Oh dear. Such promise. Such hype. A hype generated not by the fans, but of Bungie and Activision themselves. This was supposed to be THE next-generation game, except that it could never be, as they also released it on the last generation. We played the Beta and were pleased with what we’d experienced. Little did we know this would make up for about a quarter of the entire game, and so begins the unfortunate story of Destiny. Is there light in the darkness? I believe so, and we’ll explore that in this Destiny Review, but it needs a great deal of work.

Look and Feel

It really is beautiful. The first time you log in to Destiny, you create your character, choose your class and are thrown right in to the fray. Earth is reminiscent of our world if it’d suffered a catastrophic event. The Moon is somewhere you’d expect a wizard to come from, all kidding aside, cratered and grey but with lots of character.

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Similar things could be said of Venus and Mars, but there’s one thing they all have in common: they’re relatively desolate. No matter where you go, it feels like there’s not a lot there, especially on Mars. There’s so much open space and it needs filling, but filling with content worth doing. The only place exempt from this criticism is Earth. It’s the only environment that actually feels somewhat populated in comparison.

Those criticisms aside though, everything is very pretty, if inconsequential. You have your ship in space, but it’s literally just the single player equivalent of a multiplayer lobby whilst you wait to decide what you’re going to do. The tower is an intriguing element and is the most well crafted establishment in the game in my opinion. There’s a lot going on if, once again, inconsequential. This all comes back to Destiny’s main issue: it’s an empty shell with a gloss finish.

Substance does come in the form of weapon and sound design. Especially in regard to the Exotic class of weapons, identified by a yellow background in their item icon, there’s a great care taken – much akin to the environments of the planets – in the visual aspect, but this time they also have great functions for the most part. If we’re discussing the “feel” of things, it feels fantastic to shoot your guns. They sound amazing, they handle differently (depending on weapon type), and it’s very satisfying whenever you’re in combat with the enemy.

Destiny’s soundtrack is also stellar, from the somber main theme to the various intense battle themes that always makes you feel heroic. It’s these positives amongst a few others that express the potential amidst the otherwise soul-crushing experience.

Story

I know: “But David! Why do you have a story segment for a game that is vastly lacking in that department!?”. I do because it should have had one. It was advertised to have one. It seemed so rich with possibilities, which I guess means I should give a major shout-out to the marketing team. Never has a community felt the force of a rug being pulled out from under them as they did when they got to the end of Destiny’s base game content and thought “….is that it?”.

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Allow me to give you a summary, because trust me; you cannot spoil what is already spoiled. You guardian is apparently resurrected from what looks to be death by Peter Dinklage, as the voice of “Ghost” – a floating messenger of “The Traveller”. You flee Earth in a stolen spaceship and return to “The Tower”; the final bastion of light in the darkness. The Speaker then spouts exposition without actually exposing any details, albeit well voice-acted. Following that you engage in a brief journey of finding out practically nothing, with Peter Dinklage’s voice-acting proving lack-luster at best. Be that a fault of direction or personal disinterest, we’ll never know.

It’s all very well acted for the most part, there’s just not enough of it. They’ve got Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Lance Reddick, Lauren Cohan, Bill Nighy amongst many other simply brilliant talents and not much to work with in terms of content. It begs the question: why pay for talent if that talent will go relatively unused?

Not since Final Fantasy XIII-2 have I felt so short-changed on a story-line, and that game explained everything to be a paradox. Even the paradoxes were paradoxes wrapped in more paradoxes. In Destiny, however, nobody seems to have any time to explain anything. The Fallen are scavengers. Ok, I can work with that, so why am I fighting people that are basically just after scrap? The Hive are the darkness. I understand, and that’s fine, as we are the light. That’s as basic as it gets, but it’s something. Except, what did The Hive do? Colonise the Moon? Their darkness nearly devoured “The Traveller”?

You mean that white ball that seems incredibly intriguing in the beginning…. and proceeded to remain that way because you get told practically NOTHING about it? Then all of a sudden it’s about the Vex. They’re A.I nightmares that, once again, for some unknown reason, are out to fill you full of holes, for seemingly no other reason than for funsies. Then there’s the Cabal. We’re told everything we “need to know” about them as soon as we land on Mars. Apparently they blow up planets just for getting in their way. Wow! That’s impressive. So why is Mars still there? Was the dust to their liking? Did it remind them of summer holidays at the Beach back in Who-knows-where’s-Ville? It’s just all so thoroughly unexplained to the point that there practically is no story-line to follow, and yet we’ve not come to the most infuriating character thus far.

Say it with me ladies and gentlemen…. “The Stranger”. This little lady introduced a glimmer of hope when I’d all but lost it on Venus. She presented a possibility of that deeper narrative I’d hoped for given how great a tale Bungie had weaved in “Halo”. That hope was soon shattered, as she disappeared until the very end of the game, at which point – amidst the calm our hero had brought upon destroying the heart of darkness in the Black Garden for, errr, some reason – she appears before you once more, only to tell you that “All ends are beginnings”. You then fly off in your ship after perhaps 3 hours of gameplay if you try to tear through it. The end.

I think it fair to say I’ve put more effort in to criticising the narrative than Bungie did making it a part of their game. There are rumours abound as to why Destiny’s seemingly promising story ended up being this colossal slap in the face, but as they’ve yet to comment on those rumours, all that we have left is the hand print on our cheeks and wild speculation.

What makes it worse, oddly, is the inclusion of “Grimoire Cards”. These cards are unlocked as you achieve certain milestones within the game. These cards contain the lore of the world. The ever-elusive story that’d warrant our investment is hidden on read-only cards that you have to repeatedly play familiar objectives to unlock for the most part. Now, that’s not so bad, is it? I mean, at least there’s cards to read to get a piece of the story. Unfortunately, they’re not able to be read in-game. A baffling design choice that forces you to go to their website in order to read your unlocked story. For a game starved of depth, it’s sure making an effort to be more shallow than even my own passionate criticism would imply.

The most painful part of all of the gripes I’ve had with the game is that I can see its potential. I want it to be great. To be the sprawling space opera we’ve all hoped for from a developer of Bungie’s calibre, and parts of it are that, but one can’t help but wonder if they’d eased off on the marketing budget somewhere, those grimoire cards could have been actual in-game events, or at least have been audio-tape style items utilising their varied cast.

Gameplay

You begin Destiny with a choice of three races: Human, Exo or Awoken. All have male and female options and all it affects is your character’s voice in the very few cut-scenes there are. Don’t fret too much over it, though the customisation is good enough to allow for some entertainment.

There are then three classes: Titan, Warlock or Hunter. Each class has a variety of abilities that set it apart from the others, but in terms of the primary gameplay – shooting – there’s little to no difference. Be comfortable with your choice, because it doesn’t matter too much. I do advise, however, to make one of each character class using your three character slots. I will add that only allowing three characters to be created is limiting in itself, and is a small number when compared to other similar games.

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The main difference between the classes are their “Super” abilities. They charge over time as well as several other factors and produce either a devastating attack or an impenetrable defence. Each class is also governed by an elemental type. Again, one of three: Solar, Arc and Void. To top that off, each class has an additional sub-class (a total of two classes per character). For example, a Titan has the Arc-charged “Striker”, equipped with arc-infused grenades, a powerful shoulder charge melee attack and the Super “Fist of Havoc” that slams and kills enemies in range.

Its other class is “Defender”; a support class powered by Void, granting void grenades, a melee attack that applies a protective shield over you if it kills an enemy and “Ward of Dawn”, which is commonly know as “bubble”, because it generates a void dome which no bullets can penetrate. There are additional boons you can apply to these abilities as you level up, but I’ll not go in to too much detail. Needless to say, for all of my criticisms, I’ve played all three classes to max level including their sub-classes and they’re all pretty amazing. Defender Titans are my favourite in combination with the head gear “Helm of Saint-14” which blinds any enemies that walk in to your bubble.

As you level up your character and upgrade via the completion of missions or bounties taken from the Bounty Board at the tower, you’ll gain the ability to somewhat manipulate your class’ main statistics: Armour – affecting damage you receive. Agility – affecting movement speed, and Recovery – affecting how quickly your Super, Grenade and Melee abilities recharge. These statistics can be important, but no matter the build, it all comes down to your management of abilities and your shooting skills.

Outside of classes, this game is a loot-driven first-person shooter. You’ll proceed through a variety of missions and obtain items called “engrams”. These items are decoded back at the Tower and you can then equip whatever you obtain. Your load-out consists of a primary weapon, secondary weapon and heavy weapon.

Primary weapons are made up of rapid-fire Auto-Rifles, burst-shot Pulse Rifles, high-impact Hand-cannons and long-range Scout Rifles. Secondaries are Fusion Rifles, Sniper Rifles and Shotguns and Heavies finish it off in style with Machine Guns and Rocket Launchers. There’s a great deal of guns, but only a fair few of them are viable options, particularly when you obtain elemental-infused weapons. Whilst these weapons, such as Fatebringer – obtained in the Hard Mode of the Raid – are phenomenal, they serve to invalidate a great many of the other guns in the game. A system is in place to at least try to prevent this in the form of “Exotics”.

Weapons come in various forms, but also in various colour-coded classes: White (junk), Green (uncommon), Blue (rare), Purple (Legendary) and finally Yellow (exotic). Most of these you can freely equip at your leisure, but the Exotics are special in that you can only physically equip one of those at a time due to how unique their perks are. You can carry 9 of each type of weapon and Exotics can make up however much storage you wish, but if you have an Exotic Primary on, you cannot equip an Exotic Secondary or Heavy unless you replace your Primary for a Legendary or below in quality.

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This prevents an overly powerful load-out and often causes you to think about the most useful weapons at your disposal. Some of the Legendary weapons have outclassed some of the Exotics however, particularly in the Primary weapon department, wherein no Primary Exotic has an elemental damage output, whereas the Hard Raid primaries do. Balancing continues, however, and I expect this’ll be fixed at some point in the future.

All weapons have perks. Some far more useful than others, but perks nonetheless. Exotics have the most unique perks, such as the Icebreaker Sniper Rifle that regenerates ammunition over time, so you’ll never truly run out as you might do with an alternative. Other weapons can have interesting perks from enhanced scopes to increased reload speed. The higher the rarity, the more perks it’ll have that you’ll gain experience and gather materials to upgrade. This stacks on top of all of the weapons’ basic statistics. There’s rate of fire, impact, range, stability and reload speed.

Now on to Armour. Working much in the same way to weapons, you equip to your head, arms/hands, chest and legs/feet. The item classes remain, and the Exotic rule applies, though separate from the gun rule. Basically you can have one piece of Exotic Armour and one piece of Exotic weaponry equipped at one time. Upon reaching Level 20, you must gain armour that has “Light” on it to rise up to the maximum level of 30.

The only way to obtain this gear is by gaining access to the Raid: The Vault of Glass. In order to access THAT, you’ll need to gear up with “Vanguard” and “Crucible” marks. Vanguard marks are obtained in Player-versus-Enemy game modes, whereas the Crucible marks are obtained in the Player-versus-Player competitive modes. Given that you have a cap of 100 per week, you can buy a maximum of two pieces of gear per week if you engage in both PvE and PvP, making the climb relatively slow, but seeing as the game is very light on content, reaching maximum level too quickly would only serve to push people away. An artificial grind is lamented, but made necessary by the larger flaws of the game design.

Speaking of the Vault of Glass, Destiny’s first raid proved a massive hit but with a frustrating drop rate on useful gear. Overcoming the Vault of Glass was an accomplishment that often made it feel unworthy of your time upon your disappointing drops. Some people were lucky, and no doubt ecstatic at the acquisition of their Raid Helmet, but others walked away empty handed having to wait a week until the reset in order to try again as drops only occur once per week per character.

Having played MMO’s, I’m used to this, but usually in other games I’d find other things to do. Short of the Nightfall – a weekly-reset, ultra hard modified Strike (which is like a mini-raid) – and the Weekly visit from Exotic Merchant “Xur”, for which you’ll need Strange Coins – acquired in the Weekly Strike, a less-hard Nightfall essentially – you’re out of luck for gear to obtain and, more importantly, a reason to continue playing. If you’re wondering why I’m mentioning the Vault of Glass in the review of the base game, I’m taking in to account the free content drops between the release through to the first expansion, and VoG qualifies as base-game content. On that note, it may have been “free”, but many would have argued it should have been there at launch.

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In short, the shooting mechanics are top-notch, and the weapons that are good are REALLY good, but many of them aren’t, leaving most with a predictable arsenal, and sometimes an expected one – such as the elitism of Gjallarhorn. No matter how fortunate you are, in the end, there’s a disappointingly finite amount to shoot, and even in the event of finding something to do, the rewards grow thin too quickly. It’s like, yeah, you’ve finally acquired your Vex Mythoclast, but what’s worth using it on?

A large issue with much of the community is the lack of matchmaking for raids. Whilst I have dependable friends with which to experience the end-game content, many do not, prompting the rise of community-run sites such as DestinyLFG. Whilst I admire the efforts of the community, it’s absurd that there’s no matchmaking for raids. Bungie have made their case that the raids are very intense experiences requiring constant communication with the team, and I agree, but allow people to fall on their own swords rather than restricting access all together.

Public events occur in the open spaces in “Patrol” mode, which each of the four planets have, but they grow tiresome swiftly and offer little reward for your efforts. A common thread in Destiny is that there either isn’t much to do, or that what is there to do isn’t worth doing. The positive spin on this is that, because the base mechanics are amazing, the content issue can always be fixed, and that appears to be Bungie’s intent.

Overall

It may seem as if I’ve been overly harsh on Destiny, but if you’d been there for the marketing campaign, you’d know why there are so many of us in the same boat. To deny Destiny’s impressive gameplay at its core would be foolish, but it’s not the bones that are broken in this game, it’s that bones are all there seems to be. Fortunately, content can always be improved, and so I hold out hope for the future, but for now, I can do nothing but sigh and ask myself why I continue to log in.

Game: Destiny
Review Format: Playstation 4

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