With a legendary reputation to live up to, iconic Seattle-based video game developer Bungie has a lot riding on Destiny.
Teased all the way back as early as 2009, Destiny is the realization of an entirely new universe crafted by the talented minds that single handedly revolutionized the first-person shooter on modern consoles with a little Xbox game you might remember called Halo: Combat Evolved. Having devoted over ten years to Master Chief John-117, the Spartans, and the Orbital Drop Shock Troopers of the fictional United Nations Space Command, Bungie handed over the Microsoft-exclusive franchise after the launch of 2010’s Halo: Reach to begin anew. Only, this time, development would consist of work on four different consoles, instead of one.
Fast forward to September of 2014, after a public Alpha and Beta, Destiny greets PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360 audiences and a new journey for both gamers and Bungie begins.
Destiny is the first title planned in a yet another decade-long effort to bring the studio’s new mythic science-fiction IP to life. So, with plenty more on the way, did Bungie get it right the first time?
Player Versus Environment
You begin your journey as a Guardian risen from the dead by the Traveler, a magnificent yet ominous moon-sized sphere that floats mysteriously above the last city on Earth decades after defending the remains of humanity from an entity only known as the Darkness. Guided by the Traveler’s Ghosts, it channels its Light through you, granting you unfathomable abilities as one of three Guardian classes — Titan, Hunter, or Warlock — to take on the now returning Darkness.
It’s an enticing story set-up that, unfortunately, isn’t explored very thoroughly in this entry. Clearly, Bungie is saving the good stuff for later, via DLC or Destiny 2, 3, etc. I wish I could tell you that your curiosities will be satisfied by collecting and reading Destiny’s lore cards, known as Grimoire cards, but you’l likely end up with more questions than answers. Still, it’s where the majority of Destiny’s story and background lies, so you’ll have to really dig in if you want to get the most from it. Your travels through the game’s four playable locations — Earth, the Moon, Venus, and Mars — will only tell a more narrow tale that really serves as a mere introduction to the more complex universe and overarching story Bungie appears to be cooking up.
After molding your Guardian in Destiny’s satisfyingly deep character creator, you and your Ghost are off to discover the mysteries of the the current state of our solar system, the Traveler, and its enemies. You’ll explore neighboring planets, face unknown enemies, find weapons and armor, level up, and learn new abilities. Each Guardian classes is loaded with two sub-classes and their own set of abilities and alignment to one of three different damage types — Void, Arc, or Solar. You’ll find gear ranging from Common in rarity all the way to Legendary and Exotic, which is where you’ll find some of the most powerful weapons and armor in the game.
Progressing through Missions and Side-Missions will further Destiny’s story, while Strikes will offer more difficult challenges that must normally be tackled in Fireteams of three and often require a little more of your time. In between, you’ll be able to accept Bounties and Patrol Missions to assist in your exploration of new worlds. They’re a great way to earn additional XP aside from the main campaign, especially if you want to boost your rank high enough to take on Missions on their Hard difficulty, something I highly recommend as it only adds to Destiny’s already gratifying combat and sandbox experience while yielding greater rewards.
When you’re not busy prying the solar system free from the grip of four invading alien races, you’ll take your helmet off and kick it back in the Tower, Destiny’s central social hub that overlooks the City and provides a stunning view of the Traveler. Here, you’ll visit various merchants for weapons, armor, ships, and other gear to customize the look and effectiveness of your Guardian. You’ll also find representatives from Destiny’s various factions which play a bigger role in the end-game experience.
Like all public zones in Destiny, you’re paired with upwards of 16 other players populating the Tower. You can wave or point to them, or get down and dirty in a massive dance party. Aside from kicking around a beach ball and a soccer ball, there isn’t much else to do in the way of leisurely activities. I would have loved to see the inclusion of a few mini-games that you could participate in with other. I also wish there were more options for communication. A command-rose of sorts would have done wonders for non-verbal communication, especially in combat scenarios. Destiny is filled with random, casual encounters both on and off the Battlefield, so having a functional alternative to partying up would’ve been much appreciated.
Here, in these public spaces, is where some of Destiny’s most magical moments lie. Every so often, while on Patrol, the sky darkens and your Ghosts informs you of an incoming Public Event, a server-wide activity that occurs randomly but at timed intervals and calls upon any and all in the vicinity to participate. While the enemies in these events preset a tougher challenge than normal, Guardians at any level can lend a helping hand. All it takes to enter is one bullet fired at the giant mech walker that was just air-dropped from the sky, for example, and you’re in.
In addition to a celebratory dance-off, achieving a Gold Tier completion will usually yield upgrade material rewards and reputation that you’ll eventually need to access higher level gear from various factions in the Tower. Most of all, I find that Public Events reward you with the satisfaction of working with complete strangers to accomplish a specific task that you could have avoided all together.
Destiny is a highly social game without it ever being forced. As a particularly memorable example, moments before leaving a public space and entering a Darkness Zone to complete a mission, a stranger who was clearly about to do the same sent me a Fireteam invite so we could tackle it together. (Darkness Zones, by the way, are dungeon areas where respawns are restricted and you and your Fireteam, if you have one, are put into a separate session from others.) I could have simply ignored the request and headed on into the zone all by my lonesome, but I said, ‘What the heck.’
Now in a Fireteam of two, both with mics, I learned that this dude I didn’t even know is actually from the same city that I live in — a testament to Destiny’s matchmaking — and also just returned from Destiny’s midnight launch at his respective local retailer. We shared stories about how EB Games’ debit and credit services went offline Canada-wide mid-launch and how we both had to leave our spots in line to find a bank and get cash. We laughed about it, completed the mission, and I now have a new face on my Xbox Live friends list.
Fireteams are managed in the start menu via an impeccably smooth user-friendly interface that can be accessed at any time, even during cutscenes or loading screens. Getting in and out of Fireteams and into Missions or Strikes is, for the most part, hassle-free, unless you run into mic issues, which I experienced on occasion.
The current state of communication, or lack-thereof, means that players will need to get into a party or join a Fireteam in order to chat with each other, as there is no voice chat otherwise. However, Bungie has mad it clear that improvements in this area are incoming. In general, Destiny’s overall always-online experience is entirely seamless and has, thus far, made for one of the better socially-centered games that’s not an MMO and doesn’t allow player-to-player trading.
And make no mistake. Destiny is not an MMORPG. Anyone diving into the game with this preconceived notion may be in for a bad time. Destiny is an action-based first-person shooter at heart that borrows heavily from loot-driven games like Diablo. That said, Destiny’s end-game will introduce terms familiar to MMO buffs like raids, farming, or loot-runs. And, while Destiny’s end-game can get pretty deep, it remains accessible and a little more relaxed than your traditional MMO experience.
Upon reaching level 20, by which time you’ll likely have completed the main story campaign, Destiny starts doing things a little differently. Instead of grinding mobs after mobs of enemies to farm experience and rank up all the way to 30, players are required to find and upgrade gear that provides your Guardian with Light.
You’ll likely find a few decent pieces of Legendary items by way of luck throughout your end game endeavors, but the sure-fire way to get the good stuff is to participate in Destiny’s daily and weekly Strikes and more difficult Nightfall Strikes. There’s also a selection playlists to choose from that select a random Strike at varying difficulties so you can get into the action quickly. These earn you reputation and upgrade materials needed to buy or upgrade higher level equipment. They also have the chance to drop Strange Coins which can be used to buy from the rotating inventory of Exotic items carried by a special NPC that appears only on weekends.
Personally, I wish there were more Strikes that were exclusive to Destiny’s post-game. Diablo 2’s Secret Cow level and Diablo 3’s Whimsyshire level come to mind as more challenging but insanely fun post-game levels and I think Bungie would have done well to throw something similar in Destiny — something that doesn’t take itself too seriously and is entertaining enough to grind over and over again. As it stands, there really isn’t anything new to see once you’ve completed the story campaign. There are certainly more activities to participate in, but they all take place in locales you’ve already visited, save for the Vault of Glass raid.
Also only available in Destiny’s end-game is the Vault of Glass raid. There’s only one raid, as of this writing, but it sounds like our future may hold more. The Vault is Destiny’s most arduous challenge that requires a Fireteam of six Guardians, all of whom should be level 26 or higher. The challenge is difficult not because it merely throws its toughest enemies at you while upping their health and damage, but because it puts to the test every game mechanic you’ve ever learned in Destiny while asking you to coordinate meticulously with your Fireteam buddies.
The content in Destiny’s raid alone is almost as healthy as some FPS campaigns out there, considering it took the first group who completed it 14 hours to do so, but you’ll now find clans able to blow through it in under two hours. The challenge in itself, however, is unlike anything you’ll ever find in another first-person shooter. Gamers are certainly in for a treat if there are more to come via post-launch updates.
You’ll also need to complete the raid in order to find the appropriate gear that will allow you to reach Destiny’s highest rank, which leads me to the conclusion that the road to level 30 in Destiny is a very artificial and pre-determined one. The game gives you the illusion that you are completely free to rank up however you please after completing the story campaign, but, in reality, there are very specific requirements you need to meet that are the exact same for every other Guardian. ‘To reach rank 30, check off these boxes: Finish campaign, hope you find better end-game gear, upgrade it when you do with hard-to-obtain materials, do the Vault of Glass, hope you find even better gear, upgrade it when you do with even harder-to-obtain materials, rinse and repeat until you reach level 30, etc.’
It’s unfortunate because, clearly, Bungie has literally put hours, months, and years of thought into every single component that makes up Destiny as a video game, including how you rank up. The issue is that you end up feeling constrained to playing the game the way Bungie wants you to, not the way you want to. In the end, you get an extremely high quality experience, but one that is a little too on-rails for my liking.
By far, my favorite aspect of Destiny’s end-game is how it’s managing to build an impressive community of helpful individuals trying to discover the most efficient means of ranking up or completing tough challenges when exactly how to do so is largely left to the players’ imagination. Visiting the Bungie.net forums and the /r/DestinyTheGame sub-reddit are now mandatory stops during my daily internet surfing routine and are truly pleasant places to interact with. It seems that, every day, someone posts a bit of useful information that uplifts the entire community and gives everyone something new to chew on, be it story or progression-related. So, as a bit of a side-note, thank you to those who take the time and effort to share their learnings with others.
Back on point, it is a testament to the universe and experience that Bungie has built from the ground up to bring gamers together. It’s my belief that this was exactly their intention, and they nailed it. Similarities to games like Borderlands are certainly there, but it doesn’t offer the same highly social gameplay Destiny does. Combat feels as it did in Halo, with the addition of the ability to aim down sight. But, again, Destiny’s gameplay goes a little bit deeper with more considerations involved, including player abilities, ammunition types, and the gear you have equipped.
Many subscribe to the notion that Destiny is a jack-of-all-trades and master-of-none, but I believe Bungie created exactly the sort of focused PvE experience they intended to — a shared-world first-person shooter that engages an audience much like an MMO does but remains accessible enough to keep a more relaxed vibe that doesn’t scare away the non-hardcore gamer.
It’s a little too constricting, at times, but it’s still addicting as hell.
Player Versus Player
Upon hitting level five, the doors to the sacred Crucible open up, allowing you to partake in Destiny’s Guardian versus Guardian combat arena.
Four game modes are offered by default — Control (6v6 Domination), Clash ( 6v6 Team Deathmatch), Rumble (6-player Free-for-All), and Skirmish (3v3 Team Deathmatch with revives) — with new, limited-time playlists added on a regular basis.
Like Strikes, participating in matches earns you Reputation and currency called Marks that allows you to purchase higher-level gear, so there’s certainly some incentive to bash in another Guardian’s head inside the Crucible’s walls. The problem is that Reputation and Marks might be the only incentive there is for some, as Destiny’s PvP experience can often be as frustrating as it is fun.
The Crucible allows you to take your Guardian — weapons, armor, sub-class abilities, and all — and pit him or her against other Guardians and their respective loadout. The problem is that there are a lot of abilities in Destiny’s sandbox, including weapon abilities, sub-class abilities, and Super abilities, some of which are simply too effective to be properly balanced for PvP combat. It makes for an experience that’s differs wildly from the Battlefield‘s, Call of Duty’s, and even Halos out there and is also insanely fun at times, but it also creates a mess just as often. I’m really not sure how any developer, even one as iconic as Bungie, could hope to offer a completely balanced multiplayer that’s as competitive as it is fun with the insane amount of abilities on hand.
Especially in 12-player game modes, things get a little too hectic for my liking. Considering all of the Super Abilities that can devastate entire groups of Guardians, insanely powerful rocket launchers, grenades, one-hit-kill shotguns, fusion rifles, and sniper rifles, and the fact that every Guardian can carry a primary, special, and power weapon all at once, it just gets to be a bit too much. It’s fun …until you can no longer escape all the insta-deaths and ability spam. It also doesn’t help that the Shotgun-Melee combo reigns supreme on nearly half of the Crucible’s 10 maps and that the Hunter’s Super abilities are grossly over-effective when it comes to pure killing.
It’s my firm belief that Destiny’s 12-player game modes would fare much better without Super Abilities whatsoever and if players could only bring a primary weapon, a weaker secondary weapon, and one or two grenades into battle. That would narrow the balance considerations down to just class abilities while retaining most of what makes Destiny’s PvP unique.
If you’re like me, you’ll want to stick to the Crucible’s 6-player Rumble and Skirmish game modes. The toned-down player count and the additional thought and precision that is required in the timing and placement of Supers keeps things just calm enough that it no longer feels like you’re always running head-first into the meat grinder. The 3v3 Skirmish game mode is a particular favorite of mine that is, by far, the most competitive in nature due to its heavy focus on small team play tactics. It’s where I feel I’m most rewarded for staying alive and reviving teammates and where scoring kills feels much more fulfilling.
Now, if it’s not the the insane amount of one-hit-kill abilities and weapons, you may also have to deal with shaky “netcode” that can sometimes leave you scratching your head wondering how the enemy you just melee’d to death some how smoked you with a shotgun a second after he or she died. Mutual kills are not at all uncommon in Destiny’s multiplayer, which can lead to the feeling of being robbed of your kills. Considering some of the seriously sophisticated tech behind Destiny’s PvE online infrastructure, I find it odd that Destiny’s PvP suffers from such discrepancies.
Finally, Destiny is a beautiful game. Pristine 1080p on both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, Bungie’s shooter is easily one of the first true next-gen looking titles to grace the console audience. But its pleasing visuals does not come without a cost. 30 frames per second is certainly acceptable in a PvE scenario where skirmishes against enemy AI aren’t nearly as demanding as facing other human players and it’s easier to get around a sub-par level or control responsiveness. But, becoming so accustomed to the doubled frame rate offered by competitive multiplayer titles like Call of Duty and Battlefield on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC (where it can even surpass that rate), the drop back to 30 can be jarring and tough on the eyes, especially when turning quickly.
The choice to sacrifice frame rate for visual quality was likely a difficult one and, personally, I don’t think they’ve necessarily chose wrong, but it irks me to know that I could be getting an experience that’s literally twice as smooth if next-gen consoles were capable enough. At the very least, Destiny runs at a rock solid 30 FPS. I mean rock solid. Six Guardians could unleash their visually flashy Super moves on screen at once and I don’t think Destiny’s frame rate would budge.
To sum up my thoughts on PvP, I didn’t get the Halo-killer I thought Destiny could have potentially ended up being — not that I wanted it to, anyways. Despite the amount of fun there is to be had in the Crucible, it’s clear that Bungie has a few kinks to work out, especially to ensure that gameplay isn’t hindered by frustrating “netcode” issues.
Destiny Versus The World
Destiny is the product of truly next-gen thinking and insane attention to detail. (Watch your Guardian leave footprints in the snow in Old Russia and check out the action on any of the hand cannons as the hammer cocks back and the chamber rotates while you slowly pull the trigger on your controller.) It’s also one of the best reasons out there to upgrade to the newest generation of consoles, despite running just fine on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.
On PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, Destiny boasts some of the most impressive lighting effects I’ve seen yet with highly detailed character models that are a pleasure to look at. Not only does Destiny look great, but the superb art design leads to a more stylized look that’s more exciting than if it were to attempt photorealistic visuals. Jaw-dropping backgrounds are met with gorgeous skyboxes that shift color in Destiny’s day and night cycle. All of this is wrapped in grandiose soundtrack that gives it that final touch. Aside from the over simplified and rather bland story, Destiny’s music, visuals, and rich lore surrounding these noble Guardians, the mysterious Traveler, and the menacing Darkness only serve to create an engrossing universe that I often catch myself craving to learn more about.
Nearing Destiny’s level 30 cap, my mind is already racing ahead in anticipation of what Bungie has in store for us over the next decade. I’m 90% certain that it’s because I’m hopelessly addicted to the amount of fun I’m having in it with friends and strangers alike, but there’s always that hint of doubt that my addiction was artificially engineered as a way to blind me from Destiny’s lack of actual end-game content and to butter me up for more DLC and sequels. In the end, I hope it’s a testament to the top quality standards that Bungie exerts in its craftsmanship, and not Activision’s clever financial and marketing strategies.
3.5 / 5
It’s my hope that Bungie never wavers in their strive for perfection, but perhaps learns to loosen their grip a little and to let us play the game the way we want to.
Despite the score I am rewarding the first entry in Bungie’s new IP, I am convinced that Destiny is one of the first must-own titles of the new generation of gaming we’ve entered into and that it will end up shaping the industry in a very impactful way. I can’t stop playing it, and it’s likely that you won’t either as you progress through Destiny’s story and highly addicting, albeit linear, end-game activities.
In the years to come, I think Bungie is still on track once again to leave behind yet another unforgettable legacy, as it did with the Master Chief and Halo. There’s still room to grow, but they can only go up from here.
This review was based on the Xbox One retail version of Destiny.