A world in progress
HIGH The third-person sword-wielding sequence on the Moon.
LOW Having players drop out of Strikes halfway through.
WTF My character's an Awoken, so why does nobody comment on it at The Reef?
After putting my time in with Destiny, it strikes me as a curious thing.
Coming from one of the top studios in the industry and produced with a staggering amount of money and manpower, there's little question that it's one of the biggest titles of 2014. It's more than just a game, it's an event. So with all the talent and resources behind it, how is it possible that the final product feels so unsatisfying, so unfinished, and so lacking in direction?
Although it's a bit tough to define, Destiny takes the core of Halo and stirs it with a big dollop of level grinding, a smattering of loot drops, and a dash of MMO. Combining all of these things is a great idea, but the pieces making up Bungie's juggernaut don't really blend together. Of course the combat is great —coming from a developer that revolutionized the first-person shooter, that was a given. It was to be expected. But the rest? Everything beyond the moment-to-moment action needs work.
The problems start immediately. I was surprised by the limited options in the character creator, and I had no idea what the differences were between the three races offered. Why would I choose Exo over Human, or Awoken over Exo? The game didn't think it was worth explaining, and this lack of information is a recurring theme throughout Destiny, to its detriment.
As the proper game begins, the player's character is revived from the dead and immediately starts shooting aliens on the say-so of an AI companion called a Ghost. There's no explanation for who the character is (or was) and nobody blinks at the resurrection. Later, when clichéd snippets about a giant orb called The Traveler and its enemy The Darkness are told, I marveled at how little the game was saying despite tossing tons of jargon at me, as if I had any context for such. It seems as though Destiny takes place in an interesting, rich world, yet it's presented in a throwaway, cursory manner. Where there should be a deep reservoir to dive into, Bungie delivers a toddler's wading pool while directing me to the official website to learn more.
The lack of hooks in the narrative might have been forgiven with good scripting or memorable characters, but Destiny lacks these as well. Its hub world is populated with just a few emotionless shopkeepers, bereft of the barest hints of personality. Worse, the AI companion guiding the player (voiced by actor Peter Dinklage) is so flat and monotone that he is boredom personified. Apart from Dinklage, Destiny actually contains a host of top-shelf talent like Nathan Fillion, Lauren Cohan, and Shohreh Aghdashloo, but they're utterly wasted on inconsequential audio blurbs.
With little to immerse me in the world, it was disappointing to see that the campaign was just as uninspired. With the exception of strong sequences on Venus and one brief bit with a sword and a third-person viewpoint, Destiny's levels are monotonous swaths of land cut from the same templates: ‘go here and kill everything' or ‘go here, scan something, and kill everything'. Rather than crafting varied scenarios, the developers' go-to design is to simply throw huge mobs at the player.
To be fair, running, punching and shooting all feel as tight as an action game could hope for. It's at the top of its class in this regard, but excellence in just one aspect isn't enough for a project with Destiny's aims. The developers spoke of this franchise having a ten-year lifespan, hooking fans and keeping them coming back for more. In its current shallow state, that's a pipe dream. Asking players to repeat the same campaign missions over and over? Excruciatingly dull. The difference between classes? Negligible. The boss battles? Tedious bullet sponges requiring nothing but player endurance.
The loot suffers similarly. All armaments fall into standard categories; rifle, shotgun, pistol, rocket launcher, and so on. For a futuristic sci-fi world, the weaponry is painfully safe, and most upgrades are nothing more than a small numeric damage bonus. The same goes for the armor. Players have very few options, and it almost never makes sense to equip anything but the piece with the strongest defense. Looking for some fabulous interstellar dress-up sessions? They won't be had here.
Despite my feelings on it, I suspect players who live for PVP might have a better opinion of Destiny than I do. There are a variety of modes offered—nothing unique or different, but they're solid enough, and with how high the intensity is, it's easy to forget the campaign exists. I also found that shooting fellow humans rewarded me with more experience and more frequent drops than the campaign. An intentional choice? Since I'm guessing most players will likely spend more time in PVP than doing the brainless story quests, I'd guess so.
Speaking of playing with others, one of Destiny's selling points is that it was supposed to offer a world of ambient co-op where real players come and go, helping each other and interacting as they wish. In practice, this concept isn't delivered. The campaign zones I played through felt empty, and I couldn't interact with the rare people I did see except through an oversimplified handful of emotes. There's also no way to trade items, and when entering the ‘darkness zones' where respawns are limited, any friendlies who aren't in an official ‘fireteam' grouping aren't allowed to keep fighting together. We're all running down the same hallway together, why do they vanish when I need them the most?
There are a host of other issues that I could detail, but I think the point is clear—for all of Destiny's potential, the lion's share is going unrealized. In an ostensible attempt to be the game that hooks everyone, it's outdone by others; Saints Row lets me create whoever I want, giving me a sense of personalization and ownership over my character. Monster Hunter offers rich systems that encourage cooperation and ensure that every mission is different from the last. Defiance put me in a huge world humming with activity, letting me explore while freely communicating and battling alongside others.
Destiny? Destiny has great shooting mechanics.
Despite the fact that Bungie feels lost everywhere besides the combat, there's no doubt that they're staffed with brilliant, talented people backed with enough cash to keep the machine humming for a long time. In its current state, Destiny feels unfinished and unfocused, but I imagine that things will be looking quite different in a year's time. In fact, if it doesn't grow and improve by an order of magnitude, I'll be shocked. As such, I'll be happy to push the Darkness back once the disparate parts come together into a more well-rounded experience, but for now, I'm… destined… to move on.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via retail store and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 18 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and all available campaign missions were completed. 4 hours of play were spent in multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains: animated blood and violence. Although it's all about guns and bringing the heat to planet-stealing aliens, the game is generally tame. There's no explicit gore, and the bad guys flop over and dissolve into nothingness when eliminated. There's no questionable language or sexual content. Apart from the act of shooting guns and taking down non-human baddies, there's not a lot to be worried about here.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: All dialogue can be accompanied with subtitles, and the on-screen radar does a great job of telegraphing enemy positions even when they're unseen. On the other hand, there are a few times when certain audio cues (gunshots, monster growls) can be helpful. Although the don't play a huge factor, gamers with hearing impairments may find it a bit more difficult, but not tremendously so.
Brad still loves Transformers, he's on Marvel Puzzle Quest when nobody's looking, and his favorite game of all time is a toss-up between the first Mass Effect and The Witcher 3. You can catch his written work here at GameCritics and you can hear him weekly on the @SoVideogames Podcast. Follow Brad on Twitter and Instagram at @BradGallaway, or contact him via email:
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