I could tell you about the game that Destiny should have been. I could tell you of the cut scenes we were shown a year ago that never made it into the game. I could tell you that Destiny as it is today, after release, is an even greater sci-fi adventure than Bungie’s previous epic. Unfortunately, I can’t do that. Sadly, Destiny feels like the outer shell of an even bigger game that was destroyed somewhere along the development cycle. The game is set in a post-apocalyptic world and ironically, we are given the post-apocalyptic remains of whatever greatness the original plan for Destiny was.
I’m not sure what the problem with 2014 has been. Every major release that was hyped since last year has come out and utterly disappointed in some major way. Unfortunately, Destiny is not free from this trap; and while the moment to moment gameplay is fun and exciting. The rest of the game falls flat and becomes a tedious grind affair that encourages gamers to seek out exploits to get what the game should have given them in the first place.
And Now For The Setup
Destiny’s story is pretty standard science fiction. As a game, it wants to be an MMO/Shooter hybrid, so Bungie has dubbed it a “shared world shooter”. However, in Destiny’s case the story is pedestrian and uninteresting beyond its opening cinematic. The shared aspects of the world are limited to seeing other players in the open maps and being matched during Strike missions. There is no trading (not even among friends), no voice-chat during Strikes, and no match-making for the one Raid mission.
The story as it stands is this: Earth meets a mysterious entity called “The Traveler” hundreds of years ago. This giant sphere brought peace and prosperity to the Earth, tripling human life-spans and granting mankind unbelievable technology. However, the darkness came and put an end to the Traveler’s abundant altruism and now the Traveler sleeps and humanity must fight to help push back the darkness. So what is the darkness? Basically, they are just a few different factions of aliens and robots that are bent on your destruction. However, unlike the best sci-fi epics, this one never really gives you a lot of back-story on their motives (beyond being “evil”) and just like the good guys of the game, they too have no identifiable characters or personalities that you can communicate with or even relate to. Their motives are completely unclear as well. They basically exist for you to shoot in the face and (hopefully) get loot from.
You start by picking one of three classes of Guardian. These are the Titan, the Hunter and the Warlock. They are different on the surface, but once you level them up to and beyond the level 20 cap, they really start to feel the same. Each class does have their own Super ability, however, this was the only major difference I could see besides the Hunter having a throwing knife (in addition to his stab attack) and the others just having more powerful melee attacks. They can all use the same weapons and even though it’s obvious the Hunter is supposed to be the long range sniper class, they receive no stat bonuses for distance or using sniper rifles and other precision weapons in general. The same goes for the Titan (clearly the heavy tank) and the Warlock (the Mage). So in the end, it comes down to aesthetics and what speaks to you visually. Once the opening mission and introduction cut scenes are finished, you begin your journey.
Out of the 8 planets in our solar system (sorry Pluto), and the dozens of moons, we only visit Earth, Venus, Mars, the Moon, and a place called “The Reef” which is just there for a few cut-scenes. In fact, the Reef’s two cut-scenes are pretty much the rest of the story exposition and characters you’ll see in the 6-8 hour campaign, apart from the small story bits in the beginning and your Ghost’s (lovingly referred to as Dinklebot by fans) rambling that you will probably tune out 2 hours in. Your ghost’s dialogue (voiced by Peter Dinklage of Game of Thrones fame) sounds phoned in and incredibly uninspired. He’s the chattiest character in the game and most of his delivery comes off as flat. The dialogue that Dinklage was given wasn’t exactly amazing. However, I’ve heard actors do better with worse in video games before.
[pullquote]It’s also disappointing to note that as a “next gen” title on PS4 and Xbox One, the game only runs at 30 fps[/pullquote]
While each locale is graphically stunning, they seem sterile and lifeless. You feel like someone lived here at one time, or that some important events may have taken place, but they don’t hold the same “Wow, what happened here?!” feeling that the various post-apocalypse locations in The Last of Us or Fallout 3 gave us. Fortunately the the environments and art design are top-notch. The visuals no doubt received a huge chunk of their 500 million dollar budget. However, games can’t live on visuals alone. It’s also disappointing to note that as a “next gen” title on PS4 and Xbox One, the game only runs at 30 fps. I have no problems per say with 30 fps; however 60fps seems to be the standard a lot of devs are moving toward and anything less feels last gen.
Moment to moment, the shooting in Destiny is brilliant. When, despite the game’s problems, you hear people talk about how addictive it is; this is why. It is obvious Bungie learned a great deal from being the creators and caretakers of Halo for so long. As a fan of good first-person shooters, I did enjoy Destiny’s mechanics. There wasn’t a single element of the shooting that I disliked. I felt challenged on the harder difficulties and satisfied once they were beaten. There is an immense satisfaction that comes from shooting the enemies and the various gun types were fun to play with. The sound design gives weight and punch to the weapons and they handle with realism not present in the more arcade-y shooters. The weapons are pretty standard fair. However the uncommon, rare, and legendary weapons have upgrade trees which unlock through use. The more you use a certain gun, the faster it will “level up” and unlock greater damage or an increase in your character stats that always benefit you in-game. These various leveling up perks always made me smile post-mission when I would see there was one waiting to be unlocked.
As for the missions, well, I hope you enjoy the gameplay as much as I did, because this is where the game really starts to falter. As mentioned previously, the only real story elements given to us are the opening cinematic and the few cut-scenes in the Reef with the Awoken Queen and her brother. It has come to light that a previous version of the script had a much larger story for the Queen’s brother (he had a name too) and that’s why he was featured in the early cinematics we saw from last year’s previews. Tragically, whatever story elements those were have been hollowed out and discarded in favor of the non-existent story we are forced to suffer though.
[pullquote]You go to a location. Dinklebot talks a bit. You have him scan something. Then you prepare for a few (sometimes hard) waves of enemies[/pullquote]
There is also no backstory in-game for anyone or anything. You have to go to Bungie’s site or use the mobile app to read “Grimoire cards” that explain everything. I’m sorry, but 5 years ago I was playing Dragon Age Origins and was able to read every entry, every codex, and every book I collected, in the game. The same goes for other RPGs like Mass Effect and Skyrim. There was no going to an external source for the story that should have at least been readable in the game. After a few hours in the game I tuned out what Dinklebot was saying and had completely lost interest by the time I finished the final mission. That last so-called story mission ended like every other mission. To sum up the mechanics of every mission, it is this: You go to a location. Dinklebot talks a bit. You have him scan something. Then you prepare for a few (sometimes hard) waves of enemies. Wash, rinse, repeat. There is no variation except for the one sword-wielding mission. You’ll know it when you see it. It is by far the best “mission” in the game. There wasn’t even a setup for something larger at play that we would meet in later expansions or DLC.
On a more positive note, there is an amazing PvP mode. This is the game’s one saving grace because it’s all gameplay and shooting and it still earns you rewards, rep, and loot. PvP, while unbalanced and frustrating in how it doles out loot rewards, is a blast to play and replay. Just don’t get your hopes up about those loot rewards. Grinding for rep in PvP was actually the main reason I played it so much, and it did pay off with a few cool gun purchases at the Tower. However, there is a major patch needed to how loot and rewards are given out.
Play your best game and you may or may not be rewarded, while the person who got the least amount of kills gets a cool item or gun. I am perplexed at how Bungie thought such a system was a good idea. To combat the odd loot rewards, players have taken to either intentionally sucking at multiplayer or using the infamous Loot Cave farm to reward themselves since the game doesn’t seem interested in doing it for them. The Loot Cave has been patched out as of this review and apparently multiplayer loot rewards are being fixed. Just don’t expect Borderlands or Diablo style loot drops. It’s also only a matter of time before another player figures out yet another way to cheat the game since it’s so bent on cheating us.
What is the end-game? Well, in most MMO’s (which Destiny tries to be) you are given an enormous assortment of options, dungeons, and raids with hard difficulty and sweet, sweet loot rewards. They are also very social experiences because you will need the help of other players to even have a chance at beating end-game content. So there is a way in the game to meet other players and join groups. You are never forced to just replay early game (beginner level) missions endlessly on harder difficulties. However, in Destiny that’s exactly what end-game is. You simply repeat Strike missions or story mission with the difficulty ramped up and modifiers added. The enemy AI never improves and can be cheated and tricked at level 28 just as easy as it was early game. Yes there is a raid now. But without match-making it is completely useless for players like me who only have one other friend on PSN playing Destiny and have had no luck using Bungie’s forums to meet other players.
Destiny is a game that is set to grow over time. Hopefully, in a year or more the game will have a proper end-game and all the loot will be less random and more generously given out to those who have earned it. I also hope that there is finally a story with characters and some kind of drama that pushes me forward and makes me want to understand why I’m there. If you are going to have no motivation for me other than the possible loot drop, then make the loot drops worth fighting for, as Borderlands and Diablo 3 have done. The gameplay and shooting is top notch and you will probably find yourself sinking many hours into the game. However, you may also step back, as I did, and wonder why you did that when the rewards (besides the gameplay, art design, and visuals) were so sparse and unfairly distributed. Despite what I’ve said in this review, I do have hope for Destiny that it can finally become the game we should have received now. As of this writing though, it just isn’t. It’s a lot of fun to play if you love shooters in general and great multiplayer. However, for MMO fans, RPG fans, and fans of loot driven games, it just doesn’t hold its own.
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