Destiny – Review

Title   Destiny
Developer  Bungie
Publisher  Activision
Platform  PlayStation 4 (reviewed), PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360
Genre  Action role-playing First-person shooter
Release Date  September 9, 2014

Rounds fall on the rocks like a heavy rain, pinging and clinking; one of the few sounds I can hear beyond the blood in my ears, the beep of a recharging shield, and the clunking reload of my rifle. One clip left; it won’t be enough. They have me pinned, the Cabal – a race of ten-foot-tall monsters in suits of armour, and they’d very much like to see me dead. I poke my head out of cover; I see ammo near some bodies only a few meters away. It’s a chance. Their weapon fire trails after me like every Golden Age action movie, whizzing through the air only to meet my shadow. A slide takes me safely to cover and the ammo I desperately need.

My turn.

Stepping out of cover I drop the first few to the ground, all headshots; the pressure in their armour causes their helmets to pop off. Phalanxes rush forward, their heavy shields absorbing my fire with ease. Beyond them stands Primus Sha’aull, a leader of the Cabal, and my target.

Click, click, click.

Empty. No back-up weapon, and no rockets. It’s not the only sound however; it may be a faint noise in the distance, but I hear it. Over the bullet impacts and the screams of an alien army I hear it – the distant whistle of retro thrusters and the buzz of transmat systems. A smile can’t help but creep across my face as I stare at Sha’aull, “Now you’re in trouble”.

Okay, so maybe I need to work on my action movie one liners, but this has been my experience of Destiny over the past few weeks. As you are no doubt aware, Destiny is Bungie’s latest sci-fi FPS and puts the player in the boots of a Guardian, a resurrected warrior destined to battle against ‘the Darkness’ and protect humanity from extinction. Hundreds of years before the start of our story, humanity discovered the Traveller on Mars, an apparently all-powerful alien being who sparked a golden age in human development. We explored the solar system, colonised, and thrived until the Traveller’s nemesis, the Darkness, rolled in to town and drove humanity back to Earth during a horrific war. With humanity now on the brink of extinction, the Traveller sacrificed itself to cast a protective aura over the last remaining population centre, and over the hundreds of years that followed, a city grew in its shadow. Small artificial intelligences, known as Ghosts, were dispatched to seek out the corpses of Guardians and bring them back to protect the city. The player is one such Guardian, found in the ruins of an old Russian space centre.

The premise is clearly laid out at the start of the game, and after a few missions you begin to understand the history. However, as you play through and move from planet to planet, the reasons for doing so are a lot less clear. Some of this is down to how the game is actually structured; players begin in orbit and access a map, from which they choose to visit the various planets in the solar system, along with the social hub –  The Tower. Selecting a planet provides a list of missions and it’s then a case of simply selecting what you want and playing through. None of this is very well explained, and there’s very little hand-holding, so this can lead to frustration.

To explain my point I may have to drop a spoiler or two, but it honestly doesn’t have any impact on the story. On the last Earth mission, you are told that there is an artificial intelligence on the moon, but once you get there the artificial intelligence isn’t actually mentioned, you then discover something else, and begin investigating that instead. It’s not until you get to the last few missions of the entire story that this artificial intelligence is mentioned again, and for the life of me I have no idea what that whole story arc was about.

This was incredibly disappointing for me as someone who boarded the hype-town express fairly early on and was expecting something on the scale and breadth of the Halo universe – an epic world where you felt like you were making a difference. We got the epic background and universe, but the story is so disjointed that the end is incredibly anticlimactic. Don’t be expecting to sit around patting each other on the back for beating that final boss. It’s more a case of, “Wait. Why was I actually killing it?”

So if the story is so bad, why the grand opening? Well, the story may be pointless, but the combat mechanics in Destiny are some of the best I’ve seen in an FPS. The weapons are fairly varied, based on near-future styles – so don’t expect to be rolling around with plasma weapons – but they all feel like they have weight and their own particular use in different situations. They can be upgraded over time, gaining experience along with the player to increase their effectiveness or add passive bonuses to other skills and abilities.  With the addition of the super-charge abilities, which are tied to each of the three classes and sub classes, you feel like a real badass at times.  On the flip side however, players are fairly squishy, while enemies attack in large enough numbers and hit back just as hard as you do, meaning cover and tactics are a must.

The artificial intelligence is also incredibly complex and seems to actually react intelligently to not just you, but everyone in your group. Enemies flank and can be flanked if you disappear behind cover, they can be distracted or drawn out, and they know when to push an attack or fall back. Each of the four enemy races have their own tactics; the Hive tend to swarm supported by grenade-launching heavier units, while the Cabal use jump packs to close the distance and heavy shields to force players back. This mix of tactics means you have to really stay on top of your game when it comes to combat. Enemies do not pull their punches and their damage scales with as you level up, so even at the higher levels, weaker enemies can get the drop on you.

What Bungie have done with Destiny, if nothing else, is to show how exhilarating a firefight experience can be in a video game. They have also created some incredibly beautiful environments in which to have those fights. Each planet is finely detailed, from the grey mountains of the Russian cosmodrome dotted with the rusting ruins of Earth’s golden age, burnt out cars and crumbling buildings, to the red deserts of Mars, with sand dunes swallowing up the ruins of what was once a sprawling metropolis. Everywhere you look in Destiny there is this sense of loss, but also something beautiful; when you get a chance, take a look at the sky.

Destiny is a visually stunning game, from the environments right down to the UI, and this is further supported by the incredible soundtrack and voiceover cast.  As you’d expect from Bungie, the soundtrack is operatic and feels like it’s come from the Star Wars playbook. The chanting choir from the Halo series is back and it only adds to the ethereal feel of the whole thing; you are playing a long-dead-yet-suddenly-resurrected sci-fi magic-user after all.

The cast of voiceover actors is extensive, but they are given so little to say or do that you’d be lucky to even recognise them. Your Ghost, who for all intents and purposes works like Cortana in Halo, is voiced by Peter Dinklage and, sadly, it feels like a great opportunity was missed due to some really poor dialogue. Nathan Fillion, Bill Nighy, Claudia Black, and Gina Torres all have roles but only as quest givers, with no real active role in the story. Regardless, they all do a fairly decent job of delivering the oddly placed dialogue.

There is a fair amount to do in Destiny, although much of it revolves around the shooting of waves of enemies. If you get bored with the story missions there are strikes – single missions typically involving the Guardians teaming up to take down a tougher enemy. These are a great distraction from the tedious story and present more of a challenge, requiring that you coordinate with other players. The next step up from the strike is the raid, although there is only one of these at the time of writing – The Vault of Glass – and I haven’t yet been able to give it a try but they’re effectively a much tougher challenge, taking a good few hours for six players to complete, compared to well under an hour and three-man fire teams for strikes.

If you want to get involved in the shooting of other players there’s quite a few PVP modes for you to dive into. Each match type gives you a boost to the reputation you have with the different factions, which then unlocks new equipment from their representatives. The multiplayer action feels like a continuation of the classic Halo multiplayer; it’s fast, thrilling, and in my case incredibly challenging. Bungie have said that they’ll be adding new multiplayer modes as they go along, much in the same way they launched playlists in Halo 3.

Bungie have announced that there is a ten-year plan for Destiny, but what that means in terms of new games and expansions remains unclear, although they have already launched a schedule of events and updates for the next few months. I hope that somewhere along the line will be the addition of more chapters to the story and more content for groups of more than three. What we seem to have with Destiny is a foundation – exhilarating first-person combat and beautiful visuals with solidly built mechanics and the beginnings of a fantastic universe. Sadly, however, we don’t yet have a game that delivers the sci-fi epic we were promised; we don’t have a salient story that runs together in to a satisfying climax, and that is terribly disappointing.

  • Some of the best first-person shooter firefights I’ve seen in gaming
  • Beautiful worlds to explore
  • A strong competitive multiplayer system which feels like a new iteration of Halo 3’s
  • Fractured story that doesn’t seem to run together
  • Much of the background info is delivered outside the game through a website
  • Too many wizards on the moon

Destiny is fun. You may not think it, but the opening to this review did actually happen (maybe without the sound effects and my one liners) but the backs-to-the wall style of combat in Destiny is refreshing. Every mission is challenging, every strike requires a team effort or at least some coordination, and that makes the core of this game - the combat - fun. There are issues, however. The story is fragmented, you don’t get any real sense of accomplishment or story progression as you take down enemies, and they seem to have paid a whole bunch of famous people a lot of money for bit-part voice acting. Still, it’s the core mechanic which makes Destiny great. If you enjoy an FPS and have a week or so to burn, Destiny would be an excellent choice.

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One Comment

  1. Chris Toffer says:

    Great review mate (finally got round to reading it). Probably not one for me in the long run but I am impressed at the scale of what they’ve created.

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