When Halo developers Bungie set out to create a completely new IP they were faced with a formidable task: follow up one of the most iconic and critically acclaimed videogame franchises of all time. Bungie took to the challenge with the creative spirit they are famed for. They went bigger, much bigger. Blurring the lines between linear AAA FPS and loot crazed MMO, Destiny is many things. Accordingly, it has many flaws. Yet not one of these flaws are deal breakers. Though not in any sense perfect, it is, in nearly every sense, compelling. Those looking for a radically new benchmark in FPS gaming will be sorely disappointed, while those who choose to enjoy Destiny for exactly what it is will easily find one of the most absorbing experiences available on current gen consoles.
Destiny’s set up is intriguing; familiar enough to entice long-time Halo fans while novel enough to stand on its own. You awake to the inane mumblings of a flying robot who sounds awfully familiar. One lengthy tutorial and some exposition later you find yourself perched atop ‘The Tower’: the very last Bastion of Earth. In this time it has become clear that, after a brief stint of space age affluence, humanity has met an enigmatic fall.
Destiny’s artistic design is utterly driven. Every landscape, every dungeon, every gully effectively conveys a sense of once decadent occupation now vacant. A persistent emphasis upon primary colours makes for a striking break from the standard shooter fare of greys and greyer greys. A welcome absence of copy/paste jobs assures that Destiny’s visual design continues to please right up until endgame. The distinct surfaces of Earth, Venus, Mars and more just beg to be explored.
As some well-dressed blue people promptly inform you: your job is to save the world from encroaching collapse. Sadly, from here Destiny’s aesthetic begin to fall apart. Behind a thin veneer of artistic and creative merit lie inadequate narrative devices. Cutscenes are few and far between. This leaves your floating animatronic companion, Ghost, to relay the story to you. Unfortunately, Academy Award winner Peter Dinklage delivers a depressingly lacklustre performance as Ghost. Despite the actor’s high pedigree, dialogue is unbearably dry. A robotic voice explaining why what you just did was important does not make for gripping plotting. The final story mission flew unceremoniously right past me. The lack of a subsequent mission acted as the only concrete evidence that I was actually done. It’s telling that I had to use Wikipedia while writing this review to assure that I had got the very basic foundations of the plot right. Mundane echoes of a coherent plot fall embarrassingly short of the high calibre narratives fans have come to expect from Bungie. Lacking any tangible framework, Destiny’s promising campaign ultimately boils down to a series of shooting galleries.
Mercifully, gameplay is Destiny’s crowning glory. Work-shopped to perfection controls rival those of any other AAA FPS. Industrious mapping makes pulling off action hero moves a breeze. Destiny has a remarkable proficiency for making its player feel like a powerful guardian of light. Gun, melee and super attacks all carry an absorbing amount of weight. The devastation they sprout always feels tangible as they decimate foe after foe. Smart progression allows that new abilities and weapons are constantly trickling from the ruins of conquest. Never to be effaced with overfamiliarity, there’s always a new toy lying around ready for fun to be had.
Relentlessly overwhelming enemy odds serve to even out the playing field. Speed is the name of the game. Bungie wisely elected to build tougher enemies around a rechargeable shield system. Blitzing bruisers with all you’ve got is often the only way to go. Putting the game’s intelligently designed maps to good use can be sure to make the thrill of the kill all the sweeter. Following the ‘strike while they’re weak’ mentality never fails to engineer some intense moments.
Destiny’s additional missions truly allow gameplay to shine. Strikes and Raids truly test a player’s metal. Featuring megalithic bosses, these obdurate trials call upon multiple guardians to fight their way, inch by inch, to victory. Difficulty can border on the extreme. Pure adrenaline fuels the sweaty palms of players as they stumble through one dungeon to the next. Conquering these Herculean tasks provokes feelings of immense satisfaction that few current gen games can muster.
Not everything is good news, however. Enemy AI rivals only that of short sighted puppies. Exiting an immediate area frequently proved enough to make them all but forget you exist. This tempting exploit routinely forced anticlimactic ebbs in Destiny’s otherwise trying missions.
Missions themselves quickly become repetitive. Not one quest dares venture beyond the parameters of ‘defend this’, ‘fight your way here’ or ‘kill this boss’. Those not fond of shooting things would be best to steer well clear. For all their production values worlds are similarly vapid. Nothing, save loot chests and persistently re-spawning enemies, inhabits their dusty plains. Even worse is that all of these missions are buffered by egregious loading times.
RPG elements act as the crutch of Destiny’s compelling combat system. Where the story fails, Destiny’s loot system gives ample reason to power through the campaign. Mission progression is awarded with randomly generated equipment. Though basic in comparison to games like the Borderlands series, the system offers an intoxicatingly tangible sense of progression. Easy menus make meticulously comparing stats as simple as it is fun. Expect to replay mission after mission, all in the name of finding that ultimate weapon.
Destiny has content in spades. Levelling runs in tandem with equipment progression. Reaching the very highest levels demands hours upon hours of work. The ability to boost story and strike mission difficulties assures that the challenge will never let up, either. With three distinct classes, seeing everything Destiny has to offer promises to take hundreds upon hundreds of hours.
Social elements frame the entire experience. Destiny’s worlds are livened by a host of fellow roaming guardians. Unfortunately, Destiny can’t hold a candle to the MMO titles it takes its cues from. Player interaction is almost non-existent; voice chat only works within parties. The absence of any facilities for equipment trade comes as another disappointment. Even checking a player’s info can prove a clunky task.
Multiplayer forms the final pillar of Destiny. Without breaking any new ground, Bungie have created a worthy companion to the main game. Destiny’s slick controls translate well into the hectic PvP setting. Hopping on to a few games is as good a way to level up as any. A miserly five gameplay modes makes Destiny seem positively bankrupt in comparison to Halo’s wealth of game types. Yet what little there is still manages to routinely capture a sense of tense competitiveness. Matches of Control had me scrambling around from start to finish in the vain hope of victory.
Irritatingly, poor matchmaking means that low level players, who are yet to unlock a full selection of abilities, will almost unfailingly be put at an extreme disadvantage. Poor balancing has seen to it that certain weapons are a no-go in multiplayer; wannabe cowboys would do best to store away their hand cannons for the time being. The game announcer’s disinterestedness rivals only that of Mr Dinklage himself. Fortunately, none of these issues are sufficient to spoil the multiplayer. Destiny boasts a host of well designed maps, exhilarating vehicles and worthwhile rewards. Without threatening to steal any multiplayer crowns, the game offers a very solid competitive experience.
Destiny teems with ambition. That much is clear in its every facet. This, in many ways, is its problem. Whole pillars of Destiny’s architecture lack the depth to warrant their inclusion. Social elements, open worlds, objectives and more all feel hollow. Quality too often feels sacrificed for the sake of quantity. By trying to succeed at everything, Destiny excels at nothing.
Perhaps the single best thing that I could say about Destiny, however, is that none of this mattered to me. Gameplay stands tall against some of the very best FPSs out there; raid and progression elements tango with the most exemplary of MMOs. Forty hours in I’m still hooked. Those willing to look past Destiny’s many blemishes will be dreaming about auto rifle damage stats and light nodes for weeks to come.
Jack of all trades, master of none.