Bungie’s highly anticipated Destiny has been out in the wild for a couple of days now. I picked up my own copy on Tuesday and I’ve spent a good few hours with it so far, shooting, running and riding across its gorgeous scenery. However I’m finding it quite surprisingly divisive. It’s not as straightforward a success as people may have been expecting. For every immersive and stunning moment there’s something that leaves me cold. With that in mind I wanted to quickly write up some early thoughts I’ve got about what works and what’s failed to hook me.
Disclaimer: This is an opinion piece. It’s written from emotion and my personal reactions to the several hours I’ve spent with the game. I have opinions and preferences moulded from my experience with other media, including Bungie’s earlier games. You may passionately disagree with my expressed thoughts, that’s fine. I am not writing cold, logical, fact, I am articulating my personal feelings. Please do not confuse this for a definitive exclamation of truth. Some people may want a serious critical analysis, I’m afraid that’s not what this is. This is a blog and therefore a point of view. Enjoy!
I was, and still am I suppose, a big Halo fan. More than any other shooter the mechanics and “feel” of the series really click with me. Destiny feels like Halo. Which is great. The gameplay feel weighty but fast, the weapons loud and punchy. It’s a very a smooth and enjoyable experience to just simply be blasting the hell out of some freaky looking enemies. When you’re just down in the nitty-gritty of Destiny it works oh so well.
Furthermore the game is pretty, really pretty. Levels feel worn and ancient, with a history behind them. A skeleton slumped by a computer, a rusted shack of a building, Destiny feels like a very used world. As if we got here too late to see the real story and we’re riffling through scrap. On a technical level the texture detail is stunning, I’m playing on a current-gen system so I can’t comment on what it looks like on 360 or PS3, but every surface bristles with minutia.
The music is another standout. However every time I hear a great tune I’m struck with the bittersweet realisation that Marty O’Donnell got booted from Bungie after finishing such stunning work. For those unaware, he’s been the lead composer inside Bungie for many years, he defined the sound of Halo and it’s a shame that after defining a new franchise he’s gone. Still, I’m grateful his contribution to Destiny was finished first, it’s better for it.
Okay so maybe I’m an idiot but Destiny’s story is not doing anything for me. I have a tenuous understanding of the history of the world and I’m struggling to care about it. I feel as if the history of Destiny has been meticulously written and planned but it’s uncomfortably sterile and not very forthright. You can make your character comically dance and style them with extravagant hair but Destiny’s lore is humourless. There is no charm or warmth to be had. It’s disappointing as the character designs just beg for some extra personality. Your character speaks in cutscenes but they make the stoic Master Chief look downright chatty.
The game tells you little beyond what you absolutely need to know. Gently you’re introduced to the world but then any exposition flutters away and you’re left to just go with your gut and fill in the blanks. I find myself playing Destiny simply because it’s fun and never from curiosity to see where the story will go. Hell, I barely even understand who I’m shooting at.
Now, this might be affecting me more than the average player. I love video game stories. For example, I think the The Last of Us is a masterpiece because of how it handles characters and emotion, the gameplay just provides a thrilling foundation to put those pieces on. There are likely plenty of Destiny players out there who could not care less about the plot and are having a whale of a time. Awesome, that’s great. For me though, the lacklustre story floats in the background of every mission asking me why I should really care about what my character is doing.
Right, so that’s the straightforward good/bad section done with. The rest of this is a more neutral smorgasbord of thoughts and opinions about the game as a whole.
So far I’ve mainly just been talking about the main story mode, meant to be played alone or in co-op. But Destiny comes packed with a competitive multiplayer mode too, more akin to the like seen in the average modern shooter. I’ve had very limited experience with it so my opinions either way are still in their infancy, but my gut reaction is I like it. From what I’ve played it shows off Destiny’s strengths in full force. I spent quite a bit of time during the alpha test in this competitive mode and from my limited look at it in the final game it feels just as fun as it did then.
I’ve always been a player that’s turned off by the classic deathmatch mode, as in shoot everything that moves, so I was happy to see a capture point gametype. For instance playing Invasion, a type of objective attack and defend, on Halo Reach is still some of the most fun shooting multiplayer memories I have. I’d be ecstatic if over time we saw some expansion into more varied game types for Destiny.
Meanwhile Destiny has a really interesting structure. It took me a while to realise the whole set-up reminds me of Phantasy Star Online, another game I have strong feelings of nostalgia for. In PSO, like Destiny, you hang around in a hub with other players then enter a level to complete various quests based on what you picked to do. It’s not a perfect fit, but I’ve used it as an example to illustrate how the game works to those who haven’t popped into it yet. Do I think it works well? Y’know, I’m really undecided. I like the exploration and free roaming but grabbing side-quests has been a mixed bag. At one point I was tasked with killing a specific enemy in a tunnel, cool no problem. Once killed, I went back outside and collected another quest, it told me to enter a specific tunnel and kill a certain enemy. So I went and entered the exact same tunnel and killed a different enemy in the same room, which had re-populated itself in the few minutes I was gone. Doing so absolutely shattered my immersion. But of course that was just an unlucky selection, as the game basically generated two very similar tasks in a row. Other times I’ve been sent all over the map and had a blast. But it illustrates how it’s hard to shake the thought that you’re not really doing anything that feels meaningful and you have zero impact on the actual level. It’s hard to criticise that though, as why is that different from the majority of MMOs? It’s really not. Perhaps I was just expecting something more ambitious.
Final thoughts, is Destiny good? Yes. Is it perfect? No. Do I feel I’ve reached my ultimate conclusion? Absolutely not.
There is still plenty of the game to see, I haven’t even finished the story, and my opinions are bound to morph and shift as I see more of what’s on offer. If I had to just distil my experience down to answer the very simple question of ‘Should I buy Destiny?’ then I’d say yes. It’s flawed but it’s very fun. For every problem I do have there’s enough in there to redeem that wrinkle and keep me trucking along.
I don’t think I’m going to review the game, at least I have no plans to right now. But in a few days, or even a couple of weeks, I might return and write another opinion piece on what’s changed since. It’s certainly a fascinating game either way, it’ll be interesting to see how it evolves as a franchise from here on out. For now it’s simply a fun game, that’s enough for me to enjoy it.