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It was one of the most anticipated games of 2014. Expectations were high, promises were made, but some fell well short of leaving players wholly satisfied. It was framed as a genre hybrid, one that would seamlessly blend first-person shooters with MMORPGs. And it only sort of lived up to the hype.
We’re only a month into Bungie’s latest production, Destiny, and already players are getting bored and putting the game down. I wanted to give myself enough time to get through the majority of the game before I wrote anything about it, and now that I’ve completed everything but the Vault of Glass, I figured it was time. So let’s break down this big-budget space adventure and talk about the best and the worst aspects of the game. We’ll start with……
There’s no denying that Destiny is an entertaining game. Exploring alien planets—from the jungles of Venus to the sand dunes of Mars—was an alluring trait that Bungie had players all hot and bothered for, and I’d say they delivered. Each environment is relatively unique, with their own atmospheres, aesthetics, and alien life forms. I enjoyed blazing a trail into the vast emptiness of space, uncovering ancient treasures and gunning through the planets’ many hordes of enemies that tried to stop me.
If there’s one thing that Bungie knows how to make, it’s a shooter. Destiny’s shooting mechanics are some of the best I’ve experienced in an FPS game, making running and gunning feel effortless. Every weapon has a different feel to it, and no two weapons can be used the same way. Grenades are just as easy to use, and it makes missing your throws nearly impossible if you have even a hint of accuracy.
The game’s mobility mechanics are equally as smooth, helping the player move nimbly from place to place. That attribute carries over to the Sparrow as well, the player’s personal speeder. The vehicle is light, fast, and has some of the best handling I’ve ever worked with.
This is where Destiny gets into the nitty gritty details. Each class has two subclasses to choose from, and each subclass is broken down into a variety of skills, abilities, and character traits that allow players to customize their guardians as they see fit. This concept is also prevalent in the game’s weapons and armor, giving players the ability to enhance their arsenals with a variety of damage and defense upgrades and unique abilities that give them different advantages in the field.
These talents and upgrades can be changed on the fly, giving players more room to stretch their legs and tailor their subclasses to better match their individual play styles. I’ve really enjoyed playing with both of my character’s subclasses; swapping out talents for different combat scenarios has kept me on my toes, preventing me from getting too complacent with the way I play.
Martin O’Donnell does it again. Why did Bungie fire him?
The esteemed game composer and his partner, Michael Salvatori, known for their iconic scores of the Halo series have, not surprisingly, delivered a solid soundtrack for Destiny. The game’s music perfectly captures the moods and feelings of the environments, imbuing Destiny’s universe with more emotion than literally any of the characters ever do. From soothing overtures that complement the vastness of space, to intense combinations of strings and drums that add tension to epic boss fights, the musical prowess of these composers is extremely evident in Destiny.
Whether you like Destiny or not, you can’t deny the beauty of the game’s visual landscapes. Bungie has done a superb job in creating a universe that is easy on the eyes. Every time I play, I find another vista that forces me to stop what I’m doing and just gawk at the scenery.
Easily the most notable aesthetic of the game is the starry sky that overlooks the player as he or she explores planets at night. This is especially noticeable on the moon, where shadows are more prominent, and players can watch the rotation of the Earth and the rising of the sun. The designers of Destiny’s environment did a remarkable job in making the game’s universe come to life, and that gives Destiny points in my book.
It’s no surprise that the studio that brought us the Halo franchise delivered a solid multiplayer experience in Destiny. In the Crucible, players are pitted against each other in various objective-based playlists, with three deathmatch game variants peppered in for those who prefer to just point and shoot.
This is where class talents and weapon/gear upgrades can really be experienced. With every player utilizing a different class build, it gives Destiny’s multiplayer a much greater depth than most shooters. That, combined with each class’ super ability, makes the Crucible a very entertaining portion of Destiny that keeps things mixed up.
Unfortunately, my complaints about Destiny significantly outweigh the compliments. Don’t get me wrong, I’m enjoying the game a great deal, but every game has its faults. Which leads me to…..
Where do I even begin? From the beginning, I suppose.
Destiny’s campaign—if that’s what you want to call it—starts off with a very sporadic cutscene that tries to provide the player with centuries of exposition within a matter of minutes. We see a trio of astronauts land on Mars, discover something known as the Traveler, and then hear Bill Nighy explain everything that has happened since. In all honesty, Nighy’s role as the Speaker—the only character who can converse with the Traveler, apparently—throughout the game’s story is one of the best parts of Destiny’s campaign. He delivers the only memorable voice acting performance in the game; all the other characters, unfortunately, fall flat.
Voice acting aside, the story basically follows this premise: humans discover a celestial being known as the Traveler. This being ushers in a golden age for Earth, tripling human lifespan and allowing humans to build cities and settle on multiple planets. The Traveler, however, has an enemy, which is ambiguously referred to as “the Darkness.” It is this Darkness that you, the player, must destroy.
And that’s it. Not a whole lot of depth, right?
From there, players are taken from Earth, to the moon, to Venus, and finally to Mars in some of the most repetitive and shallow story missions I’ve ever played through. Each mission requires players to go to a certain destination, find something for their ghost—a robotic companion that plays a role similar to that of Cortana in Halo, only with much less personality—and defend that ghost from waves of enemies that spawn for four or five minutes. Those waves are followed by a boss fight, and then we’re on to the next mission.
Now, granted, Bungie isn’t known for its games’ stories, but Destiny’s is almost nonexistent. I’ve beaten the story, and the only thing I could tell you about it is what happens during the final boss fight. Why? Because I didn’t feel the need to pay attention to what was going on as the campaign progressed. I felt no emotional connection to any of the characters or their plight against galactic zombies and space pirates.
This is easily the single aspect of the game that has left the most players with an overwhelming sense of frustration and disappointment. Destiny’s loot system leaves a lot to be desired, and it makes earning high-end gear a tad too difficult. Now, I won’t deny that the journey makes the end result that much sweeter, but Bungie has made this journey entirely too repetitive. We’ll start with the engrams.
In Destiny’s universe, one method of obtaining loot is from items known as engrams. These shiny, octagonal balls of light most commonly drop when enemies are killed while exploring the universe, and they can be brought to an AI known as the Cryptarch, who decrypts them and turns them into loot.
Just like weapons and armor, engrams are color-coded according to rarity—gold and purple being the most valuable, and blue and green being the most common. Gathering engrams is a decent way to accumulate loot, but there was a substantial problem with this system.
The Cryptarch almost never rewarded players with legendary items.
Players who collected legendary (purple) engrams would eagerly return to the Cryptarch, their fingers crossed in giddy excitement as they anticipated the legendary gear that awaited them. Only, what seemed like 95 percent of the time, players’ legendary engrams would yield less valuable loot. I’ve found a handful of legendary engrams over the last few weeks, and only two or three have yielded legendary gear.
For those who haven’t played the game and are a little confused, imagine finding a gold brick on the ground. You pick it up and exclaim, “I’m rich!” So you take that gold brick to a buyer, expecting to be rolling in Benjamins by the end of the day; but you find out that the buyer is only willing to pay you a measly $500 for it. Which is absurd, so naturally you would want to find another buyer.
Problem is, in Destiny, there’s only one buyer, and he’s been shorting everyone. This system angered players so much that Bungie actually had to go in and patch it. Thankfully, though, engrams are but one of the ways in which to gather loot.
Unfortunately, that’s where the repetition comes in.
Destiny contains several factions that players can choose to align themselves with. It isn’t an official declaration, it’s just easier to pick one faction and stick with it. Each faction offers its own unique weapons and gear, which give players a variety of unique upgrades and abilities. But if you absolutely loathe grinding, you’re in trouble, because that’s all this is. Literally.
In order to buy faction gear, players have to earn both marks and reputation. Marks come in two forms: Vanguard, which players are awarded for completing strike missions and public events in the universe, and Crucible, which are earned by playing in Destiny’s PvP game modes. Just about every weapon requires 150 marks to purchase, and the most players can collect for Vanguard activities is six at a time. Crucible marks take even longer to amass; players earn three marks per victory and two per loss in PvP.
See how this could get so repetitive?
If a player were to collect an entire set of faction armor, plus a weapon for each slot, it would require more than 500 marks; and that doesn’t count the reputation, which is earned by completing bounties and missions, or quests. In order to purchase faction armor, players must achieve a level 2 reputation with that faction. Weapons require level 3, and each level requires reputation points totaling more than 1,000. With most activities rewarding players 25 reputation points or less, it becomes extremely monotonous after only a short period of time.
This system has made Destiny feel like a fulltime job, and getting great gear feels far less rewarding than it does in most other RPGs. Unfortunately, these two items on the list aren’t even the biggest problem I have with the game, which leads me to my next section.
I know I wasn’t the only person who was extremely disappointed with the scope of Destiny’s content. I completed the story in a matter of days (although it can easily be done in one sitting, if you marathon it), and when I finished all the strikes, I couldn’t help but ask, “So…..is that it?”
Part of it is my fault. I did allow myself to get caught up in the game’s marketing and hype, so I went in with my expectations set at an unrealistic level. But Activision set the bar too high on this one.
The game was in development for years, and it was framed as one of the largest gaming environments being created for consoles. Knowing the game’s primary objective was space exploration, I couldn’t help but get excited. Traveling to unknown planets to navigate their alien landscapes sounded like a huge undertaking, and I was freakin’ pumped. Bungie even went so far as to say that each planet would be roughly the size of Halo: Reach.
If that was the case, it certainly didn’t feel like it.
I was able to traverse all of Earth in about 45 minutes, and every other planet in about an hour. While the size of each location does feel large, it doesn’t feel large enough. Destiny was advertised as an MMO-FPS hybrid; and when I hear MMO, my mind strays to that first “M,” which stands for Massive. After playing games like World of Warcraft and Guild Wars 2, I thought, “Oh man, this is gonna be huge.” When I think of RPGs, I think of games that have a seemingly endless amount of content for players to go through, with innumerable choices to make and vast environments to explore.
But…..it wasn’t that at all. The scope of Destiny’s universe doesn’t really do anything groundbreaking for the RPG genre, but it certainly raised the bar for shooters. Which leads me to believe that the game was simply marketed the wrong way.
Unfortunately, Destiny doesn’t even feel like a full game. Perhaps that’s just because we live in an age of DLC; perhaps we won’t have what Destiny was supposed to be until 2015. I understand the DLC business model, and I even don’t mind paying for more content if that content is strong and entertaining. But at least make a game that can stand on its own two feet for several months rather than one players can blast their way through in two weeks. I completed almost everything there was to do by level 26, with the exception of the raid, leaving me next to no incentive to reach level 30. There was no more carrot at the end of my stick.
Overall, Destiny is a solid game that was disappointing simply because of the hype. If I had ignored all of the advertising, the articles, and so on, I’m sure I would have been pleasantly surprised with Bungie’s latest project as a shooter. Then again, that can be said about every AAA IP in development these days.
Granted, Bungie has never made an RPG before, so I do cut them some slack there. I’m sure they’ll improve their process considerably as future Destiny installments are made. However, with the amount of repetition involved and the game’s lack of replay value, I score Destiny at a 7 out of 10. It was worth a shot, but if you're looking for depth, this is not your game.