When Bungie removed themselves from future Halo projects, it was to produce something new and exciting that would not be possible without their years of first-person shooter experience. Destiny became that vision, which was brought to Activision to immediately begin the hype train experience. Over two years since that announcement trickled out, millions have bought and played what is supposed to be the flagship of new gaming possibilities. Frankly, Destiny is too much of the same to live up to that title.
That does not make this science-fiction shooter an immediate flop. Filtering out the wave of expectations, there’s a completely fine game to be had with highlights and doldrums as every other. What bends the knees of this strong shooter are some decisions that seem baffling and hold it back from its own legendary status.
The core gameplay is the gold-star highlight with freedom of movement and solid, varied gun play. Sliding, jumping, driving and tossing grenades and knives is a blast most of the time with powers amplifying the experience in any game mode or class. Those moves also give you options that other games don’t. An uneven fire fight, or someone getting the drop on you, is no longer an instant-death scenario as you can vault to a ledge and regroup. The worlds around you are artistically varied and glow with personality and danger, both coming together to tell probably the best story this game has to offer. Maps, while not mind-blowing in size, are different with each world full of nooks and crannies and brimming with enemy patrols.
The Crucible is straight out of a textbook about how to make basic modes with almost no meaningful additions. Team Deathmatch and Domination are Clash and Control respectively as well as Free-For-All, called Rumble, and Skirmish serving as Hardcore. These can still be fun as the movements are tailored to deal with human opponents, but originality was lost somewhere along the way. The arenas in person-versus-person modes are spacious and vertical, allowing tactics to invade that axis as well as horizontal while your loadouts are evened out to remove most level advantages, although rocket launchers are still a usual one-hit kill.
The story here is somewhat of a train wreck. You, as a revived Guardian of The Tower, are tasked with stopping the advance of four factions of The Darkness. You will not read any spoilers here simply because there is not much to spoil. There are so many pieces that go awry in different areas; sometimes, your Ghost will waver between a Snooby-Doo wit and a robotic drone, other times, the dialogue itself is stilted and challenging the patience of any player. Then, before you even have a chance to invest in your character’s tale, the final cut-scene rolls, resolving next to nothing, and you are told to move along. This just feels like a premiere episode to a new show where the plot never has a moment to breathe and not feel like a total bomb.
Mission variation is almost completely non-existent. With one exception, you are waiting on your Ghost to hack something, waiting for your Ghost to undo an alarm it just tripped or shooting a boss. The former two are often steps one and two in a mission before the latter comes from a door.
Enemy design is an artistic standout alongside the universe presentation. The Hive and The Fallen feel a bit the same from an A.I. standpoint, but The Vex and Cabal are tactical pinwheels. Each variation has new attack patterns and abilities, such as an 800-pound Cabal launching towards you or slowly plodding with a full shield. Vex probably have the most variations with their mechanical approach mixed with sudden teleportation tendencies, and make both of these later-game factions highlights to battle.
Diving into social aspects of the game is like diving into a kiddie pool. For a shared-world, there are mysteriously few ways to share anything. There are currently no systems to trade weapons, find clans, ask any questions about The Tower or quickly locate a particular vendor.
Speaking of, The Tower is possibly the most confusing piece of design presented in the universe. This was supposed to be the place where socialites could round up their recruits and chat about strategies before heading out to take on a max-level event. As it stands, even finding items to purchase is a struggle in memorization that counters the stream-lining Bungie attempted everywhere else. There are vendors that you cannot buy a thing from until well beyond level 20, making the first 20 hours of the game feel like a pointless grind to get a cape with a slightly altered design than the last. Most of the upgrades are cosmetic only no matter your level, making the entire hub itself feel like a needless stop between loading screens.
Something should also be noted about the Grimore Cards and their uselessness within the game. Bungie actually has a rather extensive lore scribed on these cards, but there is no way to view them, or any stats at all, in-game. You are then forced from your session to their website should you want to view any of their content, meaning or a majority of figures involving your character. A reminder of this pops up mid-mission at the bottom of your screen, lingering there for three-to-five seconds sometimes as a taunt of a far more compelling story not included in the game.
Ultimately, Destiny is an always-online shooter with little social interactions and solid, fluid gameplay. That design paradox in itself should tell you just about all you need to read. There is fun to be had here without a doubt, and there could be massive expansions on the horizon that actually do flesh out this universe to its fullest extent. As of launch, Destiny is just a shooter without the social, mission or loot structure to give any real legs to many of the game modes.
Review By Myles Gann