Not the Ghost with the Most
You are brought back from the dead in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. This could be the plot for any number of science fiction movies or novels but it’s the start to Bungie’s highly anticipated new intellectual property Destiny. Your Ghost, voiced by actor Peter Dinklage of Death at a Funeral and Underdog fame, prods you back to life and informs you that he needs your help. You are a guardian and have been brought back to help defend mankind and the Traveler, a benevolent entity from outer space that showed up on Mars one day, from a universal evil known as, “The Darkness.” It’s from space, it is evil, and it’s dark in space so why wouldn’t it be known as the Darkness? Apparently you can make this stuff up.
While the story may seem overly generic and full of sci-fi tropes it is no more derivative than most fantasy games that are released by the dozens. Mentioned in previous articles, this is one of a handful of games that has actually made me laugh out loud from NPC one liners. So while some may say the writing is horrible, I wouldn’t got that far. And while the story itself, conveyed to you mostly in lengthy monologues from your Ghost, may not be the most compelling I was exposed to a handful of ideas that left me intrigued. Unfortunately most of those questions were never satisfactorily answered. Destiny did plant those seeds along the way for the promised DLC that Bungie can support this game with over the course of the next few years. Still the main campaign was too short and didn’t have a satisfactory conclusion.
Destiny is hard to put in a box. This game plays like an amalgamation of the FPS, MMO, and ARPG genres. While it is a FPS at its core, it has a number of features similar to what players would find in a MMO. Dynamic events that pop up across zones, are shared by players that are on their way to do missions or who are playing in exploration mode. It has Strikes which are designed for three player fire teams, similar to dungeons or instances in current MMOs. And the similarity extends to raids designed for 6 players that are equivalent to, you guessed it, raids in MMOs. The game also mixes in RPG tropes with the leveling system of your character, gear progression, and itemization. The itemization seems even more similar to the way ARPG’s play as you spend the majority of your time at max level participating in repetitive content to get better items and improve your character. While there are three different base character classes with two subclasses each the level of diversity is not deep enough that RPG lovers will be satisfied.
The story takes place over a handful of locations that are remarkably different from each other and fantastic to look at. The game may be a console exclusive but with minimal UI tweaks it would be right at home on the PC. In addition to the PvE element, the game has a number of different PvP encounters. There are 11 different maps (one exclusive to the Playstation consoles) and 7 different styles of PvP, not all of which are available at all times. Some of these PvP matches are periodically sprinkled in the mix but their are 4 types which make up the core. The different types of PVP range from a six man free for all to 3v3 and 6v6 combat. Some of these focus on capturing and holding points while others focus on just killing the enemy. Most of them normalize players’ power so there is not a clear cut level advantage but that is not the case with the limited and sporadic event: The Iron Banner. In the Iron Banner you can truly overpower your peers based on gear and level advantage alone. Don’t wander into that one at level 6, okay?
During the course of play in Destiny you will counter four different alien races as enemies. The Hive, Fallen, Vex, and Cabal. While on Earth and the Moon you will be strictly limited to fighting the Hive and the Fallen. It’s fun to watch these two duke it out as you arrive in to mop up the survivors. It becomes readily apparent that they have similar patterns and very predictable AI. It’s not until halfway through the game that you will encounter the Vex and they will start to display patterns different from your previous fights. While headshots are king on the Hive and Fallen, gut shots are sometimes you best bet with the Vex. Once you arrive on Mars you will run into the Cabal. This is a bit of a shame because the time you spend fighting them is very limited. They do not feel as complete as the other races but that probably has to do with how short a time you spend combating them. For all your Warhammer 40K fans out there you will enjoy the look of the Cabal. They look like a slightly chaos tainted Space Marine legion.
One of the most glaring issues with Destiny is the actual length of the main campaign. It took me at most 15 hours to make my way through every story mission and that is because most of them I forced myself to play solo. Team up with a couple of friends and you can burn through it all in fewer than 10 hours. There are a variety of different activities that open up once your guardian hits 20, such as heroic daily story missions, and weekly strikes, but these are just new ways to play on old maps. If you like to grind for gear you’ll be satisfied. If you are one of the multitude of MMO players who are tired of the gear treadmill it’s at this point you’ll shake your head and move on to the next game. One silver lining is that Destiny does have limited time-based events to keep players logging in. Currently this event is “The Queen’s Wrath.” This still points out a flaw with Destiny’s end game and that is grinding out rep with factions. Yep, for all the money spent on Destiny... it still falls down to faction grinds as an endgame.
I’ve bemoaned the social system flaws enough in the RIP articles, but since this is the wrap up I would be remiss if I did not bring them up again. The game makes decent use of the current social features inherent with PSN+ and XBox Live. Bungie should have taken it a step further and allowed people to actually group up that meet together in the game. It would have gone a long way as well for them to allow players to communicate besides a point and dancing emote. Area-based voice chat is in other games, why not here? It just seems like a half baked way to go about the social systems, and social systems are tremendously important in MMOs or even “Persistent Online Shooters”. The lack of being able to access the Grimoire or Clan Functions in-game is also another severe oversight. The Destiny companion app is one of the best there is for games but most of this information needs to be accessible in game. Why on earth should players have to go to a browser or their mobile device to manage their clans and the wealth of information and lore in the Grimoire?
And let’s not even begin to talk about the inanity of constantly returning to orbit between missions, or when you want to group up with friends. It’s just very cumbersome.
Since release Bungie’s servers have done remarkably well in comparison to most MMO releases, but there have been a couple of hiccups. This has brought to light just how unprepared Bungie was to handle customer service. Bungie also needs to work on the name of their error codes. While they seem funny at first if you are suffering from an error code Bee, Fly, or Chicken players quickly enrage at being the butt of a joke. It’s just adding insult to injury. While playing the game I only got stuck in a map once and had to go into orbit to get unstuck. So even with a few minor bumps and bruises the game is well polished and it is clear it had a tremendously high production value.
I’m also concerned about Destiny’s future and what it is going to cost the player. With the current campaign lasting between 10 to 15 hours and with a retail price of $60, what can we expect from future DLC priced between $15 and $20? We know the first two together can be bought for $35 but how long will they take to play through? What features will we see added? While the game does not have a subscription fee, to fully enjoy the game players do need a XBox Live sub or PSN+ which can range from $15 a month to $50 a year depending on how you purchase it. How much will Destiny end up costing the players in the long run and how much will they really get out of their cash? It’s no secret that Bobby Kotick loves franchises he can milk money from. I just wonder how deep into my pockets Activision Blizzard will reach over the next 10 years.
Once you distill it all down I did have fun in Destiny. I just wish the ride would have lasted longer. The endgame grind is not what I was hoping for and has turned me off completely. Bungie has stated repeatedly that the game really starts at 20. If that is true then this game will have a very short shelf life. The grind just is not fun. Hopefully these special events will keep the game fresh and new for most players to drop in and out of and get more value for their dollar. Destiny does a number of things right, but for many people, it gets just as much wrong. A short campaign and repetitive gameplay may be OK for a few but it will not have lasting appeal to the masses. Destiny pushed hard to make itself a great hybrid MMO shooter, persistent online shooter, or “whatever buzzword we want to call it this week” shooter. Granted this is not a very crowded space with Defiance already there and PlanetSide 2 slowly making their way onto the field, but that only made this emerging genre ripe for Destiny to snatch and call their own. So far Bungie has failed to exert their dominance but the foundation has been laid. In a year, will we still be talking about Destiny, or will we be looking out for what’s next? That’s the real question at hand.
- GAMEPLAY: 7 – The core shooter of the game handles well. It feels precise even with a controller. Limited enemy AI becomes repetitive. Later bosses become bullet sponges as opposed to having interesting mechanics.
- VISUALS: 10 – The game looks spectacular. The various locations are visually appealing and diverse. While this title is currently a console exclusive its graphics would look right at home on the PC with minimal UI alterations.
- POLISH: 8 – A few server hiccups and only minor bugs. Runs smooth as silk 99% of the time. The UI of the social systems on the other hand need real work.
- SOCIAL: 6 – The games internal social systems need a total retuning. Lack of communication and clan functions in the game are not acceptable. When you do get together though, playing with friends is a riot.
- INNOVATION: 7 – 5 years ago this would have been a 10. Today they have been beaten to the punch by other titles.
- LONGEVITY: 6 – Short main campaign with a variety of PvP types and maps.
- VALUE: 5 – At $59.99. XBox Live or PSN+ required for PvP and some PvE missions. DLC staring us in the face at $35 for the combo. Short Campaign.
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