Destiny is a game with a bit of an identity crisis on its hands. On one hand, it tries to be some sort of a grand, social game that is not entirely dissimilar to an MMO. On the other hand, Destiny attempts to push forth a player focused story that can easily be completed playing on your own. A story that I'm sure Bungie feels in their hearts to be epic in nature.
The problem is, at the end of the day Destiny isn't really sure what it wants to be. It never really excels in any capacity nor does it ever truly fall completely flat. The core mechanics of the game can hold their own with any other first-person shooter out there. I would honestly expect nothing less from the team that brought the world Marathon and the Halo franchise. Let's face it, even if you dislike Halo and its story, you have to admit that the action and shooting in those games are an absolute joy to experience.
Unlike Halo and it's somewhat cohesive story, the narrative in Destiny is borderline garbage. That is to say that the story, as it is presented in the game, is next to non-existent. Sure, you will have your little robotic Ghost spurt out a few story elements here and there but it never actually explains anything. Most of the story, lore, and information is presented to the player outside of the game. You have to access separate sections on the Bungie website or the Destiny companion app just to get some sort of a clue on nearly all of the story and lore. This feels like an incredibly lazy way to present the story to the player. I never once felt like I had any sort of a clue why I was doing most of the things I was tasked to do throughout the relatively few number of story missions.
As if to rub salt into the wound, there is a line of dialogue in the game wherein one character says to you, the hero, that they "don't even have enough time to explain why (they) don't have time to explain." After which they then go on to talk to you at a decent length without really ever saying much of value. I may not have the exact quote there but that is honestly something that is said in this game. Even within the context of the scene, it is a huge slap in the player's face. After that scene ends, you're off to the next story mission simply because they said to go to a new location. That's it. There's no explanation of what's going on, you just go and do this or you do that because somebody else said so.
Perhaps this poor story presentation could be excused if the missions were varied and fun. Well, there is some fun to be had during missions. As mentioned, the core mechanics of the game are enjoyable. The enemy AI feels competent enough most of the time. Headshots provide a small sense of satisfaction when you see a foe's head pop off. Feedback from shots and abilities all look and feel great, which is a good thing because it's one of the few saving graces here. If nothing else, Bungie does a great job at having enjoyable shooting mechanics in their games that focus on shooting things.
Sadly, most of the story missions, say 90%, follow the same exact pattern. You select a mission on a celestial body, you spawn in at the same location almost every time, you travel to your destination, you fight some enemies along the way, your Ghost says some things, you send your ghost out to examine something, enemies come at you in waves with a boss being a part of the final wave, your Ghost magically finishes his task the second after the big boss is dead, he says some nonsense that tries to pass as story, and you're whisked back to your ship. On missions that involve bosses (of which most do) they are simply tougher or larger versions of the same enemies you've already encountered time and time again. There are a few exceptions here and there but for the most part, this entire formula holds true.
Perhaps most disappointing are the bosses that are part of the game's special Strike missions. These are missions that are tougher in difficulty than a normal story mission. They are also the only time outside of the competitive multiplayer where Bungie makes use of matchmaking to force you and two others into a group. To put these into familiar MMO terms, these Strike missions are the equivalent of running a dungeon in a game like World of Warcraft. Many of the bosses in these Strikes are once again just larger and tougher versions of their normal counterparts. The issue isn't that they're tougher due to new abilities or some crazy new game mechanics. Instead, they're tougher simply due to having insane amounts of health. They are, what many would call, "bullet sponges." You can throw everything you have at these bosses and barely make a dent in their health bar. Bungie seems to be well aware that they made these bosses simply as a time sink because almost all of the boss encounters also include periodic waves of normal enemies for you to kill in order to replenish your dwindling ammo supply.
Defeating a final boss in a Strike doesn't bring about a sense of accomplishment. It brings about a sense of relief. Perhaps the biggest offense in all of this is the fact that you get nothing for defeating these Strike bosses. There is no pop of loot drops or pickups. They simply die and fade away from existence as the timer counts down and you're pulled out back to your ship. There are some post-Strike rewards dished out but it's a crapshoot on what you will get.
In fact, all of the post-mission, post-Strike, and post-multiplayer match loot rewards are randomized. You could, in theory, play for days without ever seeing a better item than what you have equipped. Even worse is when you get an unidentified item drop from an enemy. These items are called "Engrams" and they need to be "decoded" at the game's social hub center, The Tower. You may find an ultra-rare Engram only to have it decoded into an item quality that is equal to or worse than what you already have equipped. Or, you decode it and it does end up being the ultra-rare item you wanted, only it ends up being for a class that you arenít playing as. Performing well in a competitive multiplayer match does nothing to increase your chances of earning any of those rare or exotic items either. I have seen the worst performer earn far better rewards than the person who led the team for the entire round.
Therein lies the rub of the end game content of Destiny. Itís a grind. You grind Strikes in hopes of getting a random loot drop, you grind collecting materials in the game world to upgrade your existing gear, and you grind faction points in order to simply purchase some of the best weapons and armor in the game. The grind typically pushes you to either play PvP repeatedly or to repeat the same missions you've already gone through time and time again. You do all of this to what end? Well, the game has a soft level cap of 20. If you want to level beyond 20, you need to get gear that includes a bonus stat, Light. The more gear with Light you have equipped, the higher your level goes. The higher your level goes the more end game content you can do. The problem is, there really isnít any extra content at the end of the game, at least not yet. Incredibly difficult missions called Raids are coming, but Bungie did not include any with the game at launch. The first one is expected to arrive later this month. As it stands, the end game content consists only of doing harder versions of the handful of Strike missions you already completed before. Given how few Strike missions there are, you will potentially play through the same Strike missions dozens of time each week. Itís a vicious, repetitive cycle.
"Fight these enemies while I pretend to do robot things. I'll be done after you beat the boss, just like the other 20 previous times!"
You can always choose not to grind out the Strike missions for greater rewards and instead move over to the Crucible, which is a selection of the gameís competitive multiplayer modes. The modes contained in the Crucible are the usual FPS modes with flashy new names. Naturally, the appeal of the competitive multiplayer wonít be about grinding for most players, it will be because the modes are fairly enjoyable to play. They may be fairly generic but because you bring your own character builds, your own weapons, and your own abilities, it feels a bit more fresh and fun than other games that donít do this. Most modes ensure that things like character and equipment level donít really matter. Itís a fairly even playing field here where the deciding factors arenít equipment but skill, as it should be. If you really want to go toe to toe with other players and have all of those factors matter, there is sometimes an alternate playlist that doesnít balance out anything. Chances are, however, that you probably wonít want to play in this mode unless youíre at or very near the highest character level.
Sadly, at this point in the review the list of positives for Destiny are starting to wear thin. The music in the game is spectacular. Iím sure we have the recently fired Martin OíDonnell to again thank for that. I just wish the same could be said for the dialogue and voice acting, all of which are dreadful. The talent that they hired, including Peter Dinklage, all come off as disinterested and poorly performed. I donít really believe that this is a matter of poor actor choice but rather a matter of poor direction while recording the lines. It probably doesnít help that many of the lines are on the cusp of being completely cringe worthy or cheesy. The only interesting NPC in the game appears only about five times in cutscenes and only speaks in two of those cutscenes, three if you count the one where the character isn't even on screen. Even then, one of the scenes comes at the end of the game where they tell you in so many words that your journey isnít over yet, thereís still more to come. An ending like that feels like another copout that essentially says, "get ready for that paid DLC and the inevitable full sequel."
Social interactions in Destiny are also non-existent. Yes, you will see other players scattered around the game worlds but so what? There is no matchmaking for missions. There is no way to communicate to other players you see outside of four pre-determined game emotes: pointing, waving, sitting, or dancing. There is a social hub area, the Tower, that is full of static vendors and other players, but whatís the point? It simply serves as another series of loading screens that could have been eliminated by turning every NPC in the area into a more easily accessible menu from the main menu. I understand that this hub area is some attempt to force a social aspect into the game, but without any meaningful way to communicate, the entire area feels pointless.
Just as pointless as the story and the Tower are your ships. You can purchase new ships or new ship skins, but they're just window dressing. You never use your ships in combat. They are there only on the loading screens so that you have something to sit and stare at while the game loads the next destination. This feels like a hugely missed opportunity from Bungie, especially after the fairly fun space combat mission in Halo: Reach. Even adding a simple race game type for your land speeders would have been amazing, but it just isn't meant to be.
Despite each location in the game looking fairly beautiful, they are very much void of meaningful things to do. When you arenít doing a mission, you have the ability to freely roam around each planet doing a bunch of random tasks for minor rewards. It doesnít help that there are huge areas shown beyond the playable areas of each planet that look interesting. They look like areas that you would want to explore and see more of but you cannot. You can only view them from a distance and hope that in future content releases, Bungie will actually expand these into playable areas. Outside of instanced areas in story missions or Strike missions, enemies that you just cleared out will respawn just a few moments later. Just like the story, it never really feels like youíre accomplishing much of anything when you kill a fresh group of enemies, because another group, an identical group, will replace them in short time.
Destiny is disappointing in so many ways and yet I keep going back to play it. I keep going back to replay the same missions I've already played at least once or twice before. I keep striving to earn better gear in hopes that Bungie has a regular schedule of new content that they stick to. The PvP side of things will probably keep me entertained if for no other reason than there really aren't many other competitive multiplayer shooters out right now that interest me on current-gen consoles.
There is no doubt in my mind that the foundation for this being a worthwhile franchise is built. It is just a shame that the structure that is built on top is empty and void of any real content or meaning. If Bungie can figure out just what it wants Destiny to become, it has a shot at glory. They need to iron out the matchmaking aspect and all things related to social interaction. As mentioned, the end game raids are coming soon and Bungie really wanted journalists to hold off until that content was released before publicly releasing a review. However, this is a review for the game as it shipped. To hold off for post-release content means that a review may not come for months or possibly years down the line as there may always be something just around the corner to hold off for. Even if a review was postponed just for the Raid update, a small injection of new content alone isn't going to fix the rest of the game's glaring issues.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go grind for better gear in Destiny and I honestly have no idea why.
|+ Fun combat|
|+ Great looking visuals and scenery (for the most part)|
|+ Enjoyable PvP|
|+ Playing with friends is fun|
|+ Random world events are fun though infrequent|
|- Meaningless story, dialogue and presentation|
|- Doesn't know if fit wants to be a story driven FPS or a social game like an MMO|
|- End game grind|
|- Unnecessary social hub|
|- There is no in-game map when exploring areas outside of the social hub|
|- Takes only about six hours to do the entire story. The game is well under 10 hours to do the entire main story and optional side story missions.|
|- No real social interaction|
|- No matchmaking on story missions|
|- A lack of content|
|- Rapidly respawning enemies|
|- Cookie cutter mission structure for almost every mission|
|- No thrill from defeating bullet sponge bosses|
|- No pop of loot drops from bosses, like in Borderlands or Diablo, to entice players to keep trying|
|- Completely random (and too few) loot drops and mission rewards may discourage players|
|- Some game mechanics are never explained forcing the player to search online for answers|
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 (Reviewed on PS4)
Destiny is rated T for Teen by the ESRB for animated blood and violence.