It always makes me feel like such a hipster to say it but I liked Bungie before they were popular. I was really into Pathways into Darkness, the Marathon games, loved both Myth games and Oni was fantastic. But I always felt things went kind of wrong with Halo. Not that those games were terrible, my opinions on them are fairly neutral by and large. However it felt like Bungie stopped taking chances, stopped trying to make games that tried to be unique and completely stopped being the Bungie that existed before Halo came out.
Because of that I have to admit to being excited when they split with long-time partner Microsoft so they could do other projects beyond the Halo universe. It seemed like a really good chance for Bungie to move away from the generic first person shooter games that focused heavily on PvP while juggling bland in-game storylines and really interesting world behind it all. Imagine my surprise when the product they moved away from halo to make was a generic first person shooter with a heavy focus on PvP that has a really bland in-game storyline but an amazingly interesting world to it. That was an unpleasant surprise.
Destiny has a lot of potential going for it when you read about it on paper: choose from one of three classes, each of which having two sub-classes to utilize as you wish, a fair variety of weapons and help the Guardians beat back the dark forces trying to wipe out humanity. Mix in some randomized loot, a focus on co-op teams and a number of competing enemy factions and you have what sounds like a really interesting game experience. For me it sounded like Borderlands but with a larger focus on the MMO aspect which was a great idea! Then it released… See this isn’t necessarily a terribly designed game, saying that would be a lie. The problem that Destiny suffers is the proverbial death of a thousand cuts. Every time you look at a feature in the game there’s a small problem with it that the developers may have put in because they felt it served a purpose in their game world but it only inhibits the experience.
I initially noticed this during the beta when I found out you couldn’t trade. I foolishly assumed this would be in the full game since no trading is just kind of dumb when playing with friends in a random loot game. But no, this was handwaved away with some excuse about “wanting each weapon to have a story behind it” or some nonsense. Even if that story is “I walked up to the store and bought it.” Amazing. This was doubly frustrating for me since in my group each person chose a weapon type that suited their gameplay style and mostly stuck with it – I, for example, chose plasma rifles, sniper rifles and heavy machine guns. This meant I couldn’t give all of the awesome auto rifles, shotguns or rocket launchers I picked up to people who would use them, having to simply trash them for money.
It seems like this is a small issue but it leads into a bigger one. See you can only carry three weapons out into the field: a primary weapon, special weapon and heavy weapon. You can freely change your primary weapon which means carrying a few to help in particular situations might seem like a good idea. But if you change your special or heavy weapon you lose all of your ammo for it. So if you want a sniper while you’re on the surface of the planet and a shotgun for when you go into the tight tunnels, too bad. Like using rocket launchers on groups but heavy machine guns on bosses? Gotta choose what’s more important before the mission.
I can see how something like this would serve a balancing purpose in PvP but in PvE it’s an atrocious design choice. Since primary weapons are automatic rifles, scout rifles (single shot rifles), semi-auto plasma rifles and single shot heavy Hand Cannons almost every primary weapon is a mid-range weapon. The only difference is in how the weapon is used and Hand Cannons working fairly well as ghetto sniper rifles. All of the situation specific weapons are special weapons and you can’t swap those when needed, meaning you can either do great at close or long range but not both. Which, one again, is fine in PvP but not PvE.
This probably wouldn’t be a huge deal if the characters themselves had any personality. Your choice of race means nothing, changing no dialogue in story missions or having any impact on your character’s abilities. Your choice of class has a greater impact when it comes to your melee attack, grenade skills and super ability. But none of this actually changes how playing your character feels. Playing a close range Titan doesn’t feel appreciably different than playing a Warlock. In similar games, like Borderlands, passive skills generally give you a reason to play in a particular way but there’s none of that here. It’s too… generic. In all likelihood this too is probably a concession to the PvP elements in the game much to its detriment.
It’s possible that it would be easy to ignore all of these issues if the game itself was anything other than mediocre. However, to be frank, there are free-to-play MMO’s with more content than Destiny.
See Destiny has an amazing amount of effort put into building a really interesting backstory for the game world. Every element of the game, whether it be an ally or enemy, has a bunch of information found within the grimoire that fleshes it out with flavor text. It’s a shame that this information is provided only on the website, or an accompanying app, meaning that you have to stop playing the game to enjoy the content put in the game. It’s like they’ve never seen the Mass Effect codices or the awesome books within the Elder Scrolls games that fleshed out those worlds.
But once you start playing the game the story and missions become intensely generic. Appear on planet, hope on hover bike and ride towards objective, kill enemies in the way, get into dungeon and kill enemies until you reach your destination. Then you either kill enemies while your Ghost (basically the Monitor’s from Halo) accesses data / unlocks something for you or you kill a boss type enemy. This is literally every mission. Even the various enemies aren’t that distinguished, all of their basic units feel very repetitive and only their elite units are all that interesting. Some of them anyways.
One could say that this is the fault of the current content and not the game itself, which is true to an extent. Bungie has said they plan to keep with Destiny for ten years of content and in a few years it might have enough content to justify it. However, as of time of this review, each planet has only five or six missions, two Strikes (extra tough missions) and a Patrol, which allows you to wander around the fairly small area that makes up each planet. It’s about ten hours of intensely repetitive content.
What’s even funnier is that Activision or Bungie decided to release some content exclusively for the Sony consoles. It’s not that much extra content, a few vehicles and an extra strike, but by making it exclusive to the Sony console it makes the Xbox version feel even more barren. I’m sure this is meant to be filled with DLC but it makes things even more frustrating since you paid $60 for what amounts to the frame work of a great game. This is further insulting since Bungie are apparently going to be releasing further exclusive missions with each of the DLC that comes in the future. So as opposed to giving Sony players exclusive DLC packages they’re going to make everyone on every platform pay for the same content and then give Xbox players less.
If the game had greater mission variety, a more unique feel to each of the characters or just more content then the game would be fantastic. But they seem to have sacrificed so much so that the PvP content is “balanced” as they want it. That’s great and all except for the fact that the PvP is utterly, ludicrously broken.
Many of the stages that are used in the PvP favor close range combat or make it very easy to get into close range. As such they reward rapid movement, map memorization and shotgun spam over any sort of tactical gameplay. It reminds me of Gears of War more than anything involving actual effort or skill. You can kind of mitigate how bad this is by choosing skills that buff your defenses but by and large that isn’t going to be of too much help.
Another problem with the PvP is that there’s no balance to it. Your equipment is supposed to be balanced out to make the playing field even but this doesn’t seem to be the case. While I’m not entirely sure how the weapon or armor is supposed to be “balanced out” by the game, higher level players with higher level equipment still seem to mostly dominate lower level players without a second thought. Player skill can make up for that especially if you know the stages well enough but it’s still incredibly aggravating.
What’s especially annoying is that apparently even though equipment damage / defense values are supposed to be evened out, removing level advantages, item bonuses seem to stick around. So if you’ve purchased an upgrade for your fusion rifle that lets you fire it faster and go up against someone without that upgrade you have an immediate leg up on them. It’s an imbalance that just shouldn’t exist. It reminds me of PvP in stuff like Guild Wars 2 where everyone has their equipment stripped from them and are given generic versions of the weapons and armor that they had equipped, forcing everyone onto the same footing. It forced people to rely on strategy and teamwork to succeed which is far, far more interesting than what Destiny offers.
One area I’ve heard many complaints about is the leveling system after level 20. At this point gaining experience no longer grants levels but you instead gain them by finding legendary or exotic equipment that has a “Light” stat. So you’ll have to find this rare equipment then level it up to increase the amount of Light it provides. I’ve heard much complaining that this system is far too grindy, requiring too much time investment to see any real returns. I disagree with this since it’s a very unique and effective system of judging your forward progress in the game. It might be a bit frustrating having to constantly find new equipment and level it up but this is more an issue of crappy loot drops than it does with a problem with the mechanic itself.
As sad as it is Destiny isn’t even that good looking on current gen consoles. There’s something about the color palette that tends to look almost grainy and smeared. On the other hand, the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 versions of Destiny look absolutely fantastic. It brings to mind the Star Trek films by J.J. Abrams in look. It grants more detail to some of the creepier enemies, like the Hive ogre or Swarm Princes, which gives their appearance a lot more punch. With the brighter, fuller palette of the enxt-gen consoles gunfire, explosions and the particle effects really pop especially when you’re in the underground areas that are lit only by the flashlight of your Ghost.
The audio for Destiny is sadly unimpressive. I’m not sure if Marty O’Donnell knew Bungie was about to try pulling the rug out from under him and kind of phoned it in or if this was intended but much of it is just kind of… meh. Part of the problem with the music might be that there’s a whole lot of chanting and humming with the music that makes a lot of it sound so repetitive. It’s not bad though it just doesn’t stand out as much as the various Halo themes.
What truly saddens me about Destiny is that I was incredibly excited for its release until I actually got my hands on it. I wanted nothing more than to love this game and I did have fun with it when I was playing through the storyline. But as time went on I found myself annoyed by how generic the game felt, how its myriad flaws were so glaring and just couldn’t stomach it. I wanted to wait for DLC to play it more only to find their attitudes towards exclusive content rather abhorrent. To be blunt, Destiny is a game with high production values but absolutely nothing else.