Destiny Review: A stepping stone to something amazing
I never imagined myself so confused about a game that's seemingly so straightforward like Destiny. For all the systems and mechanics that make sense, there are others that I found myself scratching my head over. And yet despite my growing list of gripes that I jotted down during the course of my gameplay, I still managed to have a lot of fun playing it.
Destiny is a strange creature, one that can be considered a mutation hybrid of games like Halo, Borderlands and any popular MMO and yet can't really be comparable to any of them. It's certainly not a straightforward shoot and loot like Borderlands, its scope isn't as grand as Halo, for now at least, and its MMO mechanics are extremely barebones. And yet, I consistently found myself queuing up for missions, and partying up with my friends to shoot some ugly aliens in the face.
A large part of that stems from Destiny's excellent gunplay. Every gun type feels vastly different from one another, giving each one an appropriate weight. The appropriately named Hand Cannons will generally one-shot your enemies with a perfectly placed Precision Shot, while Auto Rifles will continually spray the enemy with concentrated fire. Shotguns pack a mean punch but offer some heavy recoil and Pulse Rifles on the other hand offer more precision with bursts of bullets. And of course then you have your two Heavy Weapon types, the Rocket Launcher and Machine Gun, both which do insane amounts of damage, though the bullet supply is a lot more limited.
Disposing of the various enemies spread across the four factions isn't as straightforward as you might think. While some of the enemies have weaknesses to headshots, there will be others who actually charge at you while firing if you manage to shoot their head off, and instead require you to shoot their stomachs instead. During the course of the game, I had a lot of fun figuring out these tactics to best deal with each type of enemy, though the game does have its fair share of annoying ones. Curse you Hive Knights and your crazy powerful sword attack.
Where Destiny could have easily improved its structure was in the main story missions. These usually consisted of ending with ordering Ghost to hack a terminal / download information / do some sort of computer-y thing, while you defended him from an onslaught of enemy waves. This was prevalent in nearly every mission.
Bungie also pulled a little visual cheat on us during the Alpha and Beta, showing us five planet locations, three of them being blank with only the Earth and Moon showing, when in fact there are only four planets to explore in total, the fifth being a location that only serves for two cutscenes, for now at least.
Graphically speaking, each of the locations, from the player hub (The Tower) to every planet and Moon, look pretty amazing. The detail on each planet makes them look incredibly realistic, despite some of the ancient ruins scattered across each of them. Stylistically, each location has its own color scheme. Earth is very colorful, despite its post-apocalyptic nature, while the Moon is filled with black and grey. Venus is easily the most gorgeous location, with yellow hues enveloping the environment, and blueish green ponds fill up the landscape.
Where Destiny had me hooked and excelled in keeping my attention were the Strikes. Their difficulty is far higher than any of the game's story missions and will require some hardcore team coordination if you expect to survive the onslaught of enemies. The Strikes generally consist of wading through a few areas, dispatching a few bosses and then ending with a final boss. After wiping three times on the Moon's Strike, we were almost ready to call it quits. The combination of the main boss' powerful laser beam with the infinitely spawning enemies to our left and our right, it seemed like a no-win situation. Though after the third time, we completely restrategized. We stayed together, though constantly on the move, as to never get swarmed by the smaller enemies and finding strategic spots for cover fire. In the end, we managed to beat it, and the satisfaction of bringing it down equaled that of besting a tough enemy in a game like Dark Souls. I loved it.
It's a good thing then that the game includes a Strike Playlist once you reach level 18, which randomly keeps putting you in Strikes, one after another. This not only earns you currency and reputation, both required for some high level end-game gear, but it also ups the difficulty to level 18 and beyond. It's a hell of a good time, and after I finished the game's story, I found myself glued to the Strike Playlist for hours. I would have loved to include my impressions of the Raid in the review, however that isn't going live until September 16th.
Your character progression is tied down to your main class, Hunter, Titan or Warlock, and two subclasses per class. These subclasses each have their own skill trees, that aren't level dependent, but rather allow you to upgrade them as you simply kill enemies and complete missions. Even at level 20 when XP is no longer gained to raise your level, your skills will still progress regardless. And trust me, by endgame, you will only have about half the skill tree unlocked, and that's if you only decided to focus on the one you started the game with.
Bungie has stated that the game doesn't truly begin until you reach level 20, and while I understand their rationale behind that comment, I can't say they pull it off that well. Diablo 3's Adventure Mode proved that revisiting older areas to complete side missions and collect epic loot is an extremely fun way of continuing the game past its five main Acts. Each mission was bite sized, usually never taking longer than five minutes, granted you had gear powerful enough. Destiny's approach is somewhat similar, though instead of offering up new side missions, you unlock level 20 and up versions of each main story's mission. The even bigger problem with these is that there really is no incentive in doing them, outside of the higher difficulty. There are no special rewards for doing them, so they just feel like a waste of time, for now at least.
Sure, I now have the option to finally start purchasing Legendary gear from various vendors across The Tower, but getting this gear requires a serious grind. For instance, doing one Level 20 Strike on the Playlist will net you 2 Vanguard points and 10 Vanguard reputation. Considering that some gear requires 150 - 175 Vanguard points and either Rank 2 or 3 Vanguard reputation, you're going to need to do a boatload of Strikes just to make enough for one gear piece. What's more, there is currently a limit on Vanguard points, capped at a 100 per week, meaning you'll need to play at least two weeks to get one Legendary piece. That's insane.
However, the biggest offense Destiny has committed, is its story, or complete lack thereof. In an interview with gamesindustry back in August of 2013, Bungie's COO, Pete Parsons, stated this little number:
"We like to tell big stories and we want people to put the Destiny universe on the same shelf they put Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter or Star Wars; we've already seen they do that with Halo. We were extremely proud of what we achieved with Halo... I'm pretty convinced we are going to do it again with Destiny in a way that maybe even Halo never achieved before,"
If Destiny wants to equate itself to Star Wars, it's certainly more Phantom Menace than it is New Hope. From forgettable characters, to minimalist plotlines that do very little to convince you of the importance of your existence, I found little to no connection with the overall world of Destiny. By the time I beat the last mission, and got the congratulations speech from the Speaker, it didn't feel rewarding in the sense Mass Effect 1 and 2 did. While I was never a huge fan of Halo either, I did respect the game's aptitude for great storytelling. People didn't fall in love with Master Chief and Cortana by simply seeing the world through his eyes. Not to mention, it's very odd to hear big names like Peter Dinklage, Lance Reddick, Bill Nighy, Nathan Fillion and Shohreh Aghdashloo lending their voices to Destiny, when all of their characters seem so inconsequential, for now at least.
What's even more mind-boggling is the game's take on Lore. Much like Dark Souls, you can choose to ignore or learn about Destiny's lore through items called Grimoire Cards, which are collected after encountering new enemies, stepping into new locations, etc. Ignoring the fact that the genre isn't really built for lore introduction this way, the only way you can actually read any of these is either on the companion app, which is clunky, or on bungie.net. That's like having every item in Dark Souls be completely blank in description, and the only way to learn about it and the world's lore, you'd have to log on your computer and read them all there. It breaks up the game immensely and completely takes you out of the experience.
Of course, your time with the game will expand exponentially if you dive into the terrific Crucible and its different game modes. The Crucible is where your Guardian abilities really shine. Nothing is more satisfying than picking off three different players with the Hunter's Golden Gun, or strategically landing the Titan's Fist of Havoc into a crowd, slowly watching their bodies dissolve around you. The maps are also built to make use of the Guardian's ability to move vertically as well.
The Crucible has its own progression and reward system built in, so if a player decides that all they want to do is play PvP the entire time, there is nothing stopping them from leveling their character, gaining new skills, and eventually unlocking Legendary gear, without ever stepping into the game's story mode.
Where the game shows immense promise is the future. In fact, when I played Destiny for the very first time, it actually reminded me of when I played Disney Infinity for the first time too; Great ideas that weren't properly executed, but I couldn't wait to see them fixed and reworked in the sequels. Bungie already announced new modes and events coming for the remainder of this month as well as October. If they continue to support the game with new additions like this, as well as fun daily events to make Destiny worth coming back to aside from the grueling grind, then I can see an extremely bright future for this 10-year franchise.
My other list of small gripes include things like some pretty bad load times between missions, the archaic design of having to identify items, the static placement of enemy respawns, the forgettable Explore mode and its largely annoying Beacon quests, and the lack of explanation for crafting components. All of these didn't ruin my overall experience with the game, but again, they were quirks that I hope Bungie will rework in the future. I've said 'for now at least' a few times in this review, and that's really the prevalent theme here. What Bungie has, is a solid foundation with a lot of room to grow, and I'm certainly excited to see the evolution of Destiny as time goes by. But, for now at least, Destiny is at best an excellent shooter, and a stepping stone for something truly wonderful.