September 16, 2014 by Paul Curtin
It’s easy to see how gamers and the media could get swept up in the hype for Destiny, Bungie’s first chance at making something new after creating the smash hit Halo over a decade ago. Even Activision has bought into this hype; the publishing giant invested $500 million towards a ten-year plan for the brand-new, unproven franchise.
But with so much positive press generating unrealistic expectations for what seemed destined for another surefire blockbuster smash, it only recently became apparent that Activision and Bungie might have over-promised and under-delivered when they began withholding early review copies from critics. We knew from the early alpha and beta impressions that the voice-acting wasn’t the best, but that’s not the only issue.
Destiny begins like any other typical role-playing game. Pick a race, pick a class, and customize your character. As a Guardian, it’s up to you to protect Earth’s last city after a mysterious celestial body called “the Traveler” helped protect and advance mankind many years ago. During the game’s intro, while this concept of “the Traveler” is being explained over visually stunning backdrops and with epic Halo-esque music, it’s again easy to buy into the hype and get excited imagining all the new adventures you’re about to have.
At first glance, it seems as if Bungie might have captured lightning in a bottle again… and in many ways, they have. Bungie has managed to successfully transplant the DNA of Halo into Destiny, so much so that their new IP could easily be mistaken for a current-gen Halo sequel. But unlike their landmark FPS series, Destiny lacks a real hero, and this creates a big issue with the storytelling. There’s no Master Chief to lead the way, and the character you’ll play as has little to say. So little, in fact, that it would have been a better decision to just keep him or her as a silent protagonist and use the time saved for other more interesting characters.
Supporting characters voiced by great actors such as Lauren Cohan, Gina Torres, Nathan Fillion, Claudia Black, and Bill Nighy are also barely given any time to shine, and when they do get to talk, it winds up just being meaningless technobabble. The worst of all this wasted talent is the game’s top billed role, Ghost, who is voiced by Game of Thrones actor Peter Dinklage. Ghost tags along with you as your AI companion the whole game and is unfortunately not much more than a constant reminder of how hollow and lifeless Destiny can be at times.
While ridiculous lines he delivered with no charisma like “That wizard came from the moon” have been removed since being mocked in the beta, Dinklage’s voice acting is still dull and consists mostly of generic single lines of dialog, such as “I’ll work faster” or “That’s not good.” It’s a total shock that the best actor on one of TV’s best shows could sound so drab. Could Peter Dinklage really be this bad of a voice actor, or was he just aware of how terrible the script is and had no enthusiasm to try and save it? Either way, seeing so much voice acting talent wasted is a shame.
But it’s not just the characters who are lacking in proper development. Destiny’s story as a whole is one of the weakest of any triple-A game in recent memory. There’s so little explanation and narration throughout the entire campaign that it’s hard to care about (or even understand) anything that’s happening. Who exactly are you? How did you get super powers? What is the Traveler? How exactly did it protect the Earth? Why is the moon’s gravity the same as Earth’s? Find out these questions and more next time on DLC! But probably not.
To be fair, Bungie has added in extra lore via unlockable Grimoire cards that are viewable on their website and app to help explain things a little further. But these still don’t go into much detail, and why would you want to invest even more time trying to learn about a story you already don’t care about after spending 12 hours or more with it? Extra lore is great… but first you need a solid foundation of interesting, if not comprehensible, canon to build upon.
So if you were expecting a great story with epic moments, you certainly won’t find it in Destiny. Instead of telling the grand tale we might’ve expected after multiple captivating ones in the Halo universe or trailers, Bungie has followed the same format of games like Borderlands and Diablo, (where the loot-grinding comes first) and then tossed in a wonderful score to try to make random encounters feel epic. This format works in other games so well because of the sheer amount of endless diverse loot constantly being thrown at players. Here, there are only a few treasure chests hidden through the entire game.
Obtaining loot by other means like it dropping from enemies or purchasing it from NPCs is a very slow burn. New weapons and armor seem so similar to the last that it’s hard to be motivated to try to obtain more. There are some awesome-looking rare pieces of armor and weapons to be collected; however, it’s not until the very end game content that these items start becoming available… and most players might not have the stamina to stick around until then.
Aside from the poor storytelling, Destiny’s other big problem is its repetitive nature. Almost every quest involves going from point A to point B and using Ghost to hack into a door or computer. Every time this task is performed, Ghost says he needs more time to break in, and the objective switches to a horde-based Firefight-inspired mode where players must hold off attacking waves of enemies. There are even the occasional big bosses at the end of some missions, but these bosses offer little in terms of strategy and consist of shooting them and taking cover, over and over again, ad nauseum, for 10-15 minutes until you or they have been worn down.
As with games like Borderlands and Diablo, the campaign allows players to go it alone or team up with two other friends to take on basic Strike missions. Teaming up becomes even crazier once you’ve reached the end game content and take on the Vault of Glass raid with five other friends. The one drawback with the Vault is that there is no player matchmaking. Without question, Destiny’s level of fun increases when playing with friends, so you’ll want some of those. Listening to your friends talk and strategize while ignoring the poor dialog and story is key to enjoying the game.
Bungie’s effort to make Destiny into a “shared world shooter” experience similar to that of a massive multiplayer online game has somewhat paid off and resulted in some great co-op action. Yet, stacking Destiny up against real MMOs only reveals how limited Destiny truly is. The deep planetary exploration you’ll find in other RPGs and MMOs doesn’t exist in Destiny. The desire to explore caves off the beaten path will quickly fade as you enter empty cave after empty cave with no reward. Sadly, Destiny might be one of the most linear open world games to date as even massive play environments are cut off by invisible borders that force players to turn around when they’ve ventured out too far.
There is also a mini player city hub called the “Tower,” but it serves as little more than a silent lobby that players must annoyingly go back to every time they want to turn in quests. Having to constantly go back to the Tower wouldn’t be so frustrating if it were an area where hundreds of players could all be in at once, but it gets annoying to have to stop and take a full minute of loading time to enter a zone with only a dozen or so other players just to unlock a new item you got in another zone.
To make the community feel even less alive, communication with players is very limited. Players cannot openly talk to each other and must invite others into a party in order to chat. There’s also no ability to trade or duel with other players, so aside from turning in quests, purchasing items, and dancing, there isn’t much fun to be had at the Tower.
While Destiny comes up short in many ways when comparing its features to true MMOs, there are still some exciting moments to be had in this shared world experience. Like an MMO, Destiny does feature random open world events. These events are limited due to how few people can be in an single area at once, but they still manage to generate somewhat of a rush when occurring randomly while running to other missions. These much needed times of fresh spontaneity provide a stark contrast to the linear and repetitive main parts. It’s in these moments of controlled chaos, fighting together with a big group of other players and taking down giant spider-tank bosses and other monstrosities in the middle of nowhere, that everything clicks.
With the shooting of endless waves of enemies being Destiny’s primary focus, Bungie has absolutely nailed the core shooter mechanics. Everything feels well-tested and fine-tuned. Controls are fluid, and each weapon has a nice unique kick. Forcing players to pick between Halo classics, like a hefty shotgun or powerful sniper rifle, and new toys, like the devastating one-hit-kill Fusion Rifle, gives the gunplay and inventory management some diversity. If only some of the more alien weaponry that enemies use could have been added into the mix, the experience could have maybe even surpassed that of Halo and other greats like Unreal Tournament and Quake.
Technically, Destiny is also a massive achievement on Bungie’s part. The game looks absolutely beautiful on next-gen systems supporting full 1080p at 60 frames per second that hold strong and rarely ever drop during chaotic moments. I’ve yet to encounter a single bug or glitch in my thirty plus hours of playing, and even the midnight launch was flawless on PlayStation 4 — which is rare these days, especially with games this big. Bungie should be commended for having such a smooth launch of a brand new IP and for using their alpha and beta tests to truly test the game and their servers and not just use as glorified demos.
There’s no question that Bungie is still one of the best in the business when it comes to FPS games. They have created another great shooter, and the experience gets even better when taking the items you’ve earned from the campaign into Destiny’s competitive player-vs-player mode, the Crucible. For as bad as the story is, enough good things cannot be said about the PvP – it’s easily the game’s most redeeming quality and is Exhibit A in reinforcing why Bungie is still one of the best in the business at building amazing competitive multiplayer games.
Destiny’s multiplayer is essentially Halo with the ability to bring your guns and armor from the campaign with you onto the battlefield. Although there are less modes and unfortunately no Big Team Battles, the smaller modes are still a whole hell of a lot of fun to play. There’s your typical 3 vs. 3 (Skirmish) and 6 vs. 6 (Clash) team deathmatch modes, a free-for-all deathmatch called Rumble, and an objective-based mode called Control, which was my personal favorite that requires players to capture three points on a map and usually results in massive brawls that end with fireworks as everyone begins using their special Supercharged abilities. Your own favorite mode will likely be based on whatever you played the most in Halo.
Each of the the Titan, Hunter, and Warlock’s unique Supercharged abilities come in to play more often in the Crucible than the campaign and give them a more unique feel. With there being so many varying factors from different armor and weapons to various character abilities and stats, Bungie has found a way to successfully launch the game in a very solid competitive state. No class feels truly overpowered, and for the most part, the competitive aspect feels fair and challenging in a rewarding way. PvP purists can even stick to just playing the competitive modes as another means of leveling up and unlocking items rather than having to deal with the lackluster story mode.
In addition to the variety classes and items bring to the experience, Bungie has also launched Destiny with 11 brilliantly designed maps that put every winding corridor and central area of combat to good use like in other classic arena shooters. Each map also has different iterations of day and night cycles that make the Crucible feel as if there are even more than eleven maps to play on. Even a couple vehicles have made their way into some maps; unfortunately, they cannot be hijacked… which was a feature that made Halo so great and is a shame wasn’t included in Destiny. Still, almost every small map is an instant classic that could fit in perfectly among other classic Halo fan-favorites like Lockout, Ivory Tower, and Hang ‘Em High.
Destiny is beautifully designed and at times thrilling to play, yet a bit of a disappointing and hollow experience that needs more time to grow. Everything about Destiny feels safe and familiar — traits that you wouldn’t expect nor want in a brand new sci-fi adventure. it’s easy to see how some could be letdown after so much hype and when stacking it up against similar games. You could consider Destiny as Borderlands meets Halo, but the singleplayer/co-op isn’t as good as Borderlands and the multiplayer isn’t as good as Halo… yet, it’s still impressive that Bungie is pulling everything off so well together all in one game. Destiny is worth the $60, but not worth all of the hype. Destiny gets a 3.5 out of 5 (Very Good).
- Beautifully designed
- Great core FPS mechanics
- Addictive multiplayer
- Challenging raids
- Epic soundtrack
- Repetitive missions
- Lacking a real story
- Multiplayer could use more modes