Video game development is hard, and it takes a lot to come up with the next hit franchise.
While Bungie struck gold with Halo, all the way back on the original Xbox, its attempt to reclaim the spotlight and kickstart another must-have franchise with Destiny hasn’t gone as well as it’d hoped. Some people love the game, which mixes first-person shooting and light-RPG mechanics with social elements and an always-online world, but the general consensus claims that the studio’s latest opus is decent, yet unspectacular. If you were to ask me, I’d tell you exactly the same thing, and here’s why.
Destiny is yet another romp in science fiction for a developer that loves it so dearly. Its storyline focuses on a planet-like being called the Traveller, which has an effect on the galaxies that it visits. In fact, its mere presence in our solar system has allowed human beings to exceed what was once thought possible, by leaving Earth and colonizing other planets efficiently. Amazing stuff has happened since the entity first appeared, but not everything is as perfect as it seems. Darkness has pursued the Traveller throughout time and space, and has once again discovered its position.
After choosing to be either a powerful Titan, a magical Warlock or a rogue-like Hunter, players are given the opportunity to create their own unique avatars. Once that’s completed, they’re introduced to the Traveller, its lore and its companions, the latter of which includes a floating piece of technology that calls itself a Ghost. It’s at this point that the game’s basic premise is outed, explained and set in motion, and where interesting things are promised. The problem is that this is the most interesting and thought-provoking moment of the entire campaign.
Those who buy Destiny hoping for a rich, deep and thought-provoking narrative will be disappointed, because that’s simply not what’s offered here. You see, the experience is lacking in quite a few ways, including depth, intrigue and creativity. In fact, the small cast of important characters who are introduced along the way are ultimately forgettable, with everyone but the Ghost itself lacking personality. Even our main character — who we should feel like while playing — only speaks a handful of lines and feels more like an avatar than a real being. In a game such as this, it’s important that players encompass those who they control, but my blue-skinned and orange-eyed Titan always felt like a means to an end and nothing more.
There are occasional moments of interest to be found in the campaign and its interplanetary reach, but they’re few and far between. Cutscenes are uncommon, and most of the narrative you’ll encounter will come from the Peter Dinklage-voiced Ghost, as you fly from one place to another. At the end of the last mission, I felt underwhelmed. I’d never become attached to the plight of the Traveller, the fight against the Darkness, or my character’s life in this science-fiction infused world. If only there had been some kind of hook…
As mentioned above, Destiny is a first-person, massively multiplayer shooter. This means that you’re not alone in the experience, or insulated with just a few friends. Others are out there, and you’ll come across them on occasion, especially during trips to the Tower, the game’s rather confined and uninteresting hub. However, even with this design, the game’s worlds feel barren. For some reason, Bungie’s development team chose to limit the amount of players that one will encounter during missions, possibly in an effort to keep things challenging. If that’s the reason, then it kind of makes sense, but it doesn’t help make the experience feel more social.
Story missions are restricted to fireteams of three, with no matchmaking to speak of. As such, you’ll have to make sure that some of your friends have purchased the game if you want to avoid having to go it alone.
When I started, the few friends who were online were already ahead of me, so I didn’t bother them with fireteam requests and just went out on my own. I didn’t mind that, because I’m normally not a very social gamer, and I generally prefer to play campaigns by myself. This choice led to a decent amount of challenge at the beginning of the game, as I got used to its mechanics and the Darkness realms riddled with enemies, but once I got the hang of things and levelled past each mission’s requirements, I was fine. Sure, I still died a handful of times, especially during the respawn-prohibiting Darkness realms, but I was able to beat them by altering my strategies.
To exceed the posted level requirements, I spent time doing patrols and looking for short side missions to take on. Those ended up being okay, but they got a bit boring after a while, so I decided to focus on getting better via the Crucible and its player-versus-player multiplayer. There, I spent quite a few hours playing Halo-like free-for-all Rumbles and other competitive variants like “Capture the control point” and “Kill everyone on the other team.” The experience earned from one match in the Crucible is up there with what you’d earn for completing a quest, so playing several matches can gain you an additional level. Of course, it helps if you become good at it, and learn how others play; especially since the game allows players to use their own Guardians (customized characters) in its PvP modes.
The Crucible can be quite a bit of fun, and is also the best part of the game. The problem with that is the fact that PvP isn’t Destiny‘s main selling point and is, instead, a secondary feature. Still, it’s pretty robust and can get quite competitive, making for some memorable matches. Is is, however, a lot like Halo, albeit not as deep or featured-packed.
In fact, the main problem with Destiny is that it doesn’t feel like a cohesive, fully-featured experience. Bungie has created a very solid foundation, but it hasn’t managed to fill its digital environments with enough interesting content to keep players hooked. Now that I’m finished with the campaign, and have tried playing as part of a three-person fireteam, I have next to no interest in returning to any of its missions. Nor do I really have any interest in doing any more strikes, which allow three players (found through matchmaking or friends lists) to fight towards and defeat a boss. I played a couple of those, and found them to be more of the same. The raids may offer something different, but from what I’ve heard they won’t offer matchmaking, which is disappointing.
When I say more of the same, I’m describing what it feels like to play through this game. Unfortunately, for all of the money that has been thrown at the title, its campaign is structured in a way that invokes feelings of deja-vu rather quickly. Each mission feels similar to the last, because there’s a noticeable lack of variety. You’re usually just tasked with going to a certain place on the map — either by foot or landspeeder — where you’ll have to shoot your way through hordes of bad guys. The differences usually come from the objectives themselves, though even they repeat quite often. Get used to going to a computer terminal, telling your Ghost to hack it, and then having to defend it, because you’ll be doing that a lot. Or, you’ll be fighting bosses after dealing with waves of baddies.
Bungie has a lot of talent up its combined sleeve, but it’s almost as if they didn’t grasp what makes massively multiplayer RPGs fun when they set about creating Destiny. They got the gunplay right, and reused enough elements from Halo to make the core gameplay entertaining despite its encompassing repetition, but they forgot about needing to make players care.
Although new weapons, armor and decals are given out as presents for mission completion, and as random awards at the end of Crucible matches, Destiny lacks an engrossing and immersive loot mechanic. It has loot caches, but even they just offer currency and the odd piece of material, making searching them out an uninteresting experience. You’d think that the development team would’ve taken hints from Diablo and Borderlands, and the loot porn that exists within both series, but they didn’t and it ended up hurting them.
Now, when it comes to presentation, it’s very difficult to fault this experience. The in-game world and its familiar planets (Earth, Venus, Mars and the Moon), are all easy on the eyes, thanks to some beautiful visuals and good art direction. That can also be said about the game’s enemies – a varied list that includes interesting, sci-fi takes on popular RPG tropes like knights, wizards and goblins. Add in some fantastic music and rich sound effects and you have a winner in a visual and audible sense.
That said, there were some server issues that marred the experience and kept me from enjoying my interplanetary sightseeing trips as much as I would’ve liked. The game kicked me once, then followed that up a few days later with another boot as I was battling a powerful boss after having completed the majority of a twenty minute-long mission. Thankfully, though, it remembered my checkpoint and let me resume from the beginning of the battle without any issues. If it hadn’t, I would’ve been pissed.
I’ve been hard on Destiny throughout this review, but I don’t think it’s a terrible game, or even a bad one. It’s just lacking. There’s a great foundation to be found here, but it’s lacking filler and immersive qualities. Fixing those issues will not be easy, though, and it may take Bungie a while before it’ll actually nail this formula like Gearbox did with Borderlands and Borderlands 2, both of which are much better games. Sequels are planned, though, and they’ll likely be released given how well this first iteration has sold. Hopefully with them, the team behind the franchise will be able to address its errors and deliver something truly amazing.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game, which we were provided with.
By overlooking features that have made other massively multiplayer games and first-person shooter/RPG hybrids successful, Bungie has created a game that lacks immersion and is in need of a wow factor. Still, thanks to some quality gunplay, addictive multiplayer and beautiful presentation, Destiny exists as a decent game and isn't a bad way to spend one's time.