The decision to withhold review copies of Destiny ahead of its release was defended by Bungie and Activision as a means to showcase the game’s baked-in, online-only universe in the best possible light. Worried that a smattering of gaming journos would leave the meticulously built sci-fi world looking somewhat bereft, reviewers were asked to wait along with the rest of the world to experience Destiny at its best. Of course, it raised the usual accusations that both developer and publisher had little faith in the finished game and that reviews reflecting this would adversely affect sales of what is being called the most expensive game ever developed.
To be fair, the real reason for the delay is probably a bit of both. Certainly, Destiny is a game that benefits greatly from online, multiplayer interaction, both in traditional co-op and versus modes, but also in its more fluid approach to overlapping single and multiplayer campaign aspects. However, despite the absolutely solid first-person shooter mechanics it’s been built on (Bungie were of course responsible for the genre-defying Halo series), Destiny can’t help but feel staid and repetitive by comparison.
Perhaps one of the most obvious problems is in its mission structures. Despite being offered up as a ‘shared-world shooter’ you’ll need to traverse a fair amount of the game on your own in order to advance the story if you aren’t ‘clanned up’ before jumping in. Other players can drop in an out of these missions but you’ll tend to find yourself going solo regardless. Yet after only a handful of such adventures, a pattern soon emerges; progress from planet surface to industrial interior, reach a chokepoint and battle enemies until your holo-sphere companion interacts with some device or other to progress.
Strike missions, where you are automatically assigned two other colleagues in order to tackle much tougher quests, fair better by adding team dynamics and creative storytelling. Patrol missions also have much potential, where lone rangers on individual quests can suddenly find themselves pairing up to take down a prize asset that lumbers over the shared horizon. It’s these kind of moments that make the joins between FPS and MMO feel absolutely flush.
There is of course another element that Bungie have woven into the fabric, that of the RPG. Though this is handled relatively well, it’s by no means a game-winner, and you’ll likely find yourself yearning for the elegance of Skyrim’s set-up. There’s a cursory character selection, a slew of armour and weapon upgrades along with the accumulation of raw materials as a commodity. Much of this takes place in the central hub, a sort of online market place where you can meet other players looking to achieve similar goals. It is however, a confusing environment and feels strangely sterile given what it is setting out to achieve.
However, as primarily a console shooter, you’ll likely spend much more time traversing the various planet surfaces than doing a bit of space shopping. It’s a pity then that the differences between a mission on Earth, set in a future, post-apocalyptic Russia, and a mission on Venus for example, seeml resolutely similar in feel and design. Huge artistic licence has been taken with the make-up of these planets, but very little risk. Why is the Moon’s gravity exactly the same as on Earth or Mars? Why do they all share that same, rust-laden, sun-bleached aesthetic?
Still, if you’re into Destiny for ‘the grind’ – the almost-mechanical progress play of levelling up your nameless avatar – then there’s lots of joy to be had here. The original Halo made you feel God-like with its combat and, as you progress, Destiny has such moments too. It helps that, as mentioned, its core combat mechanics are top-notch throughout and that the difficulty level is elegant, meaning each battle feels more victorious than the last.
Perhaps Destiny’s biggest trump card though is just how well its constituent parts all hang together. To reiterate, Destiny is an FPS, MMO, RPG – a string of abbreviations that are as much a tripping hazard for any developer as they are a mouthful for the rest of us. Yet Destiny is a technical feat in itself, delivering a composite of all those genres without diluting anything in particular. As mentioned, the campaign itself may be uninspiring but that’s more a creative error than a technical shortcoming.
On that note, Bungie should be congratulated for the technological heft underpinning their new IP. Destiny certainly looks good, though other next gen games certainly have the graphical edge, but the fact that Bungie have seemingly had their fantasy sci-fi world up and running with the barest of glitches is a marvel in itself, especially when compared to, say, last years’ similarly sized GTAV launch.
In short, Destiny could be seen as a jack of all trades, but, need we say it, a master of none. Each facet is business as usual but combined as a whole, it’s difficult not to let your reservations slide once you really dig into it. As a technological achievement, it’s probably about as cutting-edge as console gaming gets right now, but as a straight ahead gaming experience, Destiny’s component parts have been better done elsewhere, not least by Bungie themselves.