Destiny is impressive. From the scope of the world to the graphics, Bungie’s ambitious game is well-polished and undeniably gorgeous… But there is something missing.
After several hours with the game, it seems Destiny has a bit of an identity crisis. Upon my first steps into Old Russia, the starting level for the Beta, there was a very distinct Halo feel to the movement and world. Staring out across miles of rusted cars and desolation, the ambiance and design made the world seem tangible and expansive. Delving into a giant metal structure, my helpful “Ghost” AI turned on a torch and lead me through tight corridors teaming with unique alien lifeforms and rubble from a world long passed. The dynamic lighting was beautiful and I certainly got a whiff of what Next-Gen games can be… But this all changed when I picked up a rifle.
Brandishing my weapon as a few enemies popped out of walls and cracks to assail me, the first identity crisis occurred. As I began to riddle bullets into the foes, numbers suddenly sprang up denoting the damage I was doing. The numbers were white, but turned yellow to denote a headshot and critical damage. Suddenly the game changed shape before my eyes and I was back in the wastes of Borderlands, picking off skags and psychos. The gunplay is solid, weighty, and overall very satisfying… but I found myself thinking that such good gunplay was being wasted on something so arcade-like. Enemy health bars appear over their heads, and items and ammunition are dropped in an almost exact duplicate of Borderlands. While this isn’t bad by any means, its just confusing.
My confusion was deepened further when I made it to “The Tower”, the social hub of Destiny. Here you are zoomed out to third-person and you can run around between vendors, wave at and dance with other players, turn in items for rewards, and acquire missions. Suddenly I was flung headlong into an MMO. Sure, Bungie is trying with all their might to say that its not an MMO but a “persistent online shooter”, but the MMO vibes are undeniable. So here I was, playing a game that wasn’t quite Halo, wasn’t quite Borderlands, and wasn’t quite an MMO. All of the elements are strong individually, but there is a certain disconnect when all three are forced to mesh.
Open World and Storytelling
The exploration I had during the Beta was extremely limited, naturally, so it is hard to gauge just how open Destiny will be. The world itself isn’t necessarily open-world, but rather a series of instanced levels of large size. To get to various levels, there is a launch/navigation screen similar to Mass Effect’s star map. This allows you to travel to various locations on Earth, the moon, and Mars. The map we see the most of in Beta is “Old Russia”, a post apocalyptic Russia with a Fallout vibe. Vast desert features are broken by rusted buildings and scattered automobiles from the old world. Every mission I had on Earth disappointingly plopped me back into Old Russian at various times of day, but as a Beta this is to be expected.
While the levels are open, they are quite linear from what I’ve played. Quest objectives point the way as you wind your way through buildings, over plains, and into dark Hive infested tunnels. That being said, there is little in the way of actual open-worldness. Trying to jetpack to an advantageous position will sometimes begin a suicide countdown if you travel beyond the world’s allowed boundaries, which seems a bit gimmicky in this day and age. That being said, the levels are large and offer a good amount of exploration. In Free Roam mode, you can wander around, shoot enemies, and discover missions randomly scattered around that grant bonus items and XP upon completion. It only took me a few hours to learn Old Russia like the back of my hand, but I am excited to see what kind of diversity Bungie can deliver once it goes gold.
The story telling of Destiny unfortunately fell flat for me. Peter Dinklage makes his voice acting Debut as a Ghost; AI created by the sentient planet thing that guards Earth. Ghost’s voice is as bad as everyone is saying, believe it, but whether or not this is Peter’s fault I haven’t decided. Lackluster writing and poor vocal editing make Dinklage’s Ghost seem less robot and more bored father helping his daughter learn lines for her fourth grade play. On top of this Ghost talks a LOT; as really your only means to be taught the storyline, this is concerning. At one point I found myself defending my Ghost from wave after wave of enemies, and halfway through I realized I had absolutely no idea why I was here. Something about a warp drive or something? There are two factions that you shoot at; The Fallen and The Hive. Interestingly, The Fallen and the Hive will fight each other if they make contact; but why? It is entirely possible that the storytelling is great and I just haven’t seen it yet, Beta and all, but for a Bungie game I felt strangely distant.
The combat in Destiny is fantastic. Players can equip their characters with helmets, gloves, chest pieces, boots, and class specific gear. You find weapons in crates and enemy drops, and they fall into the category of standard, special, and heavy. A quick tap of the Triangle button swaps standard to special and vise versa, and holding the Triangle button drags out your designated heavy weapon. The whole equipment system works well, and the UI for it is pretty much gorgeous. There is a good amount of variety from the weapons shown; burst-fire rifles, to futuristic revolvers, to hard-hitting sniper rifles. Each weapon feels as if it has its own weight and personality, and the shooting mechanics and slight snap-to-target aiming is perfectly balanced. Each class (Titan, Hunter, or Warlock) get a class specific “Super Charge” which acts like an ultimate attack. By killing enemies and picking up Orbs of Light, your Super Charge meter slowly fills until it can be used. These abilities turn the tide of battle, and often deal massive amounts of damage. Saving them for huge fights or a boss are generally a good idea. The only downer about combat is that as of right now Destiny doesn’t run at 60FPS. This is forgivable when traversing the land, but as soon as you get in an epic gunfight, its hard not to notice. To have such a beautiful game running at 30FPS as of right now really is unfortunate.
Multiplayer deserves an article to itself. Coming soon.
Destiny is undeniably a polished and exciting game. Fantastic gunplay and combat coupled with Next-Gen visuals set the foundations for what could be a great game, but the identity crisis could lead some people to become confused. Hard-to-listen-to voice acting and cloudy plot narration detract from the overall experience, but for a Beta Destiny is looking great.