Destiny. Does a game with this much hype and anticipation really need an introduction?
If you play video games, the you have undoubtedly heard of the game either from the non-stop PR promotion over the past year or talk amongst the gaming communities. This is Bungie’s new baby. This is what they have poured their hearts and souls into since relinquishing the Halo brand to Microsoft. This is the franchise that they, and Activision, are banking on carrying them for the next decade. After spending nearly 70 hours in the world of Destiny over the course of the last week I can see what they are going for in the long run. While I am buying into their vision and the experience, I question whether other gamers willing to tag along for the ride?
From a technical and gameplay aspect, you couldn’t ask for more out of the game. The graphics and music are, quite simply put, amazing. This universe is gorgeous. The planets are all unique and detailed and can get get lost simply taking in the sights (or at least the sky-scapes). It is all presented to you with a grand, epic feel that makes you feel like you are part of something greater than yourself. You feel a part of a living and breathing world.
As polished as the look of the game is, the gunplay mechanics are even “shinier”. They are absolutely rock solid from nearly every aspect. Most people will immediately say “this feels like Halo”. Wrong. This feels like Bungie. It will be very familiar to anyone who has controlled the early Master Chief games and easy to grasp for those who haven’t. Hell, even the Vita controls are near perfect for remote play, easily making it the best shooter on the handheld. There is a great variety in the weapons and gear, all of which can be upgraded and improved over time via usage. It really has a “pick up and play” feel to it that makes it extremely accessible to both FPS noobs and hardened veterans. As a result, it is very possible to play and enjoy the game without even scratching the surface of the deeper mechanics that are available.
I spent a long time with my first plays of the alpha version of the game simply equipping weapons and running missions. It was nearly a week before I made my first visit to the Tower, which is where you are able to explore the other options available to you and truly start digging into this world. That same experience is here in the final game too. Even though I knew about the Tower going into the final version, I was content simply relying on the basic experience for the first few hours. You don’t have to go any further than the run-and-shoot approach to the game but you will be rewarded greatly should you choose to do so. The problem is that you have to learn and discover that yourself, which not everyone will do.
Destiny’s biggest problem doesn’t have anything to do with its gameplay, the vague story, or the social issues, although we will discuss some issues with those aspects in a bit. The biggest problem is the lack of direction given to the players, almost from the start. It is awe-inspiring how much there is to the world and experience in this game, but you will never know that unless you seek it out yourself. The entire story adventure is nothing more than a mere tutorialk or introduction to the most basic aspects of the game. Considering the amount of stuff there is to do, the narrative almost gives you zero direction on how to make the most of it all.
As you experience the world, things are rolled out to you at a nice pace. You start off having access to the solo experience and once you hit level 5 the Crucible (multiplayer) becomes available. At later levels you will get things like Strike playlists, faction options, and extended difficulty choices. You are made aware of the existence of these things, but hardly given any direction on how to make the most of them or how they will benefit your Guardian.
What do I get from the Strike Playlists and why are they important?
How exactly do I level my gear and equipment?
How do I join one of the said factions if I choose to?
What do I do with the subclass I earn at level 15?
What do you do with the strange coins you earn in missions?
What do you do after you hit level 20?
These are all questions that you will eventually find yourself asking, however the answers are better found outside of the game, amongst the Destiny community, than in any menu or NPC in the game. To get the most out of your Destiny experience, you have to go out and educate yourself, which will turn a lot of fans off. Bungie does this a lot with the game. In addition to having to seek out the details for what you can or can’t do in the game, you have to do the same for the story and the lore. What is presented to you in the storyline is ultimately vague; it is like you are teased with the stories of this massive universe but not given the details you likely want. To get those, again you need to look outside of your television and controller.
You need to head to Bungies’ website and research the Grimoire cards that you unlock. You need to theorize and debate some of the political and humanitarian issues of the game and its inhabitants in the forums and with your friends. This world is intentionally open-ended and left up for your interpretation. Destiny is intended to be more than a game, by design, which could hurt it in the long run. Personally, I absolutely love this type of experience, but others can find it intimidating and cumbersome. Not everyone wants to give the Destiny experience the dedication and effort that the world requires and the game may ultimately suffer as a result.
Focusing in on the more technical issues with the game, I can’t help but find myself severely disappointed with the social and communication functions in the game, or lack thereof, above all else. Destiny is intended to be an incredibly social experience. The solo and team aspects in the world are almost two completely differences, with the latter definitely being the most enjoyable. Adventuring alone has an aspect of loneliness and desolation that makes you long for contact with other players. There is a sense of relief that comes across you when you are wandering in a barren part of the Moon, fighting off enemies, and you see the icon of another player on the horizon, headed your direction. Perhaps they will stop and help you. Maybe they won’t. It all adds to the experience of the game and the exploration of its universe.
Ultimately, however, Guardians are supposed to form groups and explore this world. Aren’t we supposed to form fireteams and clans? Aren’t we supposed to meet up with other players and tackle raids and strike missions? If so, then why doesn’t the game make it easy for me to communicate with them? You can’t connect or communicate with anyone directly from the game world. There is no adding someone you just met in the desolate greenery of Venus to your friends list without backing out and relying on the PS4‘s interface. There is no chatting to someone near you to request help or interest in forming a team. The chat options within the game are limited solely to formed fireteams, be it randomly matched or self-made groupings. This applies to all of the different modes in the game, even multiplayer on both competitive and cooperative levels.
If you enter the Crucible and are put into a team of six for competitive play, even in strategic game modes, you have no ability to speak with anyone on your team. If you run into a group of players who are pinned down while exploring Mars, and jump in and give them a hand to fight their way out, then all you can do is give them a wave or dance animation using one of the few, in-game social actions. Communication is key in a socially-driven world, but in Destiny it is very hard to come by. You can use the PS4 party chat if you are going into the game amongst friends, but once again you will be limited to your little, pre-formed group. If you and two friends head into the Crucible in a system-based party, then your communication will be amongst the three of you only. What good does this do you when you are working in a team of six and you can only talk to two or three of them? I find it very strange that a game that is supposed to be social-based makes it so hard to be, well, social.
I want to give Destiny a higher score, even though many will consider the 8 I am giving it generous. At the end of the day however, I just couldn’t do it considering how much work I know the game requires. The Destiny experience is one filled with opportunities and a lot of responsibility is put into the hands of the player(s) to find and seize those opportunities. That isn’t the type of game everyone is looking for, and it certainly isn’t what they were expecting with this one. It is a bold move for Bungie to put so much on the shoulders of gamers but those who are willing to take the responsibility and do so are rewarded with an engaging and enjoyable experience. In a way, Destiny is more of a tool than it is a game; what you do with this tool will determine your ultimate opinion of it and that will vary greatly from player to player.
At the same time, it is apparent that what we are experiencing in the world of Destiny will is different than what we will experience a month, or even a year, from now. This world is changing, growing, and evolving with continued support from Bungie. Even in the first week changes have come to the universe that have enhanced the gameplay and made things more enjoyable, such as improved loot drops. Picking up and playing the game for a short period of time, or just running through the story missions, does not define what Destiny has to offer. There is a long-term commitment required in order to see the vision Bungie has for the game. Some people will buy into the experience and sink the next couple of years of their lives into it, until the inevitable sequel. Others will see the initial sights and move on, realizing that it isn’t for them. I am in for the long haul, which is why I enjoy what is here so much. Which camp will you fall into?
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
If you have been here before, you know the basics: lifelong gamer, father, and of course, certified news monkey. I have been blogging on the industry for close to a decade now, in some form or another. It wasn't until I landed here at Gaming Nexus that I really dove in head first. Now, writing about games has become what I do for fun (and sometimes work) and something I intend on doing until the day I die.
I'm a huge fan of just about everything you can interact with using a controller, no matter how old or new, good or bad. If you put it in front of me, I will play it... end of story.