Destiny – Xbox One
Platform: Xbox One
Developer: Bungie, Inc.
Release Date (NA): September 9, 2014
Genre: First Person Shooter, Online-Only
ESRB Rating: Teen
Nerd Rating: 7.5 out of 10
Reviewed by: Variand
NOTE: This review is for the Vanilla version of the game and does not include any elements of the recent expansion “The Dark Below.”
Bungie’s first game since leaving the Halo franchise, Destiny is a bit of an oddity. It’s not quite a typical shooter, it’s not quite an open world, it’s not quite a dungeon crawler, it’s not quite an MMO, it’s definitely NOT an RPG, and it’s not quite it’s own game or even a “complete” game. But there are two things that Destiny is: Beautiful and Fun.
While technically not a Halo game, there are many items within the game that almost seem ripped straight out of the their long time IP. Invisibility is one of the easiest and most notable carry overs into Destiny. The baddies are new and unique designs, but they feel almost as if they are echoes from Halo’s bad guys. Even elements of the story and/or lore have the same near religious overtones towards an oversized astrological object similar to Halo’s Covenant’s worship of the Halo Ring. However, while these may sound like they might make the game feel like a cheap clone, rest assured that these similarities only make the player feel more comfortable in a completely new world, and only those who are quite familiar with the Halo games will even recognize Bungie’s blossoming artistic style.
One of the first things players will notice about Destiny is its stunning graphics. Destiny is a beautiful game given lots of graphical polish on not only characters, enemies, and in-game objects, but amazing detail and stunning visuals in the vistas and background settings that will make any truly adventurous player want to go exploring. Destiny’s singular “social area” (Read: “goof-off zone”), has two very different, but no less impressive, backgrounds to be seen on either side of the Tower, and even the in-play environments have a wide variety of layouts and nuances.
While the graphics are stunning at first, the awe will eventually wear off to a degree that you can concentrate on the gameplay, and luckily, the gameplay is solid. Controls are smooth and responsive, the interfaces are easy to understand and use, if a bit tedious at times with the lack of any “hot key” settings, and enemies use smart and challenging (read: “annoying”) tactics – though much of the AI does resemble a hybrid of decision making covenant Baddies in Halo. Destiny’s Enemies will hide if they are injured (shields are down) or out of range, very similar to Halo’s grunts and jackals.
Destiny also has several seamless features that make sense in the lore of game. Story/campaign contains missions and side quests can be done solo or in 3-player co-op, several Strikes that are designed for 3 players, and 6 player co-op raids that are designed to challenge even the most cohesive groups. 6v6 and 3v3 competitive Multiplayer with your typical game-types is meant to be training between the various Guardian factions and can be jumped into as easily as any story mission now that match making has been fixed.
One element of Destiny that stands out amongst other shooters, including the Halo series, is the inclusion “Patrol” missions. What this does is drop you into one of the 4 worlds with no hard objectives. There are missions that players can complete and repeat and public events in which players can take part to earn upgrade materials for their gear, reputation and marks for the various in game factions, and of course, experience to level up their skills and gear. The best part of this function is that there are simply no rules to this mode. You can search for upgrade materials, explore the world freely and unrestricted, have impromptu Speeder bike races, create some machinema, or just kill indiscriminately (No PvP) – or discriminately if you feel particular upset with a specific baddie type. A mostly-open world experience allowing you to do whatever you want.
Addendum: While this may seem similar to Borderlands style of open world, and it is an fairly apt comparison, the fact that players can choose between “Patrol” and story missions gives the game a bit of a different feel. Story missions are much more “produced” and will have elements throughout that engage with story, where patrol have very little scripted action besides the public events that take place in set increments every hour.
While this all makes it seem like Destiny is a contender for the Game of the Year, there are some glaring problems with the game that will likely keep it from ever hitting that accolade. Chiefly, the game very quickly becomes a grind. Since higher tier gear and skills level independently, you’ll be max character level and still be grinding experience points. And worse yet, to upgrade to a new level you’ll be required to use upgrade materials that will have you running around the worlds in patrol sessions grinding out these items. Also, the character experience level (levels 1-20) are rendered pointless really because of the fact that you can be a level 30 (Max level with fully upgraded gear), and after switching your subclass item, you’ll have the skills of a brand new character. The result is that you’ll have high powered guns and armor, but you won’t have jump skills, grenade skills, melee skill, or even your special. This is the same situation as if the entire leveling system were gear based, and the 1-20 levels removed. It’s only true function is to delay players from unlocking the higher level gear items too quickly.
One thing Destiny does well is pacing the leveling – to a degree that might be detrimental for the less than obsessive players. In fact, at this point, you cannot even get to the highest level of 30 without getting gear rewards from the 6 person raid – which does not have match making. Meaning you’ll have to find groups through LFG sites, or have a friend do it for you. It is was a major accomplishment to complete the raid with only 2 players, but this would be nearly impossible for all but the best players. Even if you get this gear, you’ll then need to upgrade it by leveling it up using experience, glimmer (in-game currency), world specific items collected through grinding in patrols, and “ascendant” materials which you can only obtain a few a day. On average, one piece of armor will require upwards of 18+ ascendant materials. What this equates to is that if you really work at leveling, spending 6 hours a day playing, it’ll take you about 10 days, likely more, to hit level 30. For the average player who only plays an hour or two a night, it will take you well over a month, if you ever even get close.
The daily and weekly missions, which reward you with a large number of ascendant materials, do help give you a reason to keep coming back to the game, however, the gameplay list comes from the strikes already accessible through normal gameplay, so you’ll be running the same missions over and over. There are only 7 in total, so it won’t take long before doing each mission 2-3 times a day till they become stale and boringly routine.
And the online-only aspect of the game makes the game subject to all the wonderful (sarcastic) intricacies of networking. The State-saving technology of Xbox One is rendered useless as every time you sign-in, you’re greeted with a “You’ve been disconnected” message and booted back to the Start screen, a process that takes the same amount of time as a full bootup from scratch. And lag can become a problem, especially when trying to do the harder level strikes and raids, making them impossible to complete.
And what was most disappointing for me from nearly the start of the game was the story, or more aptly, the lack of anything resembling one. There is plenty of lore about the world of Destiny, about the Traveler’s appearance, early activity, and subsequent death, but even that isn’t even explained in-game but rather through a “grimoire” only accessible through Bungie.net. I’ve read nearly every single entry of which I’ve unlocked, and I still know next to nothing about what happened, or worse, what IS happening. It feels almost as if Bungie’s writing team has mistaken plot with lore. The lore is deep and has an “Epic” feel, but it seems as if it all is only barely connected, and as a result, the writing has a sense of being dramatic but is really just a tasteless fluffy goop you’re forced to swallow through cutscenes.
This is perfectly depicted in a cutscene when the Stranger, so mysterious she likely doesn’t knows anything about herself, answers the question, “Who are you?” with the response, “I don’t even have time to explain why I don’t have to time to explain.” That line by itself made me just about frisbee the game disc off my third story balcony. There is never any explanation of who she is, what she’s doing, why she’s doing it, or anything else. But just know, she’s a ass kicking, Exo (Robot Race) with blatant breasts, and she’s way too cool for you. Here, have a gun you’ll never use.
The part that makes me the most disappointed in the story, is that it does actually have some incredibly enticing elements to it and seems to fail completely to utilize them even the slightest bit. Everyone loves unraveling the mystery of a stranger, the Matriarchal society of the Awoken offers some amazing potential for story, and even just the characters of the Tower itself offer some decent potential stories, but it’s all missing. Nothing is explained through either in-game story, or even the grimoire lore. It’s like playing a shell of a story. And its biggest sin in my view is to leave the game with an “Open-ending” when they didn’t even offer a modicum of closure.
This is part of the main reason why I say the game is not quite a full game. It’s functional for all purposes, and actually does offer several hours worth of polished and balanced gameplay in a beautiful world, but there’s nothing there to keep us invested. I’ve already had 5 characters in the game, and I had no problem with deleting them and starting over because there was no attachment to them or their story. Even less so when the created characters do not offer anything in the way of story. Playing as an “Awoken” race when going to meet the Awoken Queen, the dialogue is not even changed, and you are treated with the same bullshit manner as if you played a Human or Exo. This is just inexcusable when so many are so quick to call this an RPG.
Now I know they could develop the story through DLC, but DLC is supposed to expand an already complete story, not fill in the gaps of a shell of one. This is a deadly sin for me, and I’m sure it will be for other RPG fans, just as, I’m sure, shooter fans disenfranchised with the repetitive style of shooters like Call of Duty and Battlefield will find Destiny to be their new home.
In closing, Destiny is a great game that will leave those who enjoy shooters feeling their $60 was well spent. Even I, a person who finds shooters to be trite and somewhat obnoxious at times, enjoyed the majority of the game elements. Of course, it is worth noting that after the release of Assassin’s Creed Unity and Dragon Age: Inquisition, that I have not even put the disk back into my Xbox, even after the release of the new DLC, “The Dark Below.”
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