A franchise built on two hardware generations’ worth of success, Destiny is something new, or is it? Touted as an amalgam of Shooter, MMO, and RPG, rumours flew. Powered by the next generation of hardware, one of the premier game developers have entered their next offering into the market. A massive expenditure of resources – time, money, man power – Destiny has landed, and it’s time to see what it’s all about.
Release Date: September 9, 2014
All the way along, I have been aware of a sort of split with my opinion on Destiny, which sort of makes sense. In a way, Destiny is two games. First, Destiny is a next generation shooter, one of the first new IP’s for the new hardware at the edge of game development. But also, it’s the next game from Bungie, their first since Halo and everything that goes with that. Hype, expectations, predictions… and this has been building for awhile. I could make the argument that the responsibility for any hype or expectations placed on a franchise rests with the audience. But then, I could also make the argument that are releasing the game on the foundations of greatness and that expectations are part of the game. Ultimately, it’s probably somewhere in the middle, between the game that is, and the game we were sort of expecting, but we’ll probably have to deal with both, both points are valid. Without further adieu.
Destiny – It’s not the game we expected (or the bad)
Part of the problem, of course, was the obscurity. They kept this game on lock and ran an airtight ship. Unless I missed something, there weren’t any details available that hadn’t been released by Bungie, so what we got instead were a lot of lovely tidbits, ‘its a bit like an MMO’ ‘Its a bit like an RPG.’ I think what popped instantly into all of our heads was ‘Halo/Skyrim with progressive world hubs!’ which is of course, the dream. I think that one is on us, the public, though nobody curtailed the wild speculation. A more accurate description might have been ‘Borderlands with some MMO conventions, With a large helping of Halo’. For critics, it’s probably too much like Halo. But we’ll get to that in a moment. Let’s deal with the Borderlands thing, which is a way of talking about the MMO thing, and the RPG thing.
Destiny’s universe is laid out in a series of ‘overmaps’ lacking another term. It’s similar in concept to how many MMO’s do it, and as Borderlands does. A large area is broken into sections, that area itself will have a level appropriate to its hazards. You will be sent into that area repeatedly in search of this or that, and you will clash with the same sorts of baddies routinely. Some of it could be considered ‘grinding’ (to use the MMO term) If it sounds a bit repetitive, it is.
The loot is reminiscent of the Borderlands RPG approach…. only with less loot, and while I’ve only scored green and white gear, and certainly I haven’t lacked for goodies, the majority of the stuff I use is either bought or a reward for completing a mission. Any of the good stuff will need to be ‘de-coded’ which is another word for ‘identified’, before it can be used. Another familiar RPG trope, and while not my favorite, it’s only mildly annoying, the actual process creates a sort of ‘Christmas morning’ aspect to it. I’ll finish with its similarity to Halo, but please don’t take this and the above on their own, if I’ve seemed a bit negative, its only for perspective, and because it needed addressing.
There can be no doubt that Halo is at the core of Destiny. Art Design, game play, story… Alien Relics, AI sidekicks, advanced future warriors… if you were looking for reasons to be in the ‘Destiny sucks’ camp, you could probably find ample ammunition here.
On the other hand….
Destiny as the Shooter we got (or, the good)
In many ways, Destiny is very much a next generation shooter, and there are a lot of good things to say about it. To start on an obvious good note, it looks fantastic. Playing on a PS4, it’s lovely to behold… and this is just the beginning. As for how the maps are laid out, there is definitely something reminiscent of Borderlands. The ‘worlds’ are each large arena’s with smaller areas built within… and while I did retread a lot of ground I couldn’t argue with the design. Borderlands maps were more like a huge room with three or four doors leading to a smaller, more exciting areas. Destiny on the other hand is more fluid, graceful. At times I was abstractly aware that I’d been in an area before, but while I was undergoing story missions the design was seamless, and so perfectly compartmentalized that I did not feel like I was treading the same ground time and again. This illusion falls away somewhat while undergoing ‘patrol’, a Bounty specific arena that amounts to ‘grinding for the cause’. The entire map opens up, and you’ll find yourself undergoing a fairly standard RPG brand of ‘fetch, escort, Kill this big ugly guy and all his minions’ sort of mini-missions. Bounties also serve as a place to help finish out the ‘achievement’ brand of meta reward. ‘Headshots’, ‘kills with this or that weapon’, ‘killing this kind of bad guy so many times’. Is this the most advanced game play design? No, but is it an elegant solution to a few old design tropes? Yup. Patrols are completely optional, so are Bounties for that matter, but for those of us who like to pursue that sort of thing, it’s an open play space that creates a structure and reward for the grinding experience. There is no argument that you will retread the same ground but, in my opinion, these are superbly designed arenas that contain pockets within pockets of playable space. This sort of construction is, in my opinion, only possible after a decades’ and more building spaces for people to run around in, shooting one another. If that is something you like to do, this is sound architecture for that endeavor.
Though goodness knows its superficial as heck, I can’t help getting a big kick out of seeing a character’s appearance changing as they progress. It’s a shallow seeming aspect of the game, but man is it gratifying. While I didn’t get loot quite as often as I would like, I still managed to switch it up quite regularly. Those items you don’t use can be broken down into materials and currency, which will simply help you purchase or upgrade something more to your liking. Some folks have poked fun at the aesthetic, but personally, I really enjoy the ‘dusty future apocalypse’ thing they have going, and I REALLY like the weapons.
A shooter rests on its shootery parts, no getting around it. Great games have been hampered by poor gun design, that is not a problem for Destiny. You’re weapons come in three classes, Primary, Special and Heavy, each with options aplenty. Each weapon type has a lot of character, even within its own ranks and you’ll have plenty of time to find a good fit. You’ll be rewarded for it when you do, weapons improve with use, leveling up and unlocking buffs and perks as they go. Though maybe I could have used a drop or two more, ultimately I must say that I found the loot system and gear over all to be a very satisfying experience.
The shooter is more and more a social affair… old crusty hermits like me, who want a lonely solo campaign, are probably a rare beast these days. As it happened, all my shooter friends were playing on a different console, and yet… I never felt alone. I don’t fully understand how they do it, and I’ve tried, but wherever you are the matchmaking ensures there are other Guardians about the business of pushing back the darkness. This ‘all in it together’ is something that used to be exclusively in the MMO space, but is finding its way everywhere. You can meet allies out here, whether your ‘friends’ are playing on the same console or not. Maybe you’ll join a Fireteam ( Co-op teams of up to 3), or maybe you just get or give a hand, I know I get a kick dropping a few sniper rounds into a horde if some random Guardian/s seem hard pressed. But whether you’re running with friends, strangers, or with no allies at all, the sense that the space is lived in persists, and makes it a more compelling place to be. And that’s just the campaign, Strikes, Raids and Multiplayer provide ample opportunity to team up and / or take out your fellow Guardian.
With Seven game types, the Crucible is Destiny’s multiplayer arena. Unlocking after the first few hours of a characters play through, you play with that character, skills, weapons and all. I must warn you… the Crucible is a challenging place. Now, I know that I’m soft like butter and this is a world filled with killers, but I got chewed apart. However, if it is your kind of thing, rewards abound. It reminds of me the PvP in Warcraft, gain experience and Crucible specific currency, gain Reputation, get exclusive gear. It’s an easy space to get lost in… and, you know, ‘killed’ in. Strikes are isolated mission runs pitting strike teams in what amounts to a dungeon. Clear an area of various levels of villains and there’s a boss at the end. This is a classic formula for fun and profit, familiar to all, and who doesn’t like taking on a boss? Another classic, Raids are more of an endgame item, starting around level 20 (which is roughly where you’ll be after finishing the main story) Raids pit a team of six ‘friends only’ combatants against a large scale dungeon filled with risk and reward.
I think what it all really boils down to is that Destiny, though it has a lot to do with what you’re looking for, is a lot more good than bad. If it was not quite the revolution some were speculating, I see in Destiny a great starting place, and a step in the right direction for the genre. If you are hard to please, one of the Bungie haters, or don’t really do shooters, well then you can find plenty of reasons to avoid it. For the rest of us, it’s important to remember that social games are self-directing. Countless iterations of the Destiny experience are setting off right now, and we’ll all take it from here. This wasn’t a game that was meant to have a fixed start and end, and if it’s not without flaws it has a lot to offer. Though it’s critics are valid in their criticisms, With Destiny, Bungie have made a new play place, less a game, more a playground that they plan to grow and evolve. A definitive step up from the old ‘multiplayer game with a story campaign’ regime, the story here is the beginning, if it’s not the freshest material, it’s a heck of a lot of fun.
Overall Rating 4 / 5
Destiny Ghost Edition for the Xbox 360,