After our fairly exhaustive tour of Destiny’s universe, we’re ready to give you the full debrief.
First and foremost, much to the chagrin of console gamers with sketchy internet connections, Destiny requires a constant umbilical to the internet, whether you’re grinding through the story, deathmatching at the crucible or competing for the queen’s favor in outlying space. In theory, this isn’t such a terrible idea—after all, the main draw of the game is that it’s essentially a MMO with guns.
There were several instances where our fireteam was mid-Strike, or just about to layeth the smacketh down on a daily target, and the connection to Destiny’s servers hiccupped, and dumped us all back out to the loading screen. It’s frustrating. And doubly so when you’ve invested an hour or more into a single raid–it can make you want to smash your controller in frustration.
And speaking of frustration, multiplayer objective matches can be an exercise in pain, as “matchmaking” is frequently mismatched. There have been several times when I was hopelessly outmatched against players with firepower that was felt like the equivalent of bringing nerf guns to…well…a real gunfight. That being said, we’ve played through matches with 25+ level weaponry, as well as with level 2 “gimme” guns, and while it isn’t balanced as much as we’d like, it’s still perfectly serviceable.
Right from the start, you are tasked with picking and customizing one of three RPG-type classes: Titan, Hunter and Warlock. Titans are the “tanks” of the game, capable of delivering punishing melee attacks while soaking up bullets like a roll of Bounty, and the Titan’s subclass lets you either shoulder tackle enemies OR create a massive, impervious bubble to aid your teammates.
Hunters are the “rogue” class, relying on speed and deception to make up for their slightly weaker frames. Hunter is by far the fan-favorite class, as they have some of the coolest abilities, from melee-teleporting to the often one-shot-kill Golden Gun, to the samurai-ballerina Bladedancer subclass. Plus, the Hunter has the most satisfying melee attack–a solid jab to the face with a dagger.
The Warlock class is deceiving, since there aren’t really any “Mage” abilities, aside from the massive explosion triggered by the Voidwalker special–an area of effect “nuke” that is punishing to enemies in short hallways or trapped in corners.
In addition to the three classes, you have three races to choose from: the humans, the blue-skinned, elvish Awoken and the android Exo. You can further customize each with face/hair combinations, “head features” for the Exos, and suite of face paint “markings” which are unique to each race.
Much like Call of Duty and other FPS titles, Destiny doesn’t force you to play through the story in order to enjoy the multiplayer aspect. Right out of the gate, you can use your introductory weapons to start killing fools. Of course, you’ll essentially be jumping headfirst into a battle where you’re missing core mechanics, such as special moves, that others not only have…but have perfected. It’s odd that multiplayer doesn’t tier your opponents based on their level–after all, it’s hardly any fun playing a match where people are flinging around their special abilities, while you’re fruitlessly single-jumping on to crates, trying to be stealthy. No, to truly enjoy Destiny, you’ll need to play through the story. Or, spend lots of time level grinding.
Oh yeah, Destiny and my first makeout session from 6th grade have a lot in common: both featured an overabundance of grinding, with mostly disappointing results.
Sure, if you stick it out for the long-haul, you’ll be able to tailor your player’s style to match your own (more or less), and you’ll figure out which gear you want to match with which character, then supplement it with complementary abilities. Once you’ve crested the level 20 hill, you should have most of your abilities unlocked…and the quickest way to reach Level 20 is–you guessed it–playing through the story!
Destiny’s narrative, while sweeping and far-reaching, can come across as flat simply due to the lengths to which it spreads itself. In fact, it wasn’t until my second playthrough that I honestly got a strong semblance of what they were trying to get across. Honestly, the first time you play, you’ll be continually scratching your head. wondering if you missed something.
In a nutshell, during what we can only assume was the primary mission to Mars, humanity encountered the Traveler, a massive, Death Star-sized (or bigger, depending on how you see it) entity that (oddly) decided to grace us with the benefits of interstellar travel. And with that, humanity did what it does best—it expanded and colonized, terraforming planets into “gorgeous testaments to human architecture.” Of course, like Destiny, humanity spread itself entirely too thin, and most of these structures were either engulfed by the “darkness”…or just by the environments they were jammed into.
Oh yeah! The Darkness! So, the Darkness is this all-encompassing presence that has been hunting the Traveller for hundreds (or thousands) of years. By the time you take control of your character, the Traveller hangs in the sky, inactive and “all but dead”. And it’s up to you, as a Guardian, to beat back the Darkness and make the colonized worlds safe again.
From the beginning, there’s definitely a feel of being dropped into an already established narrative…and nobody seems particularly interested in explaining it to you. When you’re resurrected by your Ghost, you get a brief fill-in, where a bored Peter Dinklage (more on that later) essentially tells you that things have changed…and then you’re hurried toward your first objective: finding a rifle. Once you play around with the rifle (and get a crash course in the shield/cover system), your Ghost tells you that you need to find a way off the planet, after all, it’s swarming with Fallen (the Totally-Not-Covenant alien enemies).
But wait…who are the Fallen? Why are they swarming about in the former Russian Cosmodrome? Apparently, those details aren’t as important as finding a ship, which is your next objective. Finally, from there, you’re spirited away to the last “safe” location in the universe, known as The Tower, where all of the other Guardians congregate to pick up orders, turn in bounties, buy new weapons, etc.
At this point, you’re almost expecting the story to explode; after all, that’s how the standard game narrative tends to start with calibration, then progress to training, then to brief combat, then to an expositional cutscene, and then the game begins in earnest…right?
Granted, there are cutscenes, but they aren’t terribly expositional. Plus, where certain talent shines (most notably, Nathan Fillion, Bill Nighy, Ginna Torre and Peter Stormore), your constant companion/Ghost, voiced by the incomparable Peter Dinklage, is reduced to annoyingly disinterested plot device, second only to Zelda’s Navi.
I dunno. I feel like the Ghost could have been a continual (albeit, probably eventually annoying) verbal historical review as you traverse the planets…and instead, he’s reduced to quips and occasional insights. Its like they put all the worst aspects of Marvin the dour robot from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe, into the dialogue for Ghost.
But anyway, back to the game at large. Goofy story aside, exploring the planets can be as fun as destroying the Covenan…er…Fallen enemies. That being said, much of your discoveries will end in areas that don’t offer anything other than pretty vistas. During the first major mission, you stumble across a “gold” chest, which is randomly filled with items, and can be something as awesome as a Blue gun/armor piece…or something as pedestrian as “spinmetal”–plant components that grow wild throughout the environments. See, once you open the first chest, the logical assumption is that these chests are littered throughout the worlds of Destiny, right? Well, technically they are, but they’re in such short supply, that there are short FAQs devoted to pinpointing them.
Oh, and spoiler alert–there are only 20. Oh sure, there are green chests littered throughout Destiny, but only 20 gold ones…and each chest might have something awesome in it…or it could just be a handful of materials. Problem is, once you “pop” the chest, it’s gone for good. Which made it all the more obnoxious when I had THREE GOLD CHESTS IN A ROW GIVE ME HADRONIC ESSENCE. Meanwhile, my buddy was getting Blue guns (the second-highest rarity next to Purple) and armor FROM THE VERY SAME CHESTS.
Gear griping is probably the #1 most complained about topic in Destiny. Gear is dispensed as “engrams” in the game–dodecahedrons of varying colors, which give you gear. Generic weapons/armor are white, uncommons are green, rares are blue, and super-fancy engrams are purple. If you can’t decode ‘em in the field (waah waaaaaah), you’ll have to bring them to Master Rahool in the Tower, and have them decoded. The biggest annoyance was finding a purple engram, and excitedly running it back to the tower, only to have it decode as a blue item. Again, waaah waaaaaaaaaaah.
Plus, unlike other games that have treasures tucked away in unassuming caves and in out-of-the-way rooms, this isn’t the case with Destiny. Sure, the golden chests (and some of the green chests) are hidden in odd places, but there are entire cave systems, extra rooms and hidden entrances that will get you…nothing. Well, I guess technically you get the satisfaction of knowing what’s in that cave high up on the mountain, or what’s down around that corner. And even though I KNOW that there’s nothing high up on that outcropping, I STILL LOOK!
The worlds in Destiny are massive; so massive, in fact, that a vehicle is almost a necessary addition to navigate the worlds in a timely fashion. That being said, even though they’re filled with caves, crashed ships and a whole slew of environmental nooks and crannies, aside from errant gold chest and the curious spawning (and re-spawning, and re-spawning, and re-spawning) of enemies, the brilliantly-realized world seems empty. Not empty in that “abandoned” way, but more in that “shouldn’t there be something here?” way…like a massive, couch-sized gap in your living room. To that end, much of Destiny seems like a skeleton crew that’s destined (pun intended) to be filled in.
Will these areas be fleshed out in the two massive DLC sets that are scheduled? There are definitely irons in the fire regarding the mythos of Destiny. Hell, Bungie spun off comics, full novels, animated miniseries and live-action (ugh) series’ designed after the Halo franchise…and that story was pretty damn complete from the get-go. To that end, Destiny is a veritable trove of untapped potential for origin tales and spin-offs…but why didn’t they add just a little bit more to the game’s main story?
The multiplayer is by far Destiny’s strongest suit, with the stock standard deathmatch (Rumble), team deathmatch (Skirmish) and king of the hill (Control) modes for FPS junkies. There are also assortments of modified lists and bonus campaigns that are activated during a set timeframe. For example, one weekend had the Dark Orbit challenge, where your teams were attempting to locate and “seize” artifact locations, for bonus gear, crucible marks and massive reputation hikes. So be sure to pay attention when you’re in the “hub” sequence, to see what the daily event is.
There is also The Iron Banner, which will throw you into the standard Crucible game modes…but with all of your damage boosts enabled–or not, in the event of lesser-level characters. The prizes for these competitions tend to be massive…so be sure to keep your eyes open!
Even with all of this written, I still feel like I’m barely scratching the surface. On the whole, I can’t necessarily say that it’s particularly groundbreaking or overly fun; at times, it’s one of the most frustrating endeavors I’ve ever experienced, like that time I had my two fireteam members drop out of a strike, and had to do the whole thing alone. Or that time I racked up only two kills during the whole Crucible match, because my shotgun wasn’t firing quick enough. Or how every seemingly story mission is comprised of going to a preset location, killing a certain boss or protecting an area against waves of enemies.
And yet, despite the gripes I have with it, I keep coming back.
Every dropped connection. Every purple-to-blue Engram. Every cheap raid boss attack. Every accidental drop into the abyss in a “no respawn” area. I’m like Charlie Brown going to kick the football.
Because, at the end of the day, it’s good. Plus, if you can team up with two other buddies, the game takes on a whole new identity. Sure it can be repetitive as hell, but teaming up with two other people and doing raids is a blast. Even the mundane tasks are a little more fun when you have an actual friend to shoulder the burden with.
Can I recommend it? Absolutely. The arena modes are fun, the special attacks can be glorious, and the outright havoc of a firefight in cramped quarters, with 5 or more people is ridiculously entertaining. And at the end of the day, that’s all I want: to be entertained. Between the dancing and shooting, Destiny somehow manages not to take itself too seriously, despite it’s heavy-handed “narrative”. I wish there was more to it, but I’m assuming those needs will be addressed when the first mega-DLC set drops.
Til then, you can find me in the Crucible, shooting people in the face with a shotgun…if I can ever get a shot off!