Platform: PS4 (tested), PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360 | Available: Now
Surely Destiny needs little introduction at this point. Bungie’s first post-Halo release has been making international headlines for its high level of ambition, and even higher budget. The much anticipated launch seems to have been a huge success and the game has been trending on twitter for so long that I’m sure even my grandparents have heard of it by now. But just in case you’ve spent the last few years in a coma, here’s the basic rundown. Destiny is a genre-busting, epic sci-fi title that seeks to combine the humble First-Person Shooter (or FPS) with a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (or MMORPG for short). In other words it’s the world’s first MMOFPSRPG—a title we’re sure will catch on—and one of the biggest releases of the year
Style over substance
Last week we gave our first impressions of Destiny just a few days after it had been released. Now we’ve spent a full week with Destiny and are ready to give our final verdict. In that time we’ve spent somewhere in the vicinity of 30 to 40 hours exploring everything the game has to offer. We’ve finished the single-player campaign including every co-op ‘Strike’ mission, played countless PvP matches in the ‘Crucible’, and have been grinding our Warlock to a respectable level 23. Our initial opinion was mostly positive, but the big question is whether that good first impression has held up after spending more time with Destiny, or if it has fallen flat. The answer is… complicated.
Most of the things we initially liked about Destiny haven’t changed. Visually it’s an incredible looking game with the mind-boggling level of polish and attention to detail that you would expect from the most expensive game ever made. It wouldn’t be accurate to say that Destiny looks realistic, but only because it looks so perfect at times that the aesthetics could only be described as ‘beyond reality’. Every nook and cranny is so bright, colorful, and carefully arranged that you can’t really buy it as a living, breathing world. Instead it’s like stepping onto the set of a movie or television sitcom. You can’t fault it in any way, but at the same time you’re aware that it’s been constructed for your entertainment. It doesn’t look like real people could live there.
“It’s like stepping onto a movie set, You’re aware it’s been constructed for your entertainment.”
Smoke and mirrors
When you first start Destiny you may be excited and even overwhelmed by the grand sense of scale that developers Bungie present you with. Even games famous for their large open worlds such as Grand Theft Auto or Skyrim are limited to mere cities or kingdoms. Destiny on the other hand promises to take you on an epic adventure spanning the decaying ruins of Earth, the Moon, Venus and Mars. When you arrive on one of these planets for the first time, a stunning view stretches out to the horizon before you that is nothing short of breathtaking. You’ll peer excitedly into the distance at a mysterious alien landscape, or look down from the Tower (Destiny’s ‘social hub’ area) at the last remaining human city below and wonder what it must be like to explore. Unfortunately, much of this initial sense of scale turns out to be nothing but smoke and mirrors, like a matte painting of a sprawling metropolis outside the window of the meticulous movie set that you can never reach.
Everything the light touches… well, a small part of it, is our kingdom.
Each of the game’s four planets (ok, technically the Moon isn’t a planet) features just one—albeit quite large—playground to roam around in. It’s hard not to feel cheated by this fact when the game sets itself up as an epic space opera spanning multiple planets. Imagine a Star Wars MMO where you could only visit the rebel base on Hoth, Mos Eisley, the Dagobah swamp, and the Death Star. No matter how good it was, it would feel somewhat incomplete. This limitation felt especially restrictive on our own home planet, where you are confined to the snowy area around an old Russian cosmodrome. As impressive as this area might be, it certainly would have been nice to see the ruins of other well-known locations, or to visit ‘The City’ to see what everyday life is like in this final bastion of human civilization.
Words that rhyme with Corey…
If you were hoping for a well written, in-depth story to make up for the limitations and shortcomings in Destiny’s universe, then I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed yet again. As I already touched on in our Destiny Review in Progress article, I felt that the story was mostly generic, bland and obscure. Unfortunately spending more time with Destiny did nothing to change that perception. I was hoping Bungie might shed some more light on the poorly-explained characters and story elements later in the game, but such clarification never came. From start to finish, Destiny’s plot is hard to follow, if you can even be bothered that is.
Particularly keen players can learn additional details about Destiny’s lore by reading weapon or item descriptions, as well as ‘Grimoire Cards’ which are unlocked by completing missions, though as far as I could tell, these aren’t accessible within the game itself and can only be viewed by visiting Bungie’s website. Even if these do provide additional insight it seems like an inconvenient way to tell a story. Ultimately we’d have preferred a greater explanation within the game’s cutscenes themselves which are extremely hard to follow when viewed in isolation. Character motivations, the introduction of new alien races, and important events are quickly alluded to, only to be forgotten about moments later. Essentially this means Destiny has to rely on the strength of its gameplay to pull players through the campaign where its lackluster storytelling fails to do so.
I can partly understand the decision to keep a game’s story somewhat ambiguous. Not only can it allow the action to shine through (which is mostly excellent in Destiny), it can also create a sense of mystique that will motivate players to discover more about the world at their own pace. Dark Souls is a great example where a vague story can create an alluring sense of mystery and curiosity. Unfortunately this is a fine line for developers to walk and Destiny’s vague story will frustrate and confuse players more than it will intrigue them.
“…the plot reeks of ‘writing by committee’.”
This confusion goes beyond the player, all the way to Destiny’s voice actors. Peter Dinklage—best known for playing Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones—is frankly awful as your robotic ‘ghost’ sidekick. Clearly he’s a decent actor, so the best explanation seems that he simply couldn’t decipher (or stomach) the nonsensical script, a theory that is backed up by his general tone which ranges from bored to contemptuous. Personally I would have liked Bungie to spend less money on hiring big-name actors and more on decent science fiction writers. Overall the plot reeks of ‘writing by committee’. It’s safe, boring and ultimately forgettable.
Rinse and repeat
Did we mention that Destiny is jaw-droppingly gorgeous?
Adding to an already overwhelming sense of disconnection is the nature of Destiny’s gameplay which, while generally top notch, feels incredibly ‘gamey’. Enemies spawn in the same positions and in the same numbers every time you return to an area for a new mission. Even once you’ve killed them, they will respawn back at the same spot just moments later. There’s no drop ship, or portal, or any other reasonable explanation for how they regenerated, they’re just there… because videogame. There’s also a distinct lack of variety within Destiny’s single-player campaign. For a game with so much going on visually, it presents an extremely linear, even generic, FPS experience. Missions generally consist of heading to a location marker on your radar, where you’ll have to protect Dinklage-bot from waves of enemies as he scans/hacks/unlocks some poorly-explained object which we can only assume is crucial to the survival of mankind. A more coherent story might have helped give us some context and motivation for these events, but as it stands Destiny rarely feels like more than a very pretty shooting gallery. Now, you might be sitting there wondering how vague and incomprehensible the story could really be? Well at one point a character tells you they don’t even have time to explain why they don’t have time to explain. Is that vague enough for you? Sigh.
So far our Destiny review has been rather negative for a game that gave us such a good first impression, but despite its shortcomings there is much to admire and enjoy about Destiny too. In addition to its aforementioned supermodel looks, Destiny has tight, responsive controls and combat mechanics that make it a true joy to play. Good controls might sound like the most basic ingredient of a decent game, but they can be surprisingly difficult for developers to get right. A great game should be fun just to move around in, regardless of your current mission or objective. In this way, games are a lot like cars. An everyday family car like a Toyota Camry might have ‘adequate’ handling that can get its driver from A to B, but a tight-handling sportscar—say a Mazda MX5—is fun to drive for its own sake. Just like Mazda’s beloved roadster, Bungie have skillfully used their previous FPS expertise to ensure that Destiny feels just right. Pressing the crouch button while sprinting initiates a lovely slide along the ground that I gleefully used at every opportunity. Gliding with your jet-pack takes some getting used to, but is similarly enjoyable once you get the hang of it. Class ‘super’ abilities, such as the Warlock’s Nova Bomb are also immensely satisfying to unleash on an unexpecting enemy or three. Perhaps best of all though is the melee attack. It’s hard to put into words why it feels so gratifying, but I always went out of my way to use it, even when shooting from a distance was the much safer option.
Destiny’s responsive control system handles like an MX5 as opposed to a Camry.
Another positive feature of Destiny is it’s addictive loot system for acquiring new weapons and gear. After just having finished Diablo 3, I initially felt it was a bit frugal in its drop rate, however the more time I spent with it the more it grew on me. I enjoyed hunting for new gear to customise my guardian and liked how I could level up and modify weapons to increase their rate of fire or extend their range with different scopes. After finishing the campaign I found that I was motivated enough (or addicted enough) to keep replaying Strike missions numerous times to grind for new gear. It can be repetitive, but the unpredictable nature of playing cooperatively adds some replayability.
The main reason you’ll want to keep coming back to Destiny however is its online multiplayer arena known as ‘The Crucible’. As we mentioned in our Destiny Review in Progress, we were a little disappointed at the lack of game types and customization options, though the maps you’ll battle on live up to Bungie’s pedigree of excellent design, and combat is generally solid. One small criticism we have is that the way player levels and gear are balanced online is not very well explained. The game type descriptions state that level bonuses are not taken into consideration, but clearly weapons, gear and abilities that you unlock can be used within The Crucible. Even if the damage is scaled, this seems to give an unfair advantage to more experienced players with better gear and abilities. Combined with the obvious advantage of already having more knowledge and experience, this could be quite off-putting to some new or casual players. In the end though, the playing field should be leveled somewhat once everyone hits the level cap and acquires some decent gear.
In an excellent IGN interview with Hideki Kamiya, the director of the Bayonetta and Devil May Cry series’ explains his personal game design theory. “You don’t create a game by trying to find the faults in it and eliminating those, but by finding the places that are great and making them even better”. To me this highlights both the core problems and successes of Destiny. On the one hand it is a game that has been polished almost to the point of technical perfection, making it feel as if its developers have devoted too much energy on eliminating faults rather than spending time creating bigger worlds or a more coherent story. On the other hand, Destiny is hugely entertaining when it focuses on the elements that it does best, such as tight, satisfying combat.
Destiny is probably the hardest game we’ve ever attempted to review. It’s strengths and weakness are so contrasting that it seems almost arbitrary to assign it a score. The simple fact is that some people will love it while others will hate it. Make no mistake though, Destiny is a superbly well-crafted game that is fun and compelling in its own ways if you can get past it’s problems. It’s easy to get caught up in—and ultimately be disappointed by—the huge level of hype that has surrounded the game’s development, but our goal is to judge Destiny on what it is, rather than what it isn’t. After all, I thought the first few Halo games had pretty forgettable stories, but that didn’t stop me from pouring more time into them than I’ve probably spent on any series before or since. Destiny can feel like being on a ride at Disneyland. It’s gorgeous to look at and loads of fun, even though deep-down you know it’s a linear experience within a carefully controlled environment. How much you care about this sense of disconnection will determine how much you enjoy Destiny. Anyone looking for full-immersion in an epic sci-fi world will be let down, while those who just want a ride on Space Mountain will have the time of their lives.
- Achingly gorgeous, one of the best looking games of this generation
- Tight, responsive controls make movement and combat a joy
- Multiplayer modes should keep you busy for quite some time
- The story is often obscure and leaves a lot to be desired
- Dinklage-bot’s voice acting is generally pretty terrible
- You’ll need to backtrack and redo missions for better gear