The hype machine surrounding the release of Bungie’s much anticipated IP, Destiny, was quite remarkable and sure had me going full swing; beating the drum, waving the flag, chanting at the top of my lungs, D-e-s-t-i-n-y!, D-e-s-t-i-n-y! But was it all worth it in the end? Did Destiny deliver on its grandeur and potential as we all hoped it would? A game such as Destiny has too many facets to properly experience and explore in just a single day and as such I’ve spent 2 full weeks exploring its inner workings.
My beloved wife allowed me the grace of a full week (and then some) unbothered to play the living day lights out of Destiny and play I did! I even had the fortune of lending a hand in the persuasion of a dear friend to buy a Ps4 specifically to play Destiny with me. We gamed together from Tuesday 3:00am when the American servers went live, till the wee hours of Sunday night. Believe me when I say, we delved into every aspect this game has to offer, and have finally resurfaced to tell you all about it.
Sound and Visuals *8.5/10*
As you enter the world of Destiny it’s visual appeal is simply stunning. You’re initially thrown into Russia where you see humanities once upon a time former glory, now run down and completely undone at its seams. The Earthen sky is something you can spend hours staring up at plush with moving clouds and birds flying above. Water looks free flowing and surreal, however some of the plant-life can seem almost cartoon like when you get up close to it. The musical score put forth as you venture through the land and make for daring escapades expands on the atmosphere almost perfectly.
From Earth you move on to other locations, including the Moon, Venus, and Mars, and while the worlds themselves are beautiful and unique in their own right, there’s a strange and vague similarity to them. After playing through Destiny and its various worlds 3 of the 4 (Earth, the Moon, and Mars) all feel like the same place just with a different skin on it. In the opening trailer you see the Traveler produce rain on Mars and I was really hoping to see that when I went there myself, but no such luck. There’s a thin semblance of a weather mechanic but its not prominent enough to be apparent unless you’re paying attention for it.
On the whole I can say with certainty that any new comer to the game won’t be disappointed, but they will be looking for a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ which doesn’t really ever manifest itself excluding 1 unique location, The Black Garden (the coup de grace of what I was hoping this game would delivery as playable locations). It was a scenic view (that’s right, not playable location, but instead just visual eye candy) from this single location that blew my mind. With all of these terra-formed worlds I was crossing my fingers in hopes that we’d maybe be able to see some extreme weather conditions, or truly exotic landscapes altering gameplay every so slightly without being a pain, but it simply wasn’t meant to be. Instead the games large and vast locations were stunted by cookie-cutter environments devoid of anything truly inspiring.
Game Mechanics *6.0/10*
I just want to clarify that a games mechanics do not always include the gameplay mechanics and the 2 are often intermingled with one and other. As such I’m using Game Mechanics to focus more on the background / internal workings (ie. connectivity / load times / RNG / etc) rather then gameplay mechanics (ie. fluidity and feel of character / personalization and customization / difficulty / etc).
That being said Destiny has some big shoes to fill in when entering the MMO world. While they had one of the best launches ever in MMO history there has been a rise of connection issues that plague a small portion of the Destiny community even from launch. Furthermore the implementation of the Sony Exclusive content was a complete botch as countless numbers were left wondering where their content was and how to gain access to it. It was only by going onto the forums and finding a fix did people come to realize how to resolve the issue. Myself being one of the masses was quite infuriated that I need to jump through so many hoops just to get the exclusive content I was promised to being with. This faux pas caused a great many to lose out on access to critical gear that would have bolstered the early leveling process.
As if launch issues weren’t enough, the game suffers from some pretty mind boggling load times. Originally I thought this was just a small issue which would be resolved between BETA and final release but was shocked to see this be a persistent and concurrent thing. You see as you venture from place to place you need to go to orbit first, then select the planet and mode / location to which you wish to go. While that sounds logical and reasonable the execution of this method has been horribly implemented. The load times to get to Orbit, then Travel to your selected destination, and finally ‘arrive’ at the planet selected is excessively long. While I’ve not actually timed it I can say with certainty there’s a good 2-3 mins wasted from begin to end.
It wasn’t so long ago that load times were the bain of a gamers existence and developers have made great strides to tackle this issue. In an age in which we can have super massive open sandbox worlds the likes of Grand Theft Auto, which allow us to travel vast distances with little to no interruption its sad to see Destiny’s scope fall short on this front. To put it bluntly, this issue is disruptive to what is an otherwise pleasant gameplay experience, and is one that just shouldn’t exist in this era of gaming.
Apart from insane load times this games RNG (Random Number Generator) is also something that has every player in Destiny rendered speechless on (even to this day). Gear and Weapons are acquired by random drop, given to you as mission reward, or ‘decrypted’ from an Engram. Like most other MMO’s the level of gear is kept standard, White for regular not so great (or common) stuff, Green better (uncommon) stuff, Blue great (epic) stuff, Purple amazing (legendary) stuff, and finally Yellow/Goldish (exotic) stuff. Now keep in mind Engrams bear the same color system as gear, so Blue and Purple are generally what you want to get. There were several good stretches in which I was suffering for an upgrade, and would finally be lucky enough to get the drop in form of an engram but again have it turn into something either not for my class, or something similar or worst then what I had already equipped (which wasn’t all to great). You see finding an engram of high quality (epic or legendary) doesn’t mean it will decrypt into an appropriately matching colored item. Nay nay my good friends, it often turns into junk, which leaves us as players mildly infuriated. It’s due to this inept level of RNG that gearing up is almost truly left to the luck of the draw.
Snapping back to more MMO qualities, at its heart Destiny has us playing often with other people, or at the very least encountering them on our journey. There are particular types of missions called Strikes which in World of Warcraft terms is an Instance. These strikes have you and 2 other people join up and take on an encounter to take down some big bad boss. After a point a Strike Playlist opens up in which you can queue in to run strikes repeatedly over and over again. One of the critical flaws Bungie has over looked is the ability to quickly exit the Playlist when you’re done. Presently you need to hold the Triangle button for 10 seconds, which conveniently only activates at the mission report screen, which also coincidentally only lasts….. 10 seconds! This has been a source of rage and frustration not only for those wanting to exit strikes, but also for those who want to start strikes. The reason being that since people can’t leave the strike fast enough at the end of their mission they are forced to leave at the start of the next one, and of course that means you’re leaving a team stranded. It’s not by fault of the gamers themselves but truly a design issue which needs to be tweaked in order to avoid such occurrences.
A major dilemma fallen upon is the games lack of inter-player communication. Players are forced to have a mic and physically speak with one another by joining a Fireteam (party), or need to go to the Bungie website and interact on the forums there. The game also has a Clan (read as guild) feature however even the implementation of that has been botched beyond recognition. During my BETA days I joined up with a Clan and was puzzled to see that the Clan itself was divided by Members and Clanmates. Unlike other MMO player-based groups this really seemed odd as it inherently creates a divide for those whom join a Clan. To make matters worst there was a Clanmate limit of 75 people, yet again even more built-in division and incoherence. Getting people to join your clan is already quite a task as you need to raid the forums and promote the living daylights out of your group. The true joke only comes as you begin to get members into the clan, and then seek to bump them up to the clanmate status. The process of ‘promotion’ has got to be one of the most aggravating experiences this game drags you through. The amount of work needed to make a member a clanmate is so counter intuitive to what should be a fun that you almost don’t even want to have a clan at all, heck we’ve seen some folks just up and leave the clan on account of it.
Matching up in-game with non-friends is also clunky and inconvenient as you need to utilize the console platform to do so. Even if you’re part of a Clan there’s no clan-chat or feature like that. So Clanmates and subsequent clan members have no way to communicate with each other other then to login to the Clan Forum. Our clan was so starved for the need of a chat function that we resorted to using the phone application Whatsapp and created a group there for us to chat live with each other. The failure for Bungie to see the need for at the very least, clanmates and members, to talk with each other without a voice seems extremely short sighted. At least give the players the option and if they don’t want to talk or chat, then they can decide for themselves, but to arbitrarily make that decision for them is to deprive us of what is one the most basic human actions, communication.
Destiny’s gameplay is bar none one of the best I’ve ever encountered in any game to date. Again I generally stay away from the FPS genre however this game has an unnamed special quality that keeps me wanting to play more on a daily basis (take this with a major grain of salt). The games 3 classes of characters to select from (Titan / Warlock / and Hunter) each have their own unique style of play yet bare a comforting familiarity to one another. Each class can select from one of 2 specializations to play from which have their own unique benefits, and this certainly keeps things fresh depending on the situation you’re in and the needs you have to beat it. Unlike other MMO’s which seeks to create classes vastly different from each other causing an inherent imbalance in gameplay, Destiny does a pretty great job at keeping things at an even keel across its 3 classes and subsequent 6 total subclasses. The games various modes of play, Story, Strike, Explore, Nightfalls, and eventually Raids all have different difficulty levels to which you the player can adjust. A true delight with the games difficulty settings is that each tier of difficulty is truly that much harder to beat. Even if you’re geared to the extreme there’s still a challenge in it for you and that is something to be commended in today’s max-out-roflstomp gaming culture.
Even with all that praise just a moment ago we’re once again hit with another staggering problem. This one being one of the more monotonous aspects offered up revolves around the Explore and Bounty systems. Explore is effectively the games way of letting you freely roam around each worlds extensively large map. While “Exploring” you can pick-up missions via homing beacons which are scattered all over the place, and have you accomplish certain tasks (ie. go scout this area, go kill this thing, go scan that object, etc). I can only begin to describe the gut wrenching boredom experienced during this ‘mode’ of play. It’s mind numbing impact is felt even more as you travel to different worlds only to realized that every single world has the same exact type of missions. Think that’s bad? Well these missions can only be done 1 at a time, and take you back and forth to points already visited on the map. Have I mentioned the maps are huge? If not then let me say the maps are HUGE, so going from the zone you’re currently in, to a far reaching point for something as mundane as scouting feels not only like a chore, but severely cripples the flow of gaming. If they would put similar missions to the zone you’re in currently in it would help keep players more engaged in the activity rather then mindlessly focused on just accomplishing the already hollow and empty task. So what’s a Bounty and how does that fit in? Well Bounty’s are unfortunately no different then the Missions encountered during Explore mode, and have you do the almost same mind numbingly boring tasks as missions just on a slightly grander scale (ie. go kill ‘X’ boss in ‘Y’ Strike / Collect ‘X’ item from killing ‘Y’ enemies / Kill ‘X’ amount of enemies using ‘Y’ skill or weapon / etc).
The menu system in Destiny is great, and is kept minimalistic and clean. While some have complained that it’s a bit too lacking I find it’s a nice change of pace compared to various other bulky menu’s that other MMO’s have. On that note there’s one thing I definitely need added to the games menu system, a faction reputation section. Within the game are various factions (mostly PvP related) but others for PvE as well. You can gain faction reputation by doing various tasks and what not, or equipping a class item which swaps any experience earned as faction reputation towards whichever group you so choose. However the game reveals yet another short coming with this feature as there is no way to view the amount of faction reputation you have without having to physically visit a vendor in the Tower (your home base). The number of times I’ve wondered how my reputation grind is coming along only to realize that there’s no where for me to see this other then wasting 5mins to return to the Tower due to the games asinine loading times left me with quite a begrudging feeling.
To say Destiny has a story is laughable at best, as there is never any point of context given to the player as incentive to do anything that’s being done. You’ve been resurrected, thrown into a war which you have no idea how it started in the first place, and have no idea who or why you’re fighting other then the enemy is called the darkness and the darkness is bad. The darkness also seems to have different races / creatures which make up its legions yet we never fully receive any information about who they are or why they are fighting against you. To play out the story mode in destiny will take you under 10 hours of gameplay and that’s being very generous, I was personally able to finish it in about 7hours but then again I was playing non-stop.
So how does one get any form of context in Destiny’s story? Well apparently the player is expected to logon to Bungie’s site, create an account, and view an in-game collectable card collection (called Grimoires) which has snippets of information on various aspects of the game, from enemies, to items, and characters. These cards can also provide a benefit after a certain point (ie. killing so many of ‘X’ enemy lets you get more money from it / etc). Here’s the catch however, there’s no way to view these cards in game! Bungie seriously missed the mark on this, as I can’t fathom why they would create a system (the Grimoire cards) which give you a slightly better understanding of story and context, but not have them accessible in game.
Hollow story aside one of the major RPG elements Destiny seems to be lacking is its void of NPC’s on its worlds. The only place to see and interact with NPC’s is in the Tower. Beyond that there’s no other soul out there other then the aforementioned barely interactable players encountered on your journey. This astounding lack of identifiable npc’s or anything to help drive the story beyond your trusty Ghost companion leaves players with an empty and soulless experience. There is no context, there is no immersion, and most of all absolutely no connection. As you’re being sent forth to kill various legions and factions and critical enemy targets of the darkness you have no idea who you’re really fighting against. Names are blurted out as if they have some sense of weight, and menacing tones spoken, but the enemies themselves don’t actually interact with you (beyond trying to shoot you dead), making the soon to be slaughter almost pointless. I’ve taken down Princes, and Priests, and heck even a God! Not a single one of whom have any character or substance to them beyond a bloated health pool and deadly arsenal. How the hell Bungie the masterminds behind the famed Halo franchise could drop the ball so hard on this is something they certainly need to answer to. There are those out there who say the story is meant to be lite and minimalistic, but I promise that as you play, you’ll begin to realize that minimalistic actually means non-existent.
To cap this point off I’ll leave you with this, the games short experience story wise only ever has 5 people talk to you, 2 of which only say a paragraph of words at best and only near the end of the short campaign. Dinkle-bot (your Ghost), the Speaker, and a Mysterious Stranger are the only people that communicate directly to you on a ‘sorta kinda’ regular basis. What MMO or RPG have you played lately in which only 5 people at most have speaking rolls towards you? Yeah, I thought so…
Final Thoughts *6.8/10*
Destiny has a fairly long way to go before I can give it a any seal of approval. I in fact feel quite badly about persuading one of my best friends to buy a Ps4 to get this game and play with me because this title in its current form needs some significant changes. This game is lacking in many facets and is frankly not worth its standard price point of $69.99. For a game that’s been bragged about as having a roughly half billion dollar development budget, Bungie and Activision don’t have much to show for it. They want gamers to be playing this series for up to 10 years, but releasing half baked content like this which is full of holes won’t see it past 1 year if they don’t take the glaring pitfalls they’ve created seriously. The rambunctious repetition, aimless plot, and substance less foes have left me utterly disappointed with what was supposed to be a truly exhilarating experience.
Even as I write this review there’s a new ‘event’ being released called the Queen’s Wrath, but in true Destiny fashion it fails to deliver on new content. Instead they’ve rehashed the same old story missions and made players go through them again this time with the difficulty modifier increased. No new story, or plot, or anything, just the same old, made slightly harder, and with a guaranteed legendary loot drop at the end upon completion.
There’s been a flood of controversy surrounding this game, people complaining that because there’s DLC and Expansions coming that we can’t expect a fully developed game. To those people I say you’ve been brainwashed by the publishers, and they are laughing at every single one of you for it. Not so long ago when you bought a game, you bought the full thing, you didn’t have to pay for DLC or Expansions to get the full experience intended from its creators. Today however, you have entire levels, missions, and modes of play that are developed at the time of conception but held back only to be released at a later date in order to maximize profits. Destiny has a long term plan, but with a start as hobbled as this, they Bungie and Activision will have to rethink their strategy. A lot of people have paid for the next 2 expansions upfront, and you can rest assured I’m one of them, but will those expansions deliver where their flagship foundation have failed?
There is certainly a very real and very entertaining aspect about Destiny. I mean I’ve played nearly 65 hours in just 2 weeks, and I keep going back daily for more. This is proof that at its core the game is not only solid but pretty damn amazing. My only fear is that this certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ will vanish once I start to desire more story and better enemy persona engagement. Gameplay as is won’t keep me active for the proposed 10 years, and may be lucky if I remain active beyond the end of this month. Bungie, Activision, you have some work to do on that next expansion of yours, don’t fail the gaming community again, or you’ll see your player base deadline and that half billion dollar investment render you broke.