Review: Destiny is fun. Period.

Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360

Developer Bungie is like that band you fell in love with back in high school. They put out some great albums in the 2000s that you and your friends constantly played and talked about. You even bought t-shirts and doodled their album art in your notebook while sitting in class. Then the band went on hiatus. There were others that tried to fill the void but it just wasn’t the same. Now the band is back together with a new record label (Activision) and a new album called Destiny.

What is it?

Destiny is not a Halo remix or reworking, although when playing Destiny there’s no doubt you’re reminded of where it comes from. Destiny is a first-person shooter. It has its MMORPG elements, which I’ll get into later, but it’s a shooter first in the spirit of Halo, Call of Duty, and Battlefield.

As previously described in our Destiny beta coverage, you begin the game by creating your character and choosing between classes Titan, Hunter, and Warlock. In the beta, I tried all three classes and this time I decided to roll with the Warlock again. The Warlock has a lower defense but recovers quickly and also has agility on his/her side. Again, race/species and gender choices don’t make a difference in a class’ abilities (but it appears to make a difference in your character’s dance moves).

So what are you? Titan, Hunter, Warlock? So what are you? Titan, Hunter, Warlock?

Anyone with experience playing first person shooters on consoles will feel right at home with the controls and newcomers should be able to pick it up quickly. The left and right triggers are the aim and shoot actions while the left bumper is your grenade and the right bumper is your melee, both of which I used as often as I did my weapon.

Oh, and those dance moves? Just press the D-Pad to the right.

The experience

At the start of the game, you’re given instructions by the Peter Dinklage-voiced Ghost on how to play and a bit of history of the universe you’ve just appeared in. Once you get past the initial tutorial level and a visit to the Tower where you learn how to buy and equip gear and weapons, you’re free to play the game the way you want, but your options are limited because of your low experience level.

I started with the story levels. From the start, the game is gorgeous. Every location in the game is vast, colorful, and immersive. Bungie did a wonderful job creating environments that look like abandoned civilizations and landscapes that’ll inspire you to stop and take in the scenery. There were several occasions, especially on Earth and Venus, where I just sat on top of a structure and enjoyed the view and watched other players do battle with the enemies on the ground.

Burn, baby, burn. Burn, baby, burn.

As you progress through the story missions, your character levels up and other locations become available. When it comes to your character’s leveling, you don’t have a choice on what abilities you want to level up, which was a bit disappointing. You’re at the mercy of the game to earn your abilities in a specific order. Instead of being able to choose to focus all of my leveling to my grenade or special ability to unlock all of its options, I’m forced to upgrade stuff like Arcane Wisdom or Ancestral Order. Sure, those things are useful, but I really wanted my scatter grenade as soon as possible!

When I got to level 4, I started fulfilling bounties. The bounties are available at the Tower and are sort of like in-game Achievements/Trophies that earn you experience. They add a significant amount of experience alongside that which you earn from playing the story missions, patrol missions, and playing in the competitive player mode, The Crucible. Some of the goals early on include things like killing 100 enemies without dying, completing six Patrol missions in the Cosmodrome, and competing in five Control matches.

As you complete the bounties they get more difficult, which for me added another level of fun and had me changing up my strategy as I approached a mission. I would never have chosen to play with a Fusion rifle, but the Bounty that called for killing two enemies at the same time 20 times with a Fusion Rifle for 5,000 experience points had me gearing up and leading enemies toward me in packs of two.

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Co-op keeps me coming back

When going through the story missions, you run across other players in the world. This is the massive multiplayer online (MMO) element of Destiny that sets it apart from other first person shooter games. During one particular mission on Mars, I was having a difficult time with some Colossus and Centurion soldiers guarding an entrance to a building. All of a sudden, two other players came through riding on a couple of Pikes (enemy land vehicles with plasma cannons) and started blasting away at the enemies, taking them out. I thanked the fellow Guardians with a wave (up on the D-pad), and they pointed back at me (left on the D-pad) as if to say “Anytime!”

This happens quite often in the world of Destiny, strangers helping each other out on missions or teaming up together to take on a Public Event. While a lot of gamers may not like the “online all the time” requirement to play the game, that experience of Destiny provides a strong argument for it. That said, I can’t deny how frustrating it is when you’re in the middle of a mission and you get kicked out to the title screen because the game’s servers go down for a moment. In the 30-35 hours I played, this happened to me twice when I was playing story missions by myself. I’ll chalk it up to first week issues, as the rest of the time I didn’t experience any lag and everything ran smoothly.

It ain't no fun if the homies can't have none. It ain't no fun if the homies can't have none.

As described in my beta experience, Fireteams are part of the cooperative play experience of Destiny. During the beta I joined up with strangers to tackle missions, but this time around I was playing with friends. Quite often I was interrupted during my solo missions to join with some of my friends to do some of the missions together, but not before we get sidetracked by a public event, or decided to help out a struggling Guardian, or just decided to fight a group of Vex patrolling an area. This is the kind of experience that Bungie intended. Before you know it, three or four hours have just flown by. And it’s fun.

Fireteams are also the only way to chat with other players in the game, which I like. Even in The Crucible, when players are going head-to-head in six-vs-six games like Control and Clash, you only hear and chat with the members of your three-person Fireteam. That works for me because most of the time when I’m playing competitive multiplayer in games like Call of Duty or Battlefield, I mute my mic and turn down the chat -- and if you have ever played multiplayer in those games, you know why.

Is it boring?

I didn’t get bored. There’s just too much stuff to do. Leveling up, acquiring new weapons and armor, and upgrading are constant motivators. Sure the story missions may seem a bit repetitive -- shoot, deploy Ghost, shoot some more, deploy Ghost, take down boss and his minions, mission over. But for me, every battle was different. In one mission, I would get surprised by flying Centurion soldiers, forcing me to use my melee attack and shotgun instead of my go-to Scout Rifle and grenades. In another mission, I needed to wield a sword in third person to defeat a boss (which I wish I had the option of doing throughout the whole game instead of just that one mission). The tactics changed from mission to mission and along with the Bounties I was trying to accomplish in both the missions and competitive multiplayer, things never got dull. If you don’t get bored playing Call of Duty, Halo, or Battlefield multiplayer, I don't know how you'd get bored playing Destiny.

Wielding swords to necks. Applying swords to necks.

What wasn’t interesting, however, was the game’s story. I was disappointed to say the least. What seemed like the possibility for an epic sci-fi space adventure with your character at the forefront turned out to be a stitched-together series of events without a great deal of uniting themes or thought.

The plot is set hundreds of years in the future after a number of planets in our solar system have been colonized. The story revolves around the humans on the verge of extinction thanks to an evil entity known as The Darkness. There are also four races of enemy aliens who are taking advantage of the chaos by scavenging the planets for whatever resources are left.  One of the alien races fights on behalf of The Darkness, so it’s pretty common to walk into a firefight between the enemy aliens.  The thing’s hard to care about any of it.

Your character has no history, doesn’t express any emotion, and really doesn’t seem to care about anyone or anything in the universe. So why should I, as a player, care?

There aren’t any meaningful relationships with anyone and the motivation behind The Darkness wanting to destroy us all isn’t really explained. For a lot of people, the story in shooters doesn’t matter, so this is probably a non-issue, but for people like me, an engaging narrative keeps me interested in the world. All those Grimoire cards earned during the game can be accessed through Destiny’s companion app, which goes a bit more in-depth into the game’s lore, but if the game’s initial story is subpar, I’m not going to be interested in finding out more.

This doesn’t mean the game isn’t fun or packed full of content. With the Story Missions, The Strike Missions, The Patrol Missions, the Competitive multiplayer in The Crucible, the desire to level up and acquire loot, along with Bungie’s plan to hold weekly or monthly events, the game will keep you busy for quite some time. Plus you can do all of those things with friends, over and over again. Just like those days back in high school.

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My View

Here are the criteria I consider most important for evaluating Destiny:

Presentation: 10/10

The game is gorgeous. From the unique character design to the animation to the planet environments, the game is a work of art.

Gameplay: 9/10

Destiny is incredibly accessible and makes it easy for gamers of all levels to dive in and start saving the universe. Both the grenade and melee attacks are just as fun as shooting, sniping, and firing off rocket launchers.

Story: 5/10

The game’s story seems like it was stitched together at the last minute. I may have expected too much story wise, but there’s no emotional connection to any of the characters or the storyline as a whole.

Content: 9/10

The game is packed with so much content that it’ll keep you busy for hours on end. And it’s even more engrossing when you’re playing with friends.

Overall: 8.3

I think it's safe to say Destiny is an innovative game. The seamless transition from solo to mutliplayer gameplay and back again adds a new style to the way we play console shooters that we haven't seen much of in the past. Bungie should be commended for what they've done with Destiny, because in the end it's a lot of fun. And that's all that really matters, right?

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