Destiny Review: A Solid Foundation

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Categories:  Consumerism, Gaming
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I knew what I was in for when I purchased my copy of Destiny. I didn’t pre-order it because of the massive amounts of hype that built up around it. I have been ‘burned’ out of $60 before by these hype trains and I didn’t want to invest in another Titanfall or Watch_Dogs that my friends were going to love but get tired of after 2 weeks.

So two weeks after Destiny released, after reading all the reviews and seeing my friends on social media constantly talking about it, I finally took the plunge.

What is Destiny?

I knew what to expect. This is the first episode in a series. This is the framework for a game that will grow over the long-term. This is a ‘vanilla MMO’ that hopes to scale up into huge things. The level cap will feel low. The late game content will feel sparse at first. The PvP will probably be imbalanced. It will go through growing pains.

So with my usual cautious optimism, I embarked upon this first chapter.

Setting the Stage

Within the first moments of the game, you’re introduced to its pace. The music builds from quiet beginnings. The title screen and general UI are highly simplistic but interesting enough to be noticed. Treating a console UI like a touchscreen display is strange at first, but holding down the buttons for a couple of seconds feels much more elegant than the usual “Are you sure you want to load this file?” dialog box.

Part of Destiny's opening sequence.
Part of Destiny’s opening sequence.

While you’re using this strange UI to create your first character, you’ll stumble a bit. Hovering your cursor over the different UI elements to set the right facial features and hair colors will be a little awkward. I picked it up quickly though, and it’s a precision that lends itself well to the rest of the game. A console-based first person shooter generally rewards dexterity with the thumbsticks after all.

The entire game seems to flow at a very deliberate pace. Missions have moments of simmering tension with great crescendos of massive chaotic battles. The contrasting feeling of orbiting in deep space versus stopping by the Tower or dropping into a battlefield is palpable without being overwhelming. There are no scripted ‘jump scares’ that only serve to annoy as they repeat. Instead, the jump scares you find are emergent from staring down your scope for too long or encountering an enemy that specializes in sneaking up on you.

The music of Destiny accompanies all of these moments as if it were reacting to what was happening on-screen. Battle music is powerfully rhythmic to get you pumped up, but it transitions elegantly to an appropriate ambience and mood once the fight is over. The symphony of visuals, sounds, tactile sensations, and player experiences is so well strung together that it feels like you’re the hero in a sci-fi movie.

A Malleable Experience

Sometimes I play video games to unwind after a long day. Sometimes I play to be competitive. Sometimes I play to be social. Usually it’s some combination of all three. Destiny seems to cater to all these different moods for me.

A sample of the map of planets and other places you'll visit.
A sample of the map of planets and other places you’ll visit.

The calming music of the Orbit and menu screens are fantastic for chilling out after a rough work day. Patrol missions are pretty laid-back, so I’ll often grab those first. I deploy out to Mars and cruise around the open world doing missions and public events as they appear.

One of my friends is online! Depending on what they’re up to, perhaps I’ll join their Fireteam. I can drop into the Crucible with Yang and get my competitive juices flowing while earning loot and currency with my selected faction. Or I can join Craig and Phil in the weekly Heroic where we will undoubtedly die dozens of times and rely on Phil’s amazing skills as a medic to revive us to victory.

The reason I’ve logged so many hours on Destiny already is because I’m not switching to other games when the mood strikes like I normally would. I’m sure some of this enjoyment originates from the game being new and novel to me, but I’m hoping the new content they push out will continue to captivate me.

A Minimal Plot

Destiny stays on theme with the minimal UI and subtle ambient sound design with a very thin plot. Your character awakes from death and immediately follows around a small floating machine called a Ghost without question. Your enemies are vaguely characterized as ‘darkness’ while your allies are ‘light’. It reminds me of the classic “attack the darkness” meme:

The plot is generic to the point that it must be on purpose. Is it a statement about how little the plot actually matters in games today? Is it supposed to seem flimsy now so that something in the future will twist everything on its head somehow? Judging by how extremely well thought-out the rest of the game is, I’m hesitant to label the story as a glaring weak point yet. Only time will tell.

The Destiny Endgame

Some people have complained about the endgame. It’s a bit “farmy” to be certain. At a base level, you complete daily and weekly tasks to build up your arsenal of weaponry and equipment, just like any modern MMO. I’m not sure what else someone would want out of an ‘endgame’ than this sort of progression.

Destiny Ghost Angel Gauntlets
This was my first Legendary piece of equipment.

The difference I find between Destiny and the typical MMO is that the bounties I’m completing and the ‘farming’ I’m doing is mostly fun. I’m not hitting the same DPS rotation repeatedly on the same monster. It’s not just character progression. Destiny is playing a well-built first-person shooter the same way I normally would — matchmaking PvP and trying to beat the story missions on harder difficulties — except with character progression added on top of it.

It comes down to what you expect Destiny to be. If you expect it to be an amazing MMO except with shooter combat, you might think the endgame is ‘meh’. If you expect Destiny to be a great First-Person Shooter that you can play online with friends (and have some cool role-playing elements), the endgame is actually far better than what most shooting games offer.

Nit-Picking

The Tower is an annoyance for the most part. Your civilization has grown to the point that we can teleport through space and ride hovering vehicles around Venus, but we still have to pick up our mail, bounties, etc. back at our home town? I wish we could perform many of these operations while in orbit, but I suspect Bungie has bigger plans for the Tower than what’s currently there. At least I hope so.

I embrace a lot of the Online Game tropes Destiny employs, but it may turn off anyone that can’t enjoy a game that isn’t innovative in every possible way. The cynical game connoisseurs among us will likely agree with Yahtzee from Zero Punctuation:

Though I never experienced the connectivity issues he talked about, he makes a few valid points. I watched this video before I ever played the game, but I can’t match his cynicism for once. What makes me feel so much differently?

Game feel. The ‘umami‘ of interactive digital experiences. I think it’s all about the feeling of a responsive control scheme. A solid shooting game foundation. Minimal intuitive UI. Character customization that is deep and interesting without being difficult to understand. The ability to invite my friends or drop into their games on a whim is also really compelling for me. The entire game feels like a social, competitive, cooperative experience that doesn’t lose much when I play solo.

The Verdict : Destiny is a Fantastic Beginning

Destiny is a masterfully polished game experience that uses extremely minimal first person shooter and role-playing game elements. Built for consoles, the controllers and UI feel exactly the way Bungie probably wanted it to.

If the following scenarios sound cool to you:

  • You’re storming a giant nest of alien invaders with a buddy when another of your friends comes online and jumps straight into your mission seamlessly. The three of you push through the rest of the missions, down the final boss and collect bonus loot. Then you decide on the next mission to take on together.
  • You’re customizing your load out for a particular style of PvP match, and fine-tuning your shotgun to do maximum burst damage while sacrificing stability. These changes aren’t based on some online guide on ‘the best build’ but instead on your preferred play style that you continuously iterate on as your skills grow.
  • You’re flying around alien planets, doing patrol missions when suddenly the sky turns dark and a massive alien ship warps into view. It starts unloading dozens of enemies right on top of you. Suddenly, you see a handful of other players come to your aid as you wipe out the invaders together and collect Legendary loot as a reward.

… then you should definitely give Destiny a try.

And if you do, add me on PSN: Hand_Banana51

I feel like Bungie has built an incredibly strong foundation for this game, and I can’t wait to see where they take it in the future.

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