Author: Kevin Rickman
Release Date: September 9th, 2014
Platform: PlayStation® 4
Time Played: 30 hours
Concept and Execution
Bungie’s massively hyped and recently-released Destiny is an action adventure game played from the perspective of a first person shooter with a few elements of the RPG genre added in for customizability. Destiny is comprised of many different game modes that implement Bungie’s multifaceted approach. Destiny is an attempt to coalesce many elements found in separate games into one experience that gamers can hopefully enjoy for long periods of time owing to its variety, and is set in a rather grim future. In the near–albeit alternate–future, humanity is confronted with the fact that it can no longer believe it is alone in the universe when explorers find evidence of otherworldly life on Mars: an existence which will come to be called the Traveler. The Traveler is a large white sphere, an iconic image in advertising for Destiny, which possesses technology and power beyond all that humanity has accomplished up until that point. By studying the Traveler itself as well as the power of Light that the Traveler is infused with, humanity undergoes a futuristic renaissance during which technologies relating to space travel, life extension, and the manipulation of matter and energy evolve rapidly. Once humanity begins to expand throughout our star system, a new, and dark, force begins to close in on both the Traveler and the people who act as its guardians. The Vex, Cabal, Hive, and Fallen races begin to assault outposts on all fronts eventually beating down and pushing humanity into its last stand in a city below the Traveler. In one final struggle for survival, the Traveler and its guardians withstand the enemy forces, but it is a Phyrric victory as the Traveler goes dormant, humanity has only one city left to inhabit, and the technologies that thrive on the Traveler’s Light begin to weaken. You, as a revived guardian, must take up arms in order to defend the city and begin the re-expansion of humanity throughout the solar system, reclaim lost cities on other worlds, uncover secrets and technologies that were lost in the war for survival, and restore the Traveler to its rightful place as a paragon of human evolution.
Destiny is a grand project, and it involves the enmeshing of many elements into a singular experience. The scope of the game is a massive undertaking which will play out over many years, but in its initial execution, Destiny is a small beginning. The use of the open world aspect of many MMO games is, conceptually, an appropriate and modern approach to this game in both playing and storytelling, but Destiny is not as large or as open as other contemporary games such as Skyrim. The inclusion of multiple modes of gameplay is also an intelligent and modern decision as a way for a company to build a following of loyal fans and players for its game, and Destiny does perform well in this area considering there are multiple cooperative modes including Strike, Raid, and the ability to form fireteams for every mission. There are also multiple modes for competitive players interested in battling other guardians including Control, Skirmish, and Rumble. Many of the competitive modes will be familiar to players of other similar games, especially Bungie’s Halo series, but that Destiny has included so many ways to play is a boon for its longevity. The implementation of a smartphone app linked to the account you use to play Destiny also makes the social aspect extend farther than just a list of names on a server or the forums on the games’ website.
It is interesting and important to note that the game grows. Usually a review of a game involves playing a finished product as it was shipped, but Destiny has had content added to it almost daily since it was released. In essence, then, it behaves somewhat as a beta where it is not the same game I played on the first day, nor will it be the same game after finishing this review. That is not to say, however, that the game feels incomplete, or glitchy and buggy, as a beta does, but rather, Destiny is a polished and complete experience. Players can already reserve new content, which speculatively seems to be backstory for two of the enemy races you fight in Destiny, so the game is an evolving and growing entity. This is worth noting because it is not mainly through DLC or any other form of pay-to-play additional content that the game has grown. There have been games, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning for instance, in which additional content nearly doubled the price of the game while not nearly doubling the content. Destiny, at least for now, has avoided that pitfall while still managing to grow somewhat organically.
To begin, a player will choose their class, race, gender, and cosmetic aspects of their guardian, but the only option of these that matters, at least for now, is your class. Although choosing a class is important since it decides the specials you will be using throughout the game, the different classes are not in actuality that different. Beyond appearance and special abilities, every class can equip every gun, and many of the perks you unlock for your chosen subclass are identical to perks of the other classes. It would make more sense to combine all three classes into one amorphous beginning, and then let players choose between the combined variety of the three classes rather than separating them. This issue may seem trivial, but it also leads to flaws in cooperative play. Since each class is basically the same, there is no real need to strategize, and besides the Titan’s Ward of Dawn ability or the Song of Flame perk from Warlocks, there is little interplay between members of your fireteam: you’re just a group of three running around shooting things. Also, the ability to choose different races has no apparent impact on the story or how you interact with other guardians, NPCs, or the world itself. While not necessarily a drawback, this raises a moment of uncertainty in the game. I chose to play as an Awoken Titan, and as I progressed through the story, I had to travel to the realm of the Awoken. I assumed there would be some sort of background reveal or historical explanation as my character, in some sense, returned home, but there was absolutely no semblance of that: the Awoken seemed not to recognize or chose to ignore that I was also an Awoken. This appeared to me to be either a hole in the writing or that my expectations were too high.
As Destiny is a first person shooter, the controls are very straightforward, and in addition to plentiful options involving control customization, everything works besides the occasional refusal of my character to sprint. Destiny also employs the functions of the PlayStation® 4 controller, particularly the light, into the gameplay. When near death, the light will turn red, not that you need to be reminded you are playing poorly and losing the battle, but will also turn yellow when your special is charged. Should you enter a very dark area and your Ghost act as a flashlight for you, the controller light will also turn on brightly which is a clever addition to the game especially when played in a dark room. While everything works and there are no moments in which you wonder why your character is performing random actions, other mechanics that you interact with are painfully lacking. For instance, the AI for almost all of the enemies guardians will face is undeniably simple. Enemies will rarely take intelligent cover or behave as a coherent unit forming flanks and surrounding you and your fireteam, and boss fights, particularly at the end of Vanguard missions, a form of mission involving automatic matchmaking, are tests of endurance rather than of strategy or skill. Many of these types of fights require one tactic only, and as long as you and the other members of your fireteam are paying attention, any fight can be won with ease.
This is not what players should expect from a next-generation console or of a game from a company, which historically was already involved in this area of gaming, which had immense resources and time to evolve the combat aspect of the game. Since the AI is simple and the combat uneventful, much of the fighting, even if a player turns up the difficulty slightly, is droll. Your enemies are supposed to be highly complex and powerful enemies which pushed allied forces into the dire position players find themselves in: guardians of the last bastion of your races and the last line of protectors for the Traveler. However, the combat does have its positive aspects, and choosing a higher difficulty, at a level much higher than your own, does repudiate some of the aforementioned negative aspects. By choosing a difficulty that spawns enemies of a higher level than your own creates moments of intensity and an atmosphere of immediacy of danger. By setting the difficulty higher and higher, more enemies will spawn, and they will fight with a somewhat improved approach with an increase in their base stats such as total life and damage. This is simultaneously a positive and negative aspect since players can go through the game on the easiest difficulty and complain of its simplicity or set the difficulty to the highest allowable setting and complain of its impossibility or the amount of time it takes to finish one mission. As a game, though, Destiny allows players to choose their experience, and in an era of gaming where enemies auto-level with your character or are quest-dependent in difficulty, gamers are granted a degree of freedom in choosing how they make their legend.
There is almost nothing about this game that is not beautiful. Level designs are artistic and rendered supremely well, and the imagination of the level designers aptly represents the world, history, and background of Destiny. Venus in particular is a pleasure to wander through because of the way in which dichotomous elements are harmonized. The primal and visceral nature of the jungle is combined with technological and architectural marvels to inspire many moments of awe. This is true even of some of the smallest maps on which the competitive matches take place. Each area has its merits and all are conceptualized and actualized well, but in terms of how large the open world feels as a whole and complete entity, there is a lack compared to how big the game should have been and how big people believed it would be. My expectations were of a much larger world that was extremely open, but even when meandering aimlessly throughout the zones on the optional patrol missions, I felt as though I was on rails rather than in an open world. There are side areas that the story and missions do not take you to and require of the player some exploring to find, but they do not add enough to the world to negate the feeling of a small and closed world.
The startlingly picturesque areas are accompanied by a thorough application of detailed sound. The intensity of a moment in which you and your team must hold the line against a plethora of stalwart enemies is encapsulated in the well-orchestrated music, and the lack of moments where sounds are discordant make a player focus and be aware of the noises they hear. The voice acting list is comprised of many famous, especially in the sci-fi genre, and talented members including people such as Claudia Black, Lauren Cohan, Nathan Fillion, Peter Dinklage, Bill Nighy, Lance Reddick, and Gina Torres. The voice acting is done well besides some moments where your Ghost, voiced by Peter Dinklage, seems unenthused about your impending doom, or when a voice actor must attempt to exude an aura or emotion about a concept that is grossly undeveloped in the story. Also, due to the lack of a story, it is difficult to become engrossed in Destiny, but there is hope that the game was only developed to this degree in order to allow future installments to more meticulously and fully explore the areas and concepts not done in Destiny for now. This creates an atmosphere of expectation and slight trepidation for the future of Destiny.
Any review on the entertainment value of Destiny is going to be somewhat relative to the person playing owing to the complications that arise out of how they approach the multiplayer aspects. If a player has not already formed a friends list of people ready to play Destiny, then it can be somewhat difficult to find other players at or around your level that are also working on similar projects. Most players leave their fireteam setting under the roster tab to private or friends only, and even if a player finds another guardian on the same quest set to a public fireteam setting, it is not always guaranteed that you will be able to join or maintain a fireteam. This is another aspect of Destiny that is simultaneously positive and negative. If a player begins the game with no one on their friends list ready and willing to play Destiny, then they may end up doing many missions alone, but also, the social aspect of the game becomes more important than other games, Warframe for instance, in which you sit in a recruiting channel and spam for members to run the same mission as you. It is a drawback to force someone to struggle to find teams to play with, but it may also be a good community building aspect of the game over time. When playing with friends you are familiar with, however, the game is geometrically much more fun. Some missions automatically team you with other players beginning the same mission, and besides some team balancing issues in the PvP arenas, the matchmaking system works well. I was never teamed with inappropriately leveled players, as in too strong or too weak for the mission, and there have been very few moments where I had an issue with lag during my entire time playing Destiny. The various competitive multiplayer modes are coordinated into the game deftly, and each mode is enjoyable to play if you revel in competition. One of the major issues with the PvP matchmaking system is the fact that friends can form a fireteam, enter a competitive game mode, and be matched against a random team: it would be much more fair and enjoyable if teams played teams and random players competed against random players.
If story is crucial to how a player values the level of entertainment a game has to offer, then Destiny is not the best purchase. It is unfair to say that the story of Destiny is cliché, full of tropes, or unrefined simply because there is nowhere near enough story to even begin to criticize it. If a player had the time, set the difficulty to easy, and avoided non-story modes and PvP missions, then the story could easily be completed in one sitting. Character development is not merely limited, but almost non-existent. There are moments, however small, of amusement as your guardian and your Ghost interact, and some instances of mystery that do inspire some hope that a major plot development is just one more mission away. That hope, however, is ruined upon completing the game. There is no moment of great unveiling nor are there subtle buildups to epic moments of storytelling, and instead, storytelling is relegated largely to the use of grimoire cards. Grimoire cards are acquired by progressing through the missions, meeting characters, and exploring new areas, but must be read either through a Destiny smartphone app or on bungie.net. Browsing your acquired grimoire cards, however, is often pointless since they contain scant amounts of information and some are only a sentence long and offer no new information. Almost every single plot, character, or story concept related to the Destiny universe seems irrelevant, and even worse, what is left out could have been exactly what people look for in a story. The histories of the races you combat, legends of the fall during which the Traveler was nearly destroyed and the races exterminated, and any sense of camaraderie or relationship-building between your guardian and others is nonexistent. Had some of these elements been incorporated, then Destiny would not only have been much more entertaining but enrapturing as well: there was a chance here to create a universe lush and thorough but was squandered.