Their time has come! No longer under the thumb of Microsoft, Bungie is free to make anything they want! So what did they do first? They ran straight under the thumb of Activision, and are basically remaking Halo by way of Borderlands and a dash of the Syndicate reboot. Staying in their comfort zone I guess. At least it mostly pays off, and d*** does it feel good to finally have a Bungie game on a console I own. Now if they ever got over that fear of Windows gaming…
What is this three-headed beast of an FPS?
*coughs into microphone* “Destiny.” *proceeds to flee the oncoming wave of hype that comes from merely uttering the name*
If you know nothing about Destiny, you must have found a great condo under a very heavy rock. Set in the distant future after humanity’s golden age of space colonization, things are fairly grim. There is only one city remaining on earth that is protected by a giant object known only as The Traveler. No one knows its true intentions, but in a very Christ-like way, it sacrificed itself to keep us alive after being assaulted by a coalition of enemies known only as The Darkness (not voiced by Mike Patton). Notice how it’s not “The Covenant”? You shouldn’t be expecting to make friends with any of these races, ranging from the Hive, space zombies in tombstone ships (seriously, they are even called Tombships), to the “not-Elites and Grunts” race known as the Fallen. There are robot enemies, giant Krogan-like enemies. The Darkness apparently took recruitment lessons from the Ethreals in XCOM, and it paid off. Humans barely survived the last war and The Darkness is returning (or is the actual Darkness approaching for the first time? The lore is really unclear in the beta on this subject).
You are one of the proud, the brave, and the likely-to-get-killed-on-an-isolated-planet, Guardians. Which means you are basically a Jedi-Spartan. You are to go out with Tyrion Lannister-robot (he’s called Ghost but every little AI robot is called that so that’s like naming your child Kid), who resurrected you from the dead somehow, and stop Mike Patton’s understudy from ending all civilization. Well, all HUMAN civilization. The only other known races besides humans that you can play as are the Awoken (blue skinned humans? Magic humans? They never explain.) and EXOs (robots, because robots are a race now, with genders, apparently), and it’s not entirely clear how they factor into everything. The game’s story tries to play you up as the big hero, but Bungie seems to have neglected the fact that since Destiny is basically an MMO, everyone is the big hero.
The writing is still very single-player focused, so while you can practically play it solo, it can be a bit jarring when the boss you need to beat is already being repeatedly killed by other players running through and shooting him on their own quests to save humanity. It also didn’t help that a lot of lore was either treated as if we know it already (unfortunately reminiscent of Titanfall), or pretty much ignored if barely given a name drop. I know a Warmind is an AI meant to try and help ensure humanity’s survival, but what does it mean that he is still active? Why didn’t he, the Warmind Rasputin, reach out to humanity after the first war ended? Why does the Traveler have a man speak for it? How is it still in orbit if it is technically dead? Why couldn’t all the Ghosts just keep reviving people from the dead all these years? Why do Ghosts “die” and disintegrate despite being artificial machines? Why didn’t the Traveler just make them more durable? Why didn’t it make warriors to help the Guardians? Are the EXOs from the Traveler? Why is it there are so many Guardians that they have arena battles while humanity nears extinction? Shouldn’t they be focused on fighting The Darkness? Are all Guardians resurrected or only some? Where do the magical powers come from? What is the plot of the game even about on a basic level? From my time with the beta, I have no idea in the slightest.
I did all the available story quests and sidequests, although it was blatantly clear some areas of the game were blocked off either with invincible enemies or impassable doorways, and maybe those were key to the plot. The game’s opening tutorial mission has this great, very Bungie-esque feel to it, but then things just go off the rails and it becomes all too Borderlands-y. Now, don’t get me wrong — as someone who didn’t enjoy the original Borderlands or its sequel, Bungie has done a fantastic job taking what did work in that game, and turned it up to eleven, with style. This is the Borderlands of my dreams. The gunplay is satisfying and requires skill, and feels distinctly weighty thanks to the double-jump system and amazingly satisfying melee attacks. Grinding is still somewhat important, but accuracy, proper equipment loadouts, and precise use of abilities matter much more.
It doesn’t matter if I’m Level 2, so long as I have the right guns and tactics, I can take out a Level 5 Archon without too much trouble. Headshots do severe damage regardless of what color your gun is in your inventory. You earn skills regardless of your level. My Warlock had an electrified heavy machine gun with a counter-weight for accuracy, a scout rifle that stabilized as I hit targets, and a fire fusion rifle that could tear through shields like butter in PvP matches. Alternative loadouts varied widely, from blind fire assault rifles to highly accurate sniper rifles with psionic bullets. Oddly though, in my experience, assault and pulse rifles were, for the first time in a Bungie game, the weakest options to pick from. Precision weaponry was more often rewarded with fast kills, as were melee attacks, although not in the same style of play as games like Call of Duty. It still had its own unique heft and aiming stability, but it’s something I hope to see tweaked before release.
One aspect the game takes directly from Borderlands is smaller-scale explorable areas styled after MMOs. While Destiny walks the awkward line between instanced party play just like Waframe, Guild Wars, and theme park MMOs like World of Warcraft, it leans more towards the instanced side of things. Players can pop up in your game, but they’re more like random strangers. Unless they are in your fireteam, you have no way to communicate other than four different emotes scripted to your d-pad. There’s no typing chat either. Combined with the PS3 community’s continually strange aversion to using microphones (it’s an MMO, you should buy a microphone, there is no excuse here), this left the game being very awkwardly quiet when friends weren’t around. It almost starts to feel like it was going to just be Borderlands style four person co-op the whole way through, but then someone thought they could make it an MMO-lite. The problem with this is that each zone of the map is instanced across multiple players with different other players visible, and a few times my party seemed to vanish from my game before reloading in. The idea of a seamless online experience where you can freely encounter people without being swarmed with players is intriguing, but I’m not convinced Destiny will have the system perfected by launch.
The maps themselves seem well designed. Earth, Old Russia was the only major hub available during the beta, but it had everything from underground skirmishes to grand scale random public events with mini-bosses in an open field. With random events like the mini-bosses, horde-mode battles, and assassination targets, it keeps each location fresh. The frequency of events could be increased a bit, as even a dropship coming by to deploy more troops after you kill all their squads makes the world just feel more alive. Enemies don’t just randomly spawn themselves alive again, they come from inside buildings, they come from dropships, they come from their bases. When you enter an area that was recently cleared out, enemies can spawn behind you, leading to a tense fight you never even saw coming. This kind of dynamically shifting, but still consistent world is fantastic, even with some chinks in the armor.
On the competitive multiplayer side of things, PvP is more of a mixed yet still intriguing bag. A lot of the game’s unique ideas, like class specific instant-kill abilities called Super Charges really come into play. In a regular player versus environment situation, you only really use your Super Charge when in a boss fight or faced by too many enemies at once. In the PvP Crucible mode, you have to be a lot more tactical and skilled with them. As a Warlock, I often had to save it for when pairs or larger groups of enemies attempted to take one of the three objectives on the map. The only game type in Crucible was a riff on Titanfall’s Hardpoint mode, with three objectives to hold in battles of six versus six. Guardians don’t die instantly but are more like glass cannons than Spartans in Halo. You can get yourself out of a bad position if you’re smart, but if you’re hovering in the air or running blindly at enemies, you’ll die quickly.
Much like the PvE, long to medium range precision weapons got kills much faster and effectively than short range assault weapons. The game’s three-weapon system of one primary gun, one secondary Special, and one Heavy weapon works brilliantly. Heavy ammo lasts only for one life and drops randomly, so rockets and chain guns can’t be abused. Special weapons get ammo more frequently, but most Special ammo is near objectives so you can’t just camp with a sniper rifle for the entire match. My only balancing concerns are with the level design and vehicle combat. Of the four maps available in the beta, three were more close-quarters focused battles, and worked the best. The fourth was set on the moon, with vehicles. Not only did the map seem so focused on vehicles that no one bothered using the infantry-only parts of the maps, but whichever side still had vehicles after first contact had basically won the battle before it even began. The two vehicles shown were a Pike machine gun strapped hover bike, and the rocket cannon packing Interceptor tank. Both of these vehicles take a lot of punishment. To the point that even in another vehicle, you could just stand there and shoot each other for half a minute. This results in matches being tedious affairs of begrudgingly losing despite every attempt to turn the tide. A few times I saw the losing side win out in the end, but those were far and few between. More regularly, one side quit save for two players, who would then get clobbered to death.
There’s no negative backlash given to these players for abandoning their teams, and that needs to be fixed. It even happens on non-vehicle maps. The second a match is not going a certain player’s way, he or she quits. I know there’s an in-game bounty that rewards winning a certain set of matches in a row, but I hope Bungie resets that count if these people quit. You are playing with other humans, you don’t just grab the ball and run home because you aren’t immediately the next Master Chief. The saying “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” is not quoted out of irony. If you’re intentionally making things harder for your team, you are a j***. If you have to go offline because you have to get some sleep or someone invited you to their Fireteam (in-game party), okay, that’s reasonable. Real life worries and friends take priority because this is still just a game.
Further on the matter of platform specific pros and cons – I saw nothing other than graphical difference between the PS3 and PS4 versions of the game. I was able to view PS4 gameplay, and while yes it does look nicer and have shorter loads between maps, there’s not much else to comment on. The gameplay, from I was able to see, is exactly the same, just with a tweaked control scheme that uses the PS4 pad for some basic in-game functions. The same goes for Xbox One, which doesn’t look any different from the PS4 version unless you are obsessively comparing aspect ratios, in which case you need to let go and remember that it looks pretty, regardless of whatever numbers are thrown around with a P at the end. So whichever platform you own, unless you exclusively play on PC or Wii-U, you can enjoy Destiny as it was intended, and everyone else can pine for a proper port to their respective platforms.
Overall, Destiny looks promising. I enjoyed both the PvE and PvP. I beat bosses with friends in Strike dungeon missions. I maxed two of the classes and got half-way with the final third class. There was so much that happened that I could go into even more detal, but you’d be sitting here reading this for an hour. I won’t make you sit through all that, mainly because, Destiny really is something you should explore on your own. I kind of wish I hadn’t had to play the beta, as exploring the world for the first time is a great experience, and I’m saddened I can’t do that again. Once the magic is gone, it’s a fairly game-y game, but for the first time through… there’s a luster, there’s a majesty to it. Bungie put a lot of effort into this, and while not all of it works perfectly, you should at least consider the game for whenever you get a console, past or current gen. Hopefully when the final game releases, all the lore will make sense, and the story will stand tall as another great Bungie campaign. If nothing else though, they’ve got solid gameplay and a rewarding PvP battle system that uses the best parts of combat. Rarely does a game feel worthy of the sixty dollar price tag, but if Bungie really is reaching for the stars like they seem, Destiny should be worth it.