It goes without saying that we all expect big things from the creators of the Halo series. And it’s not just because they bestowed upon us one of the best science-fiction gaming franchises of all time, it’s also due to the epic promise that their new IP will be an intergalactic journey so grand that it’s set to consume the next ten years of our lives. That’s a mighty big commitment, one that requires a deal of confidence in knowing that the product you’re delivering is undeniably something that gamers are going to fall head over heels in love with. The question is: does Destiny meet those expectations and introduce us to a franchise that we're ready to spend a decade with?
If you aren’t already aware, you should know that even though Destiny might play like Halo mechanically, its structure is nothing like it. This is an MMO with a semi-persistent online world. That means, instead of being limited only to linear orchestrated missions, you’ll roam expansive landscapes in various game modes and focus on leveling up to unlock better gear and weapons. Most importantly, it’s about meeting up with your friends, forming a Fireteam, and deciding what agenda will provide you with the most fun. This is how Destiny should be played, so if you’re looking to play by your lonesome and don’t want to join up with random players, this probably isn’t the game for you.
The story behind the state of affairs in Destiny involves a mysterious spherical structure called The Traveler (which has provided mankind with advanced technology and power), numerous hostile alien races fixated on destruction/domination, and an ancient yet infinitely powerful enemy looming over all of it. Right from the start the story is extremely vague, and little is done to fill in the gaps throughout the game. We get the sense that we're only receiving a tiny fragment of a huge picture set to unravel throughout the course of the series, but that doesn't forgive the paper-thin slice of plot that we're presented with here. You play as one of many Guardians tasked with protecting the last civilization of mankind, while simultaneously working to reclaim their stake in the galaxy. Throughout it all, you’re accompanied by an AI bot called a Ghost (voiced by Peter Dinklage of Game of Thrones fame) who provides context to the missions and assists with any technological hindrances.
Guardians have powerful abilities that have been acquired from the Traveler. When starting out, players have the option to choose between three classes – Titan, Warlock, and Hunter – each with their own unique characteristics. For example, a Titan is the most hardened of the bunch and can smash into the ground with devastating effects; the Warlock can hurl orbs of light to disintegrate opponents; and the Hunter wields a powerful, flaming gun that deals massive damage. Melee attacks, grenades, and jumps also have variations between the three classes. Organizing a Fireteam that contains a Guardian from each class is the ideal way to approach the most challenging of situations, ensuring there’s always someone available to cover the spread. There are customization options that allow the selection of the sex of your Guardian, his/her race, and other basic characteristics; unfortunately, you’re typically seen decked out in armor that covers your character's face, so these traits don’t have much value.
Where Destiny shines the brightest is with its gunplay mechanics, which are so tightly and finely-tuned that we couldn’t help but wonder if we’ve ever had it so good in an FPS. There isn’t much originality to speak of – just aim and shoot with the fairly traditional weapon types – but the precision shooting is arguably at the top of its class. Actually, the entire game is obsessively polished, and it’s abundantly clear that the project had both a massive budget and a passionate team of folks pouring their best into their respective areas of expertise. The biggest problem we have with Destiny, however, is how those pieces come together…or sometimes don’t.
Story missions offer very few, if any, real gameplay shakeups. After selecting the desired mission and dropping onto a planet, you’ll be provided with a sequence of waypoints that need to be reached. Along the way to these destinations you’ll pass by many of the same optional battles that populate the landscape regardless of the mode you’re playing, and you’ll also have to fight through corridors and rooms that are prepared specifically for the agenda of the mission at hand. Once you’ve made it all the way from A to D, the final task is almost always similar to those before it: release your Ghost to scan or activate a mysterious piece of technology while you repel or defend against the waves of enemies pouring into the space. This lack of variety and surprise is part of what causes Destiny to disappoint the most.
It’s not just about story missions, though. As these stages are completed, Strikes and Patrol missions will pop up throughout the stage select screen. Strikes will drop you into the landscape with two other Fireteam members (friends or random players) to shoot lots of enemies and eventually square off against an uber-powerful boss that will require lightning reflexes and the cooperation of the entire team to vanquish. Largely due to the way these culminate in a climactic battle, and also the mandatory emphasis on teamwork, Strikes are possibly our most-enjoyed of all the modes. Patrol missions, which allow for exploration and mini-objectives to be accessed from within the game world, are also a fun – but ultimately less focused – way to play.
Environments are sleek and gorgeous but often lifeless and underutilized. There’s very little character to distinguish one corridor from the next, making the vast spaces exist solely to be traveled through, never really beckoning for any deep investigation or exploration. Each planet will contain loot crates to sniff out, resources to collect and dead Ghosts to revive, though these are so few and far between that we rarely found ourselves actively searching for them. Also, certain planets are more visually appealing than most; Earth and Venus being the richest and most diverse, with Mars and the Moon adopting a similarly barren and sandy look. It’s all serviceable, and it’s a fine setting to accommodate the action, but we couldn’t help but think more could’ve been done to inject more life and interactivity all around.
There is no hub world in Destiny. Instead, players can enter orbit (which is essentially a system of menus) and select their desired mission from a map. Each of the four planets houses multiple story missions, as well as a Strike and a Patrol mode. The overview screen contains weekly events selected by Bungie, and these are more or less tougher versions of missions you’ve already played. Most recently released is a Raid that ups the difficulty to the max (the first Fireteam to successfully complete the Raid took nearly 12 hours to beat it). Rather than having waypoints or clear objectives, these require diligent teamwork and a bit of experimenting. The big payout in any of the weekly events is the chance to earn legendary gear to up your Light stats (more on this below) and/or also to boost reputation points, which can be used as currency. These specially-prepared events help to provide Destiny with a breadth of options and a sense of life, but keep in mind that they’re still the same things you’ve already done, just with slightly different rules governing play.
Between missions Guardians can travel to the Tower to shop for new goods, accept/cash in on bounties, and customize their characters. While visiting, other online players will be running about the space from shopkeep to shopkeep, or simply goofing off with the emotes at their disposal (you can dance, point, wave, or even have a seat). Unfortunately, The Tower ends up being more artificial than organic, with a bland appearance and not enough substance. Loading into the area and running from one destination to the next through unnecessary spaces can be a drag when you just want to get back to the action occurring on neighboring planets. That being said, it doesn’t really detract from anything, either. Hopefully this space will be expanded upon or better realized with future content or sequels to Destiny.
The Crucible is where player-vs-player matches take place, housing five competitive modes to participate in. These consist of the usual deathmatch game types (3v3, 6v6, free-for-all), a domination-type mode called Control, and even Salvage, which is like capture the flag meets king of the hill. Inviting all three classes of Guardian – each with their unique characteristics – into an tightly-constructed arena, creates a volatile environment where it’s hard to predict what’s coming next. It’s nothing drastically different from anything you've played before, but the dynamic freshens up what otherwise feels very similar to Halo multiplayer. Of the entire lot, it was the 3v3 Skirmish mode and Control that we felt were the most balanced and genuine. Larger matches ended up being very chaotic and sometimes too overwhelming for players not leveled as high as the competition. But, truth be told, the Crucible was our least-favorite area of Destiny; the game just feels better in cooperative modes.
Like most MMO-styled games, there comes a point where the grind sets in, and some might not feel as invested as they once did. In Destiny this grind begins at level 20, when leveling up is no longer dependent on XP, but instead, obtaining legendary gear with a Light point numerical value attached to it will be the means of increasing beyond that point. Participating in the tougher activities like Strikes, Raids, and even PvP matches, will be key to earning legendary gear; though, it should be said that this process can take 3-4 times as long as it did prior to hitting level 20. If status and rank is something you value in an online shooter, then be prepared to sink in many, many hours to keep up with the most dedicated players.
We do have other gripes (there are too many forms of currency/resources, enemies respawn too quickly in the common areas, certain opponents are bullet sponges, and legendary gear is far too scarce) but for us, they keep Destiny from achieving greatness as opposed to being toxic to our enjoyment. Numerous people we joined up with online complained about most cooperative modes limiting Fireteams to three players instead of four (which is the standard in most online muliplayer shooters), though that didn’t bother us all that much. It's not easy to predict the reaction that the full spectrum of gamers will have to these surely divisive design choices, but it would be naive to think that they might not rub some entirely the wrong way.
While many of the cooperative modes only offer small degrees of variation, they do offer enough options so the player should feel like there’s quite a bit to do. At what point will it all blur together and become stale? Well, we can’t answer that question for you yet because we’re still coming back for more on a regular basis. At 30+ hours logged, we still want to beam Destiny into our brains and continue our quest to train a Guardian truly worthy of saving the galaxy. The question is whether or not we’ll continue to return for more when other open-world time-sinks like Forza Horizon 2, The Crew, GTA V, and Sunset Overdrive release. Granted, those are all very different types of games, but they appear to require the same level of commitment when it comes to maximizing enjoyment. It’ll be interesting to see how its future plays out.
Destiny feels like the key elements of an FPS and an MMO gently resting shoulder to shoulder, instead of being fused together in a truly creative way. It plays and looks great, and offers many, many hours of entertainment to anyone okay with repeating the same tasks, but it isn’t exactly the game-changing science fiction epic we felt it was aspiring to. Fortunately, that doesn’t diminish the fact that there’s a fantastic social experience here, one that we hope will only improve further with future events and DLC. In our opinion, Destiny is at its absolute best when the odds stacked against you require teamwork to overcome, and there’s no shortage of those moments.
Is Destiny worth your hard-earned dollars with so many promising games on the horizon? For most people we believe the answer will be yes. It’s safe to say that what you get out of it is what you put into it. If you can handle logging the hours and have friends to do it with, at the very least, you should walk away with no shortage of unbelievable stories to share. If that sounds good to you, then go ahead and make the date.