Destiny is easily the most anticipated and hyped game of 2014. As an online MMO FPS game from Bungie, the studio behind the critically-acclaimed Halo series, gamers were justifiably excited for this particular title. After spending many hours with the game (both in its beta and retail release forms), I’ve come away impressed. Destiny is far from perfect in its current iteration, but the foundation of a fantastic game is here.
The gameplay is addictive and satisfying, polished to a mirror sheen. The universe is breathtakingly beautiful, taking players on an epic journey throughout the solar system. While the world of Destiny feels fully realized, visually speaking, its characters and story feel like rough sketches. With a $500 million budget and the promise of a 10-year lifespan for the game, gamers rightfully expected more. But if you can manage your expectations, look beyond the hype and see the game for what it is – a very solid shooter with the possibility to become something much greater in the future – you’ll likely have a lot of fun with Destiny.
Bungie’s ambitious new title feels like a great mix of Halo and Mass Effect, with perhaps a bit of Borderlands thrown in for good measure. The character designs and beautiful, scenic sci-fi environments are truly something to behold, especially on next-gen in 1080p, and it all runs almost flawlessly with a buttery-smooth frame rate.
At the outset of Destiny, players are tasked with creating an avatar, with a choice of Hunter, Warlock, and Titan classes. I created a Warlock female, who could wield not only guns but also some really cool magic powers – such as double-jump/hovering and an incredibly destructive energy grenade. The game’s character editor features a decent selection of faces and hairstyles, and you’re free to customize your avatar’s skin color, hair color, eye makeup, markings, eye color, and more. There are three races to choose from – Human, Exo, and Awoken, and you’re free to create both male and female avatars.
Destiny at times evokes Borderlands with the sheer volume of loot that players come across, although the inventory management system here is vastly improved. Players have a large amount of storage, and can easily dismantle armor or weapons at any time to get Glimmer (the game’s currency) and parts. The Tower is always accessible between missions to buy new armor, weapons, engrams and much more. It’s also incredibly easy to see if new collected items are more powerful than your current gear, by simply holding down a trigger for a quick comparison. As you level up, you’ll also unlock new weapon special abilities and character upgrades, which are thankfully made very accessible for those who weren’t raised on RPG games.
The MMO aspect of Destiny really sets it apart from other games of its ilk, especially in a heated battle when you’re up against a high-powered enemy. When you’re just starting out at the lower levels, it’s an awesome feeling to have a fire team of experienced players show up and annihilate your foe before continuing on their own personal journey. The community for this game in general seems great, as players always are willing to revive a fallen Guardian or lend a helping hand in a firefight.
Once Destiny has its hooks in you, it can be very hard to put down. The addictive gunplay and loot system create the feeling of always wanting to play just one more round (especially with friends) in anticipation of new armor or weapons. It doesn’t hurt that Destiny is a very pretty game, with slick visuals and gorgeous art design. But the worlds just feel very static and lifeless. There aren’t enough players running throughout the world, and the game’s story (at least what is presented in-game) is paper-thin and hardly compelling. Cutscenes are few and far between, characters come and go for hours at a time and it’s hard to feel invested in anything. While the Grimoire system hosted on Bungie’s site hints at a deeper narrative, there is shockingly little here to propel players to the end credits apart from the engaging gameplay and the promise of better loot. Your Guardian is so underdeveloped, with so few lines of dialogue, that he/she may as well be a silent protagonist. The money spent on big-name actors like Peter Dinklage, Lauren Cohan and Bill Nighy feels a bit wasted, given the amount of screen time they get. Still, the awesome gameplay always kept me coming back to Destiny’s world.
The missions are a real problem, as well. While it’s always fun to gun down enemies and blow stuff up in Destiny, the mission structure can be very repetitive. I can’t count how many times I fought through a level, only to come upon some device that my Ghost (voiced rather unenthusiastically by Peter Dinklage of Game of Thrones fame) needed to hack. My Ghost needs time to open up a door, and me and my Fire Team have to hold off a horde of incoming enemies until he’s finally finished. Rinse and repeat. It’s distressing just how often Bungie uses this same trick.
Destiny’s music is consistently amazing, often outshining the action that’s taking place in the game itself. And the presentation is great – on next-gen there’s hardly any rough textures or frame rate drops. The rain-slick, overgrown world of Venus, with its orange pools of liquid scattered throughout, was one of the most impressive locales, as well as the moon. While Destiny has some very long load times, it’s masked by an animation of spacecrafts venturing toward the next planet.
While Destiny has a decent selection of alien combatants to duke it out with, it’s a shame that players never get a chance to pick up some of the alien weaponry. While the game’s weapons all feel responsive and satisfying, especially my favorite, the Auto-Rifle, the arsenal could definitely use more diversity. At least the magic abilities and area-of-effect grenades feel useful; it’s incredibly exciting, as the last man standing, to take down a bullet-soaking mini-boss with a Nova Bomb and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
Destiny’s PvP competitive multiplayer suite, the Crucible, is a fun distraction. There’s a relatively small selection of maps, there are no private lobbies, and the game modes can’t be customized, but playing against human opponents as opposed to the A.I. is exhilarating. The Crucible feels like the only way to truly interact with other players, as the game does not allow communication with people outside your party, or even loot trading. This is especially frustrating when a member of your team gets a powerful weapon that they can’t even use, because it’s not their class. In a game like Diablo III, players could simply trade or give away the items in question. It’s hard to imagine why the game requires an internet connection, considering that missions can be played solo and there is so much separation between players that the other Guardians running around may as well be A.I. If it weren’t for the exceedingly difficult no-respawn zones, Destiny would absolutely be playable solo. It’s good that the game encourages cooperative gameplay, but I feel as though it shouldn’t be impossible for players to go it alone, either. The major downside to all multiplayer aspects of Destiny is that there is no penalty for quitting, so members of a losing team have nothing but their honor preventing them from quitting out.
It’s tough to give Destiny a final score, considering that this is a game that will constantly see improvements and expansions. But I have to rate the game based on how good it is right now. While Destiny is built on an impressive foundation of fluid controls, lavish production values, gorgeous visuals, and an addictive loot system, the barely-existent story, barren world, and repetitive gameplay take it down a few notches. If you go into Destiny expecting a very solid cooperative shooter, instead of the game-changing production that the hype and $500 million budget would have you believe, I have no doubt you’ll enjoy yourself.