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IMO: Destiny

Stephen Gillespie / October 6, 2014 at 10:00 AM / Gaming, Opinions

When Destiny opens up, the game drips with promise and potential. You are dropped into a mysterious sci-fi future; resurrected by a ‘ghost’ and attacked by awesome looking aliens. You fight your way through the first mission and all the positives shine through: it looks amazing, it sounds amazing and – most importantly of all – it feels amazing. That nebulous concept in games that is ‘feel’, the thing you notice when controlling your character is just right. It’s hard to put your finger on how this comes about, but its constituent parts include incredibly satisfying shooting, fluid movement and a steady framerate. This is the foundation that Destiny is rested upon: a bedrock of great visuals, sound and feel. The problem is, Bungie have failed to build anything substantial on this, leaving the game feeling hollow and lacking.

titan_cosmo03_sparrow4A core issue with Destiny is a lack of interesting and unique content, making playing through the game incredibly repetitive. There’s no mission variety, there isn’t an interesting story to fall back on and – though the game looks beautiful – environments repeat far too often. Too much of Destiny is spent doing the same thing over and over again: you enter a mission; you progress forwards killing aliens until you can interact with an object; that interaction leads you to fight waves of enemies and, occasionally, you encounter a bullet sponge boss. This happens every time – that’s just what you do.

Part of the repetition comes from Destiny’s rigid structure: you visit  four different worlds (Earth, the moon, Venus and Mars) and on each of them you can pick from the same subset of activities. It starts off with story missions, they make up the campaign and are how you make progress. Calling them ‘story’ missions is pretty deceptive though, as Destiny is very light on any kind of ‘story’. You have a little robot partner (a floating droid like Halo’s Guilty Spark), called a Ghost (voiced by Game of Thrones star Peter Dinklage) whom you escort through repeating environments. He gives you some exposition at the start (very light throwaway exposition) and then you move through the level occasionally stopping to interact with things. You get to a door or a console and nine times out of ten he sets to work on opening or unlocking, while you fight off waves of enemies. Once you kill the last enemy he is magically finished and you carry on to the next area – which is often somewhere you’ve been before. Mission design is wholly unimaginative, with no stand out moments or variations from the norm. Firefights are really entertaining though, there is a nice variety of enemy types who are genuinely fun to slay, the solid shooting comes into its own and each encounter is enjoyable. Some encounters are even thrilling, due to the great mechanics at play. Some encounters irritate though, especially boss fights.

Too much of Destiny is spent doing the same thing over and over again.

You meet some bosses during the ‘story’, but they are mostly consigned to ‘strike missions’. Everything in Destiny can be played with multiple people – it is a multiplayer game after all (though you can do the story alone, and explore planets somewhat independently) – but strikes force co-op. These are special side missions where you and two players work your way through a challenging level. The missions are longer than the story segments and are punctuated by large scale encounters. These include fighting challenging waves of enemies and facing up against bosses. Unfortunately, the bosses aren’t fun at all. They are just massive bullet sponges; large enemies with simple (but overtly powerful) attack patterns that take far too long to kill. There isn’t enough variance in the mechanics to make these drawn out fights engaging, minute one of the fight is much like minute five: you are still just shooting at a big thing, the only change is the life bar. These strikes do take you to some relatively unique areas and co-operating in Destiny is really enjoyable, but too often they irritate or disappoint.

2516835-destiny_33The other option Destiny gives you per world is to explore. After completing the first story mission on a world, you can then return to that world in free-roam and do side quests. When doing this you can bump into other players also playing Destiny. The seamless co-op integration is really cool, as you stumble into fellow guardians and perhaps fight alongside them for a bit. It is underused though, it’s hard to properly interact with these players and you see very few of them. Other people are just there, they only really become relevant when you happen upon the rarely occurring public quests. These activities are too few and far between to be of note, and are not worth the waiting time. It’s fun to suddenly have a cooperative objective, a joint quest that unites the planet’s separate players, but even these objectives aren’t that interesting. Outside of these, all you do in the explore segments is complete generic side quests. You go to a marker (there are several on each map) and you are given a random simple quest to do. These either involve going to a place and looking at it; going to a place and interacting with it or killing a bunch of enemies. This latter objective can be used in aid of collecting a certain item that enemies suddenly drop, or just murder for the hell of it. These quests got so generic that at one point I was told my mission parameters and justification were classified, they just wanted me to kill stuff until I filled a percentage meter. This mode is really uninteresting and oddly separate. It would make sense if you accessed missions through an interactive hub, making the exploration worthwhile, but this is just a dull mode that is pure grinding. You do pointless quest after pointless quest, often being left in a random place after completing, meaning you have to track back  for a good while in order to start the next dull activity.

Another indication that there isn’t enough going on in Destiny is its narrative. The in game storytelling is beyond uninteresting, it’s almost not there. A bit of the way in, the game decides to kind of have a story, but doesn’t even fully commit to that. The closest it gets is to slightly set up a world and then give you some justification to do a couple of things (though these reasons are always unclear). The game’s ending is awful, as it just stops and spouts generic boiler plate dialogue, trying to make your complete non-achievement into an event. You feel like you have done nothing; you won’t remember any specifics and you will be unclear if there even was a story. At the end you are rewarded with a gun – everybody gets the same gun – and a new currency resource (of which you need at least five to buy something)… That’s it. The music swells (and boy is that soundtrack absolutely excellent) but the whole experience feels hollow and meaningless. There is more lore and story to be conveyed, but it’s not actually in the game. You unlock ‘grimoire cards’ due to a number of reasons as you make your way through Destiny, you can then access these online on the developer’s website. These cards have lore and story stuff on them, which is an abysmal way to introduce a new game world and to convey a narrative. It’s a very un-compelling way to take in information and the complete lack of engaging narrative content in the game doesn’t enthuse you to go out of your way to check these things out. It’s a real issue.

The in game storytelling is beyond uninteresting.

There is still a core of Destiny that is compelling though, that being the central gameplay. The available arsenal is disappointingly limited, but each gun is well designed and feels great. Level progression is also satisfying, the abilities you gain through leveling-up are not very imaginative, and there’s no real choice in so far as character advancement goes, but the linear character progression is satisfying enough. You feel noticeably more powerful when you level up, making it feel worthwhile. You also regularly encounter gear that is just a couple of levels ahead of you, incentivising you to keep pushing forward. Gear itself is fine, none of it is that different or crazy, but it’s solid. There’s a nice amount of stuff to equip on your character, but loot isn’t handed out all that often. It’s not the most compelling loot system, but it works. The same is true of skills and abilities, many are useful – some are kind of bad – but none are exciting. It’s not hugely interesting in this regard, but what is there does work.
destiny-moon-baseCompetitive multiplayer is somewhat the same: it’s good, the maps are well designed, it’s fun to shoot people and the available modes are decent. It doesn’t feel special though and is perhaps held back by its attachment to the player versus environment content (the rest of the game). You bring your character and gear in, meaning you have all your stuff and all your unlocked abilities. The playing field is leveled somewhat though, your weapon’s damage numbers aren’t considered and you being a higher level doesn’t make you more effective – not inherently anyway. However, you having more abilities does give you an advantage, but hey, you have played more and it’s pretty much accepted that greater play time gives you tangible rewards in multiplayer shooters. At this stage it’s not clear if the classes and weapons are perfectly balanced for competitive multiplayer – though the classes themselves are not that different. The three classes don’t really compliment each other either though, so that whole system is slightly disappointing.

Overall, Destiny just is disappointing; it has so much potential and so much promise but there just isn’t enough compelling content. It lacks some of the features you would want and it straddles multiple genres to its detriment. The repetitive and boilerplate campaign means its not the next big shooter, and the watered down MMO-esque features makes it unappealing to that crowd as well. This isn’t to say Destiny isn’t fun, but it is completely mindless. It’s the same thing stretched out over a good amount of hours and after a while that isn’t enough. It’s systems aren’t interesting enough and the entire execution lacks imagination. It’s a competent and beautiful game, it just doesn’t do enough to properly engage or impress you.

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Stephen Gillespie

I'm a game writer at TechRaptor, I like a bit of everything, but I especially like games that do interesting things with the medium. Or just Dark Souls... I REALLY like Dark Souls. Praise the sun.