Halo. As soon as I type that title most gamers know exactly what I am talking about. Heck, a lot of non-gamers do too simply based on the massive impact the franchise has had not only on gaming, but on advertising, marketing, and popular culture alike. That being the case, when Bungie announced that they were handing the keys to the Warthog over to Microsoft and then-newly formed studio 343 Industries the world was curious what Bungie’s future held, and when we would get to experience the next game from the creators of one of the most influential console games of all time.
Destiny was announced a few years back at E3 and was promised to be Bungie’s most ambitious project yet. From initial impressions the game was touted as a sort of mini MMO. A FPSRPG with social elements like parties, raids, hub worlds, and co-op. Destiny looked ambitious, and the rumored $500 million price tag Activision stepped in to pick up only added fuel to the growing fire of hype and inflated expectations. At the end of the day, though, a studio is only as good as their last game, so Bungie needed Destiny to be something spectacular. Now that the game has launched, the question is did Bungie pull it off? Is Destiny the new norm in gaming, like Halo became 13 years ago? The answer is something of an enigma, something mixed, something confusing. Destiny has all the checkboxes and oozes quality, but feels a bit empty compared to some of the genre’s best.
Destiny is a mix of first person shooter, RPG, and MMO. Think Borderlands, but with less wacky. Or, a more apt comparison, this game is basically the FPS version of Diablo 3 with less loot and structure. My entire time with the game I kept drawing comparisons to Diablo, and how Diablo did things slightly better overall. When you start up the main story of Destiny you create your character (using very few options) and it drops your right into old Russia as you see a cutscene introducing your AI companion, the Ghost, voiced by Game of Thrones‘ Peter Dinklage. Dinklage’s performance has been something people have been upset about since the alpha because of the lack of emphasis and monotone quality of his lines. It’s better in the full game, but none of the voice acting overall is that great. I know Dinklage is a great actor from seeing him in Game of Thrones, but either he’s not accustomed to what it takes to voice act in a game, or Bungie gave him poor direction, because his character is pretty boring. Anyways, back to the game, in the cutscene the Ghost finds you laying among some abandoned cars and proceeds to tell you that you’ve been dead for a long time, for some reason, and now it’s time to run because a race of aliens are chasing you. This kicks off the game’s intro, which is the only part of the game you have to play alone. It’s basically a tutorial. Once completed you are shown the hub world, The Tower, and introduced to vendors, quests, and shown everything Destiny has to offer.
Let’s start off now with Destiny’s best offerings. Once you choose a mission and spawn into Old Russia you start tinkering with the combat gameplay. Destiny’s shooter mechanics feel fantastic, and make it easy and fun to fight off the many enemies you’ll run into. It’s not quite Halo (it has aiming down the sights after all) but you can feel the Bungie movement style coming through. You feel like a Spartan that has been given the ability to aim down the sights. Strafing, jumping, everything feels similar, but not exactly the same, as Halo. Also, the worlds Bungie have created are beautiful and diverse. Graphically Destiny is a stunning game, and the audio effects are top notch. Marty O’Donnell may not be with the studio anymore but his presence is sure felt in Destiny’s sweeping score and building music in key gameplay moments. The game just oozes polish, which is why it’s such a conflict in my mind. Destiny is polished, beautiful, sounds amazing, and has some fantastic UI, but it still feels a bit hollow overall.
One of the big things in the Halo franchise that Bungie always pushed was their level and scenario design with the “30 seconds of fun” mantra. The key to this was to create engaging levels with multiple ways to battle enemies and separate enemy encounters into bursts of activity. There is a bit of this in Destiny, but the battles just don’t feel as fun. Some of this is due in part to the AI, who all seem to use the AI from the Grunts in Halo, meaning they typically stand there while you pump bullets into them and just occasionally may jump or move out of the way. This is odd considering Halo on the higher difficulties made fighting enemies like Elites exciting, as they dodged your attacks, hurled grenades, and attempted to flush you out from where you were hunkered down. The guns themselves feel solid when shooting, and are cool to look at but there is not enough variation in design and abilities. I don’t want Borderlands levels of crazy here, but in a loot-driven game you want to make sure your players are excited to get and equip new weapons and armor. The weapons choice in Destiny typically comes down to “this number is higher than this other number” and rarely do you pay attention to the unlockable abilities for the weapons, as things like a few extra bullets in your magazine don’t really matter all that much.
The actual levels in Destiny are nice and they look beautiful and diverse. The art direction is very well handled and showcases multiple completely different planets, and (such as Bungie’s is known for) the skyboxes are phenomenal. The main gripe I have with the levels are that they are set up as individual areas and only spawn you in at one location in that area. Each “level” is fairly massive and has a lot of interesting locations, but the enemies are sparse and there’s really not a whole lot to do in these massive zones aside from the bland side quests you get by clicking on a glowing beacon. The game would have benefitted from a more open world concept I think, or at least make the quests better in each area. I’ll return to an earlier statement on Destiny reminding me of Diablo 3, Diablo’s “levels” are very similar to Destiny aside from the enemy density and loot drops. In both you load into a level, wander around killing guys and getting loot, and looking for hidden caves and locations. The difference is Diablo 3 rewards the player constantly with loot and is always throwing enemies at the player, Destiny does not do either of these things. Maybe making Destiny fully open world isn’t the solution, but they could borrow a few tips from other RPGs and MMOs.
The competitive multiplayer in Destiny, called The Crucible, is accessible at level five and features multiple playlists. Some of the playlists will even out the level divide between players (you still keep your power-ups though) and some more rare playlists will enable level differences, so you only want to play them at the top end of the leveling. Multiplayer feels great but needs some tweaks to be the best it can be. Time will tell if I, and the world, am still playing the Destiny multiplayer a few months/years down the road, especially when Bungie has to go up against their own franchise, Halo and the Master Chief Collection come November.
Aside from the basic questing and the competitive side, Destiny does offer some end-game fun that might be what it needs to remain interesting down the road. Bungie just recently introduced the first raid, which are extremely challenging 6-man missions (this one being for level 26 players), and they have been adding random competitive multiplayer events and single player/co-op content over the past few weeks. The content schedule is what will ultimately make or break Destiny (at least, until Destiny 2 comes) and it’ll be very interesting to see how the post-release gameplay does in holding people during the busy Fall and Spring gaming schedule. Things like the raids won’t be for everyone (I think I heard it took the first team to beat it nearly a full day and 1600 deaths) but it seems Bungie has a variety of interesting content coming, along with two big expansion packs, over the course of the next few months.
Overall Destiny is a mixed bag of goodies. On the positive side the game handles great, looks gorgeous and sounds fantastic, but when you dig in you’re starting to see that it looks like maybe things began to get cut as deadlines neared. The time I noticed this the most is when I first made it to Venus and the asteroid belt and a long cutscene with characters and story played. Where were these cutscenes up to this point? Why did it seem like the game was just now telling me story multiple hours in? It felt like things got cut, and I was just now seeing one of the originally planned story scenes. It’s possible that the upcoming DLC and updates will help fill in story and loot/content, but you should never rely on these things to sell your game. Destiny is for sure worth a play, especially for co-op, but make sure your expectations are in check. You’ll get a great world and fun gameplay mixed with a poor story, poor acting, long load times, and a low amount of combat variety and loot. Destiny leaves me feeling like I want to keep playing, but I’m not really sure why. It also leaves me with hope for the future, because if Bungie takes notes and dials in they can pull an Assassin’s Creed 1 to Assassin’s Creed 2 style of change for Destiny 2. Hopefully before then we begin seeing things change, though, as Bungie’s post-release content schedule ramps up.