Recently I’ve seen a lot of reviews on Destiny, and I find myself wondering how many of these reviews are stuck repeating the same fundamental error of trying to define a given game as a particular genre which it isn’t, then being frustrated that it doesn’t live up to the expectations placed upon it.
Time and again, every review I see of Destiny makes the same mistake – they try to pigeon hole Destiny into one, singular genre, then review it as such, ignoring all the other features it possesses. For example, if a reviewer tries to call it a First Person Shooter, that same reviewer will then complain of the grinding elements and the overly story driven narrative. If said reviewer instead opts to call it a MMO, the complaints shift to the lack of story and how it feels short. Too much story for a FPS, too little for an MMO; this is what happens when you create a multi-genre or hybrid game – it brings elements of all genres it encompasses together without overly stressing any one aspect to the neglect of others.
Therein lies the problem – Destiny is exactly that, a multi-genre game that can’t realistically be described as any one, singular genre. With elements of a MMOFPS like PlanetSide 2, yet also possessing attributes of a more traditional MMORPG like World of Warcraft, Destiny is a beast onto itself and must be treated as such to truly understand the value it holds.
Now, since World of Warcraft and Destiny are both under the Activision banner, this makes it a bit easier to compare the two, but instead of focusing on what Destiny would be like if it were just another WoW clone, I’m going to focus on what it actually is, since it seems rather silly to review a game that doesn’t exist instead of the one you actually have.
The character design interface is one of the areas that clearly shows that Bungie intended this game to be social and have many RPG elements.
You have the choice of three races:
- Human – your standard go-to placeholder default in virtually all games with multiple races,
- Exo – a sort of sentient robotic life form, and
- Awoken – best described as elves in space.
You can choose to be male or female for each race and customize their appearance by way of such options as facial shape, eye colour, hair style/colour, face painting and the like. With so many options for customization available, you have all the tools you need to make a unique look for your character.
Strangely enough, however, the only place you ever see the head is in The Tower – which serves kind of a similar function to the ‘town square’ one would find in other games – where players can buy and sell stuff, as well as pick up bounties, much like quests in other games.
Honestly, I found this to be rather disappointing as you can spend a considerable amount of time creating your character, tweaking them to be just perfect, and then end up never seeing them except when you are in the city. I can only hope we get to see our own character’s face more often later on.
The basic interactions for the characters are exactly that: basic, as in limited to pointing, dancing and waving. Taking into consideration, however, that the control scheme is limited to a total of 12 or so buttons on the average controller, most of which are taken up by weapons and movement, and one finds that it’s actually rather impressive that Bungie added in even that much.
- Character Race Selection Screen - Exo
- Character Race Selection Screen - Awoken
- Character Marking Selection Screen - Human
- Character Face Selection Screen - Human
- Chracter Hair Selection Screen - Human
Similar to how most RPGs handle gameplay, Destiny is divided into bite sized missions, and each mission has it’s own goals, save points and challenges. Additionally, each mission has a level for it’s difficulty, giving the player a rough guideline of what they can probably handle taking on, though it’s quite possible to finish a mission you are a bit underleveled for if you are careful.
Like Bungie’s previous game, Halo, you have a shield plus your own physical health, although they aren’t split up visibly. Unlike Halo, however, hiding is more than just a viable tactic: sure, it’ll save your life against tougher opponents, but once you get into the Heroic or Epic level of the regular missions, where the enemies are even more powerful, it becomes practically a necessity for survival.
In fact, the AI of the game’s enemies is actually quite impressive, and they will also hide, not to mention using cover, popping out to take shots, and hiding again. When the AI sees you coming at one of them, they will not only use the cover available, but will actually try to flank your position. There are some enemy types which will snipe at you and others which try and get up close and beat you to a pulp, keeping things interesting with a nice mix, which… can become a little frustrating at times when facing both at the same time, further reason why hiding can be such a handy tactic to employ liberally. On the plus side, each enemy type has it’s own AI personality, which notably adds to a more organic feel overall.
Outside of the actual gameplay itself, however, there are issues with network latency and lost connections. While this is probably due to the huge number of people playing it, it’s still a major problem. Part of the reason of the open alpha and beta test was for Bungie to get an idea of how much stress the servers would be getting – either they completely ignored the results, or the data was so wildly off, they were unable to cope, and were equally unable to upgrade or add onto their server network. While Bungie has been fixing the network issues, and recently made huge strides to correcting many of them, when they do occur, they do detract considerably from the experience of the game.
On the upside, however, Destiny is vastly more stable than many other games that released on the PS4 Launch day. Oh yes, I’m looking at you, Battlefield 4.
Another issue that many players will find frustrating is that you can’t skip past most cutscenes, even if you have seen them multiple times. This becomes tedious if you choose to make more than one character, or go through certain missions including cutscenes more than once, which can turn otherwise fun missions into a tedious chore all too quickly.
Ah, the graphics… this is where Destiny truly excels beyond anything else I have seen recently, truly on par with the best of the new generation of games like InFamous: Second Son. Destiny’s water effects are quite stunning, and looking over the last city, especially the giant and mysterious Traveller floating above it, you get a sense that Bungie was going for something grandiose.
There is so much attention to detail that the player’s even provided with a soccer ball you can kick around – the little things stand out in testament to the quality of Destiny as a whole to the point that it’s almost difficult to not become completely immersed in the world. The planets each have their own unique feel to them, with each even having a different day and night cycle. This is what happens when artists do their job right in a game – it becomes hard to even notice their work because you forget you’re even playing a game at all.
As usual, Bungie delivers top notch work here, getting their sound guys in on the action to make the wonderful music fans have come to expect from a Bungie game. Recently, the soundtrack came out and, personally, I believe that should have been free to anyone who bought the Limited or Ghost edition of the game. Even so, for those who like the music of past Bungie titles, this soundtrack does indeed deliver, even if you don’t have the game. They use the right kind of music at the right times, and it only adds to the feel of certain missions. I have yet to find a place where the music is just neutral or takes away from the experience.
The story is where you can see the corporate overlords of Activision taking over – this is where Destiny begins to falter. There is a story, though it’s short and riddled with many holes. Destiny also commits one of the largest sins in a modern-day game: it shatters any pretense of immersion by having most of the lore available on the website rather than in the game. Any time a player has to leave the game to enjoy said game, it removes any hint of immersion that had been built up to that point, and as such, this should be changed immediately, as it should never have been added in the first place.
There are a lot of better ways to handle the storyline – for example, I have seen a system in MANY games where you find recordings, like in Bioshock or Infamous, and get background exposition in the form of a voice over, something you can listen to in the game as you continue to play. Perhaps the player can discover a piece of art or a digital image of something. Even such simple additions as those just mentioned would keep the player engaged and actually in the game, instead of being forced to hop into a browser to see it.
Other areas where the story fails include the mysterious exo that you see throughout the game and plays a major role at the end of the campaign. This exo character could be explained, but like the Awoken queen, you can tell that this is something being saved for DLC most likely, which is unfortunate as it’s not the good kind of hook which leaves the player wondering what will happen next, it’s just blatantly lacking. This style of ‘Save basic, core information for the DLC’ is pretty much par for an Activision title, so likely wasn’t the fault of Bungie directly. We can only hope that Bungie can strong-arm Activision into giving the players the basic content they paid for, rather than restricting key information and features that should be in the base game so the same features can be released as DLC at a later date.
Parts of the story seem rushed, things are glossed over which shouldn’t be, and to be honest, I think all of us who are lore nuts would like to know what history we DO know. Yes, we know that humanity was more powerful at one point, but when did the Exo and the Awoken show up? What role did they play in the downfall of humanity, if any? If you’re going to design a world that has these extra factions, it would kind of make sense to say where they came from. There are probably tons of things we should learn in the lore, but were chosen not to be included in the game, and that is disappointing to anyone invested in the lore behind what they play.
Having been a fan of Bungie, mostly because of their story writing, since before they were bought by Microsoft, I was deeply disappointed as Destiny simply doesn’t live up to the company’s standards. It might be alright for a different company, but it just doesn’t feel like a Bungie game. If anything, Destiny’s story feels a lot like Oni did to me: great potential, but you can almost literally see where Bungie was bought out in the development cycle, as the rest of the story was patch worked together after that point. Destiny has a similar feel, but it’s almost like it was gutted in various places, having content that was present removed, rather than failing to add it in the first place.
Even with my issues with what the story should have been, what is presented, despite the holes, is still fairly substantial. It really is still a good story, even if it doesn’t live up to what it hints at, and that alone says something for Bungie’s ability to cobble together even a broken story and still make it presentable.
Level & Mission Design
If the story is where Bungie slipped up a little, then this is where Bungie fell flat. I know they have better ideas for missions, as they have used them before. In Marathon, their FPS and spiritual predecessor to Halo, there were missions where you protected humans, repaired broken machinery by finding parts, and even had to determine fake humans from real ones, all while protecting the real ones. Even World of Warcraft, with it’s minimalistic quest design has one more mission type that Destiny didn’t: escorts. Most of us hate escort missions, yet when they’re lacking, you realize how much you miss having to guard some random scientist while they do their job, or having to help them escape with vital information. Or even something where you are doing something physical, like say, lifting a beam up so you can get under, and if you are interrupted, you lose progress, and have to start over. It would have been nice had Bungie taken some cues from missions from other games, even if those other games were their own, older titles, as even a slightly wider variety would have been a welcome change of pace.
While the Ghost was a great idea, and the voice actor chosen was perfect, he seems to be nothing more than a narrator and door opener. There are missions where you are supposed to “protect” him, but that just means kill everything before it kills you. What if the enemies attacked him, and if you don’t stop them, you fail? Yes, this does increase the difficulty, as “run and hide” may not be the option you can choose, but it makes for some variety. Or even take the lifting the beam design so that the ghost can get under it and retrieve some data, and if you don’t get him out, and you die, you respawn further back in the level, making you have to time things better. He can even be the one who relays some of the lore information you retrieve to you, even if it isn’t in Peter Dinklage’s voice itself.
Regardless, it would have been nice to have seen the Ghost add a bit more to the gameplay than he did.
Multiplayer is flat out one of the areas where Bungie clearly has their shit together and knows how to do it right. There are still balance issues on this, as the different classes each have their own moves and styles which each seem to have their own overpowered bits, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s well done. The fact that Bungie has already heard and is actively listening to the player base, working on changes to make things better, shows that they are on the right path, and will keep things going in the right direction. Bungie has been responsive, and so far the changes discussed all make sense and seem to be fair.
The maps within the multiplayer are quite interesting, having some very unique layouts and features that make them a joy to play. Getting a hint of places we haven’t visited with the one map on Mercury is also a wonderful treat. Hopefully it will lead into more on that planet later, even if such will likely be explored through DLC.
The other aspect of the multiplayer, the co-operative modes where you see people in the random world, and can join others playing on world events, are quite well done overall. There are a few different types of events I have seen, and, while some are tougher than others, with a good group they are all fun.
Lastly are the strikes, which are similar to instances in World of Warcraft, are where you get three people together and take on a short mission with big bosses and big loot.
At least… that’s the theory.
The strikes are usually fun, but a few are very frustrating, mostly because of bad design on the boss battles. Some of them you are almost always hiding, where the bosses become enormously overpowered, even with more powerful characters leading to a separation of challenge versus reward.
Leveling and Beyond
Leveling can be, of course, a tedious thing. As anyone who plays any kind of RPG can tell you, just getting your character up in levels can be one of the most boring aspects of the game if the scaling is handled poorly. However, Destiny makes it less boring by not having everything tied to levels. Yes, there are some skills which require certain levels to earn, but the majority are earned through experience, and that is still gained even at maximum level.
Additional to skills, there are also specializations within the game. Each class has two specializations, each with it’s own talent tree, which makes for quite a bit of customization. You can play your character largely how you want to, and make the abilities of each of them unique. This means that you can be surprised in any number of ways in PvP, ending up with two completely different character play styles from two people of the exact same class. The best part of this customization is that you can change your talent tree on the fly, even while you are dead, so while you are waiting to respawn, you can tweak your character and change how you play them to fit the situation at hand, changing dynamics mid-battle. I found this to be something that really makes playing a lot of fun, and not only that, but it appears that Bungie is preparing to introduce at least a third specialization, as there is a spot for another on the character screen.
There’s an inherent problem, as I see it, with leveling in Destiny. There are only 20 levels. Yes, you gain ‘light levels’ after that by acquiring gear with ‘light’ on the gear and then ranking it up, but in the end, this limits the game somewhat. I am sure that later on down the road, they can expand the ‘light levels’ and allow players to progress further, but this setup currently puts players in a bind.
They have a few options to help mitigate the progression problem, at least:
- They can either increase the level cap, which means that the gear will have to scale as well, and give greater light levels, but force people to work for better gear. This is the least desirable scenario.
- They can keep the current gear as is, add in new levels and add ways to ‘enchant’ gear to make it better. This would be a much easier scenario, and allow for more customization of gear.
- They can just add new light levels, which will force gear farming again, unless they use the ‘enchant’ scenario, which would also work, or…
- They can ignore levels completely, and just keep the game at max level 30. This is very unlikely, especially if they have a long term plan. There are probably other ideas I haven’t considered, but in the end, they will have to seriously consider power creep, something that plagues MMOs especially with each new expansion.
Loot, Grinding, & Frustrations
Like many people, I find the loot system in Destiny very reminiscent of World of Warcraft. There are, however, some lessons that Bungie apparently never learned from Blizzard. For example, missions should reward appropriate level loot, and it should be something useful – even something as simple as a piece of armour or a weapon type that you haven’t been awarded recently, or maybe some materials for upgrading – would be nice.
Completing a difficult mission should always give a reward, and it should never be something you just throw away unless you were lucky and better gear dropped somewhere else, such as on a strike. One of the early problems people had with the Cryptarch – a vendor in the tower which turns your ‘unidentified items’, called engrams, into gear – was that that players were receiving lower rank gear from high level engrams, which has been fixed as of the beginning of October, so this shows Bungie is listening.
Sadly, Bungie still hasn’t figured out that long days of grinding with little to no reward really isn’t fun for most people. As many have figured out, the infamous “loot caves” that Bungie tried to destroy are more pleasant farming than doing strikes over and over. Though Bungie’s tweaking this, as it was part of the patch which fixed the Cryptarch, it still needs work.
Also, the horrible random nature of things is a huge frustration for some. Skilled players should get better rewards on average than unskilled players, such as better gear and perhaps the random chance to get something else. At the very least, give them bonus reputation as a reward.
Sadly, this is another system which falls flat: the reputation system. For those familiar with World of Warcraft, you will recognize it all too well. The horribly long grind for almost no real gain until higher levels. Sure, there are only three, but unless you play the game all day, and are farming nothing but reputation, getting over 1000 reputation in a day is pushing it, which isn’t much. Getting to level 2, when you can buy armour, and level 3, when you can buy weapons and ships, can take weeks of constant grinding.
To make matters worse, there are currently 4 reputations to grind for, or 5 if you include the Queen’s Favour which was limited time, and only gained through specific bounties, or the Iron Banner, another limited time event which is only earned through PvP. Of the 4 main reputations, three of them use the same PvP currency to buy the items, so if you want them, you will be doing a lot of multiplayer to get those currency marks.
There’s a difference between replay value and a mindless, boring time sink, and sadly this is a difference Bungie doesn’t seem to understand.
Though Destiny’s a little rough in some areas, Raids are where you can see Bungie really stepping up their game. The raids are VERY reminiscent of what you would find in a true MMO like World of Warcraft, with boss battles which are challenging and take quite a bit of coordination. These aren’t like strikes, and there is good reason that you can’t just go in a pickup group: you flat you need to be able to communicate and work efficiently with your group. If you can work together well, you may as well just give up and never raid in Destiny.
Raiding in Destiny is not easy… but it is satisfying. Very much so, at that.
I was pulled into a raid to cover for someone who left by one of my guild mates, and after an hour, we got the first real boss down. On top of that, I was brought in on the third phase of the fight, as each phase is saved as progress in the raid. There was a lot going on and both strong situational awareness and being able to respond quickly were a necessity. It took me back to my old days if raiding in Ahn Quiraj or Kharazan – if you’re expecting to walk in, kill the boss in under an hour, and go, again, raiding is NOT for you.
You will die.
Not because you are bad, and not because the other players are bad most of the time. Mostly, well… sometimes things just… ‘happen’. An enemy you have to kill spawns on the opposite side of the map. A piece of terrain gets in the way and stops your shot. A key player gets hit by a freak group of enemies which overwhelm them. Almost anything is possible.
Yes, you will make mistakes, and so will others, so people who want instant gratification, or can’t be patient and forgiving, or who have an overinflated sense of entitlement, just don’t even start raiding in Destiny. It’s not for you. It’s not for casual players. It was designed to appeal primarily to the dedicated or hardcore player’s mentality, and it does so with flying colours. So if you’re the average casual player, please, save yourself the frustration, and save those of us who aren’t casual players the headache of dealing with your frustration. We will all be happier for it.
It’s quite obvious that Bungie intends for Destiny to be a long term game. It seems to be envisioned as the MMO of the FPS genre. The The World of Halocraft as it were. You can see that they have plans, and they are going somewhere with it. You can tell Bungie desperately wants to show us so much more, but is being held back. And as such, it’s very hard to judge this game on what we haven’t seen yet.
Yes, there are some problems, some of them huge. Some of these problems would be crippling if it weren’t for other areas of the game making up for, and exceeding expectations. As an overall presentation, however, Destiny is still a solid game, even the way it is now, and it promises to refine those rough edges in the months to come.
I honestly believe Bungie has come up with something great. The true potential of Destiny’s not fully visible to us yet, but it is out there. We have seen glimpses of it. We have seen how it is forming, and we are here at the beginning. The gameplay is solid, the framework is there for a great game, and all the pieces are set in place.
Now all we need is everything to start being put into place.
However, it is quite unforgivable that those of us who are here at the beginning are not being rewarded. We all know that down the line the game will be cheaper, and heck, anyone who buys a used copy now will end up better off than those who were there and paid full price day one. I know some people will hate the idea, but having SOME DLC that is free for those who ones who paid full price, and make those who didn’t pay full price have to pay extra would be a good gesture, similar to how many early-access releases are handled. It will allow Bungie to reward those of us who have faith in them, and still make some revenue off those who aren’t really supporting the developers, but who are supporting the retailers who encourage this kind of design behaviour.
Destiny, overall, is a great base. It is solid, it holds up under the weight of the mistakes that were made, and still is able to shine. Sure, Destiny hasn’t reached its full potential yet, but I have faith that it will in due time, given Bungie’s efforts so far with patching. For that reason, I am willing to give it an 85% mark. The mistakes, while some of them were bad, were not enough to make the game unplayable, and Bungie’s willingness to change aspects of the game which are unpopular show that they are willing to do better.
Bungie seems to have one thing right: they either fail to deliver on something, or they succeed marvelously – there is no mediocre. There were parts of Destiny which failed completely, but they were not in areas that were game breaking, so on a whole, the game still stands on it’s merits. It could be so much more, but even though it’s not, yet, what it is at this moment is amazing, so just sit back, and enjoy the game for what it is in a nice comfortable chair.