Bungie, the game developer known almost exclusively for the first several Halo games, broke with Microsoft to produce arguably the most ambitious video game in a generation, Destiny. It's a game that is difficult to classify--part first-person shooter, part MMO--and it proclaims to cater itself to both multiplayer fanatics who enjoy endless hours of shooting other players in the face and solo-gamer enthusiasts who are more interested in deep storylines and side quests. The question, then, is whether it accomplishes all it boldly sets out to do, or whether it ultimately winds up being a jack of all trades but a master of none.
|Just imagine the stories they could have told...|
You are a Guardian, a resurrected being who is tasked with defending the last human city from the forces of darkness that have surrounded it. With very little preamble, you are thrust into a much larger struggle and find yourself traveling to the depths of the solar system to find your enemies' weakness and destroy it.
This story shares many similarities with the Halo universe, from the confederation of alien foes you must face to the fact that you are a super soldier with an A.I. counterpart running from objective to objective hoping to save the human race from extinction. However, even the first Halo has more narrative focus and feels like a complete story, whereas Destiny feels like a painfully short, world-building opening chapter to a much bigger narrative that never happens. There is a lot of potential for exploration--from the Arthur C. Clarke-esque mystery of the Traveler (a giant alien sphere that brought humanity to a brief golden age before the darkness came) to the strange humanoids who survived a cataclysm only to become something else (the "awoken") and much more--but none of those narrative threads is given the kind of attention it deserves.
Instead, the story seems like it was written in a hurry and with very little interest behind it. It was as though the writers were so intent on creating a universe that could hold a dozen self-contained epics for the game's inevitable expansions and sequels that they forgot to actually put together a good plot. Mysteries are left not only unanswered but largely unaddressed, and when the end comes, many players will have a hard time realizing it because there is no sense of climax or denoument.
The characters, too, are largely ignored, with a few cursory cutscenes to introduce us to potentially interesting people, like the Speaker or the Queen, but nothing else. You, as the nameless protagonist (your pre-resurrection name might be "Dr. Shin"), are an even blanker slate than Master Chief, with no room for development or personal growth. Even your A.I. counterpart is a bland bit of writing, lacking the snarky charm of Cortana or the inherently interesting paradoxes of other fictional A.I.'s.
[Story: 4 - The universe is potentially fascinating and provocative, but very little effort was put into actually exploring it or populating it with dynamic characters.]
As a shooter/RPG, Bungie has created something truly amazing. The shooter half of the equation will be very familiar to Halo fans--you wield weapons like assault rifles, shotguns, plasma weapons, and missile launchers--and gain access to things like melee and grenades while making ludicrously high double-jumps. Even the special powers are similar to innovations from Halo: Reach, albeit with no variety within each character class. I don't point out these similarities as a complaint; the Halo games are a high bar for first-person shooters to reach, much less clear.
Destiny, though, isn't content to just be another Halo. It is also an RPG. Instead of swapping weapons out on the fly by picking them up from fallen enemies, you now have an inventory to choose from, with weapons and armor that can be modified and improved over time. Your abilities, too, are improved by leveling up and gaining experience through quests, side quests, and multiplayer action. Higher level weapons and armor require materials--some very difficult to acquire--and currency (called "glimmer") to upgrade, and you can also purchase decorative things like armor shaders, emblems, and such from various places in the game's hub, the Tower. You also have reputation to build with various factions who are represented there, which can be earned by wearing their banners while completing missions, bounties, or competitive matches. Higher reputation gives you access to better gear which can be purchased with a special type of currency (Vanguard or Crucible points) that is limited to a certain amount per week.
The downside is that it all feels out of balance. Reaching the soft level cap of 20 takes practically no time at all (you can do it in a few hours if you want), whereas gaining and modifying high-level gear will take weeks of grinding and resource farming. If you want to spend your time in the PvP Crucible, this unbalanced dynamic is even worse, as almost everybody you play against is at the level 20 limit (it is possible to get up to level 30 through special gear, but the level perks are nullified in the Crucible beyond the soft cap) but there is a huge range between those who just reached level 20 with their basic gear and those who have been grinding for weeks to get the best armor and the best weapons.
Still, there's a lot to do, from cooperative strike missions to randomly appearing public events, epic raid missions that require you to amass a team of six to complete, special bounties to collect, and patrol missions that allow you to explore one of the four main maps while picking up mini-missions and hunting. There are also three class types and races to choose from, which makes for interesting variety and replayability, but the differences between them are limited mostly to their available special powers and the amount of bullets they can soak up from enemies.
[GAMEPLAY: 9 - Despite some balancing issues, a ludicrously low level cap, and a tedious amount of grinding, the merger between Halo-style shooter and MMO-style RPG is remarkably fruitful and addictive.]
-e. magill 10/1/2014