Reviews

Destiny Review: Great Expectations

By: Jason Siu

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9 min read

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Ever since it was first leaked that Bungie was working on a new IP called Destiny, first-person shooter fans around the world were salivating at the idea of a next-generation game by the same creators of the highly successful Halo franchise. As more information around Destiny was revealed, expectations for the title began to grow while Bungie remained vague on what type of game it would be. Would it be a first-person shooter with an epic storyline and memorable characters like Halo? Or will it be an MMO with quests and a level grind? Will Destiny be inspired by games like Borderlands, where players are motivated by chasing loot while gunning down mobs?

Earlier this week, Destiny finally arrived on the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One and after playing through the entire campaign as a group of three and hitting level 20, we here at Full Cleared arguably still have a difficult time defining what sort of game Destiny is trying to be.

Let’s delve first into what Destiny tries to be and what it does successfully. If you’re a fan of the Halo series, you’ll feel right at home with Destiny’s controls and its style of gameplay, making it a solid first-person shooter. At its core, Destiny plays much like Halo does and it’s evident as soon as you fire your auto rifle or toss your first grenade. The game is set in a beautiful universe and its visuals are simply stunning, while the accompanying soundtrack is everything you’d expect from former Bungie composer Marty O’Donnell. Unfortunately, for every positive that Destiny has, there’s a contrasting negative that really deters from the whole experience.

As well done as each planet’s environments are, Destiny gives little reason to explore every corner of each map. Whether you’re doing story missions or patrol missions, you’ll likely be programmed to go from one objective point to another, killing whatever is in sight and moving onto the next mission. Even for gamers that want to explore what each planet has to hold, Destiny doesn’t award the exploration with hidden chests filled with loot or side quests that explore more of the game’s backstory. To make matters worse, each planet’s set of story missions and even their Strikes are repetitive in nature, resulting in very little variety as players explore Destiny’s story and world. And while the soundtrack of the game is certainly pleasing to the ears, the poor dialogue and voice acting is memorable for all the wrong reasons. Even with a star-studded cast that includes Peter Dinklage, Gina Torres and Nathan Fillion, it’s hard to get over the bland writing and dialogue that you’ll have to sit through for a few hours.

The repetition for the game’s story is evident as soon as you land on the Moon. For example, starting each planet begins with a nearly identical mission in order to gain access to your Sparrow – a travel vehicle. Once that opens up, you’ll be pointed to your next objective and chances are, you’ll be zooming right along in order to progress through the story. During the story missions, the game doesn’t give you a compelling reason to stop and fight enemies along the way if your interest is to level up and move onto the next mission. While Strikes do offer some variety in terms of boss battles and enemies faced, they mostly consist of holding down the fort while your Ghost chugs along with unlocking some artifact or hacking some console. Even bosses you face won’t stray very far from a set formula during the fight and veteran players will quickly notice the pattern needed to make quick work of them. As for Bounties, they are mostly inconsequential during the story of the game, offering extra experience and reputation. They do however, serve as a catalyst for the end-game grind.

The game does need to be commended for its difficulty as Destiny is not your typical “run-and-gun” sort of game. Charging straight into the battle will quickly result in death and using cover to your advantage is a must. In terms of level design, Destiny does a fantastic job for each group of mobs you’ll have to face and battles are intense and entertaining, especially if you’re communicating with two other players. The problem is, they’re repetitive and even with different types of enemies for each planet, it ultimately ends up being boring.

Much of this could be forgiven if toppling a boss resulted with an instant explosion of loot. Gamers that have played other titles such as Borderlands 2 or even Diablo III know the sense of satisfaction when a boss explodes and items spill out all over the ground. For those intense boss battles that last a while, going through your loot at the end gives a sense of reward and Destiny really misses the mark in that aspect. At the end of each story mission or Strike, the game quickly starts a 30-second countdown to return you to Orbit, further reinforcing the idea that once you’re done, there’s nothing left to be seen. It’s a rather strange design choice that Bungie made, not allowing the player to choose whether or not they want to return to Orbit once a story mission or Strike is completed.

Speaking of loot, the lack of variety between drops removes a lot of the excitement involved with collecting the loot. Choosing between weapons and armor pieces almost comes down to which has the highest attack power rating or defense rating, giving players a false sense of choice. Weapon variety is decent, with several to choose from, but once you find the gun type you’re comfortable with, it’s highly unlikely you’ll look elsewhere. Players are outfitted with a three-weapon loadout that’s restricted by ammo quantity – so if you’re the type of player that wants to sit back and snipe all day long, you won’t be able to do that since Special Ammo isn’t exactly plentiful. Love to toss rockets during a boss fight? There’s a good chance that once you unload all your Heavy Ammo, there won’t be much to pick up on the ground, forcing you to return to your normal weapon.

Character progression is also a confusing subject since leveling up doesn’t grant your character more damage or health but simply unlocks more abilities. Choosing which abilities you like affects your character’s Armor, Agility and Recovery rates which also forces you to make your decision according to your play style rather than the ability you find most interesting. For example, choosing one ability over another could drop your Armor rating significantly, meaning you take less damage before dying. Agility affects how quickly your character moves while Recovery is the downtime required before your health starts recharging. If you’re the type that loves to run into battle, absorbing a bulk of damage, you’ll want to focus on increasing your Armor rating which results in choosing the abilities that support that.

Similarly, armor pieces give players a choice of which stat they want to boost: Strength, Discipline or Intelligence which helps reduce the cooldowns of certain skills. So at first, if you’re a fan of tossing grenades you’ll naturally want to boost the stat that allows you to do that more frequently by lowering the cooldown. Unfortunately, you’ll soon find out that defense rating is way more important than being able to toss a grenade or throwing a knife a few seconds quicker and armor choices ultimately fall down to choosing which gives you the best defense rating. One of the most compelling factors of any loot-based game is the ability to min-max your character accordingly, but Destiny removes a lot of that by restricting your character to almost a cookie-cutter build if you want to be effective in battle. It’s worth noting that end-game gear that can be purchased from the vendors carry the same armor rating, but have different stat boosts, so there is a bit of a choice once you hit level 20 and start the grind.

Some of those aspects change in the Crucible, where you’ll want to outfit your character to be the best it can in a PvP situation. Base defense and base weapon attack are normalized in the Crucible to make it fair for everyone involved, but what does carry over are weapon progression, armor progression, abilities and character progression. The game does a great job balancing that aspect, where a level 1 character stands a chance of gunning down a level 20 character and the Crucible is certainly one thing Destiny does well. If you’re a fan of competitive first-person shooters, Destiny may be the game for you – but again, it comes down to whether or not you’re a fan of the style of gameplay that Halo has to offer.

There’s also a variety of PvP modes to enjoy, from zone control to a free-for-all six-player fragfest. The point system does a good job in emphasizing teamwork rather than a positive kill:death ratio in certain modes but Bungie’s decision to remove chat from the Crucible is a befuddling one. Unless you join a Crucible match in a Fireteam, you won’t be able to communicate with your other teammates, which can be a good thing or a bad thing given certain communities. But in a game that emphasizes teamwork in order to succeed, not giving players the choice to even communicate can result in a frustrating experience.

Ultimately, the biggest problem with Destiny isn’t the lofty expectations it garnered over the last year and a half, but rather the fact that it’s really difficult to determine what type of game it wants to be. Its got a little bit of Borderlands, a little bit of Diablo III, a little MMO and a little bit of Halo all mixed in, but none of those aspects are done necessarily well except for the tight gunplay, which is expected since that’s a foundation Bungie could carry over from Halo. The loot system is average at best, with little to no compelling choices to make, while the loot grind isn’t all that satisfying. Character progression doesn’t give you the sense of satisfaction that you’re really stronger than before and while we’re aware that it’s a difficult thing to balance in a first-person shooter, progressing in levels with little to no feedback other than unlocking abilities makes for a stale game.

Despite everything that Destiny isn’t, the game is fun. In fact, it’s a lot of fun if you’re a fan of the Halo series and arguably Destiny might only be fun for that group of people. Don’t expect a memorable story that leaves you feeling like you left an impact on the galaxy, because Destiny doesn’t offer that. At the end of it all, you’ll likely remember the horrible one-liners that some of the characters said rather than the significance of each character and what little role they played in the story. But Bungie promises that the game’s launch is only the beginning, with several events already lined up that will help expand the galaxy in the coming weeks. It’s hard to believe that a six-player raid will change the scope of the game and it’s likely that it’ll be quite generic in nature, but ideally Bungie will listen to the feedback of its players to help shape the game to meet the great expectations it has.

Chances are if you’re reading this review, you’re still trying to decide whether or not Destiny is worth your money. The easiest way we can recommend the game is simply to say if you’re a fan of Halo, you’ll likely be a fan of Destiny. If you enjoyed what the game’s beta had to offer, take the plunge. But don’t expect a grand adventure that will leave you yearning for more because by the time you defeat the Cabal on Mars, you’ll be glad the repetitive nature of the game’s story missions and Strikes are over. If you enjoy Halo’s PvP modes and have no real interest in a game’s story, then Destiny is worth your money. For those players, you can skip the story missions and Strikes entirely, as leveling up and gearing through the Crucible is still an effective and enjoyable way to play the game.

For now we only have one expectation for Bungie and Destiny to live up to. The game is being marketed with the slogan of “Become Legend,” but there’s currently very little in the game that makes you feel like you can become a Legend. Only time will tell whether or not Destiny will fulfill its destiny of being Bungie’s next great title.

If you think that line is corny, just imagine it in Peter Dinklage’s monotone voice.

Jason Siu spends most of his time writing about cars and his work can be seen on EV Pulse, FlatSixes, Tire Authority, AutoGuide, and more. He's the former co-founder of Tunerzine.com and started FullCleared.com as a hobby. He's a variety gamer, but generally prefers RPGs.