Platform: PS4 (Tested) | Xbox One | PS3 | Xbox 360
This review was always going to a tough one to write. On one hand, this is my first new-gen title, and the choice to make the jump for Destiny puts a lot of expectation on it. On the other hand, the difficultly of separating naturally-grown excitement from the flow of mainstream hype has complicated matters, to the point that our Editor Matt laughed as he handed me the job. Add on top of this the fray that has been other reviews coming out within days of release (and the fact I hate review scores – there, I said it) as well as a huge focus on the budget for the new franchise, and it’s been a little daunting in all honesty. Still, a week of play in Bungie’s long-awaited new IP has allowed me to see most of what the game has to offer, so to hell with the numeric opinions of others, and to hell with the budget (I couldn’t care less if it cost $500 million or a fiver to make) – it’s time for me to help you decide if it’s worth your time and money.
Let’s go over the basics for any newcomers in our ranks. At its core, Destiny is a persistent online shooter that sees players choose between three class types and races, each with their own distinct abilities and cosmetic choices. From there, players are charged with levelling up and finding the shiniest of loot by either jumping into PvE encounters or PvP fights, with more content unlocking as the player’s level increases. It’s part MMO and part co-op encounters, all tied together with FPS combat that we know and love, but it’s also not quite like anything else that’s come before it. Despite the similar mechanics, it’s not Halo, and it’s not World of Warcraft either. The nearest thing to it (and I can’t believe I’m bringing it up again) is Defiance – the game that never realised its potential. In fact, there are a quite a few issues that Destiny shares with Trion’s online shooter, but there is one difference that separates the two – Destiny is fun to play for all the right reasons, and that in my mind overshadows the problems that are there.
Destiny’s plot is certainly not as well-crafted or even delivered as the Halo series, or even other online games, but here’s the gist – you play a Guardian of the Last City on Earth, responsible for protecting humanity and the other races that live there underneath the Traveller – a giant space ball that saved the remanence of civilization from annihilation. Accompanied by a floating AI probe known as a Ghost, the player is tasked with taking the fight to an evil known as the Darkness, defending our homeworld against four different threat – The Fallen, The Hive, The Vex, and the Cabel (or: the budget Covenant, a henched-up flood, retro SkyNET, and the 40K Space Marines cosplay society.)
In all seriousness though, the first time the player meets these enemies is effectively done, but you soon realise that they are just the same types of enemies re-skinned and with some different abilities. There’s always a melee unit, there’s always a general gunner, there’s always a sniper, and there’s always one with a huge cannon of merciless death. With an occasional change to the line-up with elite versions or the occasional tank, that’s pretty much it for most of the levels. Thankfully the boss fights are where the real variation is to be found, although you’re always dealing with the usual suspects as well (in what the MMO community call “adds”. Annoying, ANNOYING “adds”.) Overall though, the enemies look impressive and can be downright intimidating up close, but none of them are as memorable as Halo’s Elites or Jackals or Brutes, which is a huge shame.
This is a recurring issue with Destiny – great presentation draped over a lack of variation or memorable set pieces, with players left to create those moments for themselves. When most of the game is about repetitious grind – especially at the soft level cap of 20 – it begins to become more obvious. Take the open world locations for example – the difference in aesthetics between Earth, the Moon, Venus & Mars make for beautiful stages on which the action take place, and the contrasts between them in terms of visuals and architecture is highly commendable (and that’s not even mentioning those glorious vistas.) However, once on the planet it’s the same handful of tasks over and over, the same routes to be traversed to get there, and the same groups of enemies forever spawning in-between. Those of you who like the grind that raises in difficulty (ie. all you Diablo players) probably won’t mind this, but if you’re not used to the repetition found in dungeon crawlers or MMOs then you’ll find it hard to get over this particular hump, even with core gameplay that is pure satisfaction.
That said, you can ignore the repetition of the open world and focus on the story or the co-op Strike mission, or keep yourself confined to the PvP arenas of the Crucible, all the while earning XP and loot on the road to level 20. In that respect players can tailor the experience to suit their needs, and considering earning reputation to gain the best rewards requires a focus of attention (as there are multiple factions and currencies to acquire) players will have to decide where their strengths – and enjoyment – lies.
Now I’ve spent a fair bit of time so far pointing out Destiny’s flaws, but here’s the thing – despite the issues it manages to be highly enjoyable and down-right addictive when the action kicks off.
Bungie have taken the combat mechanics that made the Halo franchise so popular, given players a selection of abilities to choose from and customise, and made it not only play extremely well, but look absolutely amazing once the carnage starts. Turning the tide of battle with a well-timed super ability is nothing short of satisfying. This is almost certainly due to the RPG mechanics allowing players to customise their chosen class to match their playstyle, allowing them to play the way they want to. This also extends to the weaponry, with rarer guns having their own unlockable progression that further enhances their damage or effectiveness in specific situations, again allowing the player to tailor the experience to their liking. It is this level of choice that is perhaps my favourite aspect of Destiny.
Likewise, each game mode within Destiny requires a different approach to gameplay, making it almost a compilation of some of the best aspects of gaming over the last decade. The Story mode allows for gun-ho Rambo-ing with no real tactics needed (unless you turn up that difficulty, and then day-um) while the Strike missions present a co-op experience that requires teamwork to beat (and that’s before reaching the dastardly bullet-sponges that are the bosses.) Meanwhile, each of the different PvP modes has its own distinct feel despite the familiarity at first glance.
Speaking of PvP, this is clearly where Destiny shines the brightest, no doubt thanks to years of refining the multiplayer component of the Halo series. Each PvP mode has been made accessible and easy to understand, with weapon and level balancing being a non-issue after the first few rounds. This bodes well for the longevity of Destiny’s PvP modes especially with the ability to turn off special abilities and upgrades in certain playlists for a truly level playing field. As for criticisms, I do hope that more game modes make their way into Destiny over time (and aren’t locked to DLC.) A map that takes advantage of vehicles would be great, especially on the moon level, or a variation on Grifball using that sword found in the one Moon story mission would be brilliant. Considering the way the UI allows for more modes to be put in at a moment’s notice, I suspect that won’t be an issue.
As for the UI, Destiny has that nailed down. After it embarrassed me when the D-pad didn’t work and I realised there was a cursor to move, I had nothing but praise for the ease of use it provides all aspects of the game. Navigating the solar system map and getting into the game mode of choice is a slick experience, and even the HUD in-game provides the relevant information without distracting the player from any action going on. If there was one thing to criticise, it’s the lack of in-game map to find objectives. The radar provides some help in that regard, but an overlay that appears with the Ghost menu would have been beneficial.
Another thing that Destiny managed to get right was The Tower, which acts as the home for all players. Being the place to hand in items, pick up rewards, and buy new gear, along with the added hustle and bustle of NPCs next to other players, makes it a welcome and stark contrast to the vast expanses of nothing but enemies in the rest of the game world. It’s a place of respite alongside being a social hub, something that Defiance was absolutely missing, so it’s good to see Bungie realised this was a priority to get right. And they did get it oh-so right. God, I love The Tower and its view of The Last City below.
It would also be criminal of me to not mention the sound design, which is perhaps the best I’ve heard since WildStar. Everything has the right weight to it, be it the sound of the various guns, the Sparrows whooshing by, or the special abilities making their impact. Then there’s the work Marty O’Donnell has put into the reactive soundtrack. While I wouldn’t say there is a memorable theme like his previous work, the accompanying music fits the pace of the action on screen perfectly, once again highlighting the advantages of in-house composers over commissioned ones. I just hope that the next game in the series has the same level of quality with O’Donnell’s departure.
So, let’s address a few things that have rightly been lambasted online for the last week. Firstly, those loading times. Oh god, those loading times. Thinking back, Halo didn’t exactly have the fastest load times back in the day, but considering how this is meant to be a new-gen game I can’t help but feel the load times should have been much better. It doesn’t help that this includes heading back to the Tower alongside every game mode as well.
Secondly, there’s the story and the voice acting talent, or apparent lack-of. It’s clear that, having made it to the end of the story missions, there is a narrative there waiting to be told, but I have a horrible suspicion that the many answers we are seeking will be found in the upcoming DLC. To me, that’s not the way to do it. You tell your story from start the finish and then flesh it out with additional content, not fill the blanks once more cash has been handed over – a pattern every MMO ever has followed for years. As for the voice-acting and characterisation, despite a few moments late in the game, the monotone delivery of Dinklage’s Ghost while fitting in my eyes will continue to rub many the wrong way. It’s a shame that the more memorable characters live in The Tower, although again I can never remember their names and it’s more a case of ‘spot the famous person’ (“Hey, it’s Nathan Fillion! And Peter Stormare! Oh, that’s Broyles from Fringe! And Maggie from The Walking Dead! Yay!”) Again, this just makes The Tower the most interesting location in the game thanks to the personality that isn’t ‘out there.’
Speaking of which, I miss the Grunts from Halo fleeing in terror more than I like packs of elite Minotaurs making me run away in terror. Just wanted to mention that.
Ultimately, as I said at the start of the review, the issues are rather obvious, and Bungie probably should have known better considering their pedigree, but this is all overshadowed by how fun and additive the game is once you get going. The feeling of wanting to do one more mission, to kill one more pack, on the off-chance I get some better loot, is the icing on the cake that is made up of satisfying FPS combat. Sure, the baking time is longer than other gaming cakes out there, and it isn’t the most exotic or original recipe in terms of its ingredients, but that doesn’t stop it from tasting so moorish that I want another piece right now-no-GO-GET-YOUR-OWN ( and no, how about YOU stop watching so much Great British Bake Off.)
Anyway, the main thing is that, as Matt pointed out in a recent opinion piece, Destiny is the foundation for an excellent franchise, and one that can see great improvements if Bungie capitalise on the feedback being given to them. Much like the Paul McCartney song says, there’s hope for the future, but what we have right now isn’t terrible or exceptional – it’s just good old fashioned fun. It’s made more fun when you’re with friends, though, and that to me is the real decider in recommending this as a purchase.
- Bungie’s tried & tested FPS combat is as fun & satisfying as ever.
- Plenty of ways to customise and progress your characters.
- It’s a treat for the eyes! AND the ears!
- Those loading times. Ugh.
- A lack of variation in enemies & objectives is disappointing for an online game.
- Without friends, it can be pretty empty in that open world. Except at The Tower. Which is just wonderful.
The Short Version:
Despite the glaring issues that, understandably, some might not be able to overcome, Destiny does manage to create a sturdy foundation from which Bungie can build its new franchise. If you can get past its foibles you’ll discover an addictive online shooter that is just good old-fashioned fun on a delicious tasting bun.