Destiny has now been out for a week and gamers have logged in millions of hours worldwide playing. In this, the second part of our review, we talk about the gameplay, the story, and what Bungie needs to do to make the title better.
Destiny, as we mentioned in Part 1, is at its heart, a first person shooter. And it’s a damn good one when you get right down to it. Bungie recaptured the magic from Halo and have transferred it well to this new IP. The action is smooth and frantic, and the difficulty–especially in the story missions–is near perfectly balanced. I’m a seasoned FPS player and I have a relative FPS newbie on my fire team, and we both succeed in carrying out our missions, strikes, and patrols. If there is one thing in all of this that Bungie nailed, it is the gameplay.
There are three character classes to start, hunter, titan and warlock, in addition to three races and two sexes to choose from. Each class has its own subclass and the customization is deep. Hunters are the DPS dealers in this hybrid MMO game. Titans are tanks, and Warlocks are, um, well, they aren’t healers, though they do have a bit of magic in their attack. The thing is, each class is very similar, especially with weapon load outs. There’s a primary gun, a secondary gun (think sniper rifle or shotgun), and they the heavy weapon (rocket launcher or machine gun). Each class uses these weapons, but how they level up (character AND weapon) is up to the player. The difference lies on the melee attack. The hunter uses a blade that can be upgraded to be thrown. Warlocks have a psionic-like blast that eradicates an enemy. This is where the characters begin to differentiate.
The game is played out over four planets. Well, three planets and the moon. Each planet has a set of story missions and side story missions, and each planet has one or two strike missions, which are multiplayer hunts for big, tough bosses. Players can walk or run, or even call up a Sparrow, which is like a Speeder Bike from Star Wars and zoom around exploring. Each planet also has a patrol level which allows players to just run around and kill stuff and take on quick missions that don’t vary too much. Kill X amount of bad guys. Go to this location and scout. Collect items from certain enemies. Rinse, repeat. Completing a patrol mission earn you vanguard points that affect your standing in the game. In fact, there are so many things to level up in Destiny that maybe this is what Bungie and Activision meant by 10-year support. What works so well is that the player WANTS to level up all of these different classifications. This is what brings me back after beating the 18-20 hour story and capping initially at level 20.
And that brings me to my next point. The soft level cap is 20. Once a character reaches that level, there are ten more levels to achieve and that is done by collecting “light points.” The end level cap is 30, but getting those 10 other levels is time consuming. To get there, players have to vary what they do and hope from better weapon and armor drops, as that is where the light points come from. To put it simply: it’s up to randomness on whether you continue to level up your character. Now, legendary drops are more common post-story (that I’ve noticed at least), but the truly exotic gear is locked up in achievement bonuses that it will take a good amount of time to unlock them. But again, this game is designed for a 10-year cycle, so this is how its done.
The locales in Destiny look fantastic and the maps are well designed, which is a Bungie calling card. Venus is teeming with life, Mars is a red rock, Earth takes place in snowy Russia, and the moon is, well, its the moon. Serene and cold. The artists really nailed each planet, giving them their own personality. The load times are a bit long and are shown as travel between planets. It’s sill that the player has to go through a 45-second warp to go from the earth to the moon, but I understand why.
The story is generic sic-fi 101, as it takes the best parts of so many games that came before it. On earth, you fight the fallen, who are covenant rejects from Halo. On Venus, you meet the Vex, robotic enemies that have come straight from the Mass Effect franchise. On Mars, you fight the Cabal, huge hulking enemies that are on vacation from Gears of War. The story that binds them all together is very forgettable, for the most part. It does its job of moving the player progression forward and getting the characters to level 20, but having just wrapped it up, I can’t tell you a thing about it. That says a lot about how weak it is.
To counter the weak story, Bungie has rolled out weekly and daily raids, and hourly public events to keep things going, which is also incredibly welcome. I capped out and finished the story, and then played for an additional hour or two just doing patrol missions.
Mulitplayer, here called The Crucible, is pretty standard fare with three modes, like control and salvage, and a team deathmatch option. Players have yet another option to level up their characters independently in this mode, but the characters base level, unlocked skills and load outs are all on the table, making some matches for new players frustrating. Other than the spectacular maps, the Crucible is a side mode at best, as it brings nothing new to the game other than better gear and weapons once you’ve played and won enough matches to pay for them.
Where Destiny begins to truly unravel is in player interaction. There is no viable way to communicate with another player, save for four emotes mapped to the direction pad, and one of those is a simple sit and ponder animation. No in-game text chat and you can only talk to people in your party if all three of you have headsets and are in the party chat outside of the game. This gets frustrating when you come across new players you can help. Destiny also lacks a lobby for players to intermingle and form up raid groups. It’s truly random who you team up with, and this affects strikes, raids and in multiplayer.
Also, there is no way to trade items, so that high level shotgun I found has to be destroyed for parts and glimmer (the in-game currency) instead of given to my Warlock friend how uses shotguns primarily. Bungie and Activision want Destiny to be a gaming community of shared goals and accomplishments, but sadly they work so hard to put up walls around the individual player that it makes it difficult to work as a team. And this is, by far, the worst thing about the game. As I play, I can’t help but wonder how much better it could be if I did truly feel like part of an army of vanguards fighting to bring light to the darkness. At present, I don’t. It’s a solitary game with MMO aspirations and it fails miserably at building that community.
I completely understand that Destiny is a slow burn game that is designed to be played for years to come. There are already two expansion packs out there (at $20 a pop, or $35 for both), which means that the next ten years of play will come with a cost. This too doesn’t sit well with me, as the game as a whole is too good, too beautiful to be reduced to a cash cow money sink.
As a whole, Destiny is a great game that is fun to play and has so much going for it that it boggles the mind to think of what Bungie got wrong here. The freedom to explore and play and replay missions for better loot drops gives the game life, even as the lack of interaction and communication between players works so hard to sink the entire thing. Hopefully, sometime in the next ten years, Bungie will release a patch that fixes this massive oversight, because Destiny is a great game that could have been stellar. The real test will come when Activision releases this year’s Call of Duty and Microsoft drops the new Halo set. Will players still work to fight back the darkness, or with the battle be lost? Only time will tell. Ten years time, apparently.
Destiny was reviewed on PS4 and furnished by Activision for the purposes of this review.
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