Late Review: Destiny

Compelling Disappointment

Back when I reviewed the Destiny Beta, I spoke at length about the arrogance of Bungie as a studio. I’m not going to reiterate that here but this review is best consumed with the context of that one in mind. I said that the beta showed a lot of potential but little of what was contained within it was very compelling and hopefully the final game would flesh out the supposedly epic 10 year vision Bungie was promising. What we got in the end was just more of what was in the beta, including all the problems, only multiplied, plus some perplexing new ones thrown in to boot. In so many ways, this is not a good game and it really makes you wonder how much of it’s supposedly $500 million budget actually went into development.

Yet in spite of this, I put at least 30 hours into Destiny, as did many of my friends who also agreed it was full of problems. For the life of me, I can’t really tell you why.

Destiny is broken down into several different game types: Story missions, patrols, strikes, the multiplayer suite and raids, which are considered the big deal of the game but more on that later. The non-multiplayer stuff takes place on several planets within our solar system, all of which consist of one large map that has different start points you’ll be dropped at depending on the mission. Despite this being hundreds, if not thousands of years in the future, humanity has apparently never ventured into deep space. Everything revolves around the standard first-person shooter and light MMO ideas: Shoot various generic alien enemies in the face, get experience, occasionally get loot. Bungie knows how to make a solid, engaging core game play loop and they definitely do that with Destiny. The combat is solid and seeing numbers go up as you get more and more kills is as satisfying as ever. Everything looks real pretty while you do it too, even on the old consoles. That’s really where most of my compliments end though.

The rest of Destiny is a mess and in many ways, it feels as though this game that is technically very polished and was in development for 5+ years was rushed out the door to hit a deadline. In my beta review, I called out the total lack of any context or meat to the story and that hasn’t improved one bit in the final release. Humanity is on the brink again and your job is to save it but you’re given no real back story or motivation for your actions and by the end, it doesn’t feel like you’ve accomplished anything or even learned more about what you were fighting for. As you play, you’ll earn Grimoire Cards which are supposed to explain more but they can only be accessed through Bungie’s web site or the game’s mobile app and only contain a small paragraph of further nebulous text that explains nothing.

Despite pitching itself as an MMO of sorts (right down to the pointless dance emotes), there is no sense of massive scale in Destiny. In the starting areas of missions, you can see a bunch of other random players running around that will help you kill mobs but don’t interact with you in any other meaningful way. When you get near your objective, you enter a never-explained “darkness zone” where things restrict to yourself and the up to 3 friends you can have in your Fire Team. At this point, it’s just another co-op shooter. There’s also a hub area on Earth that you have to go to frequently for various reasons and it’s also full of players but again, it serves no purpose as people only go here to interact with various kinds of vendors and leave again. This would be fine if the missions themselves were in any way interesting but that’s not the case.

Here’s how the majority of story missions in Destiny play out:

  • Pick a mission, get a confusing briefing during the agonisingly long load that explains nothing of value.
  • Spawn on map you’ve likely seen several times before. Receive additional details from your pointless and hyper phoned in Peter Dinklage voiced robotic companion (henceforth known as RoboDinklage).
  • Head to objective as fast as possible as most of the mobs on the map are well below your level and won’t get any experience for killing them.
  • Objective almost always consists of having RoboDinklage hack something while you fend off waves of enemies. It always takes him exactly until the end of the last wave to complete his task.
  • Do this a couple more times. Sometimes, the end of the mission will have a boss fight.
  • Receive another pointless bit of exposition from RoboDinklage while you look over the spoils of your efforts, most of which consists of gear too low level for you to use or nicer gear that’s probably not for your class (even though the classes you can pick from have largely superficial differences.)

You do variants of this for 10 hours or so and you’ve finished the story, likely as confused as when you started. You will level up your character as you go but all of the upgrades are simply tiers, some of which have multiple choices. The amount of actual customisation you can do to your character’s skills, abilities and gear is wafer thin, even compared to a lot of free-to-play MMOs.
Beyond the story, you have strikes which are specialised missions that are co-op focused and very challenging but in theory, more rewarding and patrols which just drop you onto a map to tackle a series of small missions you pick up from beacons lying around, usually involving killing a certain number of things or exploring somewhere. These are little more than padding and aren’t interesting or particularly fun.
Where Bungie has historically shined is in multiplayer, especially with the number of kooky and different modes they come up with. Destiny’s multiplayer is as bog standard as they come with only the usual Deathmatch, Capture the Flag and Domination types available. More modes are supposed to come later but there is nothing interesting to be found here and it’s made worse by the fact that most modes allow people to bring in their gear from the campaign which often sends any sense of balance off a cliff.
All of this however, is supposed to lead up to raids. The base game of Destiny has only one raid and more are supposed to come in DLC (one of which is out at time of writing but which I haven’t played and won’t be.) This is a classic example of the kind of bad design where the best part of the game is the part that requires hours and hours of slogging through lesser content to get to it. You have to be fairly high level for the raid to even unlock and you have to have a nearly maxed out party of 6 people you know and at least several hours to even have a chance of completing it.
Your character in Destiny maxes out at level 20 which you’ll hit in no time but can go up to level 30 by wearing specialised gear that contains “light points.” Obtaining the gear you need for this involves hours and hours of grinding the same strike missions or multiplayer matches in the hopes that high-level gear will either drop randomly (which happens very rarely) or earning enough of one of the games 5 different currencies to buy the gear you need. I had intended to do a run of the base game’s raid for Extra Life and after at least 15-20 hours of grinding, I hadn’t earned enough to buy one of at least 3 pieces of gear I would have needed to not be a burden to my team. From what I’ve been told of the raid, it’s far and away the most interesting content of the game, yet it’s been locked away behind barriers so daunting that only the most hardcore players are going to bother trying to reach it. In an era where AAA games have to sell millions to make a profit, gating off the good parts in such a way seems like a recipe for failure. There is no scenario in which you can convince me that “It takes X hours but then the real content opens up.” is good design.
Once I realised I wasn’t going to be able to make the Extra Life raid, I’d had enough and never touched Destiny again, nor do I plan to. The thing is though, much of that 20 hours didn’t entirely feel like the kind of grind I despise and that’s what I’ve heard from a lot of people. So much of Destiny isn’t just not great, it’s out and out bad, yet the core of the game play felt so good that I tolerated a lot more of what was bad than I would have from most other games. So many people agree that Destiny is at best, an extremely flawed product, yet many of those same people but way more time into it than they would almost any other game with similar problems. This is something only a handful of developers could pull off. It’s a weird perversion of the idea of flow and engagement, yet it’s really quite an accomplishment when you think about it.
The problem is, once I got free of that core loop, I realised just how thin everything else in this pretty looking package was and I’m now soured on Destiny pretty bad. Unless the inevitable Destiny II is a massive improvement, Bungie has lost me on this one and I don’t think I’m alone in saying that, especially now that people have seen how little content is in the $20 first DLC…I’m sorry, “expansion” because of course, it’s different when Bungie does it.
Destiny is a pretentious game from a pretentious studio. I can’t see it as anything else when it was hyped up as such a massive thing and the response to most of the criticism hasn’t been “We’ll do better.” but “Just wait for this other stuff we have coming, though you’ll have to pay for it.” It’s nothing less than hubris to think that what they put out is even complete, much less cohesive. Yet, Destiny was still a lot of fun in many ways and it’s really perplexing how they managed to do both at the same time. Fool me once, shame on me but I won’t get fooled again by Bungie and I bet a lot of others won’t either. There’s a good framework for something cool here, now they just need to finish it before asking for more of my money. If you can get Destiny cheap at some point, I think you’ll have fun with it but $60 plus $40 more in “expansions” for a game that leaves you with more questions than answer is a bad deal in my opinion.

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3 Responses to Late Review: Destiny

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