Monday, September 22, 2014

Reviewed by: Jamaal Ryan

Writer's Note: This review has been edited for fact checking and grammar. Apologize for the mistakes,

Destiny is probably the most divisive game that I’ve ever played.

It’s both incredibly fun and boring as hell, captivating and uneventfully sterile, provides lasting appeal and turns players away. It straddles both sides of the fence constantly by wearing so many hats - from first person shooter, to RPG, to amateur MMO - that some are bound to fit, while others are awkward and uncomfortable, or just completely fall off.

Enjoying Destiny means that you have to, A) Have a level of appreciation of everything it has to offer and, B) Figured out how to navigate its segregated structure so that you’re constantly entertained. I happen to be lucky enough to fall into both categories, thus I’m still having fun with Destiny today.

But it’s irrefutable that the game isn’t without its significant problems.


There are many dimensions of design that Bungie baked into Destiny; and those that come from its legacy are unquestionably exceptional. One such dimension, which I’ve raved about again and again, is its encounter design. Bungie knows how to make shooting things fun. Throughout the course of the main story, you’ll face up against four different races of enemies, three in which are impressively distinct from one another. The Fallen meet your standard light-mid-heavy tiered sub types along with rush and marksman variants, the Hive scales towards  more brutish behavior by pounding heavy damage from both up close and from afar, and the Cabal are the most diverse of the three with their vertically agile, DPS, and shielded characteristics.

All the races in which you face challenge you to use your surroundings better than they can. Witches are notorious for floating behind cover, sword wielding Knights will chase you to the ends of space regardless where you flee, and vertical vantage points only provide temporary solace until you’re faced with enemies jumping towards you, thus forcing you to reposition yourself constantly. Even though the coordinated differences between the Hunter, Titan and Warlock classes are all but nonexistent until you unlock their subclasses, when playing co-op, the simple spike in A.I. quantity seamlessly perpetuates quality, as more enemies of various types automatically sets a high bar of teamwork, especially in the entertaining – albeit bullet spongey  – boss battles.

Destiny is at its best in the early game when trucking along from Old Russia to the Black Garden. While all missions begin from the same general space on each planet, they never lead you to the same location. And while mission objectives are nearly identical, the path between points A & B, C & D are reliably differentiated.


All of this is enjoyable if you completely negate all interests in getting to know the world around you, both physically and narratively. There’s a significant difference between world building and storytelling, the former in which Bungie has always excelled at. However I would argue that Bungie was never a great story telling studio when it comes to the games themselves, and that seems even more evident in Destiny.

The story here is dismal and nonexistent. Many of the characters in the game are literally and figuratively faceless with no perceived personal motivation outside of facing the ambiguous “Darkness” that threatens the universe. When looking at Destiny’s impressive atmosphere, which effortlessly balances fantasy and science fiction, it leads you to believe that there is a deeper story to tell. And there is…on Bungie.net. Bungie’s constant reliance on written media, electronic or physical, has always segregated the level of appreciation of the in-game lore. Fuck no I’m not gonna go to Bungie.net to read a story you should have already told me in the game I’m playing right now.

Diablo 3 comparisons, as a loot heavy RPG with bad storytelling, are painfully evident. And while many loot driven games trip up on a hokey narrative, there’s a certain formula that they adhere to on how to incentivize exploration. Unfortunately Destiny completely misunderstands what that formula is.

Early in the game, Destiny tucks away high level opponents in certain areas as a way to say, “You’re not ready yet. Come back later.” Proper world structure ensures that areas where over powered opponents reside are completely isolated in their own sector. But in Destiny, they exist in little pockets that you can easily stumble into if you find yourself too nosey. There’s no way of predetermining “I’ll stay away from there” as a way to ensure that you’re not running into corners of the world in which you’re not supposed to. It makes these areas both difficult to avoid and to then find again once you return at a higher level.

Though I myself didn’t have an issue returning to the same hub worlds again and again for every mission, these persistent spaces are incompatible to the idea of exploration. On two separate occasions I diverged off the beaten path in search for these rare chests I kept hearing about. Both times I found myself wondering aimlessly for up to 10 minutes before I guessed that these were areas in which the story might not have taken me to yet. Lo and behold, I was right, as a separate mission and a later objective eventually brought me to said areas. The lack of enclosed environments leaves you open meandering about as the game has no way of communicating to you that you’re literally going in the wrong direction (like what the sector of high level opponents I insinuated above would have done).

This is all exacerbated by the questionable lack of any kind of world map to provide some information on your whereabouts, and the fact that the chests are so infrequent that I can imagine many eventually deciding not to bother embarking on a search for them, especially after hearing that you can actually level out of their usefulness.


As irrelevant as the chests may be, loot chasing is your primary incentive in continuing to return to Destiny. And once you’ve reached the post-game that is the level 20 soft cap, it often becomes your soul incentive. Making your way past level 20 is inexcusably unclear outside of knowing that armor with Light attributes allows you to continue to level up. But even once you’ve figured out what Crucible reputation vs. Vanguard reputation vs. Faction reputation is, or even how to join a faction in the first place, and what it all means in regards to eventually getting Legendary loot, it becomes a hassle. You can very easily fall into a long period of stagnation of earning useless loot while grinding your way through bounties attempting to earn enough Crucible/Vanguard Marks – two of the several types of currencies among Destiny’s convoluted economy – to purchase the desired Legendary equipment. Bungie and Activision have long tooted the horn with the quote, “The game doesn’t even start until you’ve reached level 20”. But I’d argue that feeding the game with rotating daily bounties isn’t enough to prevent the game from slowing down.


Part of what sustains the staying power of Destiny is the much talked about Crucible, Destiny’s competitive grounds. I’ve raved about what I love in the Crucible, but after spending countless hours with it, I very much recognize its balancing problems. As I’ve stated before, all damage and defensive stats are flattened in the Crucible outside of what will be the Iron Banner. That includes attack and defense upgrades in each of the weapon and armor skill trees. But because Destiny’s upgrade system works to make your characters more powerful as a proper RPG should, that doesn’t necessarily translate well in to the Crucible where most competitive shooter upgrade systems typically offer more options of play.

Some of the skills obtained in each class compound this problem even further, creating a larger issue aptly described by Giant Bomb’s Brad Shoemaker, “The number of ways you can get one-shotted in that game is fucking staggering!” Outside of shotguns, sniper rifles, and the ludicrously over powered fusions rifles, recharge abilities inflict brutal insta-kills. In the later game, players will begin to obtain Rare armor that offer attributes in which increases three character stats: Intellect (determines Super recharge time), Discipline (determines grenade recharge time), and Strength (determines melee recharge time). These attributes aren’t flattened in the Crucible, thus putting higher level players whose abilities recharge faster at a noticeable advantage. The Crucible is a highly entertaining space to test your skill, but at this stage of a game whose audience is very much committed early adopters at level 20+, most folks below level 10 are in for a rough time.


Ultimately, Destiny strives to be a social experience, one that is said to revolutionize console multiplayer as Bungie did with Halo 2. However unfortunately, the social opportunities are hardly more developed than your typical console shooter.

As a co-op shooty-shooty-bang-bang, Destiny works very well. Strike missions smartly match-make three players together for some co-op action, and they are easily the most popular post game content next to the Crucible. The Tower, Destiny’s most MMOish social hub, is where you’ll run into plenty of players who are participating in mood lifting dance offs, caught volleying the oversized beach ball, or going about their faction and loot grinding business.

But none of it quite seems to be enough.

If you’re not rolling deep with a predetermined strike team, Destiny can be a solitary experience. Public Events, the game’s biggest hook social since its reveal at E3 2013, have only surfaced in my game three times in the absurd amount of hours I’ve dumped into Destiny. When trying to invite other players that you run into, the process is walled behind a lengthy U.I. mess on the Playstation 4. And as a social RPG, it’s bizarre that Bungie has no intention in allowing players to trade loot at this time. I deeply appreciate the fact that Destiny is designed to accommodate for both solo players with a limited time budget and highly invested, highly social players, but the community features in Destiny are much slimmer than expected.

The Bottom Line

There’s no doubt that Destiny is in for the long game, a decade-long long game in fact with a myriad of content planned for the short and long term future. But Destiny as we know it in just the few weeks after launch has had a rough take-off. The mechanics and design of a first person shooter are firmly in place. However its RPG elements are just a bit too tedious, the competitive multiplayer is just a bit too unbalanced, and the social environment is just a bit too quiet.


+ Spectacular shooter mechanics

+ Excellent enemy encounter design

+ Engaging co-op multiplayer

- Incredibly fun yet unbalanced Crucible

- Poorly formatted exploration

- Convoluted and grindy post-game 

Image courtesy in order of appearance:

Gaming Trend
Attack on the Fan Boy

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