Destiny, you can’t avoid it. Especially if you’ve been anywhere near the internet over the last few weeks, months, years.
Direct from Bungie, the people that crafted the Halo universe and gave birth to the iconic Master Chief comes a new IP, a new brand, a new experience. It was unveiled as a massively connected sci-fi shooter in the vein of Borderlands and to some extent Far Cry. The last two years have been bare in terms of concrete information, but the Alpha, Beta and the touted $500 million dollar marketing spend made it a hot topic all the way up to release.
Of course with great power comes great responsibility and even though Destiny has had an incredibly successful launch the voices that are being heard the loudest are those that aren’t happy. Reviewers and players alike have been denouncing Destiny as repetitive and short lived, but I don’t think they’re the target audience or at base level perhaps really get it.
Bungie may have succumbed to some hyperbole in their marketing and reveals, but one nugget has always been present, one vein that makes you believe they really do know what they are doing. They have a plan for this series that extends years beyond the fifteen or so hours that little Johnny could give up from Call of Duty before he decided it was crap. Bungie are into Destiny for the long game, the message? Well that has always been that Destiny is ‘your’ story, the playground in which you can become legend.
The world building is superb from the ground up, graphically and structurally. While there may be repetitive little caves dotted around its unlikely that the goldfish gamers will ever see more than a couple of them. The skybox is a thing of beauty and wherever you go in the world there are doors, dead ends and features that will surely be opened up one day at the whim of the Bungie overlords. Take the Tower, it’s a hub world, much like a hub world in many MMO title. Players gather to kick a balls around, dance, point at things, trade in loot, collect bounties and turn in missions. At first glance it may seem small (ish), but there are doors to be opened to new areas, there are shops without traders. There is space that could be filled. This world, with its planets, landscapes and vaults of Grimoire lore is the foundation and it will be built upon.
The campaign in Destiny has been a sticking point for some, limited cut scenes and fairly standard mission activities. Okay, it’s not the Halo or Mass Effect saga, but then it really isn’t supposed to be. I’ve long been a campaigner against overblown narrative in games. Games are for playing, period. I religiously skip cut scenes, get to the gameplay, follow the flashing things and do whatever I need to do. And you know what? It’s still just as fun. Destiny has a tightly crafted combat system, it plays well and that’s what matters. There is a reasonably wide roster of enemies with an impressive dash of AI, yes there is some repetition, but it’s not a crime and its certainly no different to any other shooter on the market.
By comparison, play something like the Halo series and you take on the role of Master Chief who is unanimously a legend in his lifetime. You play through funnelled encounters ‘being’ him. Destiny lets you build your own Chief from the ground up, I expect I’ll still be playing this character in the fourth Destiny and will fondly look back at my journey to get there. AS noted earlier, Bungie want you to become your own legend. A heavy narrative needs a larger than life character to carry the story, without one you can’t pull off the other, These characters are in the making and this story will grow through events and DLC packages that Bungie have assumedly planned out far into the future.
And of course there is loot, lots of lovely loot. There’s nothing quite as exciting as seeing a glowing engram pop from a despatched enemy, it’s like christmas every time, you never know what’s inside. The weapon models and armour/gear are all fantastic to look at and once items start revealing their own upgrade paths and your character hits level 20 things start getting even more interesting.
Destiny drips quality, visually it is stunning. The animation throughout is top notch and the sheer variety in loot or equipment constantly offers something new. It’s also refreshing to see yourself surrounded by other players and never see one dressed exactly like you. It adds to the atmosphere. The drop-in / drop-out nature of Destiny makes the experience smooth and enjoyable. Whether you are on a story related mission or a free-roam Patrol, seeing another Guardian embroiled in a conflict is always a draw. The cooperative nature builds naturally as you suddenly find yourself alongside another player and instinctively get buddied up along with them as you both charge around the map completing objectives or bounties. This easy going multiplayer is something Bungie mooted early on, without the need for orchestrating friends to co-op with, it makes the world feel alive and all those smoke trails in the sky might actually be other Guardians landing on your world.
If managing friends is your thing then Fireteams are a necessity, high level dungeon raids and Strike missions are becoming available and they will require a very well-coordinated group of players. It’s possible to carry out some missions by matching up with random players, but to get the best out of the game and make it feel like the aspirational live-action trailer a Fireteam is the way to go.
Then there’s the Crucible, whatever the backstory it’s an excuse for some online action against other humans. It is also an area that will need perseverance, launching into the arena players will find themselves surrounded by higher level competitors and suddenly running to catch up as the pace is pretty hectic. However after sticking with it for a few games it starts to click, kills come more frequently as do loot drops and Glimmer (in-game currency). There are also loot rewards dished out seemingly randomly at the end of each match.
The maps are varied and offer multiple paths, they are also as beautiful as the rest of the game. Developing a career in the Crucible games will eventually reap benefits after earning enough ‘Marks’ to be able to purchase very high level equipment at the Tower. There is seamless interaction between this side of the game and the Destiny experience, that is what the team have delivered so well that you don’t actually notice it, it just all blends together so well.
A case for the defence.
I didn’t have lofty expectations and wasn’t paying much attention until I played the Alpha, but while not delivering a game some people wanted Destiny has delivered a long term experience for those that do. The last time a developer offered me a persistent character across a series of games was the ill-fated Too Human, I’m expecting Destiny to deliver on that promise over the next few years. There will be other titles that grab our attention, there always are, but this game has legs even if a few people haven’t quite seen them yet, legs that are ready for a marathon.