It’s funny; I expected to have mixed feelings about Destiny, I never quite brought the hype. The interesting thing is that the things I expected to love I hated and the things I expected to hate I loved.
Destiny takes place centuries into the future, after the downfall of ‘The Traveller’, an object or possibly being found on Mars which gave humanity the ability to travel space, live far longer and eventually bring about a utopia. Eventually however, a nebulous force known as ‘The Darkness’ arrived and caused The Traveller to fail, bringing about the destruction of civilisation. Fragments of the Traveller known as Ghosts have scoured the solar system to find ‘Guardians’, those who seek to defend the last vestiges of civilisation and drive hostile alien forces from the Solar System.
In short, the plot of Destiny is appalling. Truly, irredeemably bad. Destiny repeatedly fails to adhere to the most basic rules of good storytelling. Rather than showing us or letting us discover the world organically, all lore is confined to horribly narrated (we’ll come to that later) loading screen or unlockable ‘Grimoire’ cards which cannot even be viewed in game. We’re given precisely zero reason to care about the fate of the universe, with almost no actual characters or any feeling of stakes. I don’t struggle to keep up with complex plots, so there’s no excuse for why I frequently had no idea what I was doing and why. I went to this ancient temple and discovered this thing so I could go to this place and then I had to get a thing to get another thing which will help me get another thing to get into another place so I can get to the next place where the next thing I need is. Playing Destiny is kind of like trying to read that sentence. What’s so surprising about this is that this is Bungie. Among the AAA shooter crowd, Halo probably has had the strongest story-telling, with genuinely likeable characters and real stakes. How could these be the same people who made Destiny? But enough about the story, I could rant about it all day.
Despite the problems with the story, Destiny manages to achieve something truly astounding. It’s a fantastic FPS. It’s also a great MMO. On consoles no less! The shooting feels like Halo, which is a very good thing in my books, with the three classes all having unlockable skill trees to personalise the experience. I went for the levitating Warlock, as did most people looking at the games I’ve played online, but all three of them seem fun and the balance is good. The repetitive nature of this game has been criticised, but I actually never really got tired of the core mechanics. There’s a disappointing lack of vehicular combat, my favourite thing about Halo, but the un-weaponised speeders you can summon at will are pure joy to pilot. The social elements are brilliantly integrated, and I ended up loving this element more than anything, surprising myself as I tend to be a fairly solitary gamer. The player can return to the central ‘Tower’ between missions to buy new equipment and collect bounties, which give EXP rewards. Dancing around the Tower with strangers bought some of my favourite moments with Destiny.
Bungie really worked to sell the scale of Destiny, but frankly they lied. There are four areas; Earth, the Moon, Mars and Venus. Each contains a handful of story missions, which are fun but probably the most boring part of the game. Each world also allows you to patrol, which means travelling the planet map picking up mini-objectives. This was the element I was most excited about, but the promise of open environments simply does not come through. Yes, some of the areas are open, but are inevitably linked by valleys or tunnels, making each feel like a separate battle arena rather than a coherent whole. The worlds are no fun to explore, with none of the sense of awe or scale promised by the developers. The PVP mode is called ‘The Crucible’ is actually surprisingly fun, with a range of game modes. As mentioned above though, the lack of vehicular combat was felt keenly however. The best parts of the game are ‘Strikes’, where three person teams embark on a lengthy mission culminating in a boss fight. Although these fights get less interesting as the game goes on, the first few were some of the most exciting, tense and rewarding multiplayer experiences I’ve ever had.
Destiny is a stunning looking game, with beautiful environments and fantastic art direction. If only Bungie had found something to fill this lovely world. The music is good, sweeping and operatic when it needs to be and tense and pounding when the moment suits it. One thing really sticks out though; the voice acting. It’s terrible, across the board. Talented actors like Peter Dinklage, Bill Nighy, Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres and Claudia Black deliver stilted, dull performances. This isn’t really a criticism of those actors so much as of Destiny’s script. It would be an impossible feat to make much of Destiny’s dialogue sound good. Dinklage in particular almost crosses over to being compelling his voice acting is so phoned in; I never got tired of hearing the dripping contempt for his own dialogue, so…Destiny has that going for it I guess.
The main takeaway of Destiny is that it is slick. In fact, slick would probably be the best word to describe this game. That’s both a good and a bad thing. Whilst sometimes holding negative connotations in the game industry, a slick experience is of underrated importance. Everything in Destiny just…well, works. For a launch online game, Destiny’s lack of problems is possibly unprecedented. Everything fits together really well, with the separate modes and elements all feeling part of a coherent whole as you progress your character. The shooting is rock solid, the social elements fantastically integrated, the levelling smooth and satisfying. Destiny is quite clearly a game made by pros. To the negative implications of slick then; Destiny is a game that lacks a soul or a sense of direction. There’s no roughness or charm to this world, no irony or wit. In fact, probably the best analogy I can think of is the Star Wars prequels. Sure, the CGI was shinier and the lightsaber fights more over the top, but the grimy and witty world of the Original Trilogy always wins.