I cannot think of a new video game IP garnering as much attention as Destiny. This review is honestly the hardest and most conflicting one I have tackled to date because of the challenging task of ignoring the hype. I know that I’m not alone – surely plenty of fans and critics share a similar struggle. Being a longtime fan of Bungie franchises such as Marathon and Halo, I naturally wanted to love Destiny, but I couldn’t. There isn’t enough there to totally enamor me or to acknowledge that it’s the revolutionary work it so desperately wants to be. Destiny is an ambitious game that failed to reach the heights it set for itself and yet it can be strangely addicting at times.
Years before the start of the game, alien forces of the Darkness ravaged Earth. A gigantic floating orb named the Traveler saved humanity by protecting one last city on the planet, where it is left hurt and unable to move. You play as a Guardian, a being with special powers bestowed by the Traveler who must protect the last safe city on Earth and chase away the Darkness with the Light. If you think the brief synopsis sounds nonsensical and silly, the ride doesn’t get much better as it’s filled with lackluster dialogue and poor storytelling. A handful of cutscenes and a limited number of in-game dialogues fail to flesh out the grand narrative and fantastical, living worlds Bungie wants to convey.
Characters don’t change or develop (certainly not your Guardian) and there’s no lesson or point to be made here. Destiny is a boring romp through Earth, the moon, and surrounding planets of our solar system, lacking sufficient intrigue or mystery to hold your attention. The cast of characters is uninspired and none are given adequate time to be explored. A prime example is your floating Ghost companion, a floating geometric-shaped robot reminiscent of Bit from Tron. He is obviously supposed to be Destiny’s equivalent of Cortana, the AI companion of Halo protagonist Master Chief. Like most of the cast, Ghost lacks personality and the droll line delivery of Game of Thrones actor Peter Dinklage comes nowhere close to Jen Taylor’s portrayal of the sassy Cortana. The story is a hollow adventure with no emotional resonance and no message, with a plot and characters I couldn’t care less about.
The biggest shame about the campaign is that it wastes the fantastic presentation the artists and audio composers crafted in Destiny. Most locations you visit in the game are real-life cosmic locations and Bungie’s art team has painted a rendition of these places we could only dream of. Venus, for example, is a tropical rain forest sprawling with vegetation, even on old man-made structures. Plenty of times, I found myself stopping to admire the environments my Guardian was traveling through. The art direction of Destiny is top-notch and shines through even with the actual graphics being nothing to write home about. The now departed Martin O’Donnell returns to score most of the game’s soundtrack with additional composition done by his longtime collaborator Michael Salvatori. O’Donnell’s music has a distinct flavor that evokes a sense of grandeur and mystery, and sadly, Destiny can match neither.
Destiny is described as a “shared-world” first-person shooter in which players, whether they be friends or strangers, can seamlessly pop in and out of the game. Missions are easier and usually more fun when playing together with others, so the elimination of cumbersome matchmaking encourages co-operative play. It works without any complications but I quickly noticed the limited communication options at my hand. There’s no text chat or voice chat unless the person is in a PlayStation Network party with you. This lack of voice communication makes callouts during competitive multiplayer impossible. Trading, buying, or gifting items with players is impossible as well, a feature I’m sure many desire in a game focused on acquiring loot. Your interaction with other real human players is limited to preset animation actions like waving or dancing.
The utter lack of ways to communicate with others is most frustrating when you are at the Tower. Located on the Last Safe City on Earth, the Tower is a relatively small non-combat location that serves as the headquarters of the Guardians. The camera shifts to a third-person view so you can see your Guardian walk around like he or she is part of an MMORPG. Here you will find various shops selling weapons, vehicles, ships, and gear, and is where encoded loot called Engrams can be unlocked. Challenges called bounties are accepted and traded in for rewards at a kiosk there. Because many important functions must be completed there, the Tower is the area with the highest number and density of human players wandering around, but all of them are silent. What should be a lively place feels eerie and detached. The world may be shared but relationships are not.
While you might find yourself enjoying the game more with your friends fighting along your side, it still doesn’t completely mask how utterly redundant and boring Destiny’s missions can be. The structure of missions are as follows: travel from point A to point B, fight enemies along the way, and end with defeating a boss and/or activating a door or panel so new information can be discovered to move the plot forward. If there is new info, Ghost will read it to you then proceed to tell you that you need to go to X next to find or stop Y. No surprises and all routine. “How about what occurs between point A and point B?” you may be asking. That chunk largely contains firefights against various enemies, which end up being a decent experience.
There are four enemy factions you will encounter: the Fallen, the Hive, the Vex, and the Cabal. The physical appearance and movements of the Fallen’s Captain, Vandal, and Dreg are similar to the Elites in the Halo games. The Hive includes the fast zombie-esque Thrall and infamous Wizard, whose design is noticeably based on Marathon’s S’pht. The Vex look like stereotypical robots that move like animatronic wind-up toys. Lastly, the Cabal are, as the live-action commercial calls them, “space turtles” and serve as the slow but hefty enemy class. None of them are very memorable or particularly fun to fight against. I was perfectly fine using the same weapons load-out against all of Destiny’s enemies. In past Bungie titles, you often could employ offbeat routes and prioritize which enemies to take out first. Their past winning recipe carries over into Destiny for the most part but is no longer is enough to be a formula successful at saving the campaign.
Many may find a more entertaining time in the Crucible, the game’s competitive multiplayer component. Here you are presented with a handful of standard modes, such as team deathmatch, free-for-all, and territories, to go head to head with others online. The roster of maps spans locations on Earth, the moon, Mars, and Venus, so each one has a unique appearance to make them easily identifiable. Multiplayer battlegrounds range from large playing fields with vehicles for the larger team modes to areas with hallways and corridors perfect for more close-quarters combat. Destiny’s maps are each different enough that you will quickly come to find your favorites. Most of the maps are designed well, yet I wish designers took more risks in flexing their creativity. Bungie created multiplayer maps like Blood Gulch and Zanzibar that live in multiplayer infamy. I don’t expect any in Destiny to be remembered a decade from now.
Destiny’s greatest strength in the combat department lies with the game’s solid gunplay and traversal. Bungie started its foray into first-person shooting with the Marathon trilogy during mid-90s and honed the craft to the point of revolutionizing FPS on consoles with the Halo games in the 00s. Shooting in Destiny is fluid and responsive, despite running at 30 frames-per-second. If you’ve played any FPS before, you’ll have no problem quickly becoming a pro who can quickly aim down the sights and score headshots. That satisfying feeling of accuracy and power when wielding a gun is not something every game achieves, and Destiny certainly has it. The way you move through the battlefield is smooth and allows for quick ways to avoid fire in combat. Sprint is available by default and holding crouch after sprinting results in a slide that’s perfect for rushing into cover. Hitting the jump button twice activates floaty, jetpack-like flight useful for reaching higher ground.
Meanwhile, the weapon variety left a little bit to be desired. You are allowed to carry three different kinds of weapons: a Primary, a secondary Special, and a Heavy weapon. Primary weapons at your disposal include automatic, semi-automatic, and burst shot rifles or powerful magnum revolvers. For the secondary Special, you can choose from a shotgun, sniper rifle, or the railgun-ish Fusion rifle. Lastly, the Heavy weapon slot comes down to a choice between a machine gun or a rocket launcher. Most of the arms for your Guardian character are fairly standard human weapons, other than the Fusion rifle. The various enemies you encounter have more creative weapons, but to my dismay, you are not able to pick up and use them, nor are you able to pick up the weapons of deceased Guardians. Bungie games are known for their unique and diverse arsenal so seeing Destiny’s is a bit disheartening.
What strongly kept me hooked on Destiny were two things: leveling up and loot. Your Guardian’s level matters a lot in the campaign and co-op side missions like Strikes and Raids. Each mission is assigned a level number, which indicates what level the enemies will be. If your Guardian’s level lies below the indicated level, be prepared to find yourself taking more damage from enemies and finding your attacks less effective. Weapons are able to level up too, but the effort seems half-baked due to the very limited skill trees each has.
Increasing your Guardian’s level also means gaining access to better loot. Loot includes various weapons and gear that you can use to improve your Guardian for the campaign and competitive multiplayer. The addicting nature of Destiny comes from playing on the inadequacies of your Guardian each step of the way; you are always only one step closer to being more powerful. I wanted to keep playing so my Guardian could be better than others. Where this system falters is with the slow frequency rate of loot drops and the randomness of being rewarded with desired high stat rare weapons and gear. At one point, I ran into a drought of any uncommon or rare primary weapon loot drops, leaving me weaker compared to other players.
A line in the game’s closing theme reads, “… our destiny will be the best of all.” Ironically, Destiny is not the best of all thanks to its only partially realized vision and wasted potential. That particular cheesy song is sung by Sir Paul McCartney and titled “Hope for the Future” – which is all I can do for Bungie at this point. I can only have faith the studio doesn’t make the same mistakes they made in Destiny in the sequel or whatever else they create next.