Promises should always be taken with a grain of salt.
Someone can promise you anything. They can promise to pull the Moon right out of the sky and drop it on your front porch if they wanted to. It might sound great when they say it, but when it comes time to deliver, well, the Moon is still up in the sky, right?
Bungie made some pretty bold promises when it came to Destiny. They promised something huge and new from the fabled developers of Marathon and Halo, something to propel Bungie into the future and away from their past. Something unique, new, wonderful and definitely not Halo. All sweet words and wonderful ideas. But could they possibly deliver on them?
In short, the answer is no.
Destiny is Bungie’s next space opus set in a universe where mankind is on the brink of extinction and being tormented by powerful alien forces. You are a Guardian: a specialized soldier infused with the power of The Traveler, Earth’s protector and humanity’s savior, sworn to protect the last city on Earth and fight for mankind’s survival. Epic, right? Beyond that stirring story summation and before you get placed in the driving seat, though, you’ll need to choose between 3 classes: Warlock, Hunter, and Titan, as well as the race, sex, and physical attributes of your Guardian. It’s not very in-depth – MMO veterans or people who slaved for hours over their Skyrim or Dark Souls avatars will be disappointed – but it works as a simple way to have your character feel unique. The classes themselves are unique enough, having a variety of special skills and abilities that should suit most normal playstyles. I was partial to a purple Awoken hunter with gold/orange eyes because, well, hell yeah.
At the core of gameplay is, obviously, combat. I mean, you’re not going to use diplomacy to defeat an evil alien menace, right? Of course you’re not. Luckily for you, Destiny will have you popping the heads of thousands of alien bullet magnets over and over again for hours at a time. The controls are solid and familiar. I’ve been saying to my friends that “if you’ve played Halo, then you’ve played Destiny” and I feel that is a very accurate statement.
Aside from obvious aesthetic similarities, Destiny plays a lot like Halo, too. The button layout is almost identical, and movement speed while aiming is very comparable. Heck, you even get your own personal Cortana in the form of your very own Tyrion Lannister, who does his best to sound interested at times, but mostly sounds like he’s there for the paycheck. There are differences of course like how Destiny is a bit quicker and smoother, but overall the feel of combat has a very “Haloesque” quality. This is NOT a bad thing. If you were going to borrow combat mechanics from any game you’d be stupid not to pick Halo. That game series practically perfected first person shooter mechanics! In fact, I liked how similar Destiny felt to the Halo games. It was like returning to an old friend. It also allowed me to jump right into all aspects of the game straight away. There was no learning curve. I just picked up the controller and BOOM instant mastery of the headshot. That is something most first person shooters strive for and Destiny achieved.
Unfortunately, this solid combat framework isn’t put to much entertaining use. Yeah, you run around large areas on planets like the Moon, Mars, and Earth, gunning down space vermin in the name of mankind’s salvation and everything; but it really isn’t as much fun as it sounds. Killing the same group of bad guys in the same spot as you did a few minutes ago gets old after a short period of time. Enemies respawn quickly in Destiny, which is good for leveling and the “kill x number of enemies” sidequests, but they group in little pockets in the same places on the map every single time, making encounters with them feel dull and repetitive after a few battles. The AI doesn’t do much in the way of providing any sort of challenge as they seem to use no strategy, and will sometimes even stand perfectly still while you stand shoulder to shoulder with them. Bungie pioneered enemy AI in the FPS with Halo: Combat Evolved. That was 2001. What happened?
Perhaps, they are also admiring the beautiful view of Earth from the Moon? Whatever the reason for the daydreaming enemies, actual combat encounters just feel plain. It’s like vanilla ice cream. It’s a solid flavor, but there’s nothing special about it. You basically run up to a group of aliens, they roar at you, you bust out your amazing gunplay skills, they lay dead at your feet, experience is gained, and then you repeat that exact same scenario a billion times. I swear, hands down – I fell asleep playing it during one session. True story.
Multiplayer tries to salvage the fun by injecting some good old Player vs Player action into the mix, along with cooperative strike missions.
Both of these are brighter aspects of the game, but fall victim to the same plain repetitive gameplay that plagues the singleplayer campaign. Nothing you do in the crucible, which is the PVP arena, is any different from any other PVP game you’ve ever played; the Strikes don’t add much new flavor to the equation, save for a bit of ramped-up difficulty and a few boss characters. These Strikes could become great fun in the future – but for now they remain as vanilla as the rest of the Destiny experience. The most puzzling aspect of multiplayer in the exclusion of any text or voice chat outside of fireteams. It seems absurd that proximity voice chat wouldn’t exist in a game where you randomly encounter others playing while in-game. I’m not the only one who thinks so either: there is currently a formal petition up on change.org imploring Bungie to add voice chat to the game. If you want, you can check that bad boy out here.
At the time of writing, the petition has almost 4,500 signatures.
It’s not all bad, though. If you want a poster child for next-generation visuals then Destiny might just be your messiah. Science fiction landscapes and beautiful panoramic views of a fallen Earth pepper Destiny, and will make perhaps the most lasting impression on you. Light cascades from the sky and falls gently onto the environment casting rich shadows all around. Huge rusting structures shoot up from behind craggy rocks and stretch like metal fingers up into a cool, blue sky. A lonely building sits empty on the bright white lunar surface having been abandoned long ago. These are just some of the gorgeous sights you’ll see while navigating through the vast wilderness of space at a silky 1080p and 30fps. Honestly, these views and environments are some of the best I’ve seen in games. It’s like stepping into the science fiction world of your dreams. Hyper reality, clashing colors, and just a mesmerizing aesthetic lend themselves to making you feel like you are somewhere special. Somewhere different. Marty O’Donnell’s score adds to ambiance and helps guide the players moods very well. It isn’t O’Donnell’s strongest work but it is still top tier, and works well to set the tone of the world you find yourself in. Bungie took their time with creating this universe and obviously wanted to make sure the world itself made an impact on gamers. They accomplished that goal, at least.
Too bad that beauty is really only skin deep.
One of my major criticisms of Destiny is that the game just feels barren. Even though there are missions to do, side quests to complete, and a never supply of respawning alien scum to shoot, Destiny just always managed to feel empty. I never felt busy nor did I ever feel like I was discovering anything worth finding. I actually think I found more caves that lead to nowhere then I did anything of value or interest. That’s just massively disappointing. Why have a cave with nothing in it when the idea of the patrol mission type is to explore the area? Give me a reason to explore then! Dot the landscape with secret treasure troves full of lore or gear; reward players for using their abilities to scale cliffs and tall buildings by giving them something for their troubles. The thrill of exploration – or even combat – in games is the feeling of accomplishment.
Nothing in Destiny made me feel accomplished. I’d complete a sidequest and the very same beacon I’d just activated would already be blinking with a new generic fetch quest or “kill this many baddies” task. Nothing ever feels new, or real. It’s a shame, really. I wanted to delve into those beautiful landscapes, but I was left thinking to myself: “why bother?”.
When I started questioning the point of exploring the area I was in, I realized just how skeletal the game feels. It’s like a body with no meat or muscle. Sure, the bones are solid and can be built on; but what’s actually there there isn’t a person.
Destiny begins to feel soulless and empty after a few hours. Lather, rinse, repeat – gaming style. While one could argue Destiny is set up for the future with the promise of DLC and added content, I would say that I just spent $60 on the skeleton of a game when I was promised a fleshed out creation.
I venture to say that perhaps the reason lore in Destiny is scarce is because the narrative itself is just plain weak. The story is basically a hodgepodge of almost every major sci-fi trope you can think of. Evil deep space alien bad guys? Check. Mankind on the brink of destruction? Double check. A main character who is the key to humanity’s salvation and return to glory? Triple check. That’s pretty much the narrative in a nutshell. It’s like the culmination of every bad 60’s science fiction movie you’ve ever seen, modernized, and updated with the buzzword “epic” attached to it. It’s really not much of a story at all. It’s more like a series of puzzle pieces that are just a little misshapen. It just feels patchwork and does the beautiful setting an injustice. Bungie has crafted some of my favorite stories in the industry so I’m hoping they will use future DLC and content packs to flesh out and expand the narrative. It would be a shame to leave the story a hot mess the way it is.
The problem with promising big things is that at some point you have to back it up. I found myself many times in this review saying how much I hoped they fixed Destiny‘s problems in the future with DLC and content updates. The problem with that is that the game is already fully released. In a way, there is no future for this game. What you have already is the game. Anything that comes out after is just an add on, like putting new clothes on an old body. Perhaps this is the problem with DLC in general. Do developers look at DLC or add on content as the cure all to making and selling a bare bones, vanilla game? Sometimes it seems that way. Destiny will go a long way in proving or disproving this theory. The game wasn’t even released and two DLC packs were announced and dated for it. Isn’t that crazy to anyone else? Why not just put that content in the game I just payed $60 for in the first place? If I had to guess, I would say it’s for the same reason indie studios will let people pay for a unfinished “early access” game; money. If it makes money, it’s golden. It’s a success then. It reflects the state of things when I feel like I’ve purchased a $60 foundation to a game that will be released as DLC installments for $15 a pop over the course of a few months or years.
But if I am to judge Destiny on what it is and not what it might be in the future with DLC, then I say bluntly it’s bland. It’s humdrum. Beautiful? Absolutely. It’s also solid mechanically. However, pretty and solid does not a good game make.
Bungie built an amazing and unique universe for us to explore, but filled it with the most uninspired and standard content possible. Everything beyond the aesthetics and mechanics is boring. Nothing is new. It doesn’t even separate itself from Halo. I dare someone to tell me that the Hive are not the Flood. I mean, c’mon. It’s a shame. If Bungie could have delivered on even half the promises it made, Destiny could have been something great. Instead, we are left with the skeleton of good game – and not much more.
Will DLC save Destiny in the end? Perhaps. But like I said at the start of this review: take all promises with a grain of salt.