Review: Destiny (Xbox One)

Destiny has to be one of the most peculiar and interesting big budget games released within the past couple of years. It manages to be many different things at once. On the one hand, it is clear that Bungie wanted to push the first-person shooter genre in a new direction. Destiny clearly borrows a lot of its ideas from other games, but it is how all of these previously established gameplay elements come together that feels impressive and unique. On the other hand, Destiny isn't massively different from the umpteen different Halo games that Bungie had made previously. The general gameplay and feel of Destiny is pretty similar to Halo, there's no doubt about that. But it also feels different too! It's a real mish-mash. Destiny manages to feel both familiar and new at the same time, which is an impressive feat.  

But is Destiny actually any good though? It is, absolutely, but it is easy to be disappointed with it too. I love a lot of Destiny. It is one of my favourite games of this year thanks to the fantastic gunplay, amazing production values and the overall sense of scale that really makes you feel like you're in a living, breathing universe.

But at the same time, there are so many glaring problems with Destiny. The story is abysmal, the overall mission structure is very repetitive and the game feels too short. Despite these significant issues, Destiny's core gameplay is so well executed that I am still continuing to play it. The game may feel short but I can't help but want to play missions over and over again to get better loot! But man, it really could have been amazing.

Destiny doesn't have a lot going on terms of story. The game does a terrible job of laying out the basics. Simple things like, who you are, what your mission is, what's all of this conflict all about, etc. There are some cutscenes, but they are very few and far between and what is there just comes across as load of nonsense. The way Destiny is written, you would think that the series has been around for fifteen years and it expects you to just know all of the nuances of the game's universe. The most frustrating part of all of this is that Destiny invites you to read the game's backstory exclusively on Bungie's website, which is shameful.

Destiny also really lacks any strong characters. In fact, it barely has any characters at all. The only character you will actually remember the name of is Ghost, who is your little robot buddy who guides you throughout the game. Ghost could have been a memorable sidekick but he has about as much personality as a baked potato. The character you play as is even worse. This is partially because of the nature of Destiny itself. Since it is a multiplayer only game, where you are constantly bumping into fellow players, doing the same missions that you are pursuing, Bungie were just simply unable to write a nuanced, strong lead character. However, that doesn't change the fact that Destiny's story is the pits.

But enough about that, let's get into Destiny's core gameplay! There is no denying that Destiny feels a bit like Halo. The movement, controls and overall shooting is pretty darn similar. However, Destiny does have a greater emphasis on accuracy over something like Halo. All of the weapons have a zoom function, and you will be going for headshots throughout. Destiny also doesn't have that "combat puzzle" design ethic running through it; It's more of a straightforward, run forward and kill everything, sort of game, which is fine but Halo does have a bit more depth and is more challenging overall.

Weapons are a big part of Destiny but some will be disappointed with the fact there aren't that many weapon archetypes. There are only four primary weapons, three secondary weapons and two heavy weapons. That sounds pretty lame however, Destiny is a loot driven game like Diablo or Borderlands. That means that every weapon in the game is ostensibly different, offering different statistics, bonuses and upgrades. It also helps that all of the weapons in Destiny look and feel terrific. However, the differences between all of the different weapons of each type aren't dramatic. For example, all of the scout rifles feel pretty much the same and as a result, you will be focusing more on the stats of each weapon, rather than the weapon itself.  A game like Borderlands does a much better job of having each weapon feel unique and different.

But there is something to be said for Destiny's stripped down approach. While some of the crazy weapons in Borderlands were entertaining, they were also often useless in actual combat. In Destiny though, every weapon is viable and when you are playing through the story for the first time, progressively better weapons are dropped at a steady pace. The game doesn't dole out weapon and armour drops willy-nilly like the way other loot driven games do, but I think Destiny does a good job of making each drop seem more worthwhile. This is true until the endgame anyway, which I will elaborate on later.

Destiny's menus and user-interface are excellent. I hate it when it in RPGs and other similar games where you are spending ages in your inventory, trying to figure out what to get rid of and what to hold on to. It's just not fun and it takes you out of the experience. Destiny avoids this problem thanks to the intuitive UI. At first, I was a bit puzzled with Bungie's decision to use a mouse style interface, especially given the fact that there isn't a PC version of Destiny at the time of this review. However, once I got used to it, I loved this cursor driven menu as I found it was easy and fast to sort out my inventory. It is also really nice that you can dismantle any junk anywhere in the game, meaning you don't have to hoard items, just to sell them at a vendor.

The nuts and bolts of Destiny are really well-executed, but there are problems with the game's overall structure. Destiny has a segmented feel throughout which stops the universe being as immersive as it could've been. There are several reasons for this. First of all, the game is built in such a way that you start missions by selecting them from a map screen. You aren't exploring an environment and seeking out new quests; Destiny isn't that sort of game. Once you finish a mission, the game will boot you back to the map screen, just for you to select another mission. There is a Patrol mode, that does allow you do that but those missions are so trite that they aren't worth bothering with. There is nothing inherently bad about how Destiny is structured, and you grow to get use to it, but it's just not what I was expecting.

A lot has been said about Destiny's Massively Multiplayer Online RPG influences, but nothing ever truly feels massive in Destiny. When you are playing the game, you will occasionally bump into other players, but you only encounter a few at a time, you are never going to see an army of people running around. There is also a hub area, which is where you can visit shops and take a breather, and you can see more players dancing around there but again, that's not massive. It is neat to see other players as it does a good job of making the game seem bigger than it is, but doesn't add much to the overall gameplay. It seems like the game was structured in a segmented way in order to facilitate the always online nature of Destiny's universe.

At a glance, Destiny has a lot of content. There are four locations (Earth, Earth's Moon, Venus, and Mars), all of which have Story missions, Strikes (which are basically co-op missions), the aforementioned Patrol missions and the Crucible, which is the game's competitive multiplayer component. There is also a Raid mission that has opened up recently, which is apparently a super long and hard. However, blasting through the main story doesn't take that long (about 10 hours or so, depends on serious you want to be about finishing it) and the game also has a low level cap of 20, which you will probably reach around the same time you finish the story. After you have reached the main level cap, you will want to get better gear that has "Light" on it and once you have enough of this "Light", you can then level up to 21, 22, and so on.

The endgame of Destiny is absolute grind. Some people aren't going to mind this, but some people are going to absolutely hate it. I actually come somewhere in the middle. I really enjoy Destiny's core gameplay, and as a result, I have continued to keep playing the game, with the hope of eventually having all legendary weapons and armour. However, to do that, you have to run through the same missions over and over again. There are only 5 Strike missions and the fact that there is only four locations means that repetition seeps in quickly.

It's a shame, because Destiny gives you the impression that it's massive. Bungie are brilliant at providing a sense of scale and as I played through the main missions, I really enjoyed the game. But I just wish there were more missions overall. Bungie have been good at tweaking the game post release but you can only do the same thing over and over for so long.

As I mentioned earlier, the game does have competitive multiplayer in the form of The Crucible. Generally, it's just okay, which is surprising considering how good the multiplayer has always been in Halo. Conceptually, Destiny is unique from other multiplayer shooters because your unique character and gear carries over from the main game. However, in order to maintain balance, all of your weapons and armour have been leveled out in order to keep the game fair for all players. You can earn additional experience points and it is even possible to earn loot drops in The Crucible.

However, The Crucible has several problems. The main problem I have is that the game has a large focus on one hit attacks like close range shotgun blasts or using super attacks. Generally, players take a fair amount of gunfire before they go down in Destiny multiplayer, but with the frequent instant deaths, multiplayer matches don't flow naturally. I also think the game is lacking in terms of maps and modes, speaking of which, are all standard fare. You can't configure or create your own modes either, something that I always liked in the Halo games. Overall, the multiplayer in Destiny is competent at best but compared to Bungie's previous efforts, it's disappointing.

One aspect of Destiny that certainly does not disappoint are the game's visuals. Destiny masterfully combines proficient technical graphics and artistic flair to make for one of the best looking games on the new consoles. Detailed models, good textures and amazing skyboxes make for a game that is just fun to look at. To top it all off, the game has a rock solid framerate.

Similiarly, the audio design throughout Destiny is impressive. Weapons, vehicles and explosions all have a lot of bass and they all sound terrific. The music is also great though not nearly as memorable as it could be. The voice acting is generally passable, but there really isn't much of it, apart from Ghost character, who is voiced in a boring manner by Peter Dinklage. Aside from that though, Destiny sounds just as good as it looks.

Destiny is such a weird game. There is no doubt that I had a lot of fun playing through it. The shooting and general feel of the game is top notch and it's placed in a game that's so slickly produced throughout. However, I just wish there was a bit more of it. But that's just because the game is good, damn good! In its current state, Destiny is still worth checking out but I really hope Bungie get to expand the experience with some great DLC. Fingers crossed!

FOUR OUT OF FIVE

(A great game that largely succeeds, but stumbles in some notable ways.