This review was written before recent patches came into effect that fixed some issues I had with the game such as loot drops and some balancing issues. However, this is a review of my experience with the game in its first couple weeks. Things may have changed, but that did not affect my review of the game.
Destiny is a game that is at its best with friends. That’s a double-edged comment though, because anything is better with friends. The magic of Destiny is that when boiled down to its core mechanics, it is an efficient shooter which is a blast to control and leaves every encounter with some moment of satisfaction. From a headshot that leaves energy pulsating from enemies’ necks, to damage numbers flying off bullet-ridden foes, to the moment your super ability is ready to deploy and the words “Super Charged” flash in front of you. Destiny is all about the dopamine release. Unfortunately, it focuses more on hooking players to the temptation of reward than it does on creating a world in which to get lost, promising rewarding content when what is left in the game is monotonous and bare-bones.
The major hype surrounding Destiny falls in one of two categories: it’s the first non-Halo game that developers, Bungie, have done, and; it is the most expensive game ever released. That latter point gets misconstrued often, because a lot of the money clearly went towards marketing the game, which has obviously been of great help to the pre-order numbers and overall sales of Destiny. The former category is where the disappointment begins to arise. Anyone who was expecting Bungie to completely break away from Halo will be extremely heart-broken, as Destiny shares many elements that actually hinder rather than work as a crutch to give the game a leg-up on other first-person shooters. The most noteworthy of this crutch is its use of a Ghost companion.
“That wizard came from the moon” may sound familiar to those who have followed Destiny since its Alpha and Beta releases. It’s a line said by the Ghost (voiced by Peter Dinklage) that elicited several responses from players, that ranged from negative to positive criticism on the absurdity of a wizard coming from the moon. That line is absent from the full game, which I find to be a shame because it is not like everything else in the game doesn’t already evoke a similarly ridiculous feeling. Then there is Peter Dinklage’s reading of the line (and many other lines), which many detested in the early phases of release. I agree, for the most part, that Dinklage’s performance is flat and boring, but it also highlights the major issue with Destiny‘s story: atrocious writing.
I don’t think Halo necessarily has a good story, or even amazing writing, but it has one thing that Destiny does not and that is something familiar to the player – there is a military setting mixed in with all the hokey science fiction and fantasy elements. Destiny tries to fully immerse the player in a completely unique world that has few elements shared with the world we know. The “science” in “science fiction” is there because it means something is believable, or explained in a logical manner. Destiny refuses to give you logic, or even a hint of why logic can be thrown out the window. Instead, it buries the player in a multitude of alien races such as the Hive, Fallen, Cabal, and Vex. The only familiar elements of Destiny are that every mission takes place on planets within our solar system. The only new area other than the Tower, is The Reef, which acts as a homeworld to the Queen of the Awoken race (which your character can be, but it won’t make any impact on your brief encounters with her).
Much like The Reef, important plot points feel brushed aside in the quest for progression. I had an incredulous moment when Dinklage mentioned in surprise that a character was involved in some bad thing which was happening. But instead of elaborating on who that character was, why I should care, and what it means for the context of the story, he said something along the lines of “Never mind, let’s worry about that later”. Destiny‘s story does that often, and everytime it does, it makes me realize how much building the universe matters more to Bungie than building a cohesive and intelligent story. Plot points are just that: points. They are not significant or even interesting. They are simply there to have somewhere to draw a line from. You can tell that in future expansions and updates, there will be lines connected from these points to illuminate them more, but that is not how good storytelling is done. I need to care in order to bother seeking out any further knowledge on something. If the base story is over-complicated, boring, and spread too thin, I have no reason to delve deeper into Destiny‘s lore.
What has kept me coming back is the gameplay itself. Though the campaign consists entirely of going to one point, having Dinklage scan something while you fight waves of enemies off, then him saying something unintelligible, the actual act of shooting something is extremely satisfying. The Strikes are more of the same as well, but playing with others and getting through the bullet-sponge bosses is somewhat satisfying even if it is extremely monotonous. It is when Destiny strips out the story and has your Guardian fighting other Guardians in the Crucible that Destiny‘s combat shines bright. The three-class structure of Titan, Hunter, and Warlock works well in player-versus-player combat as each class has its own distinct upsides and downsides that other classes can learn to exploit. The Warlock does seem to have the most downsides though, and the Hunter is extremely overpowered, especially if a player is using the Bladedancer subclass. Titans seem designed specifically for the Crucible, with high defense and offense that make them lethal opponents if in the right hands.
Players will likely end up spending a lot of time in the Crucible, as it gives them Crucible marks (one of many currencies in the game) that can be used to buy legendary armor and weapons from different vendors that can be located in the Tower. The Tower acts as a social hub for players to interact with each other and purchase new equipment from various vendors. Vanguard and Crucible Marks, Glimmer, Strange Coins, and Motes of Light are all used to purchase things, with certain vendors only accepting one or two forms of currency, depending on the items. There are also Bounties that are worth completing, as they raise the reputation your character has with either the Crucible, Vanguards, or one of the many organizations that players can align with. You’ll need to raise your reputation to get better equipment available for purchase, and so the perpetual grind begins.
The Tower is a neat idea on paper, but in execution, all of the social elements feel inconsequential. There’s the ability to wave and dance with other players, but there’s no way to message them within the game, other than by inviting them to your fireteam. What if you’re inviting someone who can only stay for a little bit longer? What if someone is simply waiting for someone else to join them? What if the other player just wants to play by himself? MMOs have social hubs for social reasons, but Destiny‘s is there purely for objectives. There’s no ability for any meaningful social interaction in the one part of Destiny that is intended to be social.
But if you do get a fireteam set up and are ready to take on Strikes or the Crucible with friends, then you will have a blast. Until the match ends and loot drops are randomly assigned to players. Maybe you were the worst on your team, but you might still get the coveted Legendary Engram and upset the rest of your teammates. It is nice that high-level loot drops can randomly happen to players, encouraging even the worst players to invest time in Destiny, but it’s also discouraging to those who did really well in a match and get the same amount of Vanguard or Crucible Marks, with no loot whatsoever. Not to mention the fact that a Legendary Engram might still give you low-level equipment. This is all stuff that may be fixed later, but at the time of me writing this review, I have received far too many Uncommon items from Legendary Engrams.
Destiny is not a bad game, though. It’s hard to stress that when a lot of the game feels half-baked. The story is mundane and repetitious, but it has one thing going for it: it loves letting you shoot stuff. Every environment feels hand-crafted towards a gunfight, just like in Halo, and you will be hard-pressed to find something more satisfying than taking out an enemy with a Fusion Rifle or deploying a Nova Bomb to wipe out a cluster of enemies. The AI pretty much all rush towards the player with the most aggro which can be overwhelming at first, but when playing with others, you can share the aggro and work together as a proper team. That is when Destiny becomes a more than competent shooter. Saying that it is better with friends might feel like a cop out, but the truth is that Destiny is more like an MMO than it lets on. You can do everything by yourself, with the exception of Raids, but you will have far more fun and get the desired Destiny experience by playing with others. Unfortunately, that means you might be out of luck if none of your friends are interested in playing Destiny.