Since it was first announced in late 2012, the levels of excitement and expectation surrounding Destiny have been growing. Recent information about it being the most expensive game in history, with a 500 million dollar budget, as well as the most pre-ordered new IP ever only caused the hype to continue. Bungie, the world-renowned creators of the Halo franchise, wanted to create a truly ‘next generation first-person shooter’ by integrating aspects of RPGs and MMOs into a futuristic shooter where players are constantly connected online. In many ways they have succeeded in creating the game they envisioned but it feels like they have taken a safety first approach with other aspects of the Destiny experience.
The game begins with the player having to create a character, choosing between three distinct classes: Titan, Warlock and Hunter. After quickly altering your character’s appearance and a vague introduction to the story the player is thrown into Bungie’s stunning world. The first thing that quickly becomes clear is how beautiful the game is, in every way. The landscapes are incredible and everyone will find themselves repeatedly stopping to admire the views as they explore the planets. When on the moon a meticulously detailed image of Earth is always in view and ‘The Traveller’ hovering above ‘The City’ is an incredible image. The five main locations: The Tower (a glorified menu, in a good way), Earth, The Moon, Mars and Venus are all different but are also beautiful in their own ways. Also, as you would expect from a Bungie game, the guns and enemies are varied and detailed, adding another dimension to the visuals. It is far beyond anything that has been seen in games before and certainly feels like the next-generation experience fans were expecting. The game’s overall presentation is also perfect with the menus and upgrade system being extremely easy to navigate. It is clear a large proportion of the well documented production budget has been spent on the way it looks, it feels polished and even expensive.
Destiny’s other big strength is something gamers have come to expect from Bungie; the gameplay is excellent. The gunplay is of such a high quality that any occasional flaws in the visuals can be forgotten. Fighting wave after wave of enemies is both easy to get to grips with and endlessly fun. Bungie are masters of creating combat moments that have many tactical possibilities and can be so intense that you frequently survive by the skin of your teeth. The difficulty level is perfect. Certain weapons are more fun than others with Pulse Rifles (that charge before shooting) and Heavy Weapons being particular highlights. The sound is similarly good as the weapon noise echoes and the volume and intensity of the music is raised as the fire-fights progress.
Unfortunately, much of the fun the strong gameplay brings is overshadowed by the basic and repetitive level design. As the game progresses the structure of the story missions starts to become comically similar. In almost every level players are instructed to get to a specific location, fighting increasingly difficult groups of enemies along the way. Once they reach the correct place their ‘Ghost’ (a small robot voiced by Peter Dinklage) attempts to hack an enemy computer mainframe whilst waves of enemies attack, ending with a boss that is often nothing more than a bullet sponge. It is not an exaggeration when it is said that almost every story mission follows this same basic structure. When the world is so beautifully detailed and the gameplay is so strong the lacklustre level design really stands out. It feels like very little effort was put into this aspect of the game during development.
The way genres are inter-woven in Destiny is impressive and although aspects of each specific genre are missing it makes for an interesting experience. There are clearly MMO and RPG influences in the game which is predominantly a first-person shooter. The way weapons and armour are unlocked is quite addictive and it is cool to see how your load-out differs to those of other players. When players meet others in their own single player world the game becomes significantly better as bosses are attacked from different places with different weapons and the collective sense of accomplishment can be followed by a celebratory dance-off. However, the length of the game (roughly 15-20 hours to complete every mission) and the depth of customisation is nowhere near that of a typical RPG or MMO. Also, one element that differentiates every shooter, the story, is one of Destiny’s main issues.
Destiny begins with a introduction to the story as the player is awoken by their ‘ghost’ on Earth. Generations ago ‘The Traveller’ introduced a new age of technology in the world but after an event called ‘The Collapse’, which wiped out much of humanity, an enemy of ‘The Traveller’ called ‘The Darkness’ began to attack and the humans were forced to return to Earth and build an imaginatively named place called ‘The City’, which is protected by ‘The Traveller’. Now ‘The Darkness’ is becoming more of a threat and Guardians are tasked with protecting Earth. The issue with the story arrises with how little explanation of events there is at the beginning of the game, making the plot very difficult to comprehend from the outset. As the game progresses new information is only given in short cutscenes before and after each mission and it is often unclear why the aims of each mission are relevant to the main plot. Considering the existence of ‘The Traveller’ is the only thing standing between humanity and extinction, it is strange that there never feels like there is much of an outside threat. Three different types of enemy are introduced but they only act as objects for the player to defeat and certainly play no part in the main narrative. Somehow, Bungie have managed to form a plot that is both basic and unclear. It does not help that to be at the recommended level to play each mission, players will occasionally have to replay missions from early in the game, making the plot more confusing. Background information on the story is available in collectable in-game cards that, incredibly, can only be viewed online. Surely a very small proportion of players will be willing to check the game’s website throughout each mission to ensure they are following the plot correctly. Once again, compared to the game’s visuals and gameplay, it is shocking how poor the plot is. How can the creators of Halo feel it is right to include a story that feels so old in a world that looks like the future of gaming?
There is also an online mode, called ‘The Crucible’, that does not differ much from other futuristic shooters. The strong gameplay is carried over from the main campaign and all the the five modes are great fun. Although each player’s character is the same as in the single player, all attributes are made equal so that each match is fair. Destiny, much like the Halo series, showcases how good the developers at Bungie are at creating maps that lead to fast paced and tactical battles. It is nothing ground-breaking but the online mode offers a fun alternative to the main game and is very helpful in increasing your character’s level for the tougher missions in the single player.
In short, Bungie should be applauded for building a world that is so beautiful and delivering on their promise of a visually next-generation shooter. However, with so much anticipation surrounding it, it is very disappointing that although Destiny is a frequently fun and beautiful game, the lacklustre level design and surprisingly poor story prevents it from becoming the experience the gaming world hoped for.
7/10- Destiny is available now for PS4, PS3, Xbox One and Xbox 360.