Because of Destiny's considerable size and complexity, Jeremy and Jaz spent a week playing the game, recording their thoughts and impressions as they progressed.
Now, with seven days playtime elapsed, both feel comfortable in assigning a score, which you can find at the end of this review. Jaz has also posted one last entry - The Verdict - which is essentially a summary of this review.
Stakes. I keep trying to pin down the one thing that really bugs me about Destiny, the one thing it's really lacking, and ultimately it all comes down to stakes. What I mean, basically, is that there are none.
Five or six hours in, and I'm finding Destiny really fun. It's a slick-looking shooter that marries the best parts of a lot of existing franchises into something quite unlike them. It feels most like Halo in terms of movement and gunplay. Which makes sense, given that it supposedly runs on a modified Halo: Reach engine and basically amounts to the massively multiplayer Halo game Bungie always wanted to play.
It has a much larger sandbox than Halo did, though. That series grew stale by its fifth entry because you were always fighting the same enemies with the same tactics. Once the Brutes entered the mix, nothing ever really changed again. Halo is pinned down by its own legacy; because of its continuity, it can never combine all its factions the way Halo 3 did. Destiny is free of that burden, though. It can be anything Bungie wants it to be.
So... why didn't they make it something more gripping? They put so much care into the Halo universe and observed its fiction within the bounds of gameplay almost slavishly. Destiny has a story, too, but I don't care about any of it. I feel kind of guilty saying that, because I worked for a few years with one of the game's writers back at 1UP.com, but the plot of this game just is not clicking with me at all.
I mentioned this back with the Beta, complaining about how the game is full of offhanded remarks and factions and jargon that means nothing. Destiny plays almost frictionlessly, but its story also lacks friction. Words glide right past me, bearing no weight or substance. Peter Dinklage keeps talking about stuff, and I have no idea what. I made it to the point where I went to the Moon to kill a wizard (turns out the Destiny cliché has substance!) and then returned to Russia to activate "the Array." I don't know what "the Array" is, though. It's like a clover-shaped sattelite dish, I guess, and Peter Dinklage seems to think it's a pretty big deal. But, honestly, for all the lack of context in the game, I could just as well have just activated the Halo.
I think Destiny is caught between Bungie wanting to tell a meaty story and Bungie not wanting to bother casual players with too much mandatory narrative. But the solution they arrived at — to tell a big and seemingly complex story without actually telling anything — really wasn't the optimal approach. Or even an acceptable one.
If it seems strange to harp on the story of a shooter, well, I have certain expectations, you know? I cut my teeth on Bungie shooters (Marathon), and they taught me that Bungie values story. Clearly they put a lot of thought and effort into Destiny's story, but unless the opening hours are deliberately vague and the game will undergo a major shift in approach later, all of that effort is wasted here. I want to care about this world, because it's very pretty and lets me do whatever the heck I want (so long as it involves shooting and stabbing aliens), but there are no stakes. I know some kind of plot twist is in the cards, eventually, and I really hope I'm invested enough in the narrative by that point to be even slightly intrigued by whatever happens.
All that being said, I'm really enjoying the action aspect of the game. It's actually pretty weird to me that Destiny is as big a deal as is it, hype- and marketing-wise. It doesn't seem like a particularly mainstream kind of shooter. It's more the kind of thing I'm into: Sci-fi, aimless, free-form, and taking a Burger King approach to multiplayer. I can go co-op if I want or forge ahead solo — I actually started out playing co-op with a slightly higher-level player this morning before spending the rest of my day alone, that initial bootstrapping offering me the flexibility to play on my own — and I can totally ignore the competitive game. Heck, there's an entire race of enemies that basically dies instantly to headshot, which are my FPS calling card!
I'm really enjoying the mechanics of Destiny. I just hope it starts to live up to its creator's legacy on the story front... and soon.
Destiny ticks all the right boxes for me. It has everything I could want from of an MMO-shooter: rich, compelling, and sometimes gorgeous environments, an open mission structure, and interesting gear to experiment with. However, I don't really feel immersed in it. Playing feels more of an exercise than an exciting new adventure in a brave new world. Despite being forced to watch the cutscenes, the story goes in one ear and out the other. It feels generic at best, and incomprehensible at worst. So I just follow the dot, shooting anything that stands between me and wherever I need to go to press the square button so Peter Dinklage can mutter something unintelligible to me.
My biggest beef so far lies with the shooting. Or rather, the intelligence of the things I'm shooting. Destiny's AI is all over the place. I sometimes can't believe the things I can do – like pick off an entire squad from long range, while none of them move. Or back around a corner away from an advancing group, and then take them out as they come around the turn one by one - barely needing to move my sight because their heads are in the same place each time.
So far, it feels that much of the game involves using or exploiting line of sight and cover, patiently sitting back and waiting until the enemy makes a move, whereupon you take your shots. In principle this sounds like the way it should be, but in practice it feels more like a shooting gallery with pop-up targets. The only hazards are being overwhelmed by sheer numbers, or accidently running into an area that's too high for you. As long as you're slow and methodical, and do plenty of backing up so you don't get yourself surrounded by a bumrush, you're gold.
The end-of-mission bosses I've encountered have a similar lack of depth. If you find a nice piece of cover and park up, the boss often goes into a behavioral loop where you can predict what it's going to do. As long as you sit in a safe area where you can't be hit, and then pop out and rattle off a few shots when the boss has completed its volley, you can rinse/repeat until it's dead. It's a good way to complete the mission, but it's a somewhat hollow victory. A win through repetitive attrition as opposed to a thrilling firefight.
Ultimately, much of the gameplay so far feels like attrition, and that's the core of my dissatisfaction. I've certainly had some exciting moments, but when the gameplay largely revolves around defeating the enemy by exploiting what feel like AI loopholes, it ends up feeling rather vapid. It also hammers home the feeling you're playing a video game, rather than fighting against an intelligent and dangerous enemy in a living, breathing world.
The other thing I'm not feeling yet is being a part of the Destiny Universe. Everything feels a little discombobulated, because Destiny is not a contiguous world. Moving from place to place happens via loading screens, which try to convey a feeling of travel, but end up feeling just like loading screens (especially since loading sometimes takes so long, you think the game might have crashed). Because of that, I don't really feel like there's a world. It's a subtle thing, but in a game like Skyrim or World of Warcraft, there's a very strong feeling of presence in a tangible world. Destiny just feels like interconnected, disperate levels.
Another way players can be drawn into a world is through characters that they feel affinity with. However, I'm not feeling much of a personal connection with any of mine. Even though there are plenty of customization models, characters feel generic and lack personality. Who is this person? What are they doing? What's their story?
The game's interface feels very clumsy. Navigating through screens is quite slow and ponderous, and having to keep buttons pressed to do simple things like talk to a vendor is just plain annoying. In-game help doesn't seem to be particularly effective either. The game seems quite complex, but in terms of learning-as-you-go and tutorial-type stuff, Destiny seems lacking. It doesn't look like it needs much, but even a little can help give the player a better understanding of what the factions are all about, what different items and objects are, and what they might do.
So far, it's all been complaints from me. Do I like anything about this game? Well, I haven't got to PvP yet - and that's a whole different ball game. But I'm saving that for my second update.
I thought I'd post a quick update, as I'm still working on my main piece that I'll post on Wednesday.
I've been thinking about Destiny a lot today. It's bugging me. Bugging me that I'm not falling head over heels in love with it. I mean, I should be. This game feels like it was made for me, but throughout yesterday I felt an overwhelming sense of ambivalence while I played it.
I think much of that is down to a lack of emotional investment. When you don't really care what happens to your character – because nothing much actually seems to – and the world is just a place you pass through on the way to the next shooting gallery, the only motivator for progression becomes progression itself. The game starts feeling like a treadmill.
That's where I'm at right now, and it's pissing me off. I really want to like this game; I want to be excited about my next mission. But so far, it's just not captured my imagination, or ignited significant interest. Destiny is a decent enough shooting exercise, and it has many interesting features, but it's missing two critical aspects: involvement and compulsion. I absolutely hate to say it, but I have to because it's true: if I never went back to Destiny again, I wouldn't bat an eyelid. I just don't care.
But I will go back, because I'm determined to find something I really enjoy about this game.
Another quick update based on my overnight play. I've played a lot of PvP, and I'll be writing about that later. I also went through a few more missions, and I'm finding that quite a few of the end-of-mission fights feel overly protracted. Basically, it's all about surviving waves and waves of enemies and then taking out a boss. So far there doesn't seem to be much variety, and the behavioral modeling doesn't really change much. The challenge is essentially surviving an initial bumrush as mobs try to overpower you with numbers, and then settling into a protracted firefight where you use cover and try to get your shots in when you can.
So far, I haven't seen much in terms of different kinds of AI or firepower, and it seems like for the most part I'm fighting against a known quantity. Hopefully things will begin to develop into something a little more varied and interesting as I progress further into the game.
I'm looking for a way to turn off the soundtrack. Some of it is good, but generally speaking I prefer listening to my own music. I've also found that sometimes the soundtrack doesn't quite match what's going on. Last night I was in a firefight while some really pleasant ambient techno was playing in the background. It just felt totally inappropriate, even though it was probably my favorite music so far. I'm also not a fan of when the soundtrack changes to something dramatic, and goes into a loop until you complete whatever it is you need to do. Sometimes that can take a while, and that loop becomes really, really annoying - especially if you've dropped back for a quick breather and are trying to think of what to do next. That's probably the biggest reason why I want to turn the music off.
Oh, and the stupid cursor-based interface continues to piss me off. Why there's a cursor and no ability to move it using the touch pad is beyond me. It's like Bungie has chosen the worst of both worlds: a PC interface with a console controller.
Finally! I've found the thing in Destiny that I enjoy – PvP. The action is faster and more engaging than PvE, and my skills are seriously being put to the test. It's a whole new ball game.
I like Destiny's weapon feel and handling, so by stripping out the things I don't like – the AI and the rather generic, often protracted-feeling missions – and replacing them with human intelligence and tighter, more intense action, Destiny becomes a gripping, fast-action, kinetic shooter that really gets the pulse pumping.
Indeed, I'm enjoying my time in the Crucible so much, I'm not even thinking about PvE. Maybe I'll go back and blitz through the story as a high-level character, but for now PvP is challenging, entertaining and exciting. I just wish the loot yield were higher, because it looks like I might have to slog through some PvE missions to find better weapons. Loot earned through PvP is very slow – I've garnered little of significance, despite win after win. Perhaps I'm just being unlucky, but the rewards do seem a bit meager. Leveling up also seems relatively slow in terms of time investment versus PvE. But then, I'd still prefer to take a more exciting, slower route than a shorter, boring one.
What I've found – and I find it interesting – is that for PvP I want a very different setup and weapons to what I use in PvE. I like heavier, slower aiming for PvE, because I find it works best to combat the AI, where a lot of the time I only need small, precise movements to pick off targets (usually because I'm backing up, or forcing the enemy through a choke point). PvP action is far faster and involves a lot of high-speed turning and tracking, so I want a much more responsive setup – and I also usually want a shotgun, because the way I play often ends up with me getting up close and personal with enemy players. It'd be nice to have quickly selectable setups.
In terms of arena design, I think Destiny nails it. I love the game's environments, and PvP arenas really feel like they're a part of Destiny's world. They're interesting, atmospheric, and some look spectacular – and have absolutely amazing views to boot.
However, while I enjoy Destiny's PvP, something very frustrating happened that seemed like the result of poor design. I was playing a match, and we began to lose. Players started quitting, and soon I was the only player left on my team – versus six. I stuck it out, getting in some kills here and there while being repeatedly rofflestomped, because I wanted to see what would happen. A couple of new players joined, but immediately quit when they saw the situation and score. I continued to battle solo right through to the bitter end, when another player joined me. After about 20 seconds, the game ended. Despite having a zero score and almost no elapsed play time, that player got a nice green weapon - and I got absolutely eff all.
That seemed incredibly unfair, and evidence of a system that needs some work. It's impossible to stop players from quitting, but there should be strong penalties for doing so, or some kind of reward for sticking around. If this sort of lose-quit thing starts to happen regularly, it's going to make PvP extremely frustrating. I also can't understand why the rewards aren't tied to performance, or time invested - or at least you get some +1's to your loot roll if you play an entire game and others don't. But to play through most of a match solo, massively outscore the only other player on my team, and get nothing seems pretty crappy to me.
The other thing that I'm not sure about is how well balanced the different weapons and character special abilities are. The abilities are all very powerful, which is how they should be. Titans seem particularly strong, but if they miss, they're screwed. Hunters are less powerful, but their ability is more controllable. So far it seems okay, so we'll just have to wait and see how it shakes out once players begin to cap out and it becomes easier to judge different characters at the same level.
In terms of weapons balance, I've been playing a lot of non-level compensated PvP and haven't felt particularly underpowered. Sure, I sometimes come up against players who can waste me, but I did two-shot a person 10 levels above me (with a shotgun), which was quite surprising. Ultimately, I didn't feel too far out of my depth, and while my lack of firepower was a bit of a handicap, it wasn't a crippling one.
The only other thing I haven't been able to judge yet is how good matchmaking is. So far, the teams I've joined have had a very broad spread of levels. Whether that's by luck or by design, I don't really know yet. The only time I've run into games that have been very one-sided, it seems to have been more down to player skill than out-gearing/leveling. However, as the game begins to mature, that's when we'll see whether Destiny does a good job of grouping lower-level, and higher-level characters separately.
But for now, Destiny's PvP has finally sparked a genuine interest in the game. Indeed, how I feel about PvP is almost diametrically opposed to my thoughts on PvE. Team modes work well, and I even had a blast in the free-for-all mode, going up against players twice my level. Sometimes I take a beating, but it's really satisfying when you do get kills in.
It's going to be interesting to see how Destiny stacks up against Titanfall and Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. So far it seems pretty competitive in terms of general gameplay, but the other two have a deeper PvP experience and overall structure. Or at least, it seems like it based on what I've played so far. Hopefully there's a little more to Destiny's PvP than immediately meets the eye, because it's definitely got all the basics very well set up.
I had a particularly ridiculous narrative moment while playing Destiny yesterday. My Ghost began rattling off plot details about my mission to retrieve a key from an ancient Knight, as is his wont. After jawing about it for a while, he came to a grave conclusion.
"You're going to have to kill him," he proclaimed. What a shock! And here I was thinking maybe this would be the one enemy in the game with whom I could interact by having a polite conversation over tea, unlike the several thousand I had already killed on sight.
Thankfully, all the shooting in Destiny is really good. It started out a bit tedious with my underleveled character, but as I've advanced into the game it's evened out and begun to work more like Halo (where skill and precision make a huge difference in a battle's outcome) than Borderlands (where it's all just a numbers game). Early on, fighting Hive Wizards was the most irritating thing ever, because even a perfect headshot with a high-powered sniper rifle wasn't enough to take out its regenerating shield, let alone inflict permanent damage on its health bar. Now, though, I'm working with gear that manages to take out a Wizard's shield with a single hit and pierce through to its health as well. Fights have become far less tedious as a result, especially since my erratic play schedule as I travel has made it difficult to link up with friends.
My Hunter character has settled into a comfortable groove with a scout rifle, a sniper rifle, and a rocket launcher. The scout rifle has the versatility to work in-close and long-range, with the sniper rifle serving as a backup for higher-level foes. And the rocket launcher is great for bosses. Like that Knight I had to kill — one shot did the trick. I messed around with pulse rifles and fusion guns for a while, but there's just something unbearably satisfying about taking out foes in as few shots as possible.
Better yet, I find my play style sustains itself. Precision kills, which the scout and sniper rifles are made for, yield better ammo drops as well as superior weapons and armors. I kill enemies precisely, they give me weapons that are even better for those precision kills, thus I kill them more effectively. It's the best kind of positive feedback loop.
That being said, the action has not been without its rough patches. The respawn-restricted areas are like a giant middle finger to anyone who wants to play Destiny solo; you can slog into a difficult zone for 20 minutes and instantly lose all that progress when a group of enemies blindsides you. The mechanic there kind of reminds me of the old NES game Life Force: When you die playing solo, you're sent back to a checkpoint, but when you play with a friend you simply jump in to where they're at. So I don't know. It's cool that Destiny encourages cooperative play, but it shouldn't put solo players at such an unforgiving disadvantage.
As such, I don't have any ethical qualms about cheesing the AI in these areas. Hive fighters in particular seem to resist kiting, so you can pull them to the edge of the zone they're allowed to fight in and pick away at them from safety; they'll rarely venture outside of their territory, so you can stand nearby while they'll come up to the perimeter and growl at you ineffectually. It's lame, but I fought the three "swarm princes" that way and have no compunctions about it; they soaked up tons of damage and could have killed me in two hits, which would have cost me tons of progress if I'd taken them on in a "fair" fight. If the game is going to overwhelm me like that, I'm fine with being equally cheap.
Jaz, you've complained about Destiny's A.I., but frankly I'm grateful for its flaws. I'd still be muddling through the first moon mission if not for these exploits. Besides, you loved Wolfenstein, and that game had the worst A.I. Especially in the stealth sequences, where enemy guards would look right at you from a few feet away and keep on marching. By comparison, fighting the Hive is like doing battle with Sun Tzu.
Still, the clunky AI and poor consideration for solo players, along with the mediocre story presentation I've complained about previously, all add up to the nagging sensation that Destiny shipped incomplete. The public beta may have technically ended a few months ago, but the game launch feels more like a new beta phase than the arrival of the next great thing. You see it everywhere you go, from the stark pointlessness of the Tower hub to the fact that when you collect Grimoire Cards you have no means of viewing them in-game (bizarrely, you have to visit Bungie's website to see in-game rewards).
Perhaps worst of all are the abundant invisible walls. I well remember Destiny's first public showing at E3 2013, where Bungie representatives stood and looked over the vista beyond the Skydrome. "And when the game ships, you'll be able to go there," they said, waving to the lands beyond. But in fact if you try to go there you'll fall off a cliff and die. Or you'll step into a forbidden zone where you're told to turn back and with five seconds to comply or die. Even in mission areas, you'll come across doors and passages blocked by misty barriers that scream "content incomplete." This isn't the PlayStation 2, so why are we seeing PS2-era artificial barriers in this supposed open-world game?
I won't be able to complete Destiny for a while; it's a long-term project for me. That's OK, though. The action is great, but it's fairly repetitive. Each story mission introduces a new element to the sandbox, so I always feel like I'm seeing something new... but there's an awful lot of killing the same patrol formations over and over as well. This isn't quite the marathon experience I'd hoped for (pun intended) — it's more of a game you play in dribs and drabs. I can see, 10 years from now, Destiny showing up as one of my Comfort Food Games, the kind of thing I can dabble in on a whim, especially if the fundamental game evolves through continued patches and DLC. Bungie's nailed the core shooting action, but everything around it needs more work — a bit more work in some cases, a great deal more in others.
Jeremy's comment about Destiny's AI versus Wolfenstein's really got me thinking. It's a very fair point – because they're both as bad as each other. Why can I happily put up with MachineGames' AI nonsense, whereas I'm not prepared to give Destiny a pass. Ultimately, I think it's something that extends to the game as a whole. Destiny is a super-high production values game that presents itself as a sweeping epic, and in doing so sets expectations high.
While I was lobbing grenades at alternative-past Nazis, I wasn't taking it particularly seriously. If I fooled a couple of dumkopfs with some prime cheddar maneuvers, it was lolz ahoy, and let's get on to the next ridiculous task. I had fun, despite those flaws. Destiny's AI issues suck the fun out of the game. In PvP you have to run-and-gun and react to threats from everywhere - and in doing so you can appreciate how great Destiny's gunplay and feel is. In PvE, that dynamism just isn't present. While there are some shoot-outs where you need to move around, most of the time it's more like attrition. Find your spot, dig in, and wait for things to pop out so you can shoot.
I think Jeremy's spot on about Destiny feeling like it isn't quite all there. I was going to make a theme park analogy about arriving at a place, but once inside you realize some of the attractions aren't complete, and there are "pardon our dust" signs here and there. The framework is all there, but Destiny needs a lot of finessing.
However, assuming the game is going to be an ongoing concern for some time – and I see no reason why it won't be – I imagine we'll see plenty of patches and fixes, and tweaks to the gameplay.
One quick update today before I embark on a marathon weekend session of Destiny, where the final boss will be the review score. Yep. It's our intention to rate the game this weekend. Some might argue that we shouldn't yet do so, because Raids are not currently available, and Destiny is therefore not complete. But while that's a valid point, if you applied that same logic to World of Warcraft in 2004, you'd still be waiting for a score in 2014.
We believe a review is a snapshot in time, and we want to evaluate the game that launched – the game that you bought. Not one changed by content after the fact. As additional content is released, we'll talk about how that might positively or negatively change our point of view. But it won't change the score. The only time you'll see any other score associated with Destiny is if there's a major expansion that essentially changes the game enough for it to feel like a new edition.
If you're interested, this article will be updated one last time this weekend – hopefully tomorrow if my play session goes as planned – and this page will then become the official USgamer review.
I'll actually be pleased to take a break. Playing Destiny has been fun, but it's not quite been the labor of love I hoped it would be. The more I play PvE, the more ambivalent I feel about the game's story, and my character's involvement in it. I think the AI needs a patch to fix it, and parts of the game seem to be awaiting more compelling content. I'm sure that will come over time, especially considering Bungie is usually very good about keeping its games updated, but for now the game feels like the developer just ran out of time, and it was shipped because it was shippable – but not necessarily ready.
The most interesting aspect of Destiny for me has been PvP, and what's there feels solid, exciting and compelling. But like other parts of the game, it also feels just a little lean. I'm hoping this side of the game will also be expanded in the future – and I'm sure it will. More arenas would be nice, but I'm also hoping that a deeper, competitive structure will be rolled into it. Destiny certainly deserves it, because so far, it's a great start – but just doesn't offer the depth of games like Titanfall and Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare.
Okay. Time for Peter Dinklage to start mumbling at me like he hates narrating video games.
After a week of play, it's time to wrap this review.
The thing that has consistently surprised me is just how inconsistent Destiny is in terms of its quality. I don't know whether it's a case of too many cooks in the kitchen, it's a game that wasn't quite ready to ship but it was shipped anyway, or whether this really is Bungie's best shot, but ultimately, Destiny falls short in a variety of areas. It has many positives too, but its negatives really mire it down.
So let's start with the positives.
PvP is generally solid, and it's my favorite aspect of the game by a long shot. As someone who really enjoys competitive combat against other players, I appreciate Bungie's PvP level design. It's very well thought through, and mixes open spaces, tight quarters and everything in between. As a primo deluxe camping bastard, I've yet to find anywhere that I can sit and snipe at people relatively safely. There are places where you can stop briefly, but in this game you need to stay mobile. That definitely helps keep the play dynamic.
Destiny's high-quality feel and gunplay works very well for PvP, and the variety of weapons on offer can make for some interesting choices when it comes to setting up your character. I ended up mostly running with shotguns and hand cannons, simply because those work well with my close-quarter style of combat in this game – something that I normally don't do. Other players seem to do well with rifles, but my snap aiming is just not good enough. Either way, though, all weapons seem viable, so that's a plus.
The Titan's special ability seems a little overpowered compared to the other two classes, so maybe that'll be tuned/nerfed somewhere down the line, but for the most part, Destiny comes across as fairly well balanced. PvP level-correction is very well thought through, and I'd go so far to say that it's one of the strongest single features of the game.
PvP match types are fairly straightforward – nothing you haven't seen before in other games – but they work well enough. What doesn't work, however, is no-penalty match quitting. In my entry from Wednesday of last week, I talked about a particularly bad situation where I ended up playing solo versus six enemy players, because everyone on my team quit once we began to lose. I've run into this situation multiple times – and indeed in PvE missions too. Frankly speaking, I think it's piss-poor oversight to not have some kind of safeguard or penalties to prevent revolving player rosters. If you're making a multiplayer game, this sort of thing has to be a baseline design feature. If players can quit with no consequences, then they will, and that will create a very transient-feeling multiplayer game.
At the moment, PvE multiplayer quitting is much worse than PvP, probably because PvP matches are fairly short, and players are more likely to sit out a loss. Many PvE missions are protracted, and I've had several encounters where players have quit after the team has been wiped once. That can be very frustrating – particularly if you're trying to complete a particular mission and it happens repeatedly.
Something that worries me is PvP's greater loot earnout over time invested vs PvE. A simple, 101 design solution would be to put a basic PvP stat on PvP items, and a PvE stat on PvE items to funnel players into content that's most pertinent to their activities. I'm pretty sure it won't be long before players start figuring out that you can AFK in PvP and be rewarded with items for doing absolutely nothing except spin in place and occasionally jump. If that does happen, it could have a very detrimental impact on PvP.
Moving onto Destiny's PvE, I love the way the open world looks. It's gorgeously rendered, and the lighting is stunning. However, the world often feels inert – it's basically something you travel through on your way from one mission to another. There seems to be no point in exploring, since it's very easy to run into the edge of a zone, immediately breaking the impression you're in a world.
There are doors to nowhere, and there are plenty of items that look like something you can pick up or interact with – but you can't. Basically, Destiny feels like a first-person shooter trying to be an MMO, but one that's failed to use any MMO tricks to help fool you into thinking you're in an open, living, breathing world. I feel the same way about Destiny as I do Titanfall's maps. They look great, but they're just maps.
This is a comment I'm sure some will disagree with, but a few things stuck out while I was traveling through Destiny's levels. When I'm on the Moon, why is the gravity the same? Maybe I missed the Lore of Justification that explains I have some sort of gravity-correcting boots, but even so. It would have been interesting to have to deal with different types of gravitational effects.
The terraformed Venus seems really weird to me. It looks great, but running past the same rusting economy car shells that I saw on Earth just seems wrong. Indeed, the whole urban environment dropped into the middle of an orange volcanic landscape seemed very jarring, and doesn't make much sense. It's spectacular to behold, though.
My biggest issue with Destiny is simply the way much of its PvE has been designed. I've talked about this issue in detail over the past week, but I just don't like the general design philosophy of cover-shoot-cover, and super bullet-sponge bosses. There's way too much attrition: move until you find the next pod of enemies, find cover, dig in and then slowly take them out. It's just not very dynamic. Sometimes things start going wrong, and you're forced to go mobile and improvise – which can actually be very exciting. However, playing like that all the time is risky, so once you have control of the situation, you dig back in and it's business as shot-by-shot usual.
I've played endless MMOs that have had all sorts of exciting, creative and stimulating bosses to fight, each with their own patterns and behaviors to figure out. Destiny seems very one-dimensional comparatively – mostly a series of you-versus-bullet sponge bosses in fights that largely boil down to attrition. Or being sneaky, finding an AI loophole and exploiting it. Which is the safest bet in a fight where you'll fire off hundreds of shots to take down a boss that can kill you in two.
So many encounters seem overly protracted: an endless firefight where you're rinse and repeating similar tactics until you prevail. It feels like persistence is a far more necessary asset than skill. That's a little unfair to the game, because its shooting aspect does require a good degree of skill, but the problem is that it often feels like a shooting gallery, rather than a mission. Sit, wait until an enemy pops up, nail it, then sit and wait for the next one. In a rare mission where something does come after you, all you need to do is find a nearby LOS object and pillar hump to stymie its plans. And if you're caught out in the open? Strafe left and right keeping the sight at head height, and that should take care of things.
It's just boring, really. In some respects, Destiny feels like it dropped out of the late 90's. The clunky MOB behavior, and the cheap way that increased numbers of monsters are used to ramp up the difficulty level, rather than interesting new ones with more advanced behavioral patterns seems very last century. Even more so when you die on a multiplayer mission and while you’re awaiting respawn or revival, you watch as monsters continue to attack the spot where you died. It's just detail, but that's something you see repeatedly in Destiny: it's like the developers had to push the game out, without being able to fully polish it.
One of the most surprising aspects of Destiny is just how poor some of its quality of life issues are. The cursor-driven interface is particularly heinous, and one of the poorest UX's I've seen in a long time. The game would have been far easier to use with traditional console joypad controls. And why is navigation not a quick pop-up? It's so tedious having to go through screen after screen to get around. I can understand the need to disguise the very slow level loading, but all the extra screens just add even more time to the process of going from one place to another.
Not being able to adjust the sound is another irritation. Again, it just blows my mind that something this simple was overlooked. And if it was deliberately overlooked, then whoever signed off on that really needs to rethink the way they view the user. The game generally treats its player pretty poorly, and not being able to customize the way you listen to it just makes me feel disrespected.
Oh, and why can't I rename my character? It's a simple thing that can help you feel more involved and invested in your character. Speaking of which, character choices and customization don't feel particularly exciting or meaningful. It just doesn't feel like I'm building a character around my playstyle, or making significant changes to the way my character plays. It all just falls short.
Which pretty much sums the game up as a whole. Destiny is filled with wonder, but it's also rife with issues. It's on its way to being a decent shooter-MMO, but is missing much of the customization, presentation and general UI niceties to really classify as one. Instead, it's more of a high-end FPS, but one whose rich and interesting world is marred by protracted, repetitive gameplay and 90's period AI. Destiny certainly has its moments, but it's patchy – for the most part feeling like target shooting, rather than a run-and-gun battle.
Despite some flaws, PvP is enjoyable and the game's best forum for appreciating its excellent weapons and general feel and gunplay. With the clunky AI replaced by intelligent opponents, and protracted shooting removed in favor of highly kinetic burst battles, Destiny comes alive. It's dynamic, fast and involving – and shows just how far PvE falls short of its potential.
It's such a shame that it does, because you just know that within the launch version of Destiny is a great game waiting to get out. Perhaps it'll be unleashed over time via updates – which is what I'm hoping will happen. But for now, Destiny is an uneven epic that feels more like open Beta than a finished game.
The Nitty Gritty
- Visuals: Destiny's landscaping is first class. Beautifully rendered and lit, it really is a joy to behold.
- Sound: The ambient sounds are good, and the music is strong for the most part. But no ability to adjust any part of the audio is a poor oversight.
- Interface: Awful. The cursor-driven menu system is clunky, often adding needless button-presses to simple interactions. The game also does a very poor job of articulating general information.
- Lasting appeal: Destiny's endgame is quite strong on both PvE and PvP fronts. However, both aspects have flaws that will hopefully be fixed via updates.
Destiny feels like it wasn't ready, but it was shipped anyway. It tantalizes with glimpses of brilliance, but then confounds with clunky design decisions and baffling oversights. Hopefully future updates will fix these, and Destiny will realize its full potential.
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