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Destiny Review: Refocusing Expectations
Since its reveal nearly a year and a half ago, Destiny has been a game packing infinite promise. The pedigree of Bungie alone could get any gamer excited. The first trailer we ever laid eyes on looked as if Bungie had taken everything from the Halo universe and turned it up to 11. As more gaming conventions preview events rolled on we got more looks at the game. The phrases “Halo meets Borderlands” and “MMO Shooter” flooded the airwaves as excitement grew to immense proportions. Would this be the game to define next-gen? Will this be the future of gaming? As news of Destiny’s staggering pre-order numbers and even more formidable budget (which may have been a bit inflated) began to trickle out, the hype had reached uncontrollable levels. Now we have the game in our hands. Did it live up to they hype? No. Did it deliver on all its promises? No. Do I love this game? Yes
When you boot up Destiny you start with a fairly bare-bones character creation screen. The selection of three races, two sexes, and three classes doesn’t really move the needle or do anything different than any modern-day MMO. Since you find yourself wearing a helmet for a very large chunk of the game these choices become seemingly arbitrary as you progress, but it’s always nice to have the option. The three classes are Titan, Hunter, and Warlock. Each class has a set of skills (melee, grenade, special) in which it excels at and also comes with two sub-classes. Each sub-class has a designated special move which could be used for massive damage or defensive prowess. The unique nature of all three classes may seem trivial at first, but as the game progresses the individuality of each class really shines. These differences are even more prevalent in PvP, which we’ll get to later in the review.
Much has been made of the campaign. It is a dry experience. The planets themselves, though vast and beautiful, lack any sort of personality that differentiates them from one another. I often find myself running (or fast traveling on my ever trusty speeder bike) from checkpoint to checkpoint not caring why or how I got there. It’s this tedious trek from point A to point B that makes the game really fall flat. No mission is unique. Every quest falls in the category of fetch quest, kill quest, or a combination of both. For those who are familiar with basic MMO protocol this will not be anything new, but for the FPS audience the nature of these quests seemed like an odd choice. The story is a disaster. The post-apocalyptic motifs could have easily been pulled from any number of Science Fiction DVD bargain bins and I really wouldn’t have noticed the difference. The intergalactic struggle between light and dark is more amusing than it is engaging and the voice acting will be the butt of jokes for years to come. With all that said, here’s where the game becomes exceptionally polarizing: these missions, along with the story, as flat and uninspired as they are, are tons of fun. For Destiny, gameplay is king.
I find myself incessantly mashing buttons during the tiresome cut-scenes and egregiously long load times because the gameplay is just so incredibly satisfying. The core of all this is due to the versatility in the selection of weapons at your disposal. The weapons are separated into three categories: normal, special, and heavy. In these three categories you can tailor your style of play and choose how you want to approach the game as a whole. Loadouts are not by any means new to shooters these days, but it’s the simplicity at which Destiny approaches the customization that makes it a fun and easy experience for newcomers and FPS veterans alike. In the gun selection you’ll find FPS favorites such as auto-rifles, shotguns, and machine guns, or for the sci-fi fans you may want to go with a pulse rifle or fusion rifle. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with going with the classic rocket launcher from time to time. Ammo availability and rarity is based on weapon strength, which keeps the balance in check for most of the PvE and PvP experience.
The crisp gunplay is supplemented perfectly with the aforementioned abilities made available to each class. All these ingredients (plus an equally satisfying double jump available to every character) make for an exhilarating gameplay experience. Speaking of exhilarating, the huge surprise of this game, for me, was the PvP. PvP is presented to you at Level 5 once you reach the tower. The tower serves as your headquarters for all your MMO needs. Here you can check your status on reputation grinds, buy weapons, buy ships, or just hang out and kick a soccer ball around. The fact that you can’t unlock all these features until Level 5 is quite obnoxious. The time investment needed isn’t too great, but these are features that should have been made available immediately. Once you do earn your stripes and make your way to the tower though, the crucible is a magical world of chaos and joy. All the match types available to you are basic. You’ve got 3v3 deathmatch, 6v6 deathmatch, free-for-all rumble, and control missions. The only mode that really failed to grab me was control because of the diminished focus on action, but the games can get pretty tense and rather enjoyable. It’s not by any means a boring time. Through these crucible matches you gain reputation and crucible marks. This reputation levels up your rank, and the higher your rank, the more gear and weapons you have available to you. The marks you spend to get said weapons and armor are earned by playing and by accepting crucible-specific missions known as bounties that will accelerate your reputation progress. This reputation grinding is one of the best ways to grind for endgame gear once you hit the soft level cap.
The soft level cap works like any RPG would. You kill things to gain experience, you complete missions to gain experience, that experience levels you up. All this changes at Level 20. Once you hit Level 20 your level is determined by a statistic on your armor called light. Light can be found on any piece of armor classified as rare, legendary, or exotic. Once you gain enough light armor your character will surpass the soft level cap to 21 and beyond. If PvP isn’t your thing and you really need to have that light gear, you still have vanguard strikes available to you.Vanguard is treated just like the crucible. You gain reputation and marks which lead to you acquiring high level weapons and armor. Vanguard strikes are three-person PvE instances that usually last between 30 and 60 minutes. The strikes are usually engineered so you fight various mobs of enemies, followed by a mini-boss, followed by more mobs of enemies and a strike boss. These strikes are also very satisfying and take a considerable amount of coordination between teammates. As you proceed to higher level strikes, the amount of coordination and teamwork increases, as does the vanguard reputation, marks, and loot rarity. Alongside the reputation gain at the end of every crucible match and vanguard strike, you may be given some loot at the end. The random loot drops as they currently exist are incredibly broken. They do not take into account player performance whatsoever, and I’d be shocked if the whole loot system wasn’t fixed sooner rather than later.
Bungie has vowed to support this game with constant updates and DLC packs. The currently-implemented Vault of Glass raid is a punishing six-person journey that will test your will just as much as your gaming prowess. Endgame raids are going to be the foundation of this Destiny‘s life post-release. They absolutely must continue to build on their first offering. As long as they offer a healthy dose of high-level and low-level endgame content, gamers will feel more and more incentive to stick around. The Queen of Blades is a repackaging of old ideas and doesn’t offer anything new, but is definitely a step in the right direction for a game that will be defined by its post-release content.
What Bungie has given us is a promise. They’ve given us a promise that their unpolished (yet insanely fun) hybrid of a game will continue to build upon its solid foundation and have a lifespan far extending its release window. Every time I pick up Destiny I have a ton of fun. I love getting gear, I love working with teammates, and I love shooting aliens in the face. As stories evolve in games and become more sophisticated, gameplay will still be the most important factor in determining its quality. In this regard, Destiny passes every test with flying colors. This alone has gotten me to look past all its flaws. Will it pay off in the end the way I hope it will? One thing’s for sure: I’m not going to be the one betting against Bungie.
Destiny was reviewed using a retail version of the game on PlayStation 4.