Disclaimer: Any game that intends to grow and expand over a long period of time should be frequently revisited by critics and players; otherwise, you’re doing the project a grave injustice. What we review here is merely the starting point of what could be a definitive experience.
Destiny is perhaps the most intriguing yet flummoxing dichotomy I’ve ever reviewed. On the one hand, it’s the epitome of everything that's wrong with video games today; i.e., an uninspired story that takes a backseat to the action. On the other hand, it’s an evolutionary step for the first-person shooter genre and it’s undeniably entertaining. There’s nothing here you haven’t seen before but as I’ve stated many time in previous articles, it’s the combination of these familiar elements that make the game special. That being said, “special” is a relative term and reliant upon emotionally subjective and candidly objective observations.
Graphically, the PlayStation 4 version impresses. Again, though, we stumble upon a double-edged sword: The wonderful detail, excellent special effects, and super fluid animations are proof of the project’s extreme level of polish and technical sophistication. There are some beautifully designed areas, too, but there are also lots of bland, uninteresting areas that have no personality, no appeal. Borderlands had a similar problem in my estimation. Still, if you’re analyzing the game solely on its individual technical merits, there’s no doubt that Destiny is a solid achievement and indicative of a true-next-gen presentation.
The audio provides the player with added atmosphere and intensity, which is indeed the hallmark of quality sound. There’s a subtle mysticism to the tracks that accompany your standard travels, and a driving insistence when faced with sticky situations. The effects once again take center-stage, as they’re a perfect accompaniment to the graphical effects. The professional voice performances are another highlight. However, I think Bungie missed an opportunity to greatly enhance the experience by including a heftier, more diverse sampling of tracks, especially when exploring distinctly different landscapes. Perhaps this could be built upon in the future.
Developer Bungie may have bitten off more than they could chew with this production. Either that, or they took an extremely ambitious first step with the full intention of expanding upon a fantastic foundation. I imagine it might be the latter but if that’s true, the game wasn’t necessarily advertised as a “first-step” game. I understand that you can’t really sell a game by saying, “well, see, it’ll get bigger and better over time.” That doesn’t generate $500 million in 24 hours. At the same time, I can also understand why many gamers feel, to some extent, betrayed. They wanted a next-gen experience now.
Thing is, if you’re optimistic and astute, you can spot examples of next-gen prowess in this game. It’s actually quite obvious: The aforementioned technical accomplishment, combined with the multiplayer-oriented, persistent-world extravaganza makes for an immediately enjoyable FPS. You’ve got plenty of co-op missions, the competitive Crucible, and the ongoing drive to locate new and better loot. In a lot of ways, it’s like a shooter incarnation of Diablo because one’s enjoyment is so heavily rooted in the acquisition of great new equipment and items. The difference is that Destiny was reputed to be so much more and in point of fact, it isn’t.
At first, you’re blown away by the huge, immersive environment. It’s an extremely slick game with very high production values and for a while, you revel in these highlights. Players can explore areas on Earth, Mars, Venus and the Moon and occasionally, I’d stop to drink it all in. Standing there, examining the far-reaching scope of this virtual blockbuster, one’s brain whirls with infinite possibilities. In truth, the possibilities here probably are limitless, even if many aren’t yet fully realized. The only problem is that even the most enticing frontiers have a touch of disinterested hostility. These environments aren’t exactly welcoming and unfortunately, they’re not always interesting, either.
On top of the awe-inspiring landscape, you’ve got finely honed control and basic mechanics that make playing a breeze. We’re treated to a streamlined interface, intuitive menus, a fantastic frame rate that never seems to stutter, and co-op missions that immediately give the adventure some much-needed depth. It’s almost impossible to find fault with the control schemes and menus; it’s all so expertly crafted. The difficultly curve feels just about right, as you’re steadily rewarded for your efforts. You won’t stick with only one weapon or piece of armor for too long, and some extremely challenging boss fights interrupt the admittedly repetitive nature of the game.
Speaking of those boss fights, though, while they provide the player with formidable AI, they’re not necessarily “fun.” They often feel too much like a chore, as many bosses absorb a ridiculous amount of firepower before falling. The cool part is that you face down a wide assortment of fantastical creatures that are more fantastical than sci-fi. I like that I’m not always tackling some variation of a space alien; it’s great that I can go to-to-toe with a minotaur and a harpy because again, this is appreciated diversity. Unfortunately, the sheer repetitiveness of the game can’t be ignored, as the story falls well shy of expectations.
You’re basically doing the same thing all the time. This is the default problem with most shooters: Go somewhere, shoot something, go somewhere else, shoot more things. Now, the inherent depth, courtesy of the more RPG-like style, gives Destiny more dimension. But I didn’t think the classes were quite distinct enough and the primary tasks really never feel fresh or different. Like many open-world games, much of the actual narrative is buried in lore, which players can easily miss or voluntarily bypass. Your character almost never says anything and there’s no personality or charisma; like too many FPSs, you feel like you’re controlling a disembodied gun and nothing more.
There’s very little dialogue and the storyline itself just isn’t well presented. It’s not paced well, it’s not written particularly well, and it fails to engage the player. At some point in the campaign, certain events make you feel slightly more connected to the story but for the most part, it just feels tacked-on and even unnecessary. I’ve always said the same thing: If you’re going to make an open-world game based around multiplayer, you will never – repeat: never – produce a cohesive, professional narrative that is worthy of our attention. There are simply too many branching possibilities that get in the way, and the focus is always off.
The focus is the gameplay and that’s that. I honestly think Bungie would’ve been better advised to just ignore a story (because really, anybody who plays it for a significant period of time won’t care at all) and instead, spend more time fleshing out the world. Create unique tasks and objectives, give the landscape more personality and flair, and put some intriguing spins on the standard fetch quests. Furthermore, upon close inspection, the variety doesn’t change things up as much as one expected. For instance, many of the guns are simple variations of previous weapons and don’t feel especially different, and the missions have you exploring many of the same areas, over and over, with many of the same objectives.
Competitive multiplayer helps a lot, as the Crucible’s four modes add a great deal to the overarching experience. There are six-player deathmatch and team deathmatch options that speak for themselves, but I really wish the two combat vehicles were more often utilized outside the PvP action. Control Mode is the most intriguing and rewarding, as it’s more strategic in style. The bottom line is that leveling up in the Crucible makes sense and shakes things up a little; when you’re getting tired of the same ol’ single-player mission, you can jump into the Crucible and increase your pulse rate. The maps are exceedingly well-designed, too. On top of which, teaming up with friends to tackle quests outside of the Crucible is a huge attraction and arguably the game’s best feature.
Destiny doesn’t quite fulfill its destiny of being a revolutionary shared-world experience, but it’s a competent, entertaining, promising product. I use the latter word because supposedly, we’re just getting started. Bungie will continue to work and players should continue to benefit. The control is top-notch, the massive world is the epitome of ambitious, and the multiplayer – both competitive and co-op – is what will keep players coming back for more. Unfortunately, they absolutely did not deliver on the story element, the gameplay is often too tedious and unimaginative to gloss over, and much of the variety is merely an minor extension of existing material.
In closing, there’s a lot to like, and a lot to wonder about. The question is whether or not you choose to embrace the obvious manifest intent of such a game: If you just accept that it was always going to be about multiplayer shooting, and the rest might be underdeveloped gravy; you’ll probably have tons of fun. And if you look to the future and see what Bungie has created – a very solid foundation – you should be excited by what the team will deliver in the coming months and years. I’m willing to bet that if we revisit this game in one year’s time, it will be significantly, if not drastically, improved. Remember that.
The Good: Excellent production values throughout. Great visuals and atmosphere. A solid, sweeping soundtrack. Fantastic control and intuitive menus. Competitive and co-op action is where it’s at. The vigilant are justly rewarded. Optimistically, the future is very bright.
The Bad: Story aspect is a huge disappointment. Missions feel repetitive and tedious due to recycled objectives and areas. Tougher bosses just eat up too many bullets. Pessimistically, the production feels emptier and more ho-hum than it should.
The Ugly: “Just fully embrace the multiplayer and don’t misrepresent the narrative.”
9/15/2014 Ben Dutka