If you are obsessive about collecting items and upgrades then Destiny may be the video game for you.
There is, in fairness, a lot to like in Bungie’s first person shooter. When playing the demo recently I was tempted to purchase the full game, impressed by the co-op play and well-designed weaponry, but the more I played the more I had doubts.
Guardians of the Galaxy
Bungie’s Destiny aims to evolve the first-person shooter genre. After Marathon on the Mac back in the mid-1990s, and the Halo series on Xbox, Bungie have attempted to fuse a first-person shoot-’em-up with a fantasy RPG. Those RPG elements appear up front. Selecting from three classes of Guardian (Titan, Warlock, or Hunter) with varied skills and abilities, you are sent into battle for humankind’s future against malevolent alien baddies.
Destiny had one of the biggest video game budgets of 2014, and has the production values to show for it. While trekking across Old Russia you can soak up Bungie’s trademark colorful visual style which appears almost cel-shaded here. Sounds effects are piercing, and the game’s score blends action cues and grand themes.
Gunplay, as you would expect from the designers of Halo, is satisfyingly visceral. Bungie have been generous with melee combat – a tap of your shoulder button within a fairly wide field will “snap” your Guardian to an enemy’s position.
And Bungie has envisioned a co-operative mode that works well. Destiny shines when playing with friends, teaming up to defeat waves of enemies and bosses.
Pathways into Darkness
Yet for all that, Destiny’s core gameplay dissatisfies. Bungie’s goal to bake RPG bits into a shooter yields an often overwhelming mix of currencies, collectibles, weapons, upgrades, armor, and varied extras. Leveling up, always leveling up, is the goal of Destiny. I thought I would be able to at least customize my Guardian in some cosmetic way – but even changing the color of your armor requires (you guessed it) leveling up and use of “shaders”, another collectible.
At first glance, Destiny’s story also mystifies – the game reveals little initially, but heaves under the weight of all that universe-building and portentous titles like “the Traveler” (a big ball floating above Earth), “the Fallen” (generic alien cannon fodder), and “the Crucible” (the, er, versus mode). Like the gameplay, the story feels thin, despite all the names culled from (variously) the Bible, ancient mythology, and antiquity.
Strikes – Destiny’s co-operative challenges – are the most compelling sections, requiring players to raise their game and work together. Other missions lack variety. Patrols are especially tedious – they typically involve roaming across the open world in search of invading aliens to wear down, or mini-bosses to wrangle. There’s no compelling reason to carry out these tasks, other than to mop up XP.
After reaching level 5, I lost all motivation to plod onwards, realizing that the rest of Destiny (potentially another hundred hours of gameplay) would be rinse and repeat, with nowhere to go except up, up, up, through monotonous level grinding.
Grind to a Halt
An open world RPG first-person shooter mash-up conceptually promises so much, but in the form of Destiny simply disappoints. Broad but not deep, there’s a lot less going on in Destiny than at first appears.
In their Marathon series, Bungie transported the player into a rich sci-fi universe and peeled away slowly, revealing just enough, allowing your imagination to fill in the gaps. Destiny feels the opposite. A bewildering amount of info here gives no room for interpretation: endless lore, upgrades, statistics, collectibles, DLC, and Grimoire – digital cards with details on the game universe that require viewing on the Destiny website or through a companion app.
All this for a game in which you strafe and shoot alien scum over and over again.
With too much detail, and paradoxically too little, Destiny is expansive, and ultimately empty.