Destiny was perhaps one of the most anticipated games in recent times. Its long development cycle, the highly publicized separation of Bungie from Microsoft and the huge reported budget of the series has made it a title that was probably the most high profile to release this year. Created by Bungie, the studio that produced one of the most successful gaming franchises of the last decade, most had high hopes that Destiny would surpass their previous creations, especially considering the sheer manpower now at the studio.
The first thing that hits you when playing Destiny is that the combat and gunplay has been done incredibly well. This shouldn’t come as a huge surprise considering the wealth of experience that Bungie brings to the table with shooters, but it is still impressive that shooting aliens feels so satisfying. The tight controls and fluid mechanics make taking down a group of enemies with a variety of weapons, super powers and grenades rewarding. In fact, Destiny is one of the best examples of FPS gameplay from any shooter over the past year.
Go past the basics though and Destiny starts to fall apart. The campaign is laughably vague and for the most part uninteresting. Nothing about the plot is explained – why the Traveler is protecting humanity, what the Darkness actually is and why the Fallen and other enemies are so interested in destroying humanity are left a complete mystery. Characters in the Tower are essentially just glorified shopkeepers, giving no background to the world in which you find yourself. Instead they provide meaningless tasks or sell equipment.
Without any clear incentive or reason behind your missions beyond “pushing back the Darkness” and the lack of strong, interesting NPCs means that Destiny feels like an empty world. Your quest appears to be grand from the opening moments and yet nothing ever moves forward. The game is far from the science fiction epic we were promised.
The lackluster plot could perhaps have been forgiven if the missions were varied or compelling. Alas, they are not; they all follow the same formula of going a location while protecting your Ghost companion from waves of enemies while it completes a task. The only things that vary are the setting and the collection of aliens attempting to kill you.
The Strike missions give some variety and yet even they eventually resort to a final boss that isn’t challenging or unique, instead they test only endurance with an enemy that acts as a bullet sponge absorbing huge amounts of damage. With only a small number of Strike missions available playing them multiple times also soon starts to feel repetitive – even on the higher difficulty modes.
This leads into another problem that plagues Destiny. Character progression up to the soft cap of level 20 is done well. Experience gained from campaign quests, Strike missions, bounties and online multiplayer goes towards levelling up. By the time you finish the story, assuming you’ve completed some additional tasks and played a bit of the Crucible, you’ll be at the soft cap and will instead level up based on your Light. This stat increases through equipping powerful gear. The problem is that the system of getting loot in unrewarding, rather than having hard bosses that drop guaranteed prizes, loot drops are random. This gives the impression that powerful gear is not a reward for playing well but just a lucky accident.
In a game that requires grinding to level up there is very little to drive players to go back and replay bland missions. What’s the point when you can go shoot endless enemies coming out of a cave and get better loot anyway? However, the amount of investment you put into your Guardian creates an attachment where you really feel like it is your unique character.
Destiny does have some good points however. Visuals are expertly crafted with each world feeling distinct and rich in detail. The graphics are some of the best available on next-generation consoles and you can see the influence of Halo clearly with colorful environments rather than the ultra-realistic ones that are commonplace in shooters.
As you might expect from Marty O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori, the music in Destiny is simply outstanding. The orchestral score provides much more drama and emotion that any dialogue throughout the entire game and is different enough to Halo to prove that the composers are not simply one trick ponies. There are complaints with the sound design in other areas; in particular, the voice acting is stale with certain performances being exceptionally poor.
Another saving grace comes in the form of The Vault of Glass raid. It is a different sort of challenge to anything else in the game, requiring problem solving and detective work to figure out exactly what you have to do. Every player has to be highly skilled and levelled to a suitably powerful level before even attempting, though the rewards, in terms of both loot and pride at completing sections, are well worth the challenge.
The only issue with the raid is that it requires six players and with no matchmaking option, something left out as communication between players is key here, it means a significant portion of players will not be able to complete it any time soon. As Destiny doesn’t really allow you to easily meet new people during normal gameplay thanks to the lack of ability to actually talk to nearby players, the Vault of Glass is something casual players will not get to experience properly.
The biggest redeeming feature of Destiny though has to be the competitive multiplayer. Playing in the Crucible against other Guardians is incredibly fun and fiercely competitive. There is a good variety of different game modes, including team based objective types along with free-for-all and team deathmatch modes, along with ten maps based off the various locations found in the game. While none of the arenas are spectacular they are all well designed and allow for a variety of tactics and play styles. The use of super abilities and the gliding jumps also provide a distinctive feel that other shooters don’t have. If the campaign and Strike missions struggle to keep your attention, the PvP modes on offer might just persuade you to stick around.
Destiny is not a terrible game but it is hugely disappointing. Bungie and Activision set out a plan to deliver a game with an epic story that would keep players compelled for years to come and they have failed to deliver. When playing you can see what the developers were trying to do but what you actually see is a game that was created by people always taking the safe option. Built on solid basics, it just doesn’t excel any other respect and lacks the soul that other titles from the studio have had.
Ultimately though Destiny is not a terrible game. It might just be worth checking out, especially if you are willing to wait for expansions or future sequels to expand on the unclear story and not too distant changes to improve the most broken aspects.
[This review was based on the Xbox One version of Destiny. The reviewer has played more than 40 hours of the game before the time of writing.]