If you know me then you know that I’m not a fan of first person shooters. I don’t like the fact that my character is essentially a floating gun and I have difficulty seeing what’s happening around me since the field of view is equal to that of a scuba mask. I’ve dabbled with games like BioShock, Blood Dragon and Portal 2, but I still held fast to my “I’m not an FPS fan” stance.
Then Destiny comes along and makes me enjoy the hell out of an FPS game. Way more than I thought I ever would.
So what is it about Destiny that’s captivated me so much? Why am I only getting a few hours of sleep at night? Why am I spending my waking hours either playing the game, thinking about playing it, or in this case, writing about it? Read on to find out, my friends.
Ever since Destiny was announced, I was intrigued. I mean, look who was behind it, freakin’ Bungie, the same dudes who made Halo. I never played too much of that series but I saw a friend beat the first two games and I thought the story was brilliant. A game like that on a console that I owned (in this case a PlayStation 4) would be awesome. However, it was an FPS so I tempered my excitement despite all the cool stuff I was seeing for it.
I finally got to play the game when I went to E3 and thought that it was pretty neat. The beta is what really sold me on it though. Yeah, the way that you engage in battles is FPS but there’s more to it than that. The game is essentially an MMO-lite and the social aspect, particularly the co-op, really spoke to me. This is something I could get into. After playing the main game for who knows how many hours since its launch, I am thoroughly hooked. Destiny is a drug and one that I don’t mind being addicted to.
Persistent online worlds are something that we’re going to see a lot of this generation and Destiny fully embraces that. There is no traditional single player or multiplayer mode. The game is always connected to the internet whether you’re playing alone or with others. No matter what mode you’re in, you’ll always see other players doing their own thing. People from your friend’s list can also drop into your game at anytime (and vice versa). This is one of the ways that Destiny is like an MMO; it feels like an actual world with other player created characters.
One of my favorite examples of the living world is with the random events that happen. You could be in the middle of a mission when suddenly, the sky turns dark and the game gives you a waypoint to head towards. Everyone who is in that map will see this too and run to it, thus making players who were once focusing on their own objectives come together for a singular goal. These events don’t happen often but they’re great for making this feel like a dynamic world.
While the game can be played solo, it’s not something I would suggest. Playing with your friends is probably the main reason this game is so much fun. The fact that you can invite anyone from your friends list to play with you or how they can jump into your game is fantastic. Some of the missions can be extremely difficult or become repetitive so having buddies around to help you out, and of course crack jokes with, makes the game that much more fun.
I absolutely love the persistent online nature of the game and I think that this is its strongest feature. Just seeing people running around either on the main planets or in the hub world is great. Also, unless you’re in a PvP setting, the fact that those people can’t do anything to ruin your gaming experience is something that I found refreshing. After all, the Guardians are supposed to be allies and I definitely feel a sense of camaraderie with the folks I play with, even if I don’t know them. Friend or stranger, we’re all here for the same reasons. We just want to kill our enemies and do a little dancing together. Okay… maybe A LOT of dancing together, but I digress.
Speaking about Guardians, the guy or girl you get to play as, they come in three varieties: Human, Exo or Awoken. The classes which you can choose also come in three flavors: Titan, Hunter or Warlock; each of which has its own subclass. The race chosen doesn’t affect gameplay in any way but the class certainly does.
Titans are front line warriors since they mainly focus on brute force and being tanks. Hunters are agile and can overwhelm foes with pure speed and agility. Warlocks wield mysterious elemental powers (I call it space magic) which let them take out multiple enemies with their abilities. At their core, the classes play similar to each other and you may not feel the difference since you’ll be primarily using firearms when playing as each. However, it’s their individual special attacks and abilities which set them apart when you level them up, especially past level 15.
As you progress through the game, each class will unlock new skill trees. These skills allow you to tailor your character how you see fit. There’s a balance however and if you make on attribute stronger, another will suffer for it. When both class and subclass’ skill trees are fully unlocked is when you’ll truly be able to customize how your character is used in combat. You can switch between classes which is good for handling the different situations you’ll find yourself in. Again, there aren’t a ton of differences between the classes but they have enough differences to make them feel unique.
The thing you’ll be doing the most when you’re not managing items, spending decades in a loading screen, or shaking your ass with someone, is shooting things in the face. Like I said, I’m not typically a fan of this combat mechanic but the way it’s handled in this game is one of the best that I’ve ever experienced. This is essentially a better controlling Halo which is a bold statement considering how that game already has extremely tight controls. The guns in Destiny have a real weight and heft to them (something that’s missing in many games in this genre) and I think that’s why the shooting works so well to me.
The A.I in the game is surprisingly not brain dead and enemies will adapt to you. Whenever an enemy would try to flank me, jump over my head, or flat out run me over when I’m hiding inside of a shield, I would hear Arnold Swarchenegger in my head saying: “It’s a learning computer. The more contact it has with humans, the more it learns.” Due to the reactive nature of the A.I, you can play the same missions dozens of times and never go about them the same way twice. These are some tricksy and clever aliens for sure.
The enemies aren’t the only agile ones however. Each character eventually gets a super jump which can later be upgraded to give them maximum mobility even in mid-air. One of my favorite things to do when surrounded by enemies is to jump into the air and shoot as many of them as possible before landing, running, turning around, and popping a few more shots at them. The way that you can cover a lot of ground quickly and do so much really makes you feel like a space bad ass.
When I’m not blowing off an alien’s head with my trusty hand cannon, I’m taking in the sights around me. This is hands down one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever seen. Whenever I had a chance to, I’d just stop to admire the scenery around me. It’s not so much that the graphics are so technologically advanced (this game is also available on the PS3 and Xbox 360 after all), but that the art design is extremely captivating. Whether it’s Earth, its moon, Venus or Mars, every locale in the game is stunningly gorgeous. This is one of those games that begs to have a giant sized art book dedicated to its concept art and in-game screens because it really is marvel to behold.
It’s not only your eyes, but your ear holes which are in for a treat. The score is phenomenal and perfectly compliments the scenery. I’ve often spoken about how unimpressed I am with modern video game soundtracks because of how boring and uninspired they are. This is not the case with Destiny. The decision to have a 106 piece orchestra do the score was a wise one. The music delivers in a way that few soundtracks in other games do. You really notice how amazing the music is during the boss encounters. The pieces played are bombastic and are structured in a way that makes you feel the weight and scope of the battle you’re in. Just like I want an art book, I want to own the soundtrack to this game. It’s spectacular and easily the best video game score I’ve heard in a while.
The sound design is to be commended as well. This isn’t an aspect that generally catches my ears in games but in this one it did. I like all of the different sounds that each type of gun makes as well as the sounds that are heard when certain special abilities are used. The enemies also make unique noises and you can tell which are which just by their shrieks and cries. The foley artists went all out to make this world sound as authentic as possible.
Let’s face it, a lot of games that are released these days aren’t worth the sixty bucks you spend on them because of how little content they have. Destiny is the complete opposite of this. This is supposedly the “vanilla” version of the game but it still has a ton of stuff in it and can keep you playing for a long time. Did I mention that this game is causing me to lose sleep because of how much content it has for me to check out?
The loot system is the prime reason for my insomnia. Yeah, it’s nowhere near as robust as those of traditional MMOs since you don’t get too many goodies after a mission or match, but the loot system in place is still addictive. When you get that special piece of armor or weaponry it feels SO satisfying that you want to keep playing to get more of it.
Certain items or missions are locked off until you reach a certain level so this is another way that Destiny keeps people hooked. For example, you can’t even join a competitive match until you’ve reached level five. The game really opens up after you hit level 20 and can access most of what’s available but even then, you’ll still want to hunt for loot which will get you beyond level 20.
The game may not dole out too much loot but it does give you good stuff often enough that you feel compelled to continue hunting for the best and most rare items that gradually make your character stronger and sexier looking. While it is technically a grind, doing all of the various Strike, Patrol, Daily and Weekly missions to get all of that cool loot doesn’t feel tedious, especially when you team up with your friends to do them.
Not everyone wants to play nice with each other of course so that’s where the competitive multiplayer aspect comes in. There are several modes currently available that let players blast each other away until their hearts are content. The stages are designed in a way that allows folks to use their mobility to their advantage (or to escape getting shot up). The sense of verticality found in each stage is really great too and makes each match dynamic because you never know where your foes will come at you from. I’m absolutely terrible at PvP (my KDR is zero-point-shit) but even I find it pretty fun.
I’ve said a lot about what I like in Destiny, and there certainly is much to enjoy, but it isn’t a flawless game by any means.
The biggest failing here is with the story. Now, there’s nothing wrong it; the premise that the worlds we get to visit are ancient ruins of a future humanity’s Golden Age of galactic exploration is one that is fascinating to me as a fan of Science Fiction. The plot’s foundation is strong and there is a lot that can be done with it, however, the way that its delivered is weak and fails to fully draw me in.
Most of the story is told to by your “Ghost”, which is a small robot that floats around you. Yeah, it’s cool that Bungie managed to get Peter Dinklage (Tyrion from Game of Thrones) to do the voice for this character but the dude sounds like he’s phoning in his performance. This applies to the other characters as well. When you have Nathan Fillion in your game and you want to skip his dialogue, there is a serious problem.
If you want to go in-depth with the story then you’ll have to go to Bungie’s website to read the information found on the Grimoire Cards you collect throughout the game. These cards, which you can get by killing enemies or meeting other criteria, should’ve been in the actual game itself. I’m the guy who sits and reads codex entries in video games and would have happily done so here. I don’t want to go online to do something I should be able to in-game and most people don’t either. It makes no sense.
This game is just the beginning of a saga which is supposed to last for ten years. This in and of itself isn’t a bad thing but I don’t see it as an excuse to have such a lackluster presentation to its story. It’s even more frustrating because Bungie all but redefined how to tell captivating Sci-Fi stories in video games. If anyone should have gotten this aspect right it should have been them.
Despite how disappointing it could be to only get a tiny slice of the story (this game is effectively a prologue) and how much of a tease it is to only be able to explore a tiny portion of the solar system, we have to look at the bigger picture here. This is just the beginning of this franchise and we’ll get a fuller sense of the story and be able to begin exploring planets throughout the galaxy in time. This may not sit well with people who wanted this to be a self contained game but Bungie has something grander in mind and we have to be aware of that. This doesn’t excuse a few things but it’s something that has to be taken into consideration when talking about this game.
As I’ve said in my most recent editorial, I believe that Destiny will shape the gaming landscape this generation. We’re going to see more hybrid genre games and almost all of them will have some sort of persistent online component. This game is just the beginning, a taste of what to expect from the industry going forward.
The beauty of Destiny, and what ultimately makes it a successful game, is how broad its appeal is. It features something for those who want to play with friends or against them. It has a great amount of content in it and an addictive loot system which will reel in most who play it. This isn’t a flawless masterpiece but it excels at being a really kick ass and fun game to play. I know that this is the most I’ve enjoyed a title in some time. Considering that it’s something that is usually out of my comfort zone, that speaks to Destiny‘s universal appeal.
This review is based on a retail copy of Destiny for the Playstation 4