The app should have been called Destiny’s Child
We’ve played through the majority of Destiny over the course of the week. It’s taken around twelve hours and in that time we’ve fought through the story mode across planets, explored hidden caves with strangers, battled other guardians in the Crucible and taken on mighty boss monsters in strikes. Bungie’s first new IP since leaving Microsoft’s warm embrace might not be everything fans wanted, but is it worth your time and money?
One of the biggest strengths of the game is the gun mechanics. While this might not be a Halo game, you’ll be hard pressed to put it out of your mind when you melee enemies and feel the hefty thud or your fist or knife. Similarly the guns all seem to have their roots in the Halo series. The handcannon is reminiscent of the original Halo pistol, kicking like a mule and knocking enemies back. Headshots are just as powerful as ever, doing a huge amount of damage, and many enemies have pesky shields that regenerate if you don’t kill them quick enough. This isn’t a criticism in any way, the Halo games feel amazing and this has transferred well into this new IP. There are a few new touches like being able to look down the sights (which oddly feels like a novelty) as well as a range of excellent class-based powers and a much-simplified ammo system but at it’s essence you feel right at home if you’ve played Bungie’s finest.
There’s a satisfying variety of enemies belonging to different factions and towards the end of the game you’ll regularly come across them fighting each other and behaving somewhat realistically individually. They take cover, they retreat and many of them have irritating teleporting powers that allow them to escape or close in on you when you least expect it. That being said there’s a frustrating lack of co-operation between the enemies and you never really get the impression that they’re communicating with each other. They’ll often follow their friends out into your firing line even as their peers are mown down in front of them. When you take down a leader it has little or no effect on the others and this feels like a massive step backwards.
The worlds you fight across are awe-inspiring to look at as long as you don’t look too closely. Skyboxes are absolutely gorgeous and many of the vistas are equally impressive. Texture work is somewhat hideous up close but the idea is that you’ll be constantly moving so it’s not going to be too much of a problem. Each of the planets only has one open world map on it but they’re surprisingly vast with huge networks of underground tunnels and massive hidden areas that you could easily pass by for hours. On Earth for example there’s a series of caves with some high level enemies in that we’ve only been able to find once. Little secrets like this reward exploration and help to make the world feel more interesting. Unfortunately there are only four maps and although they are markedly different from each other in terms of colour palette and the enemies present, it’s hard not to feel short changed by the amount on offer. The game just doesn’t feel very big considering the way Bungie and Activision have been hyping it up over the last year. Many of the missions and strikes take place in the same environments and there’s rarely any acknowledgement in the story that you’re constantly entering the same rooms.
Speaking of the story, this is easily Destiny’s weakest point. Peter Dinklage’s voiceover almost kills the game stone dead if you’re playing by yourself, the delivery of his lines is so unbelievably flat and dull you couldn’t possibly justify it. Bungie have argued (during the Beta) that he is a robot and his lines would be improved by post-processing but it simply hasn’t happened. There’s no emotion but it doesn’t feel robotic either, it’s somewhere in between and it’s incredibly distracting. We found ourselves getting to the end of the game not really knowing what was going on because we’d lost interest in the story a long time ago and tuned out. If it was at all possible we’d suggest Bungie creates another voiceover track and releases it as free downloadable content. The money they spent on Dinklage was not only wasted, it actively harms the game. The story itself is fairly ho-hum, with some brilliant world-building and then so much jumping around you never really feel invested in it. The Traveller is a great idea, but you never properly interact with it or are given a reason to feel like you’re anything to do with it. At one point you randomly whisk off to an entirely new environment to meet a new character without any real build-up so it’s hard to care about them either. We can only assume that Bungie designed the world and then went to lunch and left the internet to connect up the settings into a story. It doesn’t really work on any level because it’s simply not personal enough. By the end of the game you’ve done one thing that appears to be major, but it has no real noticeable effects. That could easily have just been the end of the first act and with two DLC packs on the way, that might be exactly what it is.
Technically the game is impressive. Other than the aforementioned poor texture work in the environment (likely done to reduce loading screens) there are some excellent character models and effects and we noticed no slowdown below 30fps across the entire game, even when there were huge amounts of enemies and explosions. Considering it is an online game at heart and one of the first games to be pre-loaded on the Xbox One it’s a miracle or a testament to Activision and Microsoft that there were no real issues on launch night or since. The online service is solid and that’s a real plus considering the state of many games over the last few years.
The multiplayer is a mixed bag. On one hand when you get a small fireteam together (three players) who talk and have a laugh, the game is improved immeasurably. This is how Destiny was meant to be played and it’s an absolute joy. It’s easy to invite people to your fireteam at any point and they can join halfway through missions. It also does an excellent job of maintaining your group while changing modes and difficulties. Exploring in patrol mode you’ll often come across other groups and it’s an exciting experience that we’re going to see a lot more of with games like The Division coming soon. On the flipside though, these people will be entirely silent. There’s no open world chat and there’s no matchmaking outside of PvP and strikes. If you want to make a fireteam for patrol mode or story missions you need to invite people and hope someone responds. If you don’t have friends online when you want to play it’s surprisingly hard to get a group together and playing alone just feels like a grind. When the six player raids come out at the end of the month there’s not going to be matchmaking for that either so start scouring internet communities for join lists. Of course that would be much easier if they let you see who from your Destiny clan was online and invite people from there, but that’s not even acknowledged in the game other than by a clan tag. The matchmaking and open-world multiplayer options are shockingly poor and another serious issue with the game.
The PvP modes are a lot of fun and allow the unique class abilities to really shine. It’s hard to tell if it will take off like Halo, CoD or Battlefield did, but it’s definitely exciting and the maps are very well-made. Levelling is evened out in the playlists (although level 20 players are likely to have a lot of nice perks that make them slightly stronger) but you take your own weapons in and it still feels like you’re playing as your character. Every game we’ve played so far has been reasonably close implying that balance hasn’t been too much of an issue. Time will tell how well the community adopts this game but it’s definitely a lot of fun and there’s plenty of rewards for doing well in it.
In terms of longevity, the game can be completed in around ten to twelve hours easily. We managed that while also taking part in a lot of messing around in patrol mode and PvP. Of course getting to max level and completing the story is only the start in a game like this, acquisition of loot is the real goal and you can take part in harder modes of missions and strikes or even try out Bungie’s playlist of incredibly hard strikes for a real change. This is on top of a progression system in multiplayer and numerous collectables and the upcoming raids. If you enjoy the gameplay and you have a solid group, there’s a lot to keep you going, but only a certain type of gamer enjoys that kind of grind for incremental improvements.
Overall Destiny definitely doesn’t live up to the hype. A solid gameplay foundation and some gorgeous art work is severely let down by the awful voiceover, story and lack of social options. It feels like a real missed opportunity and as good as the game may be, you’ll always have it in the back of your mind that it should have been so much better. If you’ve got a couple of friends who play at the same time as you then it’s easy to recommend, it’s a brilliant co-op game and you can laugh off some of the flaws while others won’t affect you. If you’re going to be playing y yourself though, we’d probably avoid it unless you’re desperate for a new FPS. Alone it feels empty and hollow and all of the flaws are impossible to ignore. It’s a shame that this wasn’t a triumph, there’s a lot of good ideas, but we get the feeling we’ll be seeing a lot more of Destiny anyway considering how well it’s been selling. Our score is based on the experience if you’ve got friends to play with, since we assume that’s why most people would be playing this game. Subtract two if you’re going to be playing offline.