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19:5516/09/2014Posted by Dave Stuart2 Comments

After all the hype, all the talk and the bandying about of giant budgets and 10 year plans, Destiny is finally here. The first post-Halo game from Bungie, few games have had the level of intrigue and anticipation behind them in recent memory. Does the next-generation of gaming start here? Or have Bungie bitten off more than they can chew?

Before the pre-release Alpha and Beta, the main question around Destiny was simple; what is it? After years of teasing, and somewhat cryptic answers to such questions from the developers it was only after people got to play the game that things started to fall into place. The same goes for the full release, a term that it somewhat disingenuous here. Moreseo than most new releases (outside of full-scale MMOs, of which Destiny certainly shares many similarities) Destiny feels like a game that could look quite different in 6 months, with post-game Raids still to go live, weekly events and challenges and expansions already announced it is an extension of the recent trend of games-as-platforms. However the game has been released, with customers being charged £50 for the privilege and so reviewing the game in its current state is a worthwhile and important endeavour, but it is worth bearing these caveats in mind. Here at D-Pad we are not averse to re-visiting a game down the line if we feel re-appraisal is required, and will do so here if necessary.

In the mid 21st Century humans discovered The Traveler. A mysterious construct found on Mars, its discovery lead to an unparalleled period of discovery and advancement. But then The Darkness appeared. An ancient evil, sword enemy of the Traveller, their presence brought about the Collapse of our civilisation and diminished the power of the Traveler, threatening to overwhelm the galaxy. As Destiny starts you are awoken as an ancient Guardian brought back by the Traveler’s power to save the universe. So goes the story of Destiny, throughout the game’s main campaign you will fight your way across 4 primary locations in our solar system to restore balance to the world, though sadly a lot of the epic scope hinted at through the game’s impressive opening remains distant throughout.

Contained within the environments are some of gaming’s most impressive vistas. To gaze upwards, or out across the various planets can be breath-taking. Upon reaching the first Moon mission I was transfixed by the silhouetted Earth off in the distance, a broken-up space-station frozen in time above me. Bungie has done wonders in making drab, lifeless planets visually exciting, but these landscapes are largely just that. The city in the distance? just pixels. A gorgeous asteroid belt? Just the location of a cut-scene. Destiny frequently looks like the covers of classic sci-fi novels, and can be truly transportative, but it is also surprisingly, frustratingly, restrictive. A technical marvel, the scale only serves to highlight how limited the areas you visit actually are.

It’s a weird contradiction that the sheer ambition of Destiny makes it often feel small. Though there are only a few missions on each planet you will re-tread the same ground many times. The landscape’s carefully crafted ridges and tunnels guide you along, almost pulling you forward straight on and on and on. Here, the game says, hurry along, no time to waste. It’s only during the Patrol missions that you can freely explore the environments, only to discover that aside from some randomly generated quests there is little reason to poke about in these largely empty, vacuous spaces. Aside from some gold chests for loot there is nothing to do, and so the impulse to discover quickly fizzles out.

In the missions themselves you will repeat a finely tuned, and compelling gameplay loop. It’s odd to draw the core of a game like this out in such stark terms, but Destiny is a game whose very ‘game-ness’ is loaded front a centre. It is a finely honed, impeccably crafted feedback cycle and the only difference between this and most other games is how exposed these decisions seem to be. Missions are designed to be replayed, on different difficulties, on your own or with friends. Therefore story is kept to a minimum and a simple formula adhered to. You run to locations, shoot enemies, move on and do the same. Occasionally your Ghost (voiced by a sadly miscast Peter Dinklage, who isn’t helped by some poor dialogue and characterisation) will have to hack a terminal, or extract some data. At which point you will be attacked by waves of enemies. As the last one falls, your work will be complete.

On one hand the narrow focus helps Destiny’s core mechanics shine. The shooting that lies at the heart of the game is excellent, guns feel weighty and powerful, the controls are fluid and responsive. Everything is so finely tuned it’s easy to overlook how well it works. But it’s also oddly unsatisfying. The enemy AI is frequently unimpressive, sticking to clearly defined boundaries and often blithely unaware of your presence. The larger, tougher bosses stomp about but rarely is there any real trick or skill to felling them, save the patience and desire to unload thousands of rounds in their direction.

Destiny also features Strike missions, played with 3 players, these take you through areas of each map facing off against tough bosses for XP and specific bonuses that mainly kick in once you reach the initial level cap of 20. These are rotated through on specific playlists for you to grind through and whilst they can be fun, they re-use areas and enemies from the main game and don’t offer much new. Raids are high level quests that are, as at the time of writing, yet to launch but offer the promise of some late-game challenge for those pushing at the game’s current limits. Finally there is the Crucible, where the PvP element of Destiny resides. With 4 modes and 11 maps (or variants of maps) the Crucible is relatively bare-bones compared to Call of Duty and other modern shooters, but also fairly well designed and enjoyable, especially on Control mode where you are capturing bases and all the XP earned goes towards your character in the single player, so it can be a good place to take a break from the story and continue to level up. Though all level progress is evened out during the matches, certain weapons and abilities still favour the late-game players and there are elements of the modes that have not been very well balanced for this. As with any online multiplayer mode you will need to commit time and effort to compete and it can be easy to leave disheartened from another drubbing from unbalanced teams, or more experienced players.

The focus on Destiny is solo and co-op play however, and the latter is almost a must when it comes to the main story as having friends alongside you makes the formulaic missions much more enjoyable. Playing solo was a real slog at times but with friends the game was constantly more fun. The RPG and MMO elements that the game co-opts provide incentive to keep levelling up and returning for better equipment and new gear. Despite having some character customisation at the start, where you choose between the three main classes, it is shame that the game doesn’t feature more options later on.

Given how Bungie have talked about wanting the players to forge a connection with their character who will continue on through future games, currently there isn’t much to distinguish my Titan from many others. Similarly the game offers you ways to buy new spaceships, which simply display during loading screens between missions. Some space-based missions would have been a great break from the gunplay and an excuse to invest players in their own craft. Similarly the Sparrow (land speeders) are a lot of fun to zoom about on, but they are under-used and buying new versions does little but increase your speed or change the colours.

As a whole, I struggle to sum up Destiny. It is such a mix of genres, ideas and elements. As a gaming event its launch is virtually unprecedented, and for the current starved owners of the new consoles it is the only game in town, as it were, right now. It has the luxury of leading the charge, but this also throws its flaws into sharper relief. Being seen as the start of the ‘next generation’ is a double-edged sword.

The game itself is such an ambitious, contradictory, and fascinating endeavour that I can’t fault Bungie’s commitment here. Sure there is a lot that rankles; the story is poor, not just in execution, but lazy and a waste of an intriguing, if derivative, world. The lack of character spreads from the individuals to the world itself. There is something hollow, something lacking that you notice occasionally, when the XP hunt runs dry briefly, or you are left alone to contemplate the landscapes uninterrupted. It’s these quiet moments that games should be able to shine, where immersion takes hold and drives you forward. Here it instead threatens to remove you, to make you question; why am I doing this again?

But you play on; the compulsion to progress is strong and expertly crafted. The glimpses of what Destiny could be, what I hope Bungie want it to become, shine through and they make it worth sticking with. It tries to be all things to all players, widening the playing field whilst appeasing the hardcore fans, but for all that hype, all that technical brilliance comes at a cost; this is an experience that lacks soul.

One that is almost too concerned with tearing down walls than trying to find some humanity amongst the rubble.

Destiny was reviewed on PS4 with a copy provided by Activision.

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