Destiny Is Fun, but Is It the Future?

Before delving into what I love, detest, and question about Destiny, I must address the elephant in the room. The following that Bungie’s newest shooter has gained months before release is remarkable. The game’s roughly $360 million advertising campaign hasn’t fully kicked in, yet passionate fans have arrived in droves. Because Destiny is so ambitious and currently in Beta, some are arguing that the game will look quite different when it launches. It’s a logical loophole, as it can be used as a counterargument for any and every negative assertion about Destiny. I hope that every concern I have about this game is merely the product of an early build. Whenever I play a game for the first time, I secretly wish that it will be an absolutely perfect experience. Unfortunately, this never turns out to be the case. For the sake of this preview (and any preview for that matter) I can only judge Destiny based off of the evidence available to me. In this case, the evidence is fifteen hours of Alpha play and twenty-five hours of Beta play.

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Because of the sheer amount of things I have to say about this game, I made the decision to divide the preview up into an easy-to-read list format. If you are only concerned with the worst things about Destiny, feel free to scroll to the bottom. My goal is simply to give you as much information as possible so that you can make an informed preorder decision. Without further ado, here is what I found wonderful, questionable, and awful about Destiny:

What Works:

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Moment-to-Moment Gameplay:

Gameplay is the single most important element of almost any game. If a title plays exceptionally well, then all of the other concerns become secondary. This is absolutely the case when it comes to Destiny. It should come as no surprise that the creators of Halo have crafted an engaging first-person shooter. Every gun feels unique in its own right, yet manages to live up to the high standard of precision that Bungie clearly demands. Hit-boxes never feel sporadic, and the sheer quantity of bullets needed to kill an enemy actually adds a level of strategy to each encounter. While some enemies may initially seem like bullet sponges, there is always a technique to be found that makes each battle simpler. The various class-based double-jumps add a dimension of verticality to combat. One of my favorite strategies throughout the Beta has been timing my reloads to coincide with the second of my two jumps. Not only does this give me valuable momentary cover, but it allows me to get one final headshot in before using a fresh clip. Destiny’s combination of twitch action and strategic movement feels truly fresh.

Likewise, the lack of positional linearity makes every battle feel chaotic, yet controlled. Enemies will often spawn from multiple directions, meaning that Destiny rarely feels as linear as Halo often did. This is not your standard corridor-shooter; you will have to think on your feet to get the highest amount of kills in your Fireteam [Editor’s Note: or have the best weapon]. Because of the open nature of the enemy spawn patterns, running away is often a legitimate strategic option. Leaving enemies (and random players) behind reinforces the “living, breathing world” concept that Bungie is hoping to create in Destiny. If you’re a fan of the genre, this game should keep you engaged. This is first-person shooting at its finest.

RPG Elements:

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Leveling up your character of choice is undoubtedly fun. Though the Beta’s level-cap is low, there are numerous upgrades and customization options that give players an idea of what Bungie’s take on grinding will look like. Wandering around and killing various enemies gives you plenty of interesting loot drops (such as the white and red armor I found myself sporting), while experience points fill up various buff meters on one’s character screen. More experienced Guardians both look cooler and play better. Weapons can be buffed, player stats and abilities can be altered, and armor can be strengthened. Level progression seems to come fairly easily (though not ridiculously so), but these upgrades take a bit of work to attain. The combination of long-term and short-term rewards makes Destiny compelling, as players will never truly know what interesting trinkets are hidden around any given corner.

The Crucible:

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Bungie is known for creating classic adversarial multiplayer experiences. After the slight disappointment of Halo: Reach, a game whose multiplayer strayed away from the arena roots of the Halo franchise, it looks like Bungie is back. Though we’ve only seen one mode, Destiny‘s multiplayer playlist does a phenomenal job of linking the cooperative and competitive sections of the game. Players take their weapons, armor, and (in the case of the Iron Banner playlist) statistics into The Crucible. Not only does this add a layer of continuity, but it eliminates the “Multiplayer Only” contingent from the game almost entirely. Those who forgo upgrading their characters will find themselves at a distinct disadvantage, turning The Crucible into a reward for the most dedicated players.

All indications show that the spawning system is well-designed, as spawn-trapping is a non-issue. This allows players to position themselves strategically at all times rather than feeling cornered and defensive. The most skilled Guardians are constantly on the offensive, using verticality, ammunition drops, and anticipation to best their opponents. Overall, The Crucible is an unmissable experience that combines the best parts of Halo with the most exciting gameplay elements of Destiny‘s other modes.

Universe Evolution:

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Destiny‘s perpetually changing universe is one of its most exciting features. Though we only have a few examples at our disposal, Bungie has set the stage for boundless creativity. Public events pop up at random, altering both the landscape and players’ fates. In these events, Guardians have to protect a certain area while fighting off hordes of enemies, or defeat a high-level mini boss. Bungie does not have to stop here, as these public events could constantly change, giving players exciting ways to earn more experience and loot. Every time the sky turns black is a chance for the game to become more exciting, and one can only hope that this feature is expanded upon.

The two-hour addition of the aforementioned Iron Banner playlist also teased some neat possibilities. Bungie decided to open up the statistic-based mode for two hours on one of the Beta’s first days before opening it up for the remainder of the pre-maintenance phase due to player feedback. If Bungie continues along this path, we could see Destiny continually expanded with experimental modes, enemies, and events. Granted, this could be a Beta-exclusive occurrence, but Destiny has the potential to change by the moment, creating a constant flow of new experiences.

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The Structure:

Unfortunately for all those involved, Destiny is less seamless than it’s made out to be (as I previously noted in my Alpha preview). Because every mode and playlist is accessed through the use of a map, players are often subjected to barely-disguised load screens. Want to go from one story mission to the next? Prepare to sit through to two loading screens and a menu. Likewise for any switch between a story mission and Strike mission. Destiny often feels like an open world game without the over-world connecting the individual missions (imagine Watch Dogs without the ability to improvise between stages). The vague explanation that this is a result of travelling via warp-drive is more insulting than logical. No structural decision is as egregious as separating the Exploration mode from the rest of the mission types.

Picture a Grand Theft Auto game that requires you to select “Run Around and Murder People Mode” from a menu. Think about what inFAMOUS Second Son would look like without the ability to neon-sprint around Seattle. This is what Destiny‘s Exploration mode feels like. Sure, wandering around aimlessly is one of the best parts about the Destiny Beta, but having to go to a separate playlist makes Old Russia feel more like a “closed-world.” Perhaps more unfortunate is the fact that Destiny is touted as a “shared world,” but this separation creates the feeling that you’re only sharing it with the people in your specific playlist. Regardless of how the disjointed world is linked together, Bungie’s structural decisions undermine some of Destiny‘s potential.

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The MMO Elements:

Though Destiny isn’t technically a cut-and-dry MMO, some elements of the popular genre are blatantly present. Other Guardians pop in and out of one’s game, emote commands are mapped to the controller’s D-pad, and group events take place constantly. While these features can occasionally add to the game, they directly inhibit what could be a deeply challenging and atmospheric single-player experience.

The indoor portions of Old Russia are absolutely haunting. The flickering lights, worn-down walls, and general sense of dread created by the alternating sections of light and darkness make for deeply chilling enviroments. Nothing breaks this sense of immersion quicker than some random player killing every enemy attacking you and dancing on their corpses while you stand there confused. Sure, playing with a friend can be fun, but besting the countless enemies on your own is incredibly rewarding. Knowing that you single-handedly took down an enemy that typically requires two other allies inspires a great deal of pride. Sadly, the other players constantly popping in and out of the world hinder the game more than they help it.

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The Tower:

The ability to visit a number of merchants at any given time? Kind of cool. The fact that the other players in The Tower appear to be glorified NPCs? Not so much. Though Guardians can upgrade every aspect of their character by speaking to various characters, other players simply seem to populate the area for the sake of population. You can dance with them, wave at them, and look at them, and nothing more. In fact, the random sweeping robots found around The Tower’s numerous sections are just as exciting as a number of the motion-free human-controlled Guardians. My deepest interaction came during a friendly game of soccer, where I accidentally kicked the Easter Egg off of the side of the balcony. A regulated player-trading system would be much-appreciated, as this would add a much-needed layer of complexity to one of Destiny‘s more shallow features.

What the Hell?

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The Story:

While we’ve only witnessed the first five missions of Destiny‘s narrative, the premise as a whole seems to be a bit…dumb. The story begins with a take on one of the most well-worn video game tropes: the main character who wakes up with amnesia. Sure, your Guardian was technically dead for a great deal of time, but that’s become mighty trite in the world of sci-fi. Destiny hopes to change the first-person shooter genre permanently, yet the story seems like it was taken straight out of 2005.

Perhaps the worst section of the Beta’s story content comes during an exposition dumb. The large, spherical object you’ve seen in the game’s promotional materials is the Traveler, the former protector of the galaxy. This massive ball fell victim to the game’s terribly-named, ambiguous enemy force: The Darkness. Apparently the Traveler is unable to defend anything other than The Tower, so it uses Ghosts (the polygonal AI that follow Guardians around) to guide Guardians in their fight against The Darkness. Yes, a massive, God-like planetary object is unable to offer protection, but an outnumbered, rag-tag group of space zombie will do the trick. This is inherently ridiculous, but the biggest problem is the mouthpiece for the exposition: a strange being who claims to speak for a mute object informs people about the dangers they are facing. Sound familiar? Yes, the Speaker is the space-Lorax. Let’s hope that the story picks up from here, because the evidence suggests that Destiny‘s story could be its biggest letdown.

Vehicle Balance:

While the gun-play can be a blast and The Crucible is a wonderful take on PVP,  poor vehicle balance has the potential to throw the whole thign out of whack. After stealing a Pike (Destiny‘s take on Halo‘s Ghosts) I decided to advance through the story with the vehicle at my disposal. No enemy stood a chance, and the corridors were wide enough for me to go much further than should have been possible. Whereas vehicles in Halo appeared in sections designed for them, Destiny‘s vehicles mow through everything in their path. Vehicles are overpowered.

Nowhere is this poor vehicle balance more evident than on the “First Light” map in The Crucible. Tanks and Pikes spawn constantly, allowing players to take out anyone on foot with ease. Unless vehicle-free players are able to get behind these machines, there’s no way take down the drivers. Obtain a tank, and you can easily dominate any multiplayer match; your score will skyrocket. Any and all balance in the arena is thrown out the window when these death-machines appear. If Bungie needs to learn anything from the Beta, it’s that vehicles should be nerfed immediately.

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The Voice-Acting:

We know that Peter Dinklage has taken endless crap for his uninspired performance as your trusty Ghost. His now-famous Moon-Wizard line has been removed from the game entirely. Even though the static added to his voice-work improves the performance slightly, Dinklage’s dialogue is still abysmal. On top of that, the monotonous female Guardian and Speaker voices do nothing to inspire any sort of feeling in the player. This is some of the worst voice acting we’ve seen in a AAA game in years. It should be noted that Lance Reddick provides the only redeemable voice-over  in the entire Beta, but his performance is not enough to make up for his costars. It’s unclear if there is enough time to fix the voice-acting in the Destiny Beta, as nearly all of it is uninspired and bland.

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While it might seem that I disliked my time with the Destiny Beta, that could not be farther from the truth. I would not have played the same missions over and over if I didn’t enjoy what I was doing. Though it does come with some major concerns, Destiny appears to be one of the stronger AAA offerings of 2014. I’m still not sure if it’ll change the FPS world forever, though.