Destiny Review (PlayStation 4)
Sci-fi shooters are nothing new to the video game landscape, particularly for the team at Bungie. Having worked tirelessly on one of the most celebrated first-person shooter series before striking out to create something original for the first time in a decade, Bungie is no stranger to the open expanses of space, foreign landscapes, and heavily armored combatants capable of taking on throngs of enemies with little assistance. With Destiny, Bungie attempted to eschew the trappings of the first-person shooters of old, and instead hoped to fuse its battle-tested shooter skills with addictive quest- and raid-based nature of the MMO. There was plenty of potential in the combination, but Destiny doesn't quite fulfill all of it.
Many years in the future, our solar system is home to a battle of good and evil. A massive being known as the Traveler arrives, with the antagonistic Darkness trailing behind him. Battle ensues, and the Darkness is pushed away, but at a great cost to the Traveler. Now, after years of hovering dormant on Earth, the Traveler calls to you to help combat the forces of the Darkness once more. You are a Guardian, and you are the last hope. It's a tale as old as time, and at moments, it certainly feels like Bungie is quite okay with relying on memetic consciousness to do all the heavy narrative lifting. Destiny's plot is about as concise and elaborate as the Cliff's Notes to a movie trailer. Your hero's journey would be more engaging had the entire lore of the universe not been locked away outside the core game itself. Bungie clearly went to great lengths in crafting the backstory of this alternate future, and the inhabitants therein, but to even begin to grasp the nature of man and beast in Destiny, you have to go to an outside source.
Is it woefully unfair to expect every last bit of exposition and story to be delivered wholly in this first entry in the Destiny series? Perhaps. We do already know there will be more games to come, and that's not even discussing the planned expansions due to arrive over the course of the next year for the game as it stands today. Bungie has certainly crafted a vision of the future that is fascinating at first glance, what with Warlocks and Titans and strange new races populating the planetary system. But even dozens of hours later, Destiny barely dips beneath the surface on what any of it all means, and why it's all there. The great disappointment is that there's so many wonderful new things to be curious about, and there are very few explanations as to why they are so wondrous.
It's fortunate then that the combat of Destiny is quite enjoyable. If Bungie has proven one thing time and again, it's that it knows exactly what it's doing when it comes to shooting things with impressive weaponry. While the creativity in armaments isn't necessarily inspired, Destiny's weapon system provides ample ballistic mayhem for fans of more serious shooters. Most importantly, the feel of the weaponry is spot on. Assault rifles have a very true pull to their burst of fire, while handguns give a good kick between accurate shots. Heavy machine guns have an undeniable weight to them, and the shotguns pack a wallop that both you and the person on the business end can feel instantly. The upgrade and progression system for weapons is intuitive, and offers a tiny bit of customization to tailor your loadout specific to your tastes. The lack of variety in base models is made up for by the varying degrees of simple statistics like accuracy and range, which gives each gun just a bit more flexibility and the fictional manufacturers a bit of personality in design.
The guns themselves are a large part of combat in Destiny, but you'll rely on your own character's class just as much. All three possible classes (Warlock, Hunter and Titan) each offer distinct advantages and disadvantages over one another in the PvE sections of Destiny, though the Warlock still feels vastly underpowered comparatively in the PvP arena. We'll get to that in a moment though. Whereas traditional MMOs feature a variety of classes meant to balance one another in quests and raids, Destiny's classes don't really offer much in the way of teamwork compatibility in a familiar sense. All three include a core powerset to start, with the option of exploring a different series of abilities once you reach level 15. For the most part, only the super special character abilities really offer any kind of differentiation, but there are over a dozen different ways to make your Guardian your own, from the type of jump you have to focusing on stats like defense or agility. Still, the variation between the three isn't all that drastic, and you can feel confident in your first choice without worrying about whether or not you picked the right class to enjoy Destiny.
In the Crucible, Destiny's PvP arena, it's unfortunate that classes do matter, and despite the continued balance support, Hunters and Titans dominate play. That's not to say you can't have a good run with Warlock, or that you're automatically going to win because you're a Hunter or Titan. It's just a matter of those two classes having special abilities that are better tailored for the type of aggressive combat you'll partake in when battling against real human opposition. Additionally, there's still a bit of a problem with higher-leveled characters having a bit of an edge due to loadouts and abilities that have been unlocked. Again, it's not that you have no chance, it's just that characters that have leveled up a bit and wield Legendary or Exotic items have a bit of a leg up on the competition. This is in spite of Bungie's evening of the playing field in standard PvP. While the armor and attack damage might be evened out, the abilities are not, and at times it can be frustrating to get matched up with extremely high level players.
All those previously mentioned elements could have been found in any first-person shooter, but what truly sets Destiny apart is the attempted meshing of more MMO sensibilities. Some mechanics translated quite well, like attack damage and critical hits, as well as certain weapons offering more damage if correctly tuned for a particular enemy type. Additionally, the loot and crafting systems are both fully functional and work fairly well. It's true you'll have to grind a bit at points for materials at higher levels, but right up until you reach level 20, everything is very accessible, even if it's not explained very well at all. Just as Destiny's plot suffers from being under-explained, so do many of the systems at the core of improving your character. There's a lot of experimentation and figuring things out on your own in Destiny, which is not necessarily a terrible thing, but it wouldn't have hurt to have a few hints or tutorials available in regards to any of the customization or crafting portions.
At launch, Destiny's loot system was rather unfulfilling. Often, the loot drops were massively disappointing, and particularly in end game content, extremely disproportionately leveled. In the few weeks since Destiny arrived, Bungie has already made some strides in fixing the issue, and promised even more are on the way. As a result of the uneven reward system, players have had to resort to grinding at an extreme level to make any headway in acquiring Legendary or Epic gear. While the act of shooting in Destiny is strong, the actual missions where you do the shooting are a bit disappointing. Every single mission follows a very basic and all-too-similar pattern, creating a bit of burnout. The aspect of entering a new area, shooting waves of bad guys and waiting for your Ghost to tell you it's time to move on ad nauseum grew tiresome way too quickly.
Even if you've picked up a few Bounties, Destiny's side-missions, the added incentive to continue replaying portions of the game over and over again is minimal. Adding in more difficult versions of missions you've already played as daily and weekly quests prolongs the game's length, but doesn't do much in the way of adding any real variety. And again, it's particularly daunting and tiresome when the rewards are just not equal to the effort required to obtain them. Sure, it's amazing to finally get that top tier loot drop after hours and hours of playtime, but knowing you've got to do it all over again in hope of something else equally amazing when everything will play out exactly the same the next time is not a great feeling. God forbid you're unlucky enough to get nailed with no drop whatsoever from the random number generator. Understandably, that kind of randomness and grind is part of the game. That doesn't make it fun, though.
While Strikes do spice things up a bit, even they feature the same basic patterns, just with a bit more difficulty. Raids, or rather the single Raid available today, do bring more variety to the table, but there is only one, and it can only be played with friends. Matchmaking is available for every other aspect, but because the Raids require such a time investment, you can only play with your closest buddies. It's a shame because there are doubtless people who would love a chance to experience the Raid, but can't for lack of any number of reasons (you're friends aren't a high enough level, or you can't sync your schedule). It's great that more are coming eventually, but as it stands now, there's just too much of the same, and even Destiny's playlists for both the Crucible and Strikes repeat the same maps too often.
At least when you're replaying that mission on Venus for the umpteenth time, it doesn't get tiresome to look at. Destiny's visuals are outstanding, and while there are definitely a few locales that fall into the same old genre tropes we've been seeing for years, Bungie's done an amazing job bringing the landscapes of planets to life. There are quiet moments when you can just stand on a cliffside and stare at the vistas of Mars and Venus and Earth. Even the small touches, like the corpses on the moon or the rusting space shuttles in Russia, bring added nuance to a world that was once alive, but lacks meaning or perspective now. The same cannot be said for the voice acting. The dialogue is empty and rings hollow, and as a result the voice performances are memorable for all the wrong reasons. But at least all those explosions and particle effects look really pretty.
As many faults as Destiny has, it's still incredibly addictive. Despite the repetitive nature and the lack of variation, there's a strong hook to keep coming back because of the promise of a reward. The competitive multiplayer, despite being a tad unbalanced, is still fun and provides some truly great moments among friends. It's unlikely the Destiny of today will be the same Destiny we're playing in a few weeks or months, but the reality of the matter is the Destiny of today isn't all that amazing. It has moments, sure, but right now Destiny relies too much on promise, and not enough on delivering.
This review was completed using a purchased retail copy of Destiny for the PlayStation 4.