Destiny’s post-E3 alpha was truly incredible. After many months of hype, Bungie’s successor to Halo was playable. You could explore the tower, interact with folks in it, help someone in need during a story mission, and take a break from that to get into crucible battles that bore more of a resemblance to traditional multiplayer FPS options. If you didn’t feel like walking a beaten path, you could explore and find either loot or even a boss battle – much like Monster Hunter, these required a team effort to topple and gave you a feeling of accomplishment when you won.
The beta soon followed and was more of the same, but with some more missions and cinematics included to provide some context to the events of the game. However, the full game’s release feels very much like the beta in the sense that the story is still largely untold within the game itself, and while there is certainly a more expansive map selection here compared to the pre-release public incarnations of the game, there isn’t a whole lot more mission variety offered up.
There’s a fair amount of variety when it comes to the three playable character classes though. Hunters are lightly-armored humans that excel with knives in both short and longer-range combat, as well as firearms. They’re the quickest of the bunch and can execute double jumps after some upgrading is done. Titans are heavily-armored and comparably slow, but do a lot of damage with their short-range punches. Warlocks meet in the middle as they’re relatively agile and can float, but Warlocks have the longest-range default melee attack, as they shoot magic balls out that can destroy enemies swiftly and recharge faster than other melee attacks. Each type also has a different loadout for grenades with varying perks for each. Whatever your play style is, you’ll find a class to call your own with a bit of experimentation.
Sometimes, it takes time for things click into place. You might spend time as a hunter loving the speed, but find that you’re a bit underpowered for firefights. Then, you can make a new Titan, level him up a bit, and see how that works for you. Heck, Bungie’s Halo series didn’t really click for me until the second installment. I wasn’t really excited about it, but my late mother picked it up at 7-11 of all places for $40 within a couple months of its release, so I gave it a shot – and that’s an understatement. My entire night was consumed playing Halo 2’s multiplayer. It was a blast just meeting new people during games with friends, and it remains one of my fondest memories of the original Xbox and the long-defunct version of Xbox Live.
Destiny aims to go far beyond traditional multiplayer by giving you a story to play through, but like Journey, it’s got drop-in co-op play. Unfortunately, while it also implies a lot like Journey, you don’t wind up with an end product you’ll care about. There are story scenes and bits of dialogue throughout the game itself, but nothing really gels together to form a compelling narrative. Like Titanfall, it heavily implies things and makes the world seem lived in, but you never really find out why things are the way they are. Given that the Halo games had reasonably compelling storylines, and at least had enough lore for a book series to launch due to it, this is quite underwhelming.
Fortunately, the drop-in gameplay isn’t and is a huge anti-frustration feature. If you wind up facing a boss you’re underpowered for, you can grind an earlier section and hope to level up, or wait for someone to help you out. Since there are tons of people playing the game in its early stages, it shouldn’t require too much waiting before someone shows up to help you out. Enemy swarms can sometimes be as deadly as bosses too, since they can surround you and result in a hasty death if you aren’t careful with conserving your health.
Of course, the regenerating health that Bungie popularized with Halo is here. However, it’s much harder to make use of that here than in any Halo game. In that series, you were usually given some breathing room in story missions. If you faced a swarm, you always had some cover to work with. In Destiny, you’re frequently faced with tons of enemies at one time – usually with a mini-boss of sorts thrown into the mix as well. Enemies come at you from all angles, and your best bet becomes picking an enemy or two off and then accepting death before restarting the checkpoint and hoping to win. It’s a troublesome setup, but something that can be overcome with persistence and avoided entirely with some help from allies. The problem with the latter solution is that there’s no way to tell when or if you’ll get help.
The crucible modes are essentially what most games would have online multiplayer-only ones. Clash and Control are team deathmatch modes with the former being a traditional TDM, and the latter being more like domination. Rumble is a six-player deathmatch where there are no allies and it’s every player for themselves. Skirmish is a smaller TDM that earns you more points if you revive allies, while Salvage is the same basic idea, but allows you to deploy a ghost and capture a relic for massive points. The mode and map selection is varied, and the change in pace to smaller enemy counts changes things up nicely from the sometimes-overwhelming main campaign. Sometimes it’s best to just take a break from that, hop online for a while, kick some ass there, get your confidence back up, get into a groove, and tackle some more story missions.
It’s a shame the transition between these things isn’t a bit more seamless though. Beyond having to exit with a lengthy menu system that requires holding buttons down for extended, and varying, times for no reason, the menus themselves are a bit clunky. The layout is very bar and circle-heavy, with fairly small icons used and a mouse-style cursor being used. It’s a bit like browsing the web, but it feels like an interface that would be better-suited on PC and not on consoles – which is fairly ironic since this coming out on PC. Loading times are also very long, and you can easily work in a quick bathroom break between the time it takes to launch yourself onto an online planet of your choice and the time it takes to actually arrive there.
Luckily, the user interface is the only part of the visuals that fail to impress. The environments are large – albeit not as large as they appear, but compared to other FPS franchises, there’s a lot of room to explore during the campaign. Matte images in the background help add a sense of wonder as you’ll find yourself staring off into the distance due to the sheer beauty of what’s in front of you. The in-game worlds look nice too, with impressive textures that blow away what we’ve seen so far in current-gen FPSes like Call of Duty: Ghosts and Titanfall. Character animation still looks a bit odd from third-person viewpoints in either the tower or in-game, but the wacky dancing animations you’ll see a ton at the tower look good.
Like the Halo series, Destiny has a sweeping soundtrack with epic music. The soundtrack isn’t hummable, but it is beautiful and it’s the kind of music you’d love to hear with a good set of headphones on and just focus on. The sound effects are nice and explosive with each shot sounding powerful, and melee attacks are also satisfying too. The voice work isn’t the best in the world, but is largely serviceable. Sadly, the silly “wizard on the moon!” bit from the alpha has been removed, but that allows things to be taken a bit more seriously.
Destiny is an excellent FPS that falls short of expectations for a variety of reasons. An epic story could be told with this game, but it seems like a lost opportunity to not tell one in the game itself. Still, there’s quite a bit of variety between the main campaign and the multiplayer-centric modes, and everything in it is done well. It’s a visual stunner, and looks and feels like a true next-gen experience despite being a cross-generational game. If you loved the alpha and beta, then you’ll get more of the same here and enjoy it quite a bit.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
This review is based on a retail copy of Destiny for the PlayStation 4 provided by Activision.