Published on September 25th, 2014 | by Tony Odett0
Summary: Great action consumed by bad storytelling and a worse interface. A good core, but spread way, way too thinly.
The ghost is dead
I’ve spent so much time over the past 14 years with the Halo franchise, the definitive space FPS game that was responsible for console multiplayer becoming what it is today. I have so many memories, from my college roommate leaving me to die in the fire while he ran to safety in the final level of the first Halo, to finishing the fight in Halo 3, to that heroic and doomed stand at the end of Halo Reach. I loved those games, all of them, and that is why it pains me so much to admit this: Destiny isn’t the fantastic, world-changing game Bungie promised us. The game is pretty, and contains some great shooting action (along with some entertaining cooperative play in the strike missions), but those things sit side-by-side with numerous issues in the game’s structure, level design, storyline and setting. Destiny is startlingly weak in so many areas that I find myself stunned. What happened with Activision’s $500 million investment in Bungie’s new franchise?
Destiny opens with a ghost voiced by Peter Dinklage finding the player’s corpse and reanimating that dead body so that it can fight to defend the last city of the people of Earth against The Darkness. This is about as much of the story as my brain was willing to understand. There are a bunch of races in the universe and many locations, all of which seem to be named with a random-name-generator with a library of every horrible gaming name trope. Dinklage seems to be acutely aware of how absurd the dialogue and story are, and delivers a performance that narrates each story mission with lines that are simultaneously nonsensical and spoken with indifference. I’d say skip the storyline, but the game design forces you to play through it in several ways. First, you’re not even allowed to try the competitive multiplayer until you hit level 5, and second, you’ll need the story for the XP and equipment to stay anywhere close to on-par with your opponents in multiplayer. So prepare to spend a ton of time enduring the storyline, whether you like it or not.
As a final note on story and universe, moving through the world will earn you Grimoire Cards. These cards provide back story and information on the universe around you. Sadly, you can’t access them in the game, but rather have to go to Bungie’s website to read them. In order to find out about the universe in the game I am playing, I have to stop playing, and go to a website? This didn’t really make sense to me at all. Apparently, you’re constantly working on acquiring the cards and kills enemies to reach certain goals. I like killing enemies and seeing a bar fill up. It’s fun, and it’s why you play games like Destiny. Why this sort of thing is hidden away on Bungie.net and not on my mission screen is beyond me.
Destiny missions tend to fall into one of three categories. There are the patrol missions, which allow you to freely roam the Earth, Moon, Venus or Mars in search of things to do and enemies to kill. These, I found, were the best parts of Destiny, where you were freed from the shackles of the storyline, and were able to explore and kill things at your leisure. I spent most of my time as a hunter, and with my sniper rifle, I was a deadly force in the open world. This is where you got to experience the open world in all its beauty. Destiny is an attractive game, and roaming the world gave me a good sense of the size of it. There were some other interesting things to find- on Earth, the massive tank enemy that could kill me with a single shot, for one.
Then there were the story missions. I wish I could tell you these offered anything other than some XP and item drops, but that was about all I got out of them. Storyline quibbles aside, the actual design of the story missions was really samey and uninspired. I’d arrive on the planet (always in the same place, for every mission that took place on the same planet, no matter what), and fight from kill box to kill box. Some of the kill boxes had boss enemies, which would change up the combat slightly, and others would attempt to overwhelm me with numbers and different enemy types. Still, the weak enemy AI made even the most fearsome enemies easily dealt with. Enemies either rush you or find something to hide behind and snipe at you. Backing away from rushing enemies is a fine strategy. I found that I could always back away to the point where the rushing enemy would stop and stand still, letting me line up easy kill shots.
The final cooperative mission type was the strike missions. The other types could be played cooperatively, but I always found that, save for the occasional public event, my compatriots did little else but play a single player game in the same area. There was little cooperation in the cooperative. This was doubly true of the random player sightings- you’ll see players who aren’t actually a part of your game as you roam through the world. It was cool and interesting the first couple of times, but the fact that you don’t talk to them or really interact with them in any meaningful way (except to maybe steal some kills, either you from them, or they from you) made the relationship for show and served little purpose. The strike missions, on the other hand, actual serve a cooperative purpose. You’ll need to bring a team and work together to finish these. The strike missions are where Destiny finally hits any sort of stride, as you and your friends work together to complete more interesting missions. Massive boss enemies are mixed with hordes of lesser foes to provide a real challenge, a compelling reason to play. It’s true co-op, and the only point at which Destiny feels like it’s offering what’s we’ve been promised.
Destiny is a game about leveling up and acquiring loot. Once you hit level 20, those two things become more related, as you’ll need to acquire certain loot to level up. But in a game about killing things and acquiring stuff, Destiny seems to have gone out of its way to make the acquisition of new armor, guns and other items as unfulfilling as possible. You see, you’ll receive items when you complete missions. You can also find them in the game world after you kill enemies. They don’t drop often, but when they do, loot appears as Engrams. Engrams need to be returned to the hub world (The Tower) in order to be unlocked. This delays the payoff and, even if I find a high level engram, doesn’t guarantee me a great weapon. In Borderlands, loot was everywhere. Enemies would die and the loot would fly out in piles. You immediately found it on the ground, and could determine if it were useful, or if you’d like to leave it and move on. Destiny makes you pick up an Engram, leave the world, load an entirely new world, and then go to a vendor and actually spend money, all to determine if you’ve picked up something worthwhile. That process is insane.
Speaking of the Tower, I just referred to it as the hub world. That’s not exactly true. The Tower is the place in the game that you go to buy items and get rewards. That is its purpose. In order to actually play missions or multiplayer in Destiny, you don’t go to the hub- you actually leave the Tower and go to the game menu. In fact, the tower, which you need to visit because of Engrams (and I suppose your personal need to buy things) serves no other purpose, and launches from the game menu just like a mission would. This means that if you get an Engram on patrol, and would like to find what it was, you need to leave your patrol mission, go to the game menu, load the tower (and enjoy the loading screen video, because it takes a while and you’re going to be seeing it a lot), walk up to your vendor, select the engram you found on the ground, go into your character menu to find out how good it is compared to what you currently possess, and equip it. Then, to actually play Destiny, you’ll then have to leave the tower, go to the game menu and load a new mission (and another loading screen- yay!). Despite the presence of the black soccer ball of doom, the Tower Sucks.
The game also includes competitive multiplayer, the Crucible. The Crucible provides a number of pretty standard modes (deathmatch, point control) linked up with the game’s progression system. Unlike your standard Battlefield or Call of Duty game, your character carries over between the competitive multiplayer and the other game’s modes. This allows you to bring any abilities or equipment you’ve earned into the competitive arena, and you’ll also earn XP and random post-match loot in the Crucible. And let me emphasize random- even in matches where I completely sucked, I could still earn loot, and the top player could earn none, all based on a random draw.
Matches played very quickly, over in around 10-15 minutes at most. The maps all seemed to be designed for tight, close-quarters twitch fighting. I wish there was more variety, as everyone seemed to be using very similar weapon sets and styles. Shotguns and auto-rifles ruled the day, while sniper and scout rifles were basically useless. It was cool to use my character’s abilities in combat (golden gun for the win), and pulling it out at a key moment was very satisfying. Watching a blade dancer work me over was less so (for me… I’m sure the blade dancer felt great about it). Perhaps I should switch my Hunter’s subclass and try again. Anyway, the competitive multiplayer was entertaining, but not really offering anything substantially innovative. It was nice to bring my character, but I wish that a persistent MMO could offer something other than the same multiplayer suite of modes I’ve seen a thousand times before.
Destiny is a maddening game. On the one hand, it offers great action (especially in the strike missions), fun (if not innovative) competitive multiplayer, and any game built around a progression system is going to have an addictive property. On the other hand, the awful story-based campaign, badly conceived structure and numerous other flaws showcase an effort where Bungie clearly didn’t attain the lofty, genre-altering goals that they set for the game. Much like Watchdogs early this year, we are left with a game that entertains, but does so soullessly. Unlike Watchdogs, Destiny is handicapped by a largely imperfect structure. Over time, I’d imagine much of what we see now will be completely refined, but as it is now, Destiny is just another game.
Destiny was reviewed on Xbox One using a digital copy purchased by the reviewer.