Destiny feels like a big, expensive distraction for the lowest common denominator- it’s the ‘Michael Bay Transformers’ of video games.
Ostensibly, Destiny is a massively multiplayer first-person shooter. It has a hub world where players take quests, buy gear and dance with each other. Upon receiving orders, heroes then beam down to planets and shoot aliens for money, random gear drops, and various other salvage parts. Unfortunately, by trying so hard to toe the line between these two genres without committing to either one, it ends up lackluster in both departments.
The core first-person shooter gameplay feels very solid. Players are able to pick between three distinct (though ultimately very similar) classes and customize them through mild skill trees as they progress. The combat is tuned in such a way that it’s satisfying to take down some of the larger monsters in your weight class without being too overbearing. Plus, the guns just feel nice- this is where the team’s Halo chops really shine through. Missions in this game are carried out through menus, with players then dropping down to a planet to carry out tasks. Or should I say ‘task’? There’s really only one mission type throughout Destiny’s entire campaign, and that involves shooting waves of incoming bad guys, scanning an object with your floating robot sidekick (played with incredible lethargy by Peter Dinklage), and being beamed back up to your spaceship once the smoke clears. What’s weird is that most shooters’ missions are very similar to this on a base level- shoot, rinse, repeat- Destiny simply manages to underscore its own lack of variety by very clearly separating the missions, and hardly ever attempting to dress up the fact that they’re all the same. Through the entire campaign, there are never any non-playable characters to fight alongside (or even talk to), interesting vehicles to pilot, or a meaningful story arc. It’s vanilla ice cream, the whole way through.
The MMO aspect comes a little closer to the mark, though other than in the social hub area, I never actually came by many other players in my travels. Occasionally there were public quests for strangers to combine forces and defeat a larger foe, but other than during these I never really felt like any aspect of the game was ‘massive.’ There’s also not a lot of real estate in Destiny- the playing field is limited to four planets. They’re large for first-person shooter levels for sure, but not compared to other truly sprawling worlds. It also doesn’t help that every area is very rigidly separated by menus and long load times. In order to cash in bounties or identify mystery items for example, I would have to finish a mission and fly my spaceship (read: watch a loading screen) just to get to the navigation menu, then set course for the main hub world and fly (load) my spaceship there. It’s all incredibly grating. On top of that, exploration in the main environments is completely discouraged by using the player’s level to gate off most of the nooks and crannies that would, I assume, contain treasure chests and easter eggs. For me, this led to a very claustrophobic-feeling open world, in which I stuck strictly to the critical path due to the futility of any deviation.
Set in the far future, Destiny tells the story of a series of human heroes called ‘Guardians’ who are attempting to win back their post-apocalyptic society from several groups of aliens. I hesitate to compliment the story by calling it paper-thin, and what little of it is actually portrayed in the game is embarrassingly heavy-handed (the enemy collective is actually called ‘the Darkness’- guess what your side is called.) Don’t hold out for the unlockable ‘Grimoire Cards’ either- there’s not much else of note to find out about this narrative. Any devoted player will tell you that this game isn’t about the story, but for the amount of effort and money it seems like they spent dragging Peter Dinklage from bed and into the recording studio, I had hoped for a lot more in this area.
There’s multiplayer as well, which seems pretty well-tuned. That is, if you don’t count the weird ways that different unique weapon stats are factored into matches. Let’s just say I won’t be getting into competitive Destiny the same way I got into competitive Halo. For co-op fans, all the missions can be played with friends, and there’s even a post-game raid to contend with, if your time means so little to you that you’re willing to grind up to the requisite level.
It’s frustratingly apparent how much world-class artistry went into making every little piece of Destiny- but it feels like after all that work somebody just slapped it all together, not caring how well the pieces fit. With everything in this package being so positively bland, Destiny is like a well-polished, slick surface that I simply can’t find a place to grab onto. As much as I wanted to, while I played through Destiny’s campaign I never had a smile on my face. I wasn’t frowning either, though. I was simply placated. Destiny is video game purgatory.
Destiny / Bungie / Activision / September 9, 2014
This review was conducted on an Xbox One version of the game.
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