Destiny has been out for a few weeks now and I have taken my time with this review for several reasons. One being that I can’t properly review a multi layered 30+ hrs game in a few days let alone a week. So I’ve taken my time, leveled up my Guardian, suited up with a few friends, and gave the darkness what for. For the most part it’s been a fun, yet flawed, ride.
The story of Destiny is for the most part rather weak. There is hardly any character development, background story, and the overall theme never really pays off in the end. The sad part is, the initial story got me very excited about Destiny. Who wouldn’t want to play a game where you’re a resurrected dead person trying to stop an evil darkness from taking what little you have left? This theme is a very popular setting in todays culture especially in games but rarely is it done well. Unfortunately, I can’t say it’s well done in Destiny. It’s very flat, much like Peter Dinklage’s performance. I think I would rather have the guilty spark follow me around or maybe Wheatley from Portal 2. At least then I’d be laughing the entire time. When you compare Destiny’s story next to a great science fiction game like Mass Effect you really start to wonder what happened. Destiny feels like a tech demo that has been completely polished and then bolted on with a story that never really makes any sense or grabs the viewer.
If there is one bright spot in Destiny’s it is it’s core gameplay. Staring down the scope of a Scout Rifle and squeezing off a few rounds into a far off Fallen’s face feels extremely natural and crisp. It’s about as tight as any FPS I’ve ever played has been and Bungie shows that they are still very much an FPS developer. I usually tell people who are on the fence about buying Destiny that If you are a fan of the Halo series then there’s a very good chance you’ll like/love how Destiny plays. From the gunplay, to how your character moves; Destiny is basically Halo with added RPG elements.
So what about those RPG elements? Well, they’re there built into pretty much every facet of Destiny. You can almost feel the constant metrics calculating as you and your fireteam blanket the world with bullets and elemental attacks. With every successful hit you make you get a satisfying HP damage number that pops up. This can be extremely useful against the larger enemies who have weak points (like a Fallen Walker for example). Shoot it in the legs and you’ll see a higher yellow number. It’s not all about damage counters, though. Destiny also has other RPG elements deep within it’s engine that allow you to level up your character, weapons, and armor and the latter becomes integral for progressing passed Destiny’s level cap of 20.
Yes, Destiny has a character level cap of 20 and chances are you’ll reach that level pretty fast if you progress regularly through the story. But level 20 isn’t where things end for our Guardians and, for some, it might be where things really begin. Sounds mysterious, I know and that’s probably because after level 20 leveling up becomes slightly confusing, at least until you figure out what “Light” is. Light is a new unit of measure that allows a Guardian to increase their level past level 20 by equipping armor with a Light modifier on it. If you are lucky, after level 20 you might find a piece of armor that has a “Light+X” (“X” being a number). The more light you have, the higher your level increases. As I write this review, I’m currently lingering at a level 23 with a light level of 51. Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, it is getting harder to find armor with higher Light levels and I’d assume this is how it’ll be the closer I crawl to level 27. I say level 27 because that’s the highest I’ve ever seen running around the game world.
I actually don’t know if I like how Bungie handled the leveling system in Destiny. Like I said before, I’m very torn about Destiny in general and this is definitely one of those things I’m on the fence about. On one hand, it helps keep me playing. I’m constantly looking for that better piece of armor. On the other hand, why not have Light armor modifiers from the start and have a more traditional leveling system? It almost feels like Bungie ran out of time and decided they needed something else to keep players going so they added the Light leveling.
I do have a few major gameplay complaints however. This could also fall under functional presentation I suppose but having to go to orbit every time you want to change locations. For example, if you’re on Earth and you want to get to the Tower, which is also on earth, you have to first sit through a loading screen to go into orbit, then finally you can select the tower from an overworld map, which leads to an even longer loading screen. Why you can’t select the Tower, or any other location, from within the game itself is a bewildering mystery.
Probably the best part about Destiny is also the worst part about Destiny. Destiny is really great at getting me and my gamer friends together online… or at least two of my friends. And this is where Destiny disappoints most of all: you can only play cooperatively with two of your friends at any given time unless you’re playing PvP. I wouldn’t say I have a ton of gamer friends in the world but I definitely have more than two. It reminds me of the Holy Hand Grenade instructions from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
And the Lord spake, saying, First shalt thou take out the Holy Pin. Then, shalt count to three, no more, no less. Three shalt be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shalt be three. Four shalt thou not count, nor either count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out.
This is probably one of my biggest complaints about Destiny. Destiny has been labeled as an MMO by popular media but there isn’t anything M about this MO. In general, I saw a few people running around the game world, usually there only to serve as a nuisance as they either took my kills or slowed my bounty progress down. Maybe the “Massive” part of the this Multiplayer Online game happens behind the scenes but you’ll never see it. At most, you’ll see a handful of people. I can’t blame Bungie 100% for the whole MMO thing though and that’s only because I don’t recall them ever saying that Destiny was an MMO. Destiny is as MMO as Borderlands and that’s to say it’s NOT…at all. Destiny is a very small partied Multiplayer game that’s so focused down to the finest detail that Bungie felt 3 people teams was enough to have fun with. In theory, that may be true but when I have a few PSN friends on standby waiting for a spot on my fire team to open up, that theory crashes and burns. A better solution in my opinion would have been the ability to network multiple fireteams together cooperatively. I can only assume that would break Bungie’s tight grip polish on Destiny’s overall level design.
I’m not going to linger too much on the subject of graphic prowess but know this: Destiny is gorgeous. The Guardians and enemies themselves are functionally well designed but the world of Destiny is jaw dropping at times. It’s not too often I play a game where I’ll put my gun down to stop and watch the scenery around me. From the rolling red sands of Mars to the alien foliage of Venus, this game is beautiful. Destiny will probably be my pick for best looking game this year. That might ruffle some feathers since Destiny runs at 30fps and not 60fps but I’ll take gorgeous visuals at a solid 30fps over lower image quality and 60fps any day.
In my opinion, Bungie is synonymous with two video game staples: Design and Presentation. Destiny’s overall Design is polished down to the very last texture or invisible wall. The world looks large taken by itself but when you really play through it you start feeling like everything is a set piece meticulously placed in a confined space. And that’s Bungie for you – they are uber control freaks when it comes to their games. This is double edged sword. On one hand, it’s great because it means Destiny has been run through so many levels of alpha/beta/level testing that we should see very few bugs. Think of Skyrim or Oblivion inversely; those two games allowed the player tons of freedom but at a cost of a rather buggy experience. It’s a good thing we have updates for consoles these days that’s for sure. On the other hand, because Destiny’s world feels so groomed and polished, you can’t help feel confined to a path that Bungie wants you to play and not the other way round. A great example of this is the Loot Cave that allowed players to farm and level up quicker than Bungie would have liked. Even in their response you can see what I mean,”…shooting at a black hole for hours on end isn’t our dream for how Destiny is played.”
On the Presentation front, Destiny shines in many ways. Like design, Bungie has conditioned Destiny’s presentation to a fine point. There is an overall flat design layout that is very popular today and it works very well here. It looks “futuristic” without being alien or obnoxious (like the 80’s). Where it all falls apart is the UI functionality. Have you ever played an old point and click PC game on a console, like Myst? If so, you’ll remember using the controller to move that cursor clumsy around the screen. Destiny has one of these. It looks very pretty, almost symbolically referencing the games “Traveler” in shape. In practice, it’s slow, clumsy, and just annoying to use. Cursors are great for computers but they’re extremely arduous on console controllers. That said, I get why they did it. Destiny has a lot of menus and contextual pop ups that would be very hard to represent in a traditional console menu sense. I can recall fumbling through several menus of Final Fantasy VII back in the day looking for a particular spell – It still gives me chills. I think I would have preferred the cursor to be controlled by the PS4’s otherwise useless pad.
Destiny isn’t one of those games that can be measured by hours alone. It’s an on going playlist of go to X location, kill lots of bad guys, and get this loot. There are variations to that theme but that’s for the most part what you’ll be doing. What keeps Destiny’s replay value up is the inclusion of strikes, raids, patrols, and of course person vs person multiplayer. These elements should hold most people over until the first DLC comes out.
Before playing Destiny, I knew it was going to be a difficult game to review but not for the reasons I’ve eventually come to put down here on this website. Maybe it was the usual hypetrain comin’ down the track. Or maybe, just maybe, Bungie dropped the Grifball with this one. A game has to be measured by more than just one aspect of itself. Destiny’s core gameplay is good, great even, but there is more to an experience than the sum of it’s parts. So by the final level of the main story, the huge smile I once had for this game had faded to a flat line. Where was the epic story we were all promised? It certainly isn’t going to unfold within strikes, raids, patrols or what ever else Bungie has given us. Throughout my play through, I was making excuses like ”it’s because it’s an MMO” but it’s not an MMO. And with all of the focus on playing with friends Bungie has spun to us over the past year or so, you don’t even see your small team in cutscenes. By the end of the road, I became Legend and you know what that means? Not a damn thing. It didn’t feel like I did anything special at all. It’s the equivalent of doing a raid or strike and getting a gun that’s of lower use to you than your primary weapon. But it’s not the lame awards you get at the end of the game that really bugs me; It’s the complete lack of climax to what should have been one epic hell of a ride and I think that might be the worst part of all.
Core FPS gameplay is solid and fun. If you’re a fan of how Halo feels, you’ll be a fan of how Destiny feels., Presentation and Design is polished., One of if not the best looking current gen game., A very fun co-op experience.
Small fireteams limit the fun and keeps other friends waiting for open spots., Bland story that never amounts to any kind of climax., The world feels confined even though the planets are large., UI gets in the way when trying to do anything quickly., Having to go to orbit every time you want to move to a new location stinks., Not much new to do once leveled up., Weird leveling system and random item drops are required to progress., Peter Dinklage’s voice over.