Destiny Review (PS4)
Destiny is the most hyped game of the year. This is Bungie’s first game since Halo Reach in 2010, and their first new IP since the first Halo in 2001. With their history and this type of budget there was no reason to think Destiny wouldn’t be the best game this year.
This is a case of gameplay, graphics, and story being of wildly different qualities. The story is a major disappointment. Peter Dinklage voices your companion, and boy is he terrible. For an actor as talented as him he sounds completely bored and uninterested in putting any effort in. Even if he was giving it his all he couldn’t save the lines written for him. I don’t blame him for taking the quick paycheck and going back to doing actual acting work. The core of the story has something to do with this giant white ball called “The Traveler” that’s the last beacon of humanity. You, as one of many guardians, are fighting to vanquish the darkness which manifests as The Fallen, The Vex, and blah blah blah. They’re all basically The Covenant from Halo. The story never pays off in any meaningful way so it doesn’t really matter. You fight aliens, robots, organic types, etc. There are only around 5 voiced characters, and the final boss is forgettable and makes no attempt to be an epic conclusion. It doesn’t really matter what you’re shooting or the reasons for it when it comes down to it, but damn if they don’t look great.
The graphics and art direction are fantastic. The enemies are all interesting to look at, and the worlds are beautiful (Earth, Moon, Mars, and Venus). The distant background looks like great matte paintings, all the canyons and valleys of the worlds are lighted beautifully with strange colors and littered with cool architecture. These are rich worlds that are fun to just look. It’s a shame there are so few of them. With only four planets to go to with 7 or so regular missions and couple of “strike missions” on each one, the environments begin to wear thin quick. You’ll see the same things over and over again; some missions even take you to the exact same spots as the one before it.
Let’s get to the meat of the game: the shooting. It feels great. You can tell this was made by Bungie. The running and weight of the melee attacks feel like Halo, but the difference is a lot quicker like Call of Duty. I think it’s a great mix of old and new. The aiming in the old Halo games felt sluggish to me. Destiny has much quicker aiming movement, and a touch of auto-aim to keep your bullets flowing. If you’ve played Call of Duty you know that touching the left trigger near an enemy will aggressively snap your aim towards them. This is a lot more subdued. It’s more of a guided aim and with the quickness of the aiming you can move your crosshairs for easy headshots so it still feels completely under your control. They’ve done such good job with the core mechanics here. You have grenades on a cool down instead of a finite amount, a super melee move that is also on a cooldown, and a special attack that is on a cooldown. It works very well in giving a lot of options to tackle enemies and different strategies you can try. It can feel like poetry in motion when you combine all your skills to take down a crowd of enemies in seconds.
The leveling system works like most RPGs. You kill dudes, do missions, and get XP. There are 20 base levels plus you can use light gear to reach even higher. Your skills upgrade as you level, but even after hitting the cap they keep coming as if you were still leveling up. There is a lot to like about this. That carrot-on-a-stick style of gameplay can be entertaining for months or years if it’s done well. The successful of World of Warcraft proves that. Unfortunately for all of the good the leveling system does to keep you invested, the actual missions and loot are not up to par.
So the game works like this: You have “Story” missions on each planet, a couple Strikes, and Patrol missions (which are just free roam MMO style side missions on each of the four planets). The Story missions all start with your Ghost giving you some unimportant piece of dialogue, and then you’re down on the planet killing stuff until you get to an area where he scans an old computer and you fight off waves of guys. That’s it. That is as ambitious as the mission design gets. In Halo the missions were mostly shoot these dudes and get through this area, but there were always different objectives and things happening. Even still, the AI in the Halo series and the way the enemies were placed into the levels created great memorable encounters that required a lot of strategy and weapon management to make it through. This game has monster closets which enemies spawn out of. The enemies are in the same place every time you play the mission, spawn from the same spots, but they feel like they’ve just been thrown out there in droves to run into your bullets. No care has been given to where they come from. The AI itself is so basic it hurts. Some of the different types hide behind cover and peek out, but never really flank you or get more interesting than that. They just walk towards you. It feels like a shooting gallery. Your main purpose here isn’t to have fun enjoyable action, but to kill a lot of guys so you can grind for weapons or armor. For Bungie to disappoint on something they’ve mastered in the past really doesn’t make sense.
Other than the story missions you have Strikes which are raid-style missions that you can play solo, with one or two friends, or matchmaking. You go down onto a planet into an area you’ve seen in the story missions, and fight big bullet sponge enemies. That’s it. They throw a bunch of lower and higher level enemies at you while you fight the boss, and maybe you get a new gun or piece of gear. The entire point of this, I assume, is to get better gear so you can better tackle the Raid missions(which I’ll get to in a moment). It’s just not very fun. There is nothing, in my opinion, interesting enough in the loot you get or the bosses you face to keep you hooked to this monotonous grind.
I could almost understand this grinding stuff if the gear you were getting went into the competitive multiplayer (PVP), but it doesn’t. The Crucible as it’s called houses your PVP sessions. You have four modes: Control (a capture point mode), Clash (Team Deathmatch), Rumble (Free for All), and Skirmish (3v3 Team Deathmatch). They have promised more modes in the future, but the core of the game just doesn’t work. The loot and leveling up you do in the other missions doesn’t transfer over. No matter what gun you’re using or what skills you have it’s all balanced out to be meaningless. That’s fine if the other modes were interesting, but it makes it hard to figure out what the endgame is to all the grinding. In the beta they had an “Iron Banner” mode that let you take all your stuff into the Crucible, but honestly it didn’t matter even then. The amount of health you have leads to everybody ditching the auto-rifles and such for one-hit kill shotguns, two-hit melee kills, and one-hit kill special attacks. Imagine if the multiplayer in Halo gave everybody a shotgun and a recharging sword from the beginning. It wears itself out in hours, but there are faction points you earn to get better gear so keep grinding this too!
All of this grinding that permeates every part of the game might be worth it when the Raids unlock? This is a question I asked myself for the 20+ hours I played Destiny. As of now they aren’t unlocked yet, but I assume in the next few weeks they will open up. Requirements are pretty steep: minimum level 26 and 6 players with no matchmaking. IF you don’t have 5 friends to join up with it’s not happening for you. You can’t search for 5 other people to join you it has to be people on your friends list. Also, if you haven’t grinded for dozens of hours on the same missions/Strikes to get enough light gear drops to make Level 26 it isn’t happening. I bet for a lot of people neither of these requirements are going to be met. Having 5 friends, on the same console, who are still interested in playing this chore of a game after a few weeks is going to be a bigger challenge than beating the game. Not to mention you yourself being interested enough to grind the same boring content over and over again to get a helmet that lets you keep leveling. I think they’ll buckle and allow matchmaking down the road when the player base dwindles, but either way I’m not expecting much from these raids if the Strikes are anything to go by. It’ll just be a bigger boss with more health that takes an extraordinary amount of time to kill. More does not equal bette. I could be wrong, and the Raids could be the best thing ever put in a video game, but that wouldn’t change my review: nothing they could do with the endgame lets them off the hook for the repetitive slog the rest of the game is.
Overall I didn’t hate my time with Destiny, but great gameplay mechanics and art design can’t make up for uninteresting game design and lack of content. The announcement of two DLC expansions already doesn’t give me hope for this game; it makes me sad. There should be more here, and if there was I bet the process of leveling to 20 would’ve been a lot more enjoyable, but it’s too late. You only have shot at the initial experience. The core of Destiny can’t be saved by more content. Bungie can plug a million more planets, weapons, and enemies into this shell of a game, but they can’t add a soul.