Destiny is the prime reason I’m glad I don’t work in a professional media outlet. Trying to put together a review for this game for the day of release must have been hellish, and also the worst possible way to experience it. I am the first person to admit that Destiny has it’s fair share of flaws, some much bigger than others, but I don’t think it’s entirely fair to throw a low score on the page and put it out to pasture. This is the kind of game I hoped would come with the next generation of consoles. Destiny is a title that’s going to evolve over the coming months and years, and the game you can buy right now is just the platform. The amount of content on the disc sorely lacking, but what is there has managed to get me to pour a large amount of time into gameplay systems and progression mechanics that I normally hate. Destiny is the foundation for things to come, and it’s up to you whether you want to get on board now or wait and see what happens.
This would be the point in the text where I would discuss the story, but in the case of Destiny there is not a lot that can be said that comes across as positive. It’s difficult to escape the feeling that there was a lot more meat on the the bones of this game at some point, which necrotised off as the release date approached. Enemies, locations and important events or phenomena are named by throwing a dart at a list of random nouns and capitalising the first letter. The Darkness, The Fallen, The Traveller, The Black Garden (that one is important, so it gets an adjective too) are all things that come into the story mission progression, with very little context for why they are there. Straightforward story missions ending in the take down of a more powerful and differently coloured version of an existing enemy type is met with unwarranted levels of adoration from your mechanical companion, congratulating you on striking a massive blow to the faction you aren’t sure why you are fighting in the first place.
The most interesting races to fight in Destiny are not differentiated by some back story or grudge developed over time, but instead how they play. The Cabal are relatively straightforward and have a very satisfying head shot animation, but have some real bullet sponges in their ranks with amazingly overpowered rocket based weaponry. Most of the time the Vex provide some interesting encounters, but their Minotaur variation lacking a “precision kill” point common to every other enemy in the game and surprisingly strong shields that easily swallow entire clips from high level weapons make them more frustrating than challenging.
There are so many currencies, faction reputation bars and personal statistics in this game it gets staggering at times, the mechanics of most of which are never explained at any point. 20 hours deep at time of writing and I’m still not 100% on how the special capes that divert standard rep points into progression in a particular group will help me, and why I wouldn’t just focus my energies on the default group that I spent the first 12 hours feeding into. A great example of this is the post level 20 game. The traditional XP based progression will take you to level 20, and to move higher it’s all down to your loot. After capping out, more advanced gear boasting a completely different but equally arbitrary number, Light (with a capital L, of course).
The core of most games designed like Destiny is the loot, and I’m still struggling to decide if I love or hate the method it’s implemented here. With a Diablo or Borderlands, new stuff pops off downed bad guys left and right, with most of it being junk to be traded away to the nearest vendor. The real good stuff is kept for the bosses or fancier encounters. In Destiny however the number of individual drops is substantially less, but consequently less trash to worry about. The traditional MMO trappings continue with mystery items that need to be “identified” before they can be used (or in Destiny speak, Engrams that need to be decrypted by the Cryptarch). Until a recent patch this was an incredibly unfair system, where high level engrams still had a chance to turn into low level items. Thankfully this has now been fixed.
Despite the many many flaws in Destiny, it keeps reeling me back in. As a person to whom traditional MMO design has left me cold, partially due to grinding and partially due to my distaste for Kobolds and other tropes, it turns out that I am fickle enough to be brought over to the dark side by a simple sci-fi setting and replacing swords with guns. The grind is there, the running through of the same content over and over, but for some reason I have not gotten sick of it yet.
The core gameplay probably has a lot to do with that. Not being exposed to the Halo games on their native platform, I can’t tell if Bungie have continued a long standing tradition of a good feeling FPS, but Destiny has it in spades. As well as having the best feeling head shots of any shooter in recent memory, things feel weighty and impactful enough to keep me coming back. While pretty dumb on the lower levels, one you start re-running the levels with higher difficulties the combat stays exciting, sometimes by sheer force of numbers, sometimes with small changes to an elemental resistance or an unexpected energy shield.
I ended up liking the multiplayer component a lot more than I expected. With Destiny positioned partially to the CoD crowd as the next big thing, I very much expected to be able to hold my own for a week or two at most, before falling behind the curve so drastically that I would never venture into the Crucible again. As it happens, I have been able to hold my own quite well, and the playing field appears to be relatively even between the higher and lower level participants. Another MMO trope I have learned to simply live with is the requiring of completely separate gear for PvP, as opposed to the PvE. Running around with my exceptionally successful semi-auto and sniper rifle combination conspired to place me last on the rankings every single match. Switching to a full-auto and a shotgun immediately started to improve my position. A completely un-scientific survey of other players shows everyone else coming to the same conclusion. While it’s very possible this is a side effect of having to eliminate gear advantages in the standard modes, having a component where the only way to be competitive is to use gear you use nowhere else seems like a case requiring more intensive balancing rather than just another MMO trapping.
Destiny is a game where the traditional review process completely falls apart, both to it’s benefit and detriment. There is so much room for it to grow over time, but that is only because the content that is there is remarkably bare bones on release. Bungie have been rolling new gameplay modes and events regularly since launch, but they have already started to follow a similar pattern. The Raid, the first big bit of extra content put out for free, and is apparently some of the best in the game, is locked behind a high level entry requirement which I have not hit after 20 hours of play. If I had the honour of working at an established media outlet and had been given the task of a Day 1 review, Destiny would not have had a glowing recommendation, but in the weeks since it has managed to burrow it’s way into my heart in a way that makes no logical sense. It has until the first big expansion due out in December to prove itself, at the risk of getting my heart broken.