Version Tested: PS4
Bungie’s biggest (and most expensive) project has come at last, amid a torrent of hype and interest. Some of that hype was tempered since the beta was released back in July and many people have been quick to condemn the game for failing to reach it’s lofty ambitions. But is the game a disappointment? Does it suffer from delusions of grandeur? Or is it a rather excellent, solidly built shooter that successfully marries basic MMO elements with an intriguing sci-fi mythology? Yes. Yes it is.
Does it suffer from delusions of grandeur? Or is it a rather excellent, solidly built shooter that successfully marries basic MMO elements with an intriguing sci-fi mythology?
If you’ve played the beta, you already know what’s up. If you’ve read my rather in-depth preview, then you should be well aware of the ins and outs of the game. Essentially, you play a Guardian, a warrior of The Light charged by The Traveler to help hold back The Darkness from The Last City. Do you follow The Falafel King so far? That’s me by the way. To help you along, the mysterious monolithic sphere that hovers above Earth sends a Ghost; a cute little artificial intelligence voiced by Game of Thrones’ Peter Dinklage to aid you.
Ghost is your main source of narrative and unfortunately, Destiny suffers from what I like to call “Call of Duty Syndrome”. Actual cutscenes are in woefully short supply, precipitating a need for excessive dialogue and constant plot reminders from Ghost. Dinklage is great but as with most military shooters, I simply can’t concentrate on the narrative while I’m otherwise engaged in combat. I found myself having literally lost the plot on several occasions. It’s a real shame because the backstory and mythology is, for me anyway, highly intriguing. I want to learn more about each and every anomaly but I was only left with slight bewilderment and minor clues.
I found myself having literally lost the plot on several occasions.
No doubt these will be developed and explained in Destiny’s proposed 10 year life-span but the sheer amount of enigmas is a little overwhelming. It makes for a slightly disjointed and haphazardly paced story mode; just excuses to enjoy the massively open areas and fight scores of gun-fodder. Each mission objective is simply a waypoint you must reach. Once you get there, you clear the area of enemies and then you’ll have to defend Ghost while he works at unlocking a door. This repetitive mission structure will annoy some but thankfully Bungie has managed to preserve the winning “30 seconds of fun” formula which made Halo such a pioneer in the field.
The open-world elements fall a little short of expectations if I’m honest. It’s not quite the MMOFPS the pictures painted upon it’s initial reveal and that is a little disappointing. For example, I was under the impression that playing as a Hunter would give me uber Boba Fett powers. I dreamed of swooping down on a world in my battered space craft, and silently sniping foes from a distant ridge, saving the lives of unsuspecting players then disappearing like a shadow with a curt nod as they ask themselves “who was that mysterious saviour? Where did he come from? Does he like Nandos?” The reality of the situation is far more limiting. First of all, you can’t fly your ship. It’s purely cosmetic. You only use it to form pre and post-game lobbies and watch it drift in orbit. You can pilot a “sparrow” though, essentially a swoop-bike and that’s pretty fun. But the freedom promised us in those initial screenshots and clips is beyond our grasp at the moment. I dunno, maybe my expectations were too high.
Anyway, you will form 3 man Fireteams and the option to explore the vast areas is made more enjoyable when you’re balanced and working together. Bumping into other players on the same server and combining forces to take on the occasional boss is a joy and there are plenty of secret recesses and loot to be found. Indeed, there is a hell of a lot to see. You won’t get Skyrim levels of exploration, but it’s pretty impressive nonetheless.
The combat is deliciously moreish; headshots are supremely satisfying with sparks and sumptuous lighting reinforcing the meaty sound effects. In fact, this definitely has some of the prettiest lighting I’ve seen in recent memory with J.J. Abrams style lense flares highlighting vibrant colour palettes, especially on Venus. There are quite a few instances of boring old brown and grey industrial environments, particularly in some multiplayer maps but in general, you’re looking at a very sexy cross-generation game here. The art direction is fantastic, particularly in armour and weapon design and the vistas you’ll come across are often breathtakingly beautiful; a mainstay of the Halo series. I will say however, that much of the design tropes are borrowed heavily (read: stolen) from other sci-fi games. The Vex enemies are reminiscent of Mass Effect’s Geth, complete with red cyclopean features and the inner environs of Venus invoke an Assassin’s Creed temple feel. The Fallen enemy race are basically Space Pirate marauders from Metroid and the Hive are space zombies with a twist, but it’s not a problem when it all fits together so well. It makes for an elegant package, one that is complimented by a wonderful musical score. Martin O’Donnell’s absence hasn’t negatively affected the soundtrack, which is often melodic or powerful and punchy and other times moody with a synthetic techy vibe. It keeps very much in line with it’s spiritual predecessors whilst also providing excellent original pieces that compliment the atmosphere of the game to a great degree.
The art direction is fantastic, particularly in armour and weapon design and the vistas you’ll come across are often breathtakingly beautiful…
The character customisation was the first point of consternation for me, upon booting up the game.The options seem very limited, particularly in regards to facial hair, and you know Big Daddy Falafel King needs his beard! The amount of loot you’ll get will soon make you forget how ugly your avatar looks. The customisation may seem daunting for some but after a few hours of play, I got into the swing of things and it wasn’t long before I was sifting through my gear, assigning weapons and fancy little scarves to my Hunter. I now look fabulous.
It takes a good few hours to get going, and this is probably why Bungie had such a strange and strict review embargo. I laugh in the face of embargoes, but I assure you, since starting it on Tuesday morning, I’ve clocked over 25 hours on it; having finished all the story missions and spent a considerable amount of time in The Crucible PvP mode. For many, this will be the make or break for the game; the factor that separates this from upcoming competition, namely Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. It’s kind of frustrating that the really cool shit doesn’t really hit the fan until you’ve levelled up quite a bit. Level 15 will allow you to change your sub-class and time spent fighting will net you a variety of different points (Vanguard, Crucible and clan-specific) that can be traded to certain NPC vendors for Legendary weapons and armour. Your progress is seamless across all modes so you will take your modified warrior into The Crucible once you’ve unlocked it.
So far, it’s fun but the interface and set up are poorly handled and there are some balancing issues that need to be dealt with. It doesn’t help that most content is locked initially, meaning you have to level up to enjoy some of the deeper features. Access to The Crucible is done from Orbit; a slow and cumbersome menu interface that may irk players who are looking to jump immediately into some PvP competitive gaming. While that’s up to the individual, to dismiss the PvE elements is to miss out on the beauty of the game. There is something for everyone here to enjoy but the individual elements are somewhat of a let down. I have yet to be able to create or even select maps or modify playlists and modes to my liking. Destiny has a ways to go before it can challenge the heights of Halo in this regard but it’s early days yet. I can only imagine the number of patches and add-ons that will emerge as the years go on, and I am confident that interest in the IP will improve as it moves towards the vision Bungie had when conceiving it.
…to dismiss the PvE elements is to miss out on the beauty of the game.
As it stands, it is an attractive package and it all boils down to the fun factor, which Destiny has in spades. Not since Skyrim have I invested so much time in simply wandering around. It’s a testament to Bungie’s excellence in design and eye for detail. By no means a perfect game, it is a great one. Perhaps it falls short of expectations but based purely on what it does do rather than what it doesn’t, you will find that Destiny is a thrilling, intriguing experiment in fusing gaming conventions from different genres. Play it, and be swept away by this fantastic example of a what a sci-fi shooter should be.