Review: Destiny (PS4)

Bungie’s first leap into a new franchise since the original Halo is quite an exciting moment in gaming. Understandably, expectations are high; Bungie, Activision, and video gamers alike have built up hype for Destiny to levels rarely seen in entertainment. With its release, the gaming community is left with two questions: does Destiny live up to its hype, and, more importantly, is it fun?

Undeniably, Destiny cannot meet the excessive expectations laid upon Bungie. In reality, no video game ever could. While it is true that both Bungie and Activision have tried to convince us that Destiny is the herald of a gaming revolution, gamers actively participated in that build up as well. In the end, even the most perfect gem of a game could not entertain all those visionary expectations. As for being fun, however, a more complex answer is required.

It is difficult to pin down Destiny into any specific genre. The core combat mechanics are lifted from Halo – as expected – and have been refined to the highest level of polish one can find in a console shooter. The special abilities are reminiscent of Mass Effect 2, providing an effective variety of passive and active super powers that blend seamlessly into the core FPS game play and controls. Destiny does not miss a beat when it comes to combat. It captures the pleasure of feeling like a space-traveling super-soldier, while providing the depth of RPG ability growth to customize that experience. The player is given a choice of three classes, each with a large variety of special abilities and skill trees, defined by two specializations per class, usually focusing on offense and defense.

These classes and their abilities are blended into the Halo combat structure. Grenades are turned into special power attacks that recharge and can be leveled up. Depending on your class and leveling choices, you may have a grenade that shoots bolts of lightening, or it may form a small black hole, sucking in enemies. The standard Halo melee attack has also been specialized, ranging from a lightning powered punch, to a hyper-accurate throwing dagger more powerful than most guns. Finally, each class and specialization has a “Super” ability, allowing the player to wipe out entire groups of enemies after charging up their energy through combat.

Underneath all this are beautiful movement and shooting mechanics that give a sense of freedom and power. Jumping and sprinting is organic and over the top, allowing you to leap twenty feet into the air and even providing you with a variety of double jumps. The weapons are powerful and accurate, while providing a good variety of flavors; you get three slots for primary, secondary, and heavy weapon types. Atop this, each weapon has its own stats and can be leveled up and customized. From the muzzle flash, to the recoil and sound, each weapon feels like it has a unique sense of weight and power. Bungie has always been an expert at making guns unrealistically fun, and that is taken to a new level with Destiny. Rifles and pistols feel more like unique fantasy weapons rather than mechanical killing machines. It’s a nice change of pace from the constant flow of modern war shooters of recent years.

Beyond the detail put into the abilities, guns, and movement – all of which are polished and fun – the environments and models are beautifully crafted. Simply exploring the locations in the game is a pleasure, providing a visual feast as Destiny makes the most of next generation hardware. The technical visuals are intelligently crafted, providing fine-grain details all the way down to the dust flying in the air and the grass on the ground, without slowing down the frame-rate noticeably. The colors and lighting are beautifully done, giving a sense of pulpy science fiction rather than drab realism. The environments and objects all benefit from this level of craftsmanship. All the locations are filled with detail and visuals that at times are breathtaking, and every piece of equipment is unique and memorable.

Destiny_20140929222444Environments are decorated with either alien structures, or the ruins of the human empire.

Of course, all of these beautiful details and extremely satisfying combat mechanics are just one part of the broader Destiny experience, which is defined by the variety of game modes and missions. Without a doubt, Destiny acts like an MMO in its mission structure, as it always ensures that you run into other players, and requires you to team up for many parts of the end game experience. As well, important aspects of loot based RPGs such as Diablo III show up in Destiny, and form the backbone of the pacing and goals. You will explore the massive maps of the game to complete simplistic objectives that are only meant to be vehicles for more action and loot. This is a tried and true approach, forming the foundation of the Diablo and Borderlands franchises. Of course, this is not a style of game play that everyone will enjoy. While Destiny does provide some unique challenges, especially in higher-level team missions, much of the game is about constantly hunting down aliens and collecting weapons and armor.

All of the missions allow other players to run around in the same maps as you. The important story parts are sectioned off seamlessly, shared only with whoever joins your group. Mostly, however, you will be running into strangers with similar objectives. This often leads to impromptu teamwork, making the game world more exciting and organic. As a result, even if you want to play solo, you may find yourself inadvertently helping someone else, and it makes the game a much better experience. These social interactions are restricted, however, by a lack of voice communication outside of your teammates and no in-game clan support. Despite these set backs, Destiny encourages you to play nice with others even if you are not in the same group. The loot and experience points enemies drop are provided for every player that was involved in a battle, removing worries of kill stealing. Some of the most spontaneous and exciting experiences of Destiny are when complete strangers gather together to take on shared goals and challenges. Working with friends over voice communication brings the experience to a higher level of strategy and coordination. Whether you play alone or with a dedicated group, Destiny has something for you to do, but it will always find a way to have you do it with others.

Story missions guide you through the basic build up of this new franchise, providing tidbits of background information all around you, but there are few specifics and even less plot development. The world building is at its finest for Bungie; you get a sense of a living, breathing universe from the first time your character opens their eyes. You are constantly reminded of a long history that lead to humanity’s downfall from a golden age, the invasion of antagonistic alien species within the Solar System, and your role as a Guardian – futuristic knights that protect the last human city on earth using powers that blend science fiction and fantasy. There is a lot going on here, and it is all very flavorful, enticing, and mysterious. Bungie knows how to make an interesting universe. The plot flat-lines pretty quickly, however. The story missions are action packed but provide little detail on who is who, why aliens are attacking humanity, and what or who the big enemy really is. You are never given a clear story of anyone’s motivations, leaving no room for character development. At the end of the story missions, you know more about the broader universe behind Destiny and much less about what you did and why.

Destiny_20140929212233Major battles are usually set up in the most stunning areas of maps.

The actual story missions range from very exciting and unique, to simple and massive shootouts. The highest point, from a game play perspective, is when you steal an alien artifact called the Sword of Crota. The game shifts to a third-person perspective as you wield the magic space-sword and proceed to slaughter said aliens with it. That one mission shows just how creative Bungie can be, and what they can do with Destiny. However, most of the story missions have you playing mindless defense while your AI companion, called a Ghost, does something in the background.

The real meat of the game, and what I believe Bungie is aiming for, is in patrols, strikes, and raids. Patrols have you exploring fully open maps completing randomly generated side quests, searching for treasure chests, and taking on public events that occur at timed intervals. The maps are immense by FPS standards, matching the scope of the maps in Guild Wars 2. There is a much more limited selection, however, with one map for each of the four locations across the Solar System. Despite that low number, each of the locations is hugely diverse, filled with secret areas, underground caverns, and lots of beautiful scenery. Depending on your taste, these patrols will either be repetitive and tedious, or sources of addicting fun worth countless hours. The flexibility of these missions means that they can be enjoyed in small bites or in massive marathons. The game keeps spawning activities and treasure to keep you playing with the very fun combat mechanics and special abilities. Diversity is provided not in the missions themselves, but in enemies coming in a variety of sizes and shapes, characterized by very different strategies and weaknesses. In the end, patrols recall the rhythm of Diablo III’s adventure mode and map exploration in Guild Wars 2. It’s repetitive, simple, but filled with all sorts of rewards and based on some of the most exciting mechanics found in the FPS genre. This is the aspect of the game that will either drive you away or reel you in for the long term.

Destiny_20140929205732A view from the Tower; this is your home base overlooking the last human city on Earth, with the Traveler floating above.

The other game play modes, strikes and raids, require teaming up with other players to take on special, hidden areas of the game which are filled with stronger enemies and even better treasure. Bungie has had some issues with balancing these fights, trying to make the game an interesting challenge without the bosses becoming bullet sponges with little strategy. Though a few such fights were experienced (and endured) Bungie has been actively balancing the game to make it fun, and not a grind. As a result, some of the most exciting and rewarding experiences in Destiny are in high level strikes or the Vault of Glass raid which test your skills and teamwork. Alongside this are PVP options that are very entertaining, just as rewarding, but lacking slightly in depth. It feels a lot like the early days of Halo multiplayer, giving you a reason to mindlessly tear apart other players in team PVP. However, there are few to no options in customizing the game modes and maps. That does not mean there is a lack of variety; standard PVP offers the expected game modes, with a collection of very detailed maps. The exciting part is the presence of class abilities, as matches get quickly turned upside down when someone uses a super power that can wipe out several enemy players at once.

Bungie has done a good job of providing free special events to keep things rolling. Both PVP and PVE have unique events that give extra missions for unique rewards during limited time periods. These missions follow the same formula as the rest of the game, but provide an extra incentive to just play more. If you were already hooked by the core game, these events will keep you coming back.

Without a doubt, there are plenty of ways to play Destiny. However, it is very much unlike standard console fare, and, as stated, is much more akin to Diablo III and MMOs such as Guild Wars 2. This is an FPS MMO aimed solely at consoles. That in itself is an exciting and risky experiment. Understandably, many will turn away from the new franchise, some in disgust feeling this is not what they were sold on. However, those who do stay will find months, and even years, of fun, supported by updates in the form of free events and patches, and two paid expansions.

Destiny_20140929222549Destiny keeps you moving and fighting nonstop. Despite the simplicity of many missions, the game rarely slows down outside of the Tower.

Destiny will disappoint some as it lacks a deep plot and follows formulaic mission structures for all aspects of game play except a few story objectives and the highest level content. That, however, allows Destiny to provide repeat entertainment for those with the desire to come back. There is a reason for the simplicity of the missions; allowing players to replay them again and again with more ease as they master their class and the detailed maps. Higher level group objectives and stronger difficulty levels for already completed missions keep you going for more and better loot. The fun of Destiny is not some grand journey with a beginning and an end, but countless, little adventures focused on exciting combat, a beautiful universe, and teamwork with strangers and friends alike. The mission structure, however, is simplistic, and only serves to keep you fighting for more loot. If that last part seems overly repetitive to you, then Destiny will not win you over. However, if you seek a constant stream of action based on very robust and finely crafted combat mechanics, you will have plenty to enjoy.

Rating: 4 out of 5

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