The problem with reviewing anything, whether it be a video game, a movie or even a book, is trying to find that perfect balance of components which makes any normal product a superior one. In video-games this is particularly challenging due to the blend of story, gameplay and graphics and how each piece needs to work flawlessly if it is to become a modern classic. This is ultimately what fails with Destiny. For all accounts, it is a well constructed game with a great aesthetic, but the loose story and use of grind mechanics ultimately leaves it feeling underdone and severely limited in its execution.
Destiny itself is an excellent FPS which comes from a rich legacy, being crafted by Bungie the company which brought Halo to the original Xbox and helped define a whole generation of gaming. Indeed we can see Halo’s fingerprints all over Destiny, from the way it handles to the unique futuristic quasi-religious storyline and based on the premise it does work. Indeed it was on this premise that Destiny has been lauded and hyped for years creating the kind of anticipation that you only see in top releases. However, Destiny has fallen into that terrible trap that it doesn’t quite live up to the hype that people have been generating for so long, and as such we end up with a game which looks good on paper and sadly falls over in the execution.
The story of Destiny is one which has caused a few schisms with players in that it is not particularly involving or, dare we say it, interesting. It follows the arrival of The Traveller, a vast sphere which entered our solar system and began a golden age for mankind as it spread out among the stars. However, the entity had an enemy which pursued it across the cosmos to our own star system. Known only as The Darkness, the Traveller sacrificed itself to save the last fragments of humanity and keep it’s enemy at bay, and it now hangs in low orbit over the last human city on earth. The Traveller then released the ghosts, small mechanical creatures who went out and sought out those humans who could use the power of the light to combat the alien armies of The Darkness and preserve the last legacy of mankind. As a story it starts off strong and helps to set the scene well, however the resulting storyline as revealed within the game ends up not shedding any further light on the mystery of The Traveller or The Darkness. Indeed they become largely sidelined in favour of good guy vs aliens which makes up 99% of the gameplay on offer. Considering the rich story and mythos we experienced in Halo I was left particularly disappointed by the lack of development here since they seemed to go through a lot of work to set the scene but didn’t really seek to give the story much more emotional impact or gravitas. While it is possible the publishers could be holding back on this for future updates, I think they should have worked harder on their single player story and as such flesh out the story a lot more, as without it Destiny feels more like a chance to run around various barren seeming wastelands shooting at each other with no real motivation or direction other than ‘do this because we say so’.
In terms of gameplay I will concede though that Destiny has a lot going for it. As I said earlier, the control set up will feel immediately familiar to anyone who has ever played Halo, and the way the game handles is very fluid and easy to pick up. While Bungie didn’t exactly reinvent he wheel or load themselves with lots of new and original features I have to concede this intuitive approach does work well since it immediately lets a player get to grips with the mechanics and head out into the world guns blazing. This is in stark contrast to a lot of other online multiplayer games which can have tutorials and training elements which can go on for hours and hours and I do like the fresh approach. That said the game does have some unique abilities which do emerge as players level up, such as picking up new skills depending on the character class the player chose at the onset, namely Titan, Hunter or Warlock. These classes are synonymous with a online game tropes while still having a little diversity to allow the player to switch things up and try out new ideas and strategies. This combined with the wealth of different weapon types and approaches really gives us a lot of different approaches to choose from as we make our way in the world. That said there are areas where the gameplay becomes dull and repetitive, especially in relation to the main story.
Missions in Destiny are largely dictated by players moving through the main storyline which is controlled from the main world map. The player selects where to go next and you are told by your ghost (voiced by the one and only Peter Dinklage) what you have to do and why. This would be OK, but this doesn’t create any kind of variety in the gameplay, and often the structure of each excursion becomes very formulaic. Usually the player lands on the planet, makes their way to the target while killing aliens on the way, reaches their destination and presses the square button to make the ghost do something clever and science-fictiony, and then fighting a boss/ a wave of aliens before winning and returning to the ship. Lather, rinse, repeat. While we appreciate the intuitive gameplay makes it fun to bring death to armies of alien enemies it does go stale at times and left us wishing there was a little more to do, and even the great handling and graphics don’t always save it.
Presentation is clearly a strong aspect of Destiny, as the game does look amazing. The look of the title lends itself perfectly to the setting and creates a perfect sci-fi world to play in, similarly the orchestral score is unique and possesses a rich other-worldly quality. To cap it off those few story based parts of the game are played well by the likes of Dinklage who voices your personal ghost. However, while I loved the look I ended up realising that this what I saw on the surface was all there was to see. The early missions taking place on earth did look amazing, but I quickly learned that every earth based mission or patrol was actually all taking place in the same environment. While the environment did look well made, and was pretty vast it created this sense of repetition which I would not expect of a game in this current generation. Even with a few surprises cropping up on the map here and there I became largely bored of seeing the same expanses of terrain and I was itching to get to other planets only to be treated to more of the same. Similarly, while Dinklage is a shining star, his treatment of the ghost was to be more mechanical and this ended up reminding me of a Tom Tom with a celebrity voice on it, and this is how it ended up coming across in gameplay. While I don’t doubt Dinklage is probably doing his best, I couldnt help but want more from him here and wondered what the point in hiring an A-list actor to play such a limited role. While the ghost has his moments, he is no Cortana and suffers from the comparison.
While reading the whole review you might get the impression that I don’t like this game, but that would be false. The truth is I actually do kind of like Destiny, particularly when I begin to get better gear and play with others. However, that doesn’t stop me from being disappointed by what feels like Bungie phoning it in and not bringing their best to the table when there are lots of other developers out there fighting to be noticed. We get that Destiny could be improved in the future by patches and updates, but how long will it take and how much will it cost. All in all this has all the ingredients to be something great, but it felt like a little more effort could have been put in to make Destiny reach the top of everyones must have list, instead of close to the top of a list of gamings big disappointments.
My verdict is simple. If you are a fan of FPS, or indeed of Halo and fancy something new for the new generation then by all means take a look. That said go into it without expectations because if you are wanting a game to match Halo in scope, or hold up against other top titles in this generation, you will be disappointed.
Destiny is available for Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Playstation 4 and Xbox One