What Is Your Destiny, Guardian?
I’ve put over 20 hours into it so far. I’ve seen ruined Earth, a diseased moon, the destroyed beauty of Venus and war-torn Mars. I’ve danced with Guardians at The Tower and fought with and against them in the Crucible. I’ve pillaged loot, upgraded my wares and levelled up along the way. I’ve enjoyed myself immensely, while realising that there is something missing with Bungie’s latest – it’s more than the sum of its parts, but has it blown me away and will I keep coming back? And with all this is mind, how do you review a game like Destiny?
Destiny is very much a “game as service” – what we have now will undoubtedly be extremely different this time next year; there will be DLC (already announced), tweaks, upgrades, balancing, new modes and new worlds to explore. The initial entry fee is the same as any other AAA game, but the cost will be ongoing – tropes from MMOs that Bungie are going to great lengths to say that Destiny isn’t (it is.) So what are you getting for your money NOW. Is Destiny worth laying down your hard-earned for today? It’s a difficult one to answer.
Taking Destiny by its tech and mechanics, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more accomplished shooter this side of Xmas. As you’d expect from a veteran studio like Bungie, the gunplay feels great. As a Halo fan, I’m happy that gamers that have never experienced Master Chiefs adventures can now see what all the fuss was about – because it still feels very much like Halo. It looks like Halo too – only all next-gen like. Some of the vistas are breath-taking; and, while a lot of the game takes place is corridors and underground tunnels – the planet surfaces of Old Russia and Earth’s Moon are open and seemless.
The art-style is similar, too; it’s still colourful but the alien design is somewhat more mature than Halo’s grunts and elites. And the sound? Fantastic. The guns, to the ambience and score, are top-notch – a particular thrill of mine is being engaged in a battle with a group of enemies, only to hear the heavy bass and rumble of an enemy dropship cruise in overhead. The less said of Peter Dinklage’s performance of your Ghost companion the better – it’s hard to tell if it’s been phoned in, or if Bungie’s tinkering to make everyone’s favourite Game Of Thrones actor sound more robotic has ruined the performance, but it’s a curious aural misstep.
So far, so good – so why the uncertainty? Well, while the game is undoubtedly vast, it’s not particularly deep. It has the illusion of depth, certainly. There are story mission, raids, strikes, competitive multiplayer, planet patrols and (excellent) daily events to try your hand on – but, multiplayer aside, every mode winds up the same way; follow your radar, kill enemies, press “X” to let Ghost tinker with a Maguffin, hold off wave after wave of enemy. Rinse, repeat.
Where Halo succeeded due to its variety of missions in its sandbox worlds – vehicle combat, scarab take-downs, corridor shooting, exploration – Destiny comes across as highly repetitive, and this is where its MMO roots shine through. Maybe it’s unfair to judge this Bungie against the Bungie of old (many of the key personnel have moved to 343, Black Tusk or indie development since Halo Reach), but the comparisons will be there whether they like it or not.
As I mentioned at the top, this could very well change with the addition of DLC and the like – and the core gameplay is there. Like an MMO, it’s extremely moreish too – I constantly find myself thinking “one more mission” and playing way past the midnight hour. As you’d expect, the world-building is excellent – while you’ve seen and played the main storyline countless times, there’s scope and huge potential in the mythic sci-fi world Bungie have created, and I’m excited to see where this world goes.
It’s hard to shake the feeling of missed opportunity here though. Exploration isn’t rewarded – while missions and activities will take you to all of the main areas of a planet’s explorable sections, there’s very little reason to go off the beaten path; loot chests are scattered around the main thoroughfares and the majority of caves will turn out to be empty – just used as enemy spawn locations. Space exploration is also sorely missed; this could be Bungie sacrificing its ambition to get the title on Xbox 360 and PS3 (money has to be made on this expensive undertaking, after all) but getting to pilot your own space-craft, instead of watching a cut scene, would have been a huge thrill and added immensely to the title.
The character customisation is extremely thin, too. The extensive setups of a Skyrim or sports titles like NBA 2K series or FIFA are nowhere to be seen. Instead, you can create a male or female David Bowie human, a male of female David Bowie Awoken or a male of female David Bowie Exo. The Guardian armour colour-scheme and design is extremely drab too – an extended stay in The Tower hub turns into a David Bowie lookalike competition, with many identikit players running around, dressed the same, going about their business. And occasionally dancing.
I realise at this point that the review is coming off slightly negative – and I don’t want to give that impression. I’ve enjoyed my time with Destiny so far, and it really is “so far”. I expect to play for many, many more hours and I’m excited to see what else Bungie bring to the package. But, right now, it isn’t the complete package – there’s plenty missing but, thankfully, the groundwork is there. Should you be wanting more for your £50? Yes. Playing Destiny, you can’t help but shake the feeling that this is just a taster of things to come – another MMO trope. Make no mistake, Destiny IS an MMO; Bungie have tried to hide it, but the genre is there for all to see. A bad thing? Not really. It all depends on how Bungie manage it from here on.
A quick word about the networks, too. Since launch, and with the occasional PSN hiccup aside, the servers for all formats of Destiny have been smooth and trouble-free. A great achievement from Bungie and Activision that bodes well for the future.
I started this review asking how could you review a game like Destiny – I’ve given it a go, but it’s very much a work in progress. Rest assured that if you do decide to take the plunge, there’s enough going on to warrant a purchase, especially playing with a clan of friends but, right now, Destiny isn’t that genre defining experience we hoped it would be. Maybe some day.
– Dave Green @davidpgreen83