STAFF REVIEW of Destiny (Xbox One)

Sunday, September 14, 2014.
by Adam Dileva

Destiny Box art It was difficult to not jump aboard the hype train when Destiny was first unveiled, and the impressive preorder numbers proved this. We were shown vast planets with beautiful landscapes that could be explored, and to top it off, it was being created by Bungie, the makers of the iconic Halo series. It seemed like Destiny was going to be the next coming for console shooters and progress the genre like how Bungie did with the first Halo so many years ago.

Trying to define Destiny's genre seems a little odd though, as it's been stated it had MMO-like mechanics, yet wasn't truly an MMO. While most fans are categorizing it that way, it feels more like a pseudo-MMO instead because you need to be connected online, even when playing by yourself, as the world of Destiny is a shared experience with other players in most areas.

Being the massive Halo fan that I am, I was excited to sit down for hours and play, becoming engaged with the story telling capabilities that Bungie is known for, wrapped up with some solid shooting mechanics and some spectacular set pieces that would have me excited to share my Destiny experiences with my friends. Maybe I shouldn't have gone in with high expectations, but with a proven developer behind the game, I was quite let down once you realize that the mission structure is incredibly repetitive and the story is almost unnecessary and forgettable. It looks gorgeous and plays great, but it feels like an empty experience in the end, which I'll explain in more detail.

Halo's lore and universe is incredibly deep and detailed, granted, that is over the course of multiple games and novels, but the universe always felt like it was epic and had many stories to tell. In the beginning, Destiny feels this way too, as mankind is almost extinct from an unknown alien threat known as "the Darkness" and yet we are saved by a mysterious savior that happens to be a massive orb, called the Traveler. With humanity taking refuge in the last standing city, the Tower, and the Traveler watching over, now is the time for the Guardians to push back and repel the Darkness.

You are a Guardian, protecting mankind, and you have a 'Ghost' that follows your side after he resurrects you; a cute little robot that is an AI created by the Traveler for each Guardian. Your Ghost is voiced by Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones) and given his fantastic acting abilities, I was expecting nothing less than a stellar performance, yet throughout the game, he sounds monotone (yes, I realize he's an AI) and has more drab one-liners than actual substance in most cases. The infamous "wizard from the moon" line that got cut from the game is a great example of this.

While the game is structured around these campaign missions that unveil small portions of the plot as you progress, the narrative within is very light and in the end, is nothing more than multiple fetch quests stringed together under the guise of earning more experience points and newer gear. In the end, I kept waiting for something big to happen, yet it never happens. In the last half of the campaign, it seems like this is going to happen, but by the time I downed the final boss and saw the conclusion, I was more than disappointed, as I'm still waiting for some big revelation or reveal, and for many things to still be explained. Maybe Destiny needs to be treated more like an MMO and wait for it to become better in time, though be warned, if you're coming strictly for the campaign narrative hoping for an epic story that could rival their previous games, you'll be incredibly dilay wise, Destiny is polished and incredibly entertaining to play, even if it is the same missions over and over again. Weapons feel powerful and you generally get excited when you get a big upgrade to your armor or arsenal. You have main, side, and special weapons that can be swapped out at any time based on the situation at hand and old gear can be reduced to glimmer (money) and upgrade materials. Traversing the planets feels natural, as you can move with ease, jump, float, and shoot things without effort, and these mechanics lay the foundation work for what could be a great game, it's simply the repeated encounters and lack of interesting enemy AI from beginning to end that seems to hold it back from realizing its potential.

As you begin your journey in Destiny, you'll need to create your guardian, allowing you to choose from numerous races and also being able to customize how they look. Next you'll choose one of three classes: Hunter, Titan, or Warlock. The names may indicate the traditional Tank, Healer, DPS roles from traditional MMO's, but that isn't the case at all. Because every guardian can use every weapon and armor (aside from class specific pieces), what distinguishes the classes from one another is the abilities in their respective skill trees that grow in level as you do. Eventually at level 15 you'll be able to choose another sub-class if you wish, allowing you to slightly change your play style and allowing you access to some varied abilities.

As I mentioned above, Destiny feels like a pseudo-MMO because as you're running around the surface of the planets, you'll come across other players, either doing the same mission you are, or something completely different entirely. While you'll never see more than a few people at a time in one area, it reminds you that you're not really alone on the planet and you are able to interact with them and send invites to your 3 person Fireteam to group up and conquer harder missions. Part of the problem though is that there's absolutely no way to communicate with random players you come across before inviting them to your Fireteam aside from a wave, point, or dance emote. You'll need to organize with other players outside of the game or start filling up your friends list which seems counter-intuitive for being a part of a persistent online world.

Mission structure in Destiny is incredibly shallow at best and is the biggest issue I take with the game by far. For almost every single mission you will run from point A to B, hold 'X' so that your ghost can either hack into a terminal or download information, fend off waves of enemies (almost always in threes) and a mini-boss, run to point C and kill boss for the mission completion. This wouldn't be a concern if only some missions had this structure, but almost every single story and strike mission uses this formula. With only a handful of missions on disc and a campaign that can be completed in a few short hours, you'll become tired of doing the same missions over and over. It simply feels like a series of areas that you need to clear out to progress, rinse and repeat. Aside from one or two of the bosses, nothing really stands out either, and if it does, it's for the wrong reasons, such as taking way too long to kill.

As you progress through the game, you'll come across four separate alien factions that you'll face against, each of which have their own strategies, though neither are particularly challenging. Enemy AI is fairly simple, and while you'll have the odd enemy that may rush you kamikaze style, for the most part you can kill enemies from a distance without much trouble. The hardest parts come later when there's simply an overwhelming number of enemies rushing you while you're also trying to deal with a boss.

Battles don't become any more strategic the further you progress either, they simply become longer. Bosses don't do anything special aside from a heavy damaging ability or weapon but it won't require much strategy aside from making sure all of the regular enemies that try and swarm and overwhelm you die first. Bosses have an extreme amount of hit points and calling them a bullet-sponge is an understatement. I found bosses was the thing that I dreaded more than anything else while playing, not because of their difficulty, but because it will literally take you more than 15 minutes to kill, even with your Fireteam of 3 players. To make matters worse, you don't even get guaranteed loot from them, as I've finished missions multiple times with no upgrades to be had. The risk vs reward scale needs some serious tweaking, much like how Diablo recently had, if Bungie expects players to sink time into these missions numerous times.

Strike missions are slightly harder missions that forces you into a group of 3 (with matchmaking enabled) to complete and is most akin to dungeons in an MMO. The same mission structure applies to strike missions and you'll relieved once it's over and the boss is downed after such a long battle. The only reason you'll be completing strike missions over and over is for the currency items you get for completion once you hit the level 20 soft cap.

Once you become level 20 the game seems to shift in focus and change quite dramatically in how you progress. Instead of doing regular mission and patrols on planets with your friends to level, you'll need to do patrol missions (mini side quests) to earn reputation and strike missions to earn marks, all so you can buy the better and rare gear. To level past 20 is not simply killing enemies for experience, but instead, equipping armor with the Light stat. With enough +Light stat equipped, you'll then level up this way going forward, making upgrades a simple choice, as Light is all you become concerned with. You'll need to farm missions and strikes over and over again to earn enough of the specific currency to obtain the better and best gear Destiny has to offer, and while many games like Diablo and Borderlands excel at mechanics like this, it's more than disappointing to come out of an hour long strike with no upgrades and only the few marks you've earned.

That being said, Raids are about to be introduced that will allow a group of 6 friends (no public matchmaking, akin to ODST's Firefight) band together and take on some of the most challenging instances Destiny has to offer. As raids are not yet released, I can't say if they have solved the loot issues I had, but I hope they offer a massive reward if the rumors are true and will take well over an hour or two to complete.

If competitive multiplayer is more of your calling, then the Crucible is where you'll be spending most of your time. There are four separate mode to engage in, ranging from Control, Clash, Rumble, and Skirmish and take place across 10 multiplayer maps. Given Bungie's success in competitive multiplayer in their Halo games, the Crucible offering does feel a little light, but not simply because of the low number of modes and maps.

Once your guardian is level 5 you can compete in 6v6 against other players, and while the weapon damage is evened out for all players, so that level 5's can play with 20+, the skills you possess however do not scale, leaving you at the mercy of another player who might have incredibly higher stats and abilities than you. With a group that works together, your team will seem almost unstoppable and its quite gratifying to save up your special power for some easy kills and to stop a point from being captured. You can even work on saving marks and reputation for Crucible specific gear that will also be usable in the regular game as well, so you don't need to farm the strikes to get better gear if you just want to play competitively which is great.

Already having put dozens upon dozens of hours into Destiny, you'll easily get sucked in at its beauty and solid shooting mechanics, it's more of a question if you can deal with repetition. Some aren't going to find doing the same strike missions repeatedly all that engaging, and others might get turned off by the slow progression once you hit level 20. Some might find it more of a chore to progress after this point rather than a fun experience, and keep in mind you'll want to have 2 other like-minded friends to go along with you as well.

For being an online required game, apparently populated with thousands of other players, it can feel very barren and lonely at times. Inviting friends to your Fireteam is easy enough, but finding random people to do non-strike missions is a crapshoot at best. The small party size makes it very difficult to play with all of your friends at times, though hopefully Raids will be a solution to alleviate some of these issues; just hope that you have friends that are the appropriate level and skill.

I'm usually very level headed when it comes to buying into hype, though it was difficult in the case of Destiny. Maybe that's where some of my disappointment comes from, but it just feels like with such a great developer behind it, I just expected more. Once you figure out all the nuances and the post level 20 gameplay grind, it simply feels like another shooter. It's got a great backbone which the expansions are sure to add upon, but as of this writing, the experience as a whole once everything is completed, feels empty and left me wanting more. Aside from mission repetition I don't have any other major complaints, but when reviewing my pro and con list, I also don't have one major draw either.

Overall: 8.0 / 10
Gameplay: 7.5 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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