This might be my oddest review yet because quite frankly I’m sitting on the fence with this game and not sure whether to heap praise or scorn on Destiny, Bungie’s latest epic shooter.
After years in the making and more hype than a federal election and probably just as much spent on advertising, what we end up with is a game that I feel tries to appeal to too many people and as a result fails to deliver on expectations.
The plot itself would fit on the back cover of the game; a mysterious alien traveler arrives on Earth leading to an era of prosperity and technical advancement. But the traveler has enemies who have crushed humanity for harboring the alien. After years of losses there’s just one safe city and you are a guardian sworn to protect it.
You start the game being resurrected by a Ghost, a robotic AI construct which is the result you’d get when combining Halo‘s 343 Guilty Spark and Cortana with actor Peter Dinklage (of Game of Thrones). After that initial introduction you are quickly thrust into a quick tutorial section of the game which leads you quickly enough into the game itself fairly seamlessly.
This is probably the first of many gameplay tropes that will evoke Halo flashbacks within Xbox gamers. The next might be when you’re in combat facing the first of your enemies. Another might be when you see a drop ship arrive to drop off the next wave of enemies before it flies off again. Perhaps these are not new for shooters in general but after years on seeing them in a franchise that Bungie was supposedly distancing themselves from, it is surprising to see the mechanics of such things be so familiar. Don’t get me started on the overpowered pistols either…
For those who had partaken in the crazily popular beta, it can also be disconcerting to find that this early section is not much different to what we all experienced at that time. So the initial moments in the game may be a disappointment as beta players will be forced to repeat those early missions again.
The game itself comes across initially as a single player experience thanks to that introduction but once you complete it and return to the Tower, Destiny‘s hub level, you get to see and experience the true nature of what you are playing. Other players will wander around conducting their own business or interact with each other, hopefully as a means to set up fireteams to tackle more of the game.
From that point onward, the game leans heavily on players working together. Whether it be for the “campaign”, Patrols which are like instanced mini-missions, the larger scale Strikes or the player-versus-player Crucible. Having colleagues at your side goes a long way to helping you enjoy the game.
It is entirely possible to play through the “campaign” missions by yourself but it’s a lonely experience with not much happening except for enemy encounters. That makes the game feel quite empty and less rewarding. For players expecting an epic Halo style campaign you are going to be disappointed. The extremely repetitive nature of missions does not help; it does not take much to spot a location that you need to hold through a few waves of enemies.
Progress through the game earns experience points which allows your character to level up and gain additional bonuses and skills. These are dependent on the class you’ve selected at the time; Titan, Hunter or Warlock. There’s little in the characters themselves that allows customization of skills; most of that is accomplished in the weapons and gear you accrue over time and assign your character. Some items your character can wear provide modifiers than say for example, increase your weapons reloading speed. Rarer items and weapons can have their own levelling up which I think is a great touch as it does give players incentive to stick with a trusted weapon a little longer and unlock some additional perks with it.
I almost feel that the character levelling is more about restricting content than it is about making your character more powerful. It can be a very hard restriction too if your character runs into an area where they are massively under skilled. I remember old RPGs using that trick to force players into following a set path until they skill up enough to tackle harder areas. That’s fine for a game oriented more towards the numbers but it seems an ill fit for a shooter.
The Crucible (PvP) opens up after you’ve earned a few levels in the game and is very much in the mould of old school competitive multiplayer shooters. What skill, gear and weapons players have earned in the rest of the game can be used here but depending on the mode, they will be balanced to ensure a level playing field.
Thankfully the game offers much in the way of distractions to hide any of its shortcomings. The art in this game is quite remarkable at times and no one does skyboxes quite like Bungie. Shooters don’t often encourage you to stop and admire the view, unless you want a shotgun to the face, but the vistas you get exposed to are just plain stunning. At times I still feel like I am reminded of their art direction in the past but having the opening section of the game in the rusty and dilapidated Cosmodrome goes a long way to distance it from those clean lines and abstract towers.
Audio in the game is some of the best I’ve heard in a long time. I don’t often sit back and admire the sound in a game like I would the art but Destiny does a great job of convincing you to turn up the volume. The music fits the mood well and sometimes the way the music seems to kick in at the most opportune times is bordering on cinematic.
In the past I’ve given scores to indicate how I feel about a game but maybe this is the first indicator that is time to stop that practice. There is an awful lot to like about this game. It’s a highly polished title with great shooting mechanics and some impressive technical achievements that I could see myself spending some time with. On the other hand, the narrative is almost non-existent, competitive MP is no more the standout feature and Bungie’s party line seems to forego content quality at the beginning of the game in favor of rewarding players that reach the level 20 milestone is a bad move that may turn off many.
Destiny tries to be the everyman shooter and deliver an experience that anyone can join in and enjoy. Unfortunately a lot of that is at the expense of what made Bungie’s past shooters such memorable experiences and that may disappoint players familiar with their back catalogue. Those willing to commit time though may be pleasantly surprised with a game whose play mechanics are some of the best in the business and a chance to explore some new worlds with a couple of friends in tow.