That was the end of everything... but it was also a beginning.
SRP: £49.99"Its arrival changed us forever"
A brave new worldIt's been a long wait for Destiny, anticipation has been building on multiple fronts. It's the first project from Halo creators Bungie since they became an independent developer, one of the first in the second wave of major releases since the launch of a new generation and most intriguingly it attempts to truly take advantage of a persistent on-line connection, infusing connectivity throughout the experience from the "single player" through to the more traditional competitive multiplayer.
Which leaves us at a bit of a loss for a succinct abbreviation to describe this sub genre, for now we will have to make do with the rather wordy Wikipedia description of an on-line persistent world first-person shooter video game in a "mythic science fiction" open world setting.
While these type of persistent on-line experiences have existed on the PC for a while, console owners have only had fleeting encounters with RPGs and adventure titles, Destiny arrives as the biggest First Person Shooter to try and capture players within its world.
As such the experience is prone to change, two expansion packs have been promised, with one arriving before the end of the year. Equally, the on-line nature of the experience relies on performance of both the platform network infrastructure and more importantly the servers at Bungie HQ.
With the game in what appears to be a state of flux, this review will evolve along with it, updating as our experience progresses and when new content is added, an overall score (including the "Rundown" section below) will be applied once we feel our opinion has sufficiently formed to come to a meaningful conclusion.
Check back for updates and feel free to contribute with your own ongoing opinion of the game; like Destiny, this review isn't intended to exist in isolation.
Day One"You must have so many questions"
You have to hand it to Bungie, if there is one thing they know how to do it's instil a sense of grandeur, from that familiar sweeping score to the carefully crafted cut scenes, you are slowly introduced to the world of Destiny. Where a mysterious entity known as "The Traveller" has arrived on earth, bringing with it "The Darkness" which you as a newly reawakened "Guardian" must help push back with your light.
The first hours or so focus on creating your character, building core skills and familiarising yourself with the world and its mission structure. At the outset, the three races of Human, Awoken and Exo are separated by minor aesthetic differences, and the class you choose will offer different special abilities; my Hunter for instance can periodically wield a flaming pistol with increased damage, while the other classes benefit from powerful area of effect and projectile attacks.
That's just the beginning though, it's clear a major part of the Destiny experience is character customisation, your reward for completing missions is XP which increases your level and allows you to purchase and increase improved armour and weapons. The Tower is where this all happens, your character pops out into third person view and you can wander around a futuristic market place, purchasing new items while other players congregate and more than likely dance.
Once you're out of shapes to throw, all that's left is to jump into orbit where you can select missions to undertake; the map opens up as you progress, however you are free to replay missions and try out some of the other activities in the environment such as Strike, a co-op mode for up to 3 players which takes around 15-30 minutes, Raid, a harder cooperative mode for up to 6 players intended to be attempted by high level players with upgraded gear, and Patrol, which allows players to roam the environment to freely discover missions and partake in Public Events.
Once you're out of shapes to throw...
Indeed, as you bound around the opening areas of the story you will encounter other players on their own missions who may fight alongside you, go their own way or simply break out into an obligatory dance. This level of interaction plays a large part in Destiny's experience. While not all of the modes include the ability to access match-making, you can form Fire Teams from The Tower and a clan system is in place on Bungie.net to allow you to team up with like minded individuals. There is also the Crucible for competitive multiplayer, which doesn't open up till a few levels in (which I have unfortunately yet to reach).
That isn't for a want of trying though, like everyone else I logged in on launch day and was willing to power through the first few hours, having played the beta previously, and dig into some new content. Sadly this wasn't to be so, instead what I got was the single most frustrating experience I have endured on this new generation of machines. Connectivity issues meant I spent several hours in mortal fear of being dumped back to the start screen. There are frequent areas where checkpoints aren't enabled and they also happen to be the tougher parts of the game (especially if you select hard from the mission start screen). It was during these missions I was continuously informed I no longer had an internet connection and would now have to start again from my last checkpoint.
Which is a shame, as the shooting feels solid and sounds substantial, the world looks beautiful and - although there has been some unnecessary reuse of locations already - I am ready to explore and open up more locations. These issues are sure to be little more than launch day teething problems which affect every major release these days, however normally I could fall back into the safety of a reliable single player campaign. Destiny does not have that luxury, what Bungie sees as a core pillar of the game experience - its connectivity - is also in some ways its greatest weakness, the only conduit to what appears to be a promising new adventure. For now, it is harming more than it's helping, but as Bungie have explained about the game itself, in time that should change.
Day TwoAfter the frustration of launch day, I was eager to dig deeper in Destiny. Day 2 was an entirely smoother affair with nary a disconnection in sight which let me finally complete some of the story missions; in turn I was able to level up my character enough to unlock “The Crucible”, the home of PVP or competitive multiplayer.
Although Destiny looks and plays like a good first person shooter, it doesn't appear to be living up to all the expected elements found in the genre. The “story” so far remains tangential to the experience for me, little more than simply a vehicle to work through to gain experience, level up and acquire new armour and weapons. The mission design follows a familiar set-up each time, follow way point thorough environment while your “Ghost” fills in the story blanks, arrive at an area which doesn't allow for re-spawning and fight a various assortment of enemies until the mission ends.
Mechanically the game is solid, the various weapons handle well and sounds are satisfyingly beefy. The enemy AI so far has been unremarkable with the game preferring to increase difficulty with increased numbers rather than improve intelligence or strategy. Amusingly several times it has been possible to back pedal to a point in a level where enemies hit an artificial wall which allows you to stand out of range and take pot shots at will.
Still the reward cycle of visiting the “The Tower” and swapping out items for slightly more powerful items is a neat loop that’s easy to get caught in, especially when competitive multiplayer eventually reveals itself.
Swapping out items for slightly more powerful items is a neat loop that’s easy to get caught in
Multiplayer makes good use of the solid combat mechanics, but the class based powers can feel overpowering in places. In "Control", which has you try and hold down 3 points on a map, both the Warlock's Nova Bomb and the Titan's Fist of Havoc provide instant deaths for any enemies congregating near a control point, which can feel overpowering. That’s goes for CQB in general; but most maps appear to have some good sight lines for those wishing to engage from outside melee range, and the floaty jumps and glides that tend to accompany those powers seem to offer large enough windows to fit in a sniper bullet if you can react fast enough. The careful distribution of heavy and special ammo around the map is a smart way to step away from the weapon based map control of other games and are scarce enough to make using those powerful guns something that needs to be managed rather than relied upon.
The persistence of your character throughout the modes means it’s entirely possible to come up against players with better armour and more powerful weapons which led to an interesting foray into Free-for-all and a swift reality check as I retreated to the relative safety of the crowded team death match mode.
Bungie have stated that the game “doesn't really begin” until level 20, at which point you can really start taking advantage of the high level items and start participating in some of the end game missions such as Raids. The levelling up process looks to be on a fairly shallow curve, with a few hours in the Crucible seemingly propelling me faster through the levels than story mode. It was also more fun, which reinforces my current feeling that Destiny is more enjoyable for its mechanics and loot system than it is for its story beats.
Day FiveThe first week with a new game usually follows a similar pattern for me; starting with a flurry of activity on launch day as the anticipation of a new release is shattered. At a few days in most single player games have either sucked me in and spat me out the other side or have failed to keep me engaged enough to see them through. Multiplayer titles tend to live and die by how they feel, how satisfying they are and how well the carrots are spaced on the inevitable upgrade path.
Destiny is a curious mix of all the above. The story is thoroughly uninspiring, with its most appealing quality being its visuals which, as pretty as they may be, can’t detract from the bland mission structure forcing you to backtrack through the same few environments while being treated to incidental plot points throughout. What saves Destiny is its combat, from the solid handling through to the raucous assault on your ears, the fundamental way Destiny plays is enjoyable, it’s not new, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable.
Still being just another competent shooter isn’t a golden ticket these days, in fact it’s simply a prerequisite for any game that wishes to avoid fading into obscurity within 3 months.
Whichever way you choose to fire the weapons in Destiny your aim is the same; to get better loot.
Bungie is counting on one thing to lift Destiny above the crowd: Loot. After spending the first few days bringing my character up to level 20 I discovered that what Bungie means to say when they state “The game doesn't start until level 20” is that you don’t have the opportunity to gain the higher level (or Legendary) loot until you reach this point.
At various levels along the way you unlock all of the modes in The Crucible giving you a variety of ways to tackle the multi player; be it straight up Team Death Match, Control or Objective based modes. Towards the higher levels the Vanguard Strike playlists unlock to offer cooperative missions of varying difficulty.
Whichever way you choose to fire the weapons in Destiny your aim is the same; to get better loot. Which is where the difference that sets this game apart from every other shooter with an experience based unlock system comes in. In order to obtain this high level loot you must either cross your fingers on the end game screen and hope you are rewarded with a random drop, or earn enough of the relevant currency to purchase it from one of the vendors in The Tower. The Strike playlists offers Vanguard Reputation and the Crucible grants Crucible Marks, of which you need a substantial amount of either to get anywhere near purchasing even one item of Legendary equipment.
This is of course “The Grind” so commonly referred to in most MMOs. The soul sucking element which generally requires huge portions of your time for questionably valid rewards. In reality it bears close resemblance to “levelling up” in your average FPS, you simply have more control over what to unlock and when.
It was at this point that I reached a familiar crossroads with Destiny. Step back, knowing the path ahead was long and weary, or move forwards happy to enjoy the mechanics and chip away at the loot until I got bored. Then it happened, as if somehow sensing my budding indifference I was granted a random drop containing a new pulse rifle which offered almost double the damage of the rifle I was currently using. Multiplayer matches unsurprisingly went from just entertaining to cackle inducingly fun.
In competitive multiplayer especially, coming up against high level players can present a challenge, although there is no substitute for good aim and movement, being able to absorb more damage and give out more is simply an advantage, and earning something that makes you more powerful becomes a meaningful reward.
It’s that hook that Bungie are hoping will keep players participating in daily and weekly events, populating the Crucible, and when they eventually become available tackling the difficult raids for the loot they will hopefully find within.
There is an old quote from an ex-Bungie employee who commented on the first Halo...
"There was maybe 30 seconds of fun that happened over and over and over and over again. And so, if you can get 30 seconds of fun, you can pretty much stretch that out to be an entire game."
This couldn't be more true of Destiny, its core is fun, and if you are susceptible to the long game of the loot system it provides a decent reason to keep having said fun over and over. Whether Bungie can maintain the system, continuing to offer incentives for long term players while keeping it balanced for newcomers remains to be seen, but with the content coming thick and fast with frequent events and scheduled expansions on the way we won’t have to wait long to find out.
Day TenAt the beginning of this review process I struggled to define Destiny; failing to successfully assign one of the many acronyms that pigeon-hole elements of its design but don’t necessarily apply to the whole product. After several hours playing, and with no end in sight, truthfully I still don’t know, and that excites me and disappoints me in almost equal measure.
To look at it from a FPS perspective it certainly walks the walk, the world is beautiful and the presentation carries all the weight of a premium experience. The nuts and bolts of the shooting are solidly constructed to deliver a familiar yet satisfying suite of options in combat. Yet all of this lacks inventive application, as fun as it may be to play Destiny, its biggest downfall is a lack of reasons to make you actually want to play Destiny.
Without a traditional single player campaign - complete with characters, set pieces and varied objectives - it falls into a mindless conveyor belt of enemies with longer life bars. A process which only becomes meaningful with friends, relying on the strategic co-ordination and emergent moments that occur when you team up against overwhelming odds. Outside of PVP - which brings the game closers to its FPS roots with a by-the-numbers multiplayer - that’s the clearest picture of what Destiny’s intended experience is, tackling tough cooperative missions for random rewards which level you up for even tougher missions.
I still don’t know, and that excites me and disappoints me in almost equal measure.
Which is essentially the essence of a good MMO, trapping players on a loot based treadmill, which Destiny successfully does. Watching what boils down to a slot machine at the end of a match dish out loot, and then skipping back to the Tower to decode a legendary engram, is an enjoyable game play loop, even when it is frustratingly stingy on the payouts. But beyond that its on-line elements are similarly under developed, with scant options for character personalization, limited matchmaking and no meaningful non-combat activities to participate in.
- Excellent gun play
- Addictive loot system
- Spectacular presentation
- Repetitive mission design
- Poor story elements
- Limited matchmaking options
Destiny Xbox One Rolling ReviewDestiny feels like a framework, a new platform for Bungie to develop and iterate on. Grand ideas have been bandied around with proposals such as new areas and space combat, however just as it is unfair to judge the game for what it isn’t, it also can’t be appraised on what it has yet to become.
Destiny is a great online shooter with an interesting loot system and is best enjoyed with friends, nothing less and, as of right now, absolutely nothing more.
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