Have you heard of the black garden? The greatest threat to us all lies there. I wish I could tell you all about Destiny’s rich story and lore, I really do, but frankly there isn’t much that I can remember that isn’t tied to a basic storytelling trope. Basically the story is that a giant construct called The Traveler came to Earth where it ushered in a new era of technology and innovation, taking humanity to the stars. In space, naturally, we encountered aliens hell bent on killing us for no apparent reason other than that they are evil and we have god on our side. A traveler named The Traveler, bad guys called The Darkness, and the guardians of light are Guardians? I’m rather surprised that Bungie didn’t go full force and have you taking missions from Goody McGooderson, aided of course by his eventually-outed-as-evil assistant, Badguy McBackstabby.
It’s hard to remember much about Destiny with such groundbreaking writing like “the Vex are so evil that they despise other evil beings.” Most of this is narrated by a Peter Dinklage who sounds suspiciously like he found a copy of the Destiny script while bored at the doctor’s office and Bungie stealthily recorded him narrating it out loud. The rest is told through grimoire cards, but you’re going to have to go to Bungie.net in order to read what they are because there is no in-game lore book like in, well, every other RPG with some form of lore book. I mentioned my hope in the beta that this would be fully implemented on release, count that as a disappointment.
It’s hard to not make comparisons to games like Borderlands, when the two are so similar. Destiny is a solid shooter and a fun time, and yet it will deserve every single one of the disappointed reviews that are currently making their way to press, and that is a shame because Destiny is a very fun game. When all is said and done, Bungie’s greatest sin in all of this will be that they gave too much hype to a generic game, like when McDonald’s would treat the return of the McRib as if it were a brand new discovery when it was the same sandwich we’d been having for years. We get it, Ronald, you put boneless rib on a sandwich and added some onion and a pickle. Twenty marketing campaigns later, and it’s the same sandwich.
Make no mistake, Destiny is an impressive looking game both in the graphical department as well as taking relatively small environments and making them look gigantic. It is also a solid shooter with solid RPG mechanics and progression system with some loot on the side. As with games like Borderlands and Diablo before it, part of Destiny’s draw is the never-ending quest for more loot, higher levels, and progressively more powerful weapons and armor to shoot a lot of bad guys who have committed the crime of carrying your loot. The shooting, Destiny does well. Weapons feel like they have real weight and especially handcannons pack a punch that feels like it could knock the controller out of your hands.
Combat against the AI varies in nature, and as with Borderlands can eventually feel like a chore. Devoid of any intelligent AI, Bungie’s take on difficulty is to employ the same cheap tricks used in similar games, and use them in intolerable numbers and combinations that make me think Bungie missed a course on how combat is balanced in RPGs. You see, in standard mobs there is a balance between power, defense, and speed. You can have mobs that are invisible, mobs that have high health, and mobs that run incredibly fast in large numbers and deal heavy melee damage. Creating a creature that mobs in packs, has a lot of health and does heavy damage, and runs around invisible? Ridiculous. Snipers using invisibility is a pretty common trope in gaming, but snipers that remain invisible while they’re shooting you? That’s just sadistic.
Bosses carry the same poor AI, considering that they merely serve as walking tanks. They aren’t difficult as much as they are unfair, merely large hitboxes with a lot of health carrying a weapon with ridiculously high damage and splash radius, which makes them very easy to defeat if you can keep moving. I think I died by one boss so far, and it’s because his area had a constant stream of mid-tier creatures whose guns all had lock-on bullets. Oh yea, enemies have guns with bullets that change course and follow you through the air. Otherwise, I can guarantee that your death will almost always come when the game goes “screw it” and just throws so many mobs at you at once that there is no way to kill them fast enough and nowhere to use cover to regenerate.
One problem Destiny faces is that Bungie’s take on sociability is, well, odd to say the least. On one hand, partying and getting into impromptu groups with random players and friends alike is seamless and enjoyable. I’ve taken on numerous boss dungeons where I suddenly found two other players by my side, and while none of them talked, everyone seemed to know what to do. Chat is handled through emoticons as well as through local voice chat if you can find anyone else with a headset plugged in.
On the other hand, the social aspect is essentially nonexistent outside of the off chance you manage to stumble upon one of the game’s exceedingly rare public events. The trade hub, the center for social contact, has little promise for social activity. Chat is nonexistent in both its vocal and keyboard form, there are no social mini-games, and trade doesn’t exist at all in Destiny so you can’t even go into town to sell off or give away your loot. Bungie’s official statement is that this is because they want every weapon to have a personal story behind it. This is a pretty heavy order, since it assumes that your combat moments will be memorable enough for players to actually remember how they got their weapons. I remember how I got each and every one of my weapons: I killed a bunch of unmemorable mobs until an orb popped out and then I picked that up.
PvP is a mess, and a real heavy step back considering we’re talking about the company that made Halo 2. The one thing Bungie did right was to consolidate stats in the Crucible, meaning you are no better than any other player just because you are a higher level or have better gear. Everyone is the same. Well, mostly. Maps are far too small and close-quartered, there is no segregation between competitive and noncompetitive players, you can’t vote on what map or mode you want to play next, there is no punishment for abandoning your team, no playlists, no private matches, and no matchmaking by pvp rank.
If there is one thing to be said about Destiny, it’s the knowledge that Bungie’s alleged dedication to the title means that all of these problems could be a thing of the past when you’re reading our updated review months from now. For now, though, what we’ve seen at launch is an incredibly forgettable story wrapped around a game that is, for all purposes, incredibly barebones and at the retail price of $60-150 despite missing a number of features. The social aspects are weak, if not mostly nonexistent, considering that this is apparently an MMO. Unless you are hell bent on getting the game immediately, give it a few months to go down in price.
Destiny falls somewhere in the realm of decent, and assuredly there are plenty of people who will find joy in it. Hopefully Bungie will work hard over the next couple of months to fix some of the game’s more glaring issues.