As of this post, I have a level 8 Hunter, a level 12 Titan, and a level 20 Warlock. According to the Destiny companion app, I have spent 20 hours and 6 minutes in game.
In a world that is finding itself increasingly busy with each passing day, Destiny makes the dangerous assumption that gamers will fight through its boring and utterly confusing first few hours to find its deeper loot and leveling systems. To be sure: Destiny is the sort of game where you get out what you put in. Unfortunately, its unexplained and unexplored story aids little in pushing the player past level ten and across the beautiful but empty solar system that Destiny delivers.
Destiny’s most egregious fault is its lack of a coherent story. After completing the game, I took final stock of what I knew about the universe of Destiny. “The Darkness” is following the “Traveler” and destroying everything in its wake. After the Traveler makes its way to our solar system and a short golden age, the Darkness catches up and things take a turn for the worse. After a major battle, which is never described, the Traveler is put out of commission but not before it creates the “Ghosts”. These Ghosts seek out and find “Guardians” – that’s where you come in – and aid these Guardians to push back the Darkness. After creating your Guardian, Peter Dinklage… I mean, your Ghost… finds and resurrects you. Apparently you died a long time ago and the Dink believes that you are a capable Guardian worthy of one more chance at turning back the Darkness.
Okay, so far: I’m stoked. This sounds like a great setup for an amazing and intriguing story. Knowing Bungie’s capability at weaving a quality tale – looking at you, Halo series – I was prepared for more exposition and plot twists as I fought the Darkness across the various worlds. Unfortunately, after completing the campaign, I can officially say that I am inferring more about the story than the game ever revealed to me. It’s true that there are a few people out there who are praising Destiny for its rich and engaging story as I write this, but they are missing the trees for the forest. The idea behind Destiny’s narrative is certainly rich and intriguing, but its execution is anything but engaging. I play many different types of games, but I stay for their engaging tales. However, Destiny’s disappointing story was not the reason that I stayed.
The best part about Destiny, aside from the stunning vistas, is the tight and well-crafted gameplay. Bungie is no slouch when it comes to fun gameplay, they did it thirteen years ago and are still doing it. The gunplay is tight and the firefights that randomly break out across the various levels can induce palm-sweating, controller-gripping tension. There are four different “levels” in essence: Earth, the Moon, Venus, and Mars. Each level is massive and contains many different missions , both story and smaller missions that can be accepted in a free-roam mode called “Patrol”. The levels are gorgeously crafted and all offer eye-pleasing backgrounds to firefights. While the levels are beautiful and well-designed, they all just seem so empty. Each level has signs of prior life and civilization and while these ruins raise many questions, Destiny plays it quiet on almost all of the answers. The ruins’ sole practical purpose is to be cover for the inevitable skirmishes that break out. It truly is a good thing for Destiny that the action is so good, otherwise the lack of exposition of the history of these ruins would be much more grievous.
Similarly to the ruins, the various enemies that you encounter throughout the universe of Destiny are intriguing but ill-explained. There are four different races that you will be fighting across the solar system and each of them seems like they would have an interesting back story, alas, this is yet another topic on which Bungie simply doesn’t seem interested in commenting on. As you perform different tasks – such as killing enemies – you unlock “Grimoire” cards. These cards provide more exposition on the universe of Destiny, but you have to leave the game to read them, as they are only readable on Destiny’s website or companion app. I found myself unlocking Grimoire cards and attempting to pause the game to read up as I played only to remember that Destiny is an always-connected game without a functional pause feature. So I would read the cards and learn a bit of back story each night before going to bed. While helpful to those interested enough to take the time and energy to read the cards, this method of revealing information is ineffective and lazy.
While it’s certainly enjoyable to battle these story-less enemies, you can take on tougher iterations of each race in the form of Raids and Strikes. Raids are tough “dungeons” with the promise of more loot, experience, and a more difficult challenge. Strikes are missions where you journey through a level to battle against a tough boss to gain experience and loot. These can be totally hit-or-miss. The issue that I have with strikes is twofold: the bosses are bullet-sponges surrounded by endlessly spawning minions which too often ends in you and your party dying and having to restart the strike and, after all that hassle and frustration, the loot is severely lacking in quality. When dealing with random loot drops, Bungie needs to realize that the loot needs to match the difficulty. If my party completes a strike that lasts in the vicinity of forty minutes or more and I get a common set of gloves and a single piece of Destiny’s many – and confusing – currencies, it is entirely not worth our time. The thing about raids and strikes is that, if you reach the level necessary to try your hand at either one, you’re probably already invested in the game by that point. That means that you have to push through the pain of not really getting any interesting loot until about level ten.
While Destiny is improved by a loot system, the system is, unfortunately far too shallow during the early game. As you progress, you will receive rewards both randomly and for completing bounties and missions in the form of gear. Notice that I didn’t say “better” gear. While there are occasionally times where the reward pays off, it is far too often that the gear you receive is on par with or worse than the gear that you have equipped. The loot system is akin to a more shallow Borderlands, where weapons have higher base damage based on level and armor has more defense. There is also rare and legendary equipment that has other augmentations. These augmentations can range from an increase in an ability such as reloading or the distance that you can toss a grenade. It seems like it can be a semi-deep experience once you get to the soft level cap of twenty and much more equipment opens up, but until you pump about 10-12 hours into the game, prepare to be underwhelmed.
Speaking of underwhelming, there is plenty of content on offer that seems to have been added for its own sake. Early on in the game you acquire a spaceship which is your method of transportation between missions. As you progress, you can upgrade the appearance of the ship but, aside from aesthetics, there is no reason to spend the cash to do so. Similarly, you acquire a “Sparrow” – picture a speeder bike from Star Wars – which, while sporting several different paint schemes, really only upgrades once. There are two other practical vehicles in the game which are so-so and entirely underused. One of them is the “Pike”, which is, essentially, a Sparrow with guns. Why the player cannot upgrade their Sparrow to a Pike is beyond me. I just don’t see logic to it.
Rather than go into detail on some of the baffling choices made by Bungie, I’ll just list them for you: changing the color scheme of your armor is locked until you are level twenty; vendors level up the more you purchase from them – I think – so, unless you buy a ton of equipment early on, you still won’t be able to purchase level twenty locked items until you upgrade your status with the vendor; there are class-specific items which seem to be purely aesthetic… I could go on, but I feel like I’d be beating a dead horse.
Destiny sports three classes to choose from for your character: Titan, Hunter, and Warlock. To use RPG terms you’re looking at a “warrior”, “ranger”, and “wizard”. Each class offers its own strengths and play style, although that isn’t apparent until later on. As you gain experience your character levels up and you can adopt new abilities and augment them to define the way that you want to play the game. Another aspect to character creation, which doesn’t seem to effect anything other than appearances, is race and gender. There are male and female versions of Humans, Awoken, and Exos. The Awoken are human-esque creatures, think “dark elf” and you’ll have a pretty clear image. Exos are sentient androids. There is a smattering of face designs, features, and colors to choose from, although there doesn’t seem to be a way to change your appearance after your character is created, so choose wisely.
It’s a good thing that Destiny doesn’t feel like the sum of its parts. Strangely enough, although I’ve spent the majority of my time here outlining its faults, I still want to jump back in and see what there is to see. Destiny has an appeal to it that I can’t quite nail down. I’m in a totally love/hate relationship with this game. Perhaps I am waiting for that promise of epic loot to finally drop. Perhaps Destiny is like that ugly new car that you just can’t quit pointing out the faults of regardless of how it runs or its shiny coat of paint. At the end of the day though, once you get past the glaring faults, abysmal story execution, and occasionally frustrating firefights, Destiny is a fun and addicting game. (It also has one of the coolest trailers of any video game that I’ve seen.) I am very interested in seeing how Bungie can improve this game going forward and I have a lot of hope for future iterations of this new franchise.