When a game is capable of polarising audiences both core and casual, it must be doing something right. Destiny has been garnering some of the most fluctuating review scores for a Triple-A title in quite some time, and looks to have struck myriad nerves among a lot of people who were expecting
It’s not a bad expectation, mind, but it’s one that is premature in the type of game Destiny is and perhaps shows a narrow mindedness built on the shooter genre, that really doesn’t need to be there (or simply can’t) because of Destiny’s persistent online nature.
Before I get into my subjective verdict (and let “subjective” be the only warning to any militants out there that our reviews are always going to be based on personal experience applied to a broad understanding of games and their audiences), I want to address the lower-end scores and concerns that have been rearing their head since Destiny’s launch on September 9.
I mentioned earlier that the game’s persistent nature is a hindrance to certain expectations. These are more easily addressed in the narrative construct of the game, because as a persistent world, Destiny’s story can’t really reflect player impact. Moreover, the idea that at its core, the game’s storyline is too vague and lacking in finer detail, is a moot point because there’s a timeline for its lifespan that intends to flesh the game-universe out with new events and bigger story sequences that will eventually weave a very rich tapestry. These aren’t supposed to happen in 15-30 hours of gameplay from purchase, they’re supposed to happen over a two or three-year lifespan.
In short, what players are getting their space gloves on now, and what reviewers are lamenting is a base game. And that’s okay.
It’s also okay that people might have an issue with this. The barrier of entry, as has been pointed out by many, is relatively low and easy. Even the Hard missions can be tackled with a decent Fireteam and so you’re able to progress pretty quickly to higher levels (like, 10 and onwards). But when you look at Bungie’s heritage there’s a certain deliberation in this, because the deeper you get into the game the more it pulls you down a rather scaling rabbit hole.
If you haven’t picked up the game yet, or you really only farmed the first few levels on Earth, it’s important to know that Destiny becomes a glimmer of its future self at around level 15. 15 is where character micro-management becomes an active thing, and its where crafting, collecting, bounties and Strikes start to feel more expansive and important. It’s also from 15 that the game’s difficulty spike hits where making your way to the higher levels definitely keeps you on your toes.
By 15 the game-world(s) should also all be open to you now, meaning you’re now in charge of your own fate. Of course the story and endgame content continues to deliver for higher levels, and then there’s the raid but as a lite MMO, Destiny finally feels like a certifiable investment when you’re properly in your teens. I managed to practically solo my way to this level, which is a pretty good indication of the split between co-op requirement and couched-up single-player investment. That deliberation I talked about earlier, this is where it becomes important, because the game does a wonderful job sucking you in through its sheer scale, its gorgeous art-direction and design and its visceral combat. And as the challenge scales while you’re being pulled into this ambitious world, the chief requirement to actively seek out people for a Fireteam starts to flicker and before you know it, you’ve become a Destiny social butterfly.
The social aspect of the game is perhaps a bit muted though, but in my time during the beta and post-release across both PS4 and Xbox One I’ve had nothing but good experiences. It’s a difficult game to troll in, and there’s a greater emphasis on getting the job done in Destiny because the challenge can be pretty unforgiving when you’re doing top-end Strikes and the like (better off played in an invited party for chat purposes). Getting in and out of games with friends and strangers is ridiculously easy, allowing you to cater the experience to what you’re feeling is the right approach at that point in time.
I also feel that it has a solid element of pick-up-and-play where bite-sized chunks of gameplay are concerned. It’s the sort of game you can come home from work or school and just jump into for an hour or two, without losing your place or feeling lost in the world and narrative. That isn’t a comment on its ‘apparent’ lack of finer detail, rather a point about the pacing of missions and combat and how digestible everything is. Though at higher levels your required time in certain aspects can surpass an hour or two, but more on this shortly.
I’ve alluded a bit to it in the latter part of this review’s opening, but Destiny’s most compelling element is its combat. AI is the usual Bungie affair of smart and challenging, where they’re tactics and tenacity can often take you off guard. And enemy types are varied enough throughout the playspace that it doesn’t (currently) feel like too much of a grind. Player movement is also pretty neat and if you can master the double (and eventual triple) jump mechanic with sprint and slide, you can start to really show off and play the game the way it was intended. However, there are a few glaring omissions from conflict where missions are concerned that might have propelled the combat and tactical component of the game to new heights, and they’re just a small part of a lot of problems.
Most missions and encounters follow a very familiar path: find destination, deploy Ghost. Ghost hacks thing, enemies come in swarms, Ghost finishes. Move on. Rinse, repeat.
Destiny very rarely mixes up the above formula which is a real shame because its core gameplay principle where combat is concerned is fantastic, but even this starts to decline when you’re in your 20s because enemy encounters aren’t changed with behaviour modifiers or different mission parameters, the baddies just come packed with higher health which really only forces the conflict to last longer. And loot, so far, has been one of the biggest lacking factors of the game post-launch.
The loot system is problematic early on because you can plough through most encounters with level-specific basics. When you start to get greens the game’s micro-management stuff does open up, and you do become more powerful but the urge to seek out higher gear isn’t really there because the game scales appropriately. Moreover, drops just aren’t that good and it can take a really long time before you even get your first blue, let alone anything else worth jumping up and down for, but the rarity of these drops has the opposite effect Bungie likely hoped for, by way of removing your desire altogether. Basically, if loot doesn’t matter, why should you worry about getting any?
And this is why Destiny has divided so many people: it’s trying to be all things to all people without realising it should carve out its own path. As a persistent online shooter with fantastic combat, great AI and visual vistas to die for, it’s a winner. If you like your settings both sci-fi and fantasy-based, like some 80s rock opera, you’re going to bite into it here (the lore based on the Moon is fantastic, in my opinion). And if you thoroughly enjoy rewarding cooperative play with friends while facing crazy, giant bosses or just riding around together on different planets on your speederbike, Destiny more than delivers.
If you’re a more core MMO player though, or someone who enjoys games with loot for
the loot, Destiny might not initially give you what you’re after. It might take a while for you to realise the meat of the game isn’t collection, it’s combat. You’re able to vanity brag in the Tower and collect items, but these are rarely brought to the fore and can often go unnoticed or even unloved. There’s depth to be had here though, and it’s how you play and approach Destiny that will determine what you get out of it. The studio’s heritage is bound to it in spades, but really, that’s not a bad thing when all’s considered.
Personally I’ve found the experience to be a visceral and engaging one. I’m a huge fan of the mythical sci-fi fusion and have eaten up the planetary environments -- on a visual level -- like they’re going out of fashion (though I can’t really buy cars being on Venus, Bungie). Destiny is a visual design utopia and looks great on both consoles, regardless of your allegiance. It could have done with a bit more diversity in character creation -- generican voices, for one (read: generic American), but that’s an aesthetic thing, really. It’s also a game still more than worth the price of admission in its initial form because its presentation, narrative-game length, visuals and core mechanics are top-notch, they’re a pinnacle of Triple-A and show a maturity on Bungie’s part in waves over their last Halo gig.
That alongside this we not only get excellent co-op options, PvP by way of the Crucible and the promise of more content to be delivered over the course of the game’s (expected long) life actually feels like a bonus. There is room to improve and build upon this base, but it’s a fantastic base regardless. It should only get better from here on out.