shines brightest though, in my opinion, are the boss fights – with Phogoth standing out in particular. I’m hoping the upcoming raids can take this positive one step further!
From the decaying ruins of Old Russia on Earth to the vast orange oceans of Venus, the landscapes are often quite breathtaking to explore; which is not how I ever thought I would be describing a big dusty rock such as the moon. Destiny is a beautiful game no matter how you look at it, with a near-perfect harmony of graphical prowess and art style that blend together to create a universe which feels unique. It’s arguably the best looking game on consoles to date, and I have to admit that I was very impressed that both the PS4 and Xbox One versions of the game ended up looking almost identical. As I was playing through the main campaign, I was consistently excited to unlock the next planet, just to see what it looked like; naturally, leaving me feeling disappointed as there are only four available so far.
In terms of character models, alien designs, weapons and all of the smaller elements that populate the universe, I think they’re all pretty decent; albeit a little repetitive at this point in time. The music and sound design, on the other hand, hits the nail on the head; despite the departure of Marty O’Donnell. My gripe, however, is the voice acting. I’m sorry to say, but Peter Dinklage’s voice work is just dreadful. It feels as if Bungie got him in a room one day to rattle off some lines, without any context, and then added a robot filter and a few R2D2 sounds to make it sound better. The ghost never stops talking, and it all blurs into one big monotonous drone by the time you reach the moon; which is a problem as that’s the primary method of story telling. Destiny needs a lot more NPC-life in general at this point in time.
Fundamentally speaking, Destiny is a well-designed and approachable game. It’s filled with interesting mechanics, rewarding gameplay, breathtaking visuals, and fantastic online support. In fact, it’s arguably the most successful online launch of all time – props to Bungie! However, if you look more closely at the launch content itself, you’ll discover a lot of woeful narrative exposition and repetitive mission design. Does this mean that Destiny is an average game? Well, right now, technically speaking; sort of. Everything that is currently wrong with the game can be improved with updates and new content, and Bungie is one of the best developers out there when it comes to community support. Destiny was promised to be an evolving experience, and I am optimistic of it’s potential; even if it’s far from realised.
Please Note: This review was based on the Xbox One version of the game, and purchased at retail by the writer for the purpose of review.