It is no secret that Bungie’s new game Destiny is a point of much contention. The game was announced with many lofty promises, as well as the Halo legacy that the studio had to live up to, so it is no wonder expectations were very high. Some in the industry are showing disappointment with the finished product.
I like to look at what I am playing and not the hype behind it. Based on this I can easily say that Destiny is one of the most enjoyable experiences I have had in videogames in a long time.
The core premise of Destiny is that you are a long-dead Guardian who has been revived by an autonomous robotic entity called a Ghost to join a fight you know nothing of as of yet. The story unfolds mostly through dialog shared by your Ghost and reveals that an ancient entity called the Traveller moved into our System long ago and ushered humans into an age of scientific miracles and progress.
Shortly, though, the Travellers’ nemesis, The Darkness, arrived and destroyed much of life and civilization as we know it. The survivors are mostly huddled in a place called the Tower which is protected by the Travellers’ waning power. This is not epic prose, my friends, and the story is perhaps the weakest part of Destiny, but you know what, that is just fine by me.
Because most story points are related to you by your Ghost (voiced by Peter Dinklage), the story, as lackluster as it is, feels very personal. My favorite Halo game was Halo Reach, mostly because you as the customized player are the core focus of the story you are playing, not Master Chief or a generic pre-fabbed character. Destiny is much the same: your custom character is the focus and the star and because of this I felt that the story did what it had to do – informed me about the world, detailed the big bad enemy and directed me on how to engage that enemy.
The voice acting needs a mention, as much has been made of Peter Dinklage’s dialogue in the role of your Ghost. Many people are critical of his performance, but I have thought about this a great deal and I have no idea how he, or anyone else, could have improved on the finished product. The Ghost’s dialogue is presented in a monotone, with no feeling of life, which in all honesty fits for a robotic persona. I think we are hard on this portrayal perhaps because of how invested we were in the Cortana character from the Halo series (who is very human-like in her dialogue) and we just expected more from an AI/robotic sidekick. The rest of the acting, including the Guardians, is all done extremely well with a lot of variety and dialects, which further points to a conscious decision to have the Ghost speak and present itself in a certain way.
Now on to the meat of Destiny, which is the core gameplay experience you will be immersed in through a single player story (sort of), small team Strike missions, and competitive multi-player. Destiny does have a cohesive single player mode, but often during the sections you play through, other Guardians will be wandering about exploring their own game. In key sections you will be placed in an instance and only you and potentially your fireteam will be active there. The missions open up different worlds as you progress through the story and once you have visited a world (or moon) you can head back anytime and play the opened-up Patrols and Strikes as well as replay previous missions in higher difficulty settings.
People can say what they will about the story, the lofty promises, and the DinklageBot, but the core gunplay in Destiny is tight, fast and ferociously fun. Your Guardian can choose between a main weapon, alternate weapon and heavy weapon as well as a grenade attack and special attack. Switching among these attacks is simple and dynamic as is the traversal methods of sprinting, double jumping and summoning your fast transport sparrow to help you reach zones faster. The enemies are varied and persistent and can be a challenge when they attack in swarms even if you are at a much higher level than they are. The core story typically has you resolving issues or activating ancient devices, but the Patrols and Strikes add additional side content that is quite entertaining and often challenging.
Patrols are bite-sized missions you activate at beacons. They are usually fairly quick to complete and offer vanguard experience as a reward. I found these to be enjoyable ways to learn the areas and gather some extra experience and loot drops.
The Strikes are harder long-form missions that require three players to complete. These are usually missions to delve into enemy territory and take out a boss or installation. Strikes are long (and very tough) affairs that can test your patience as you die over and over again. However the loot drops are generally very good and I have felt deep satisfaction when I have taken out a particularly tough boss.
Not enough modes? Finally there is competitive multiplayer, and there are end game raids to keep you busy. The multiplayer is, in my mind, one of the finest points of Destiny. In all aspects of Destiny you are bringing your main character into the fray, with custom armour, weapons, and abilities at the ready. Much of the time level perks are normalized for a fair fight, but you are still participating with your Guardian and continuing the story through these multiplayer matches. Any loop and experience that drops carries between modes, a very immersive way to keep your ownership of the Guardian you created. Aside from one dropped session in 40+ matches, for me multiplayer has been smooth, fast and above all incredibly fun. I should mention that the PlayStation 3 experience is nearly flawless. Even though it is a last-gen platform the action is fast with no lag/slowdown, and the game looks stunning if blurry.
All of these modes help tie into the economy of Destiny, which is actually vast. There are many types of loop droops, from common to Legendary, as well as Motes of Light that level you past 20 and Crucible/Vanguard marks that allow you to buy specialized Legendary gear in the Tower, as well as the standard Glimmer that acts as the general currency. There are items that increase loot/glimmer drops when in the field as well as components that can be used to upgrade Rare and higher level loot. Your old or obsolete equipment can be instantly converted to Glimmer/components anywhere as well.
All of this reads as overwhelming, but in fact plays out fairly intuitively in game. As you progress you get drops of all types, and the game tracks it all for you and displays your equipment in a way that lets you compare them (and see them live on your character) very easily. It is a complex series of systems that works very well and seems designed to grow with the universe Bungie has created.
This brings us to one of the other contentious issues of Destiny: its always-online requirement. Everything from Single-Player to Strikes to Multi-Player requires you to be connected to Bungie’s servers. Thankfully the launch has been pretty flawless and I have never yet had an issue connecting to the servers incredibly quickly. While the service is smooth it is curious that Destiny has no offline mode for single-player-only experiences. I understand that loot, experience and gear needs to be synched, but that can be done ad-hoc if required.
It does not bother me to any great extent, but the requirement is odd, especially when you realize that there are no real social tools built into the game. There is no party seek option or chat functionality in the tower; it is an always-online game with some MMO hooks, but none of the social integration that makes all of those things work. I am hopeful that some of this functionality will appear through patching and updates, but even without it the game is incredibly enjoyable.
Destiny is a game that is a victim of its own hype and ambitions. With all the buzz and excitement surrounding the game it would have been hard to release something as perfect as everyone hoped. What Bungie has done with Destiny is release a game that has some missing touches and misplaced ideas but is incredibly fun and satisfying to play. Jumping into missions, Strikes or Patrols is easy and quick and gets visceral very fast. Loot, while not as prevalent as in a game like Borderlands, is still common enough to keep you going through that next wave of enemies. Though Destiny is a game that the industry will frown at and say it could have been better, people like me will smile and jump back into the fight as we continue building our Guardians’ Legends.