Meeting Destiny (year one): A review.
Does Destiny live up to the hype?
Destiny, Destiny, Destiny...where do I even begin with this one? Its one of the biggest new franchises of recent memory, definitely one of the best selling....sooo, why does it feel so generic? I mean it had all the money in the world hurled at it (or at least $500 million of it supposedly)...So why does it feel like I'm just playing a Halo MMO that any other studio could have done better in about two years?
Alright, to be fair, Destiny isn't a bad game by any stretch of the imagination. But if you went into this expecting it to live up to its over bloated hype, well all I can say is that a sucker is born every ten seconds. But what does Destiny do right, and what does it do wrong? Well, that's what I'm here for. Before I go any further, I'm just letting you know that, for the purposes of this review, I will be talking about the PlayStation 4 version of the game.
Edit: Also be aware that this review was written before the release of The House of Wolves and The Taken King expansions, the latter of which actually fixed the level up system and various other things, So this review is not inaccurate, merely out of date with the current state of the game.
Story: 2 out of 10.
I only have one question when it comes to Destiny's plot; What plot?...no really. Destiny doesn't seem to have one. Well ok, that's not entirely true. There is one, its just too bad that its an Everest-sized pile of rubbish. To be honest, I didn't expect anything award winning from Bungie on this front. This is the company that gave us the narrative failure that is Halo after all. But here...ugh.
The basic premises is that, sometime in the far future, mankind finds this giant alien sphere, called the Traveler (which is somehow alive, don't question it, it just is), on Mars. With its help, the human race enters a Golden Age, and colonizes the stars. And for several hundred years or so, it was good. But the Golden Age, as is so often the case, doesn't last. Eventually, some force called 'The Darkness' moves in, destroys the colonies and pushes mankind to the edge of extinction. But it turns out that this Darkness kinda sucks at its job. Because we manage to survive thanks to The Traveler and its "Light." The game itself takes place after this event, known as 'The Collapse.' And in the intervening years, hostile alien forces have taken over the majority of the Earth and its former colonies. You play as a Guardian, a defender of the last human city on Earth and wielder of some mysterious force called "Light" (you mean like the one The Traveler used)? And it's up to you to revive The Traveler and pushes the Alien forces off Earth and the rest of the solar system.
I have to admit, the premise and setting of the story is interesting, and the ideas presented as the plot moves along (which I won't spoil here) are actually kinda cool. The problem here is one of execution. Much like Halo before it, Destiny's plot suffers from a lack of substance. None of the characters, what little there are, are fleshed out or have anything interesting to say or do. Hell, 99% of them are shop keepers. I'm not kidding. The only real exception I can think of is your Ghost, who is basically is your key to every door and acts as this games answer to Cortana (and strangely has the voice of Peter Dinklage). But that's not saying much, He's still not any better developed as a character than the others. He doesn't even offer any real exposition or lore. So the only reason The Ghost stands out is because of Dinklage's performance. He brings a lot of personality to the role in my opinion, despite the dull and dross material he has to work with.
"Hold on," some of you are angrily shouting, "Destiny does have substance! There's a humongous body of lore that the story depends on! How could you forget about that?!" And you know what? You're right. But now I have a question for you...where the hell is this oh so important lore? Because its sure as the bear in the woods not in the game. No, seriously, you can look all over the game world, but there's no lore to be found. You know where it is? Its on Bungie's website. Yeah, you create a log in account for Bungie's website and the game, and then you slowly unlock the lore as you do arbitrary things like kill a certain number of enemies or by doing certain tasks or something meaningless like that. I have to ask, why, why is it like this? Think back to any game that has a lot of lore involved, Any RPG like Dark Souls, World of Warcraft, Mass Effect, Dragon Age, hell even Final Fantasy. All of their lore is presented in-game. So why can't Destiny be the same? Why do I have to go outside of the game to get it?
By now that I've talked about the story, let's talk about the game play.
Gameplay: 4.5 out of 10.
Before starting the game properly, you'll be asked to make a character and choose a class. There are three races to choose from; Human, Awoken (which is just another version of human) and a robotic race called the EXO. The customization options are what you would expect (gender, hair, face paint/tattoos, hair color, skin color and eye color etc). Not bad, but nothing special. As for the classes, again there are three to choose from: Titan, Warlock and Hunter. Or, to put it another way, these are the "Knight," "Mage," and "Thief/Rogue" of classic role playing lore. However, unlike their classic archetypes, each class has two subclasses; Titans can either be Strikers, which focus on offense, or Defenders which focus on...well exactly what you think they do. I don't have time to run down all of the sub-classes, but suffice to say that each sub-class can be switched out at anytime on the menu screen. And each have their own abilities that you learn as you level up. So your encouraged to experiment with each one. Which is fine. Its just too bad that you can't change your main class. If you want to play as another class, you'll have to make a new character.
So what about the core game play? Well, imagine if Borderlands was done with the aesthetics of Halo and you'll pretty much have a clear picture what it is like here. I know that others have made this comparison before, but there really isn't any other way to describe Destiny's gameplay. You explore a giant area, kill things, fight a boss occasionally and then get loot. Rinse and repeat. And this is something I have to give Bungie credit for, they did a great job with this aspect of gameplay. Sure Its not terribly original, but its still fun. And Bungie did give us a lot of area's to do missions and explore, such as the planets Venus, Mars, Earth (or at least, some part of Siberia) and Earth's moon. Each of these area's is beautifully detailed, fun to explore and fun to plunder.
In addition to the story missions, there are also several co-op specific missions, called Strikes and Raids. Strikes have you and two other friends go in and complete and mission. And Raids are basically harder versions of Strikes. You can also complete side objectives, called bounties, for more experience points, loot, as well gaining reputation with one of the several factions around the hub area. The game also has a competitive multi-player mode, called The Crucible. There really isn't much to say about this, it's more or less what you would expect, with variations of Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag etc. The Crucible also has a feature called 'Strike playlist" which will pair you with two other players to take on a series of Strike missions. Sounds fun right. Well for a while it is....*sigh* and then it's not.
Why do I say, "and then it's not?" Because everything I just described...is all you do. Literally, the game has no variety whatsoever. If you're playing on and off, you can finish the story missions in about two or three days. A week tops if you include all of the Strikes. And when that's over, Destiny is pretty much out of tricks. They don't add new content with each regular update, so you'll be stuck doing the same things over and over again. If you want more content, you gotta buy it from the PlayStation store. And individually, the expansions are $19.99 each. Or you can get the expansion pass for like $34.00. I'm not joking. There's only one expansion available at the time of writing, and it's the biggest rip-off in the history of video games. Yes, I said that. There's only one new Strike, one new Raid, and the new Story missions can be completed in forty minutes to an hour. For god's sake, they don't even expand on the main story at all. And after that, it's back to doing the same bloody Strikes over and over. So what's the point? This is a joke. This shouldn't have been an "expansion," this should have been in the regular game!
Oh, and remember what I said when I said this is similar to Borderlands? Well it deviates from Borderlands in one aspect. The Loot. What do I mean? Well, you know how in Borderlands if you play it for an hour, and at the end of said hour you have more stuff than you know what to do with, half of which is probably better than what you have equipped? Yeah, that DOESN'T happen in Destiny. I kid you not, I once started playing at like 1:00 or 2:00 PM one day over the Holidays, and I didn't find anything that was better than what I had on until 10 PM that night. One day of farming and I only have one dinky thing to show for it? What the HELL?!
It's even worse in The Crucible, I don't even know how it works there. Getting loot seems to happen at pure random. Literally. Lets say that you won a heated round of Deathmatch, what do you expect to happen? You'll get the best rewards, right? Yeah, that makes sense, right?...Destiny doesn't think so. To it, it doesn't seem to matter how well you did. You could have the most perfect game in history...and then get nothing, while the worst player in the round gets everything.
This actually ties into this game's biggest flaws, the two that are so unforgivably, unfathomably LOATHSOME that they murder the rest of the game.
Leveling up should NOT require a explanation.
Can you guess what they are? If you guessed that its the level up system and the games multiple forms of currency then you'd be right.
Here's how the level up system works: when you first start the game, you level up like you would in any normal RPG, by gaining experience points by killing enemies and completing side quests. And then the level cap hits at level 20. Yeah that's it, you can kill enemies till the cows come home but its not gonna rise beyond that. You wanna know why? Because now, leveling up is tied to special equipment that you're supposed to find in the field, or earn in The Crucible or by buying it...what IDIOT thought this was a good idea?! I can't think of any other RPG that does this. Imagine if in Final Fantasy VII you couldn't level up until you killed a specific monster, now imagine if that monster never showed up, no matter how long you farmed for him. That's pretty much what's going on in Destiny.
But wait, I also said that you could buy this equipment. Well, there's a catch. Like I said before, Destiny has multiple form of currency, five of them in fact. The first and most basic is something they call Glimmer, which thankfully most enemies drop and is accepted by many of the merchants. But the ones who sell the equipment to level up don't take this, oh no. They take one of the other forms of currency. Vanguard marks you get by doing strikes and by completing side quests for the vanguard faction. Motes of Light you get by either acquiring and equipping the very equipment we need to level up and at pure random by completing matches in the Crucible, or they can be found in rare chests. Crucible Marks you get by playing in The Crucible (obviously) and by completing sidequests that are exclusive to the Crucible itself. And finally, Strange Coins which you get by completing public events with a gold rating, completing special weekly Strikes and Raids, and there awarded at random for completing Crucible matches, or can be randomly found in treasure chests. And the best part? No matter how many of these things you might have, you won't be able to buy any of the equipment to level up unless your reputation level with the faction the merchant belongs too is up snuff. The only exception is the merchant who takes the Strange Coins, but he only seems to show up at the player hub when Bungie feels like it. Yeah, do you think they over thought this much?
Now I have one very important question. What purpose does any of this farming and grinding actually serve? Why was the game designed this way? The answer is quite simple. It was designed this way to artificially extend the life of the game. That's it, as if the post game wasn't repetitive enough. And the worst part about it is that Bungie doesn't care. I see no real reason why they couldn't streamline the in-game economy, replace the stupid level up system with something more traditional, and fix the Loot system so that it actually makes some bloody sense. Since the game is more or less a first person shooter MMO RPG, they are constantly releasing software updates for it, so there's no reason why they couldn't do this all at once or at least over time.
I've heard people say that if they fixed any of this then it would completely kill the purpose of the game, but that's Bull shit. That's like saying that removing the horses from Skyrim would kill the purpose of its fast travel function. No, it wouldn't. And neither would fixing Destiny kill its purpose. If anything, it would make it better. By removing the arbitrary grinding and farming, it would make the game a far more enjoyable experience. And it would force them to add new content (like story missions, strikes, side quests and raids) with each normal software update like Final Fantasy XI does these days. That's how you keep an MMO going; you add more things for players to do over time, not by holding content hostage and putting up artificial barriers that force players to do the same things over and over for little or no reward.
So with all that in mind, might I suggest that, perhaps, this MMO RPG style probably wasn't the best fit for Destiny? Think about this for a second, dear reader. With its abundance of lore, an interesting story premise and the game play mechanics that made both Borderlands and Halo a huge success, Destiny had the potential to be the next Mass Effect, or, dare I say it, the next Skyrim. In other words, Destiny might have been better served as a single player RPG. Why they decided to waste all that money and potential on what is ultimately a mediocre MMO RPG Shooter? I don't know.
Final Score: 4.5 out of 10.
The question still remains though. Should you get Destiny? Well, like I said at the top of this. Destiny isn't actually a "Bad game," but its not great either; it barely fits in the mediocre spot. The story is criminally short and not told well. But at the same time, its too repetitive beyond the story to be fun for very long. And some of the most important bits are not designed well. But to be fair, the multiplayer is kind of fun and, until it gets ridiculously repetitive, the game play is done pretty well. And co-op with friends is always fun no matter what. But I think that if you're looking for a good first person RPG, a straight up FPS or even a good multiplayer game, you might want to pass on this one.