Over the first dozen or so hours in Destiny, it becomes pretty clear that the early bits of this game very much define big publisher, big developer, AAA gaming. Destiny is a highly polished and well oiled machine. It fires on all cylinders in terms of performance, it ran out of the gates with an awesomely stable online experience and it genuinely feels like a well built game.
Destiny, then, is solid. It is not, however, perfect. A middling-to-bad story, odd design choices, hit-and-miss endgame and slow start make it a tough sell for all shades of gamer.
Eric and I, Joey, have been playing a whole lot of Destiny this past week. We've beaten the campaign, hit the level cap, dived into the endgame and done a good bit of loot farming. We've come away happy, I'd say, though not as happy as we'd hoped.
Is Destiny as must-have offering? Here we go.
That Bungie Shooter Feeling
One of the first things most gamers will notice when firing up Destiny, and, in my mind, one of the game's selling points, is its rock solid shooting. This feels like a well built shooter that comes from the same folks that made Halo.
Destiny's gunplay is tight, efficient, satisfying and infinitely rewarding. Enemies pop on death, especially with headshots, and that further fuels the addiction for firefights and increased firepower.
Even as we crossed something like 20 hours played late last week, I still found myself loving the shooting from moment to moment. Next to the art, it stands as one of my favorite parts of the game.
Yeah, there's not really any question for me here. This is definitely one of the best parts of the game, and the real mark – more than any of the aesthetic elements – of its heritage.
You're not going to mistake this for any of the various Calls of Duty titles or anything else. It's not Halo, but it's unquestionably a Bungie shooter.
Each player will find a preferred loadout after a couple hours. You'll experiment with each weapon type and, before long, find the combination that feels like a perfect match for you.
For me, that combination is the pulse rifle, sniper rifle, and rocket launcher, coupled with my Titan's melee abilities. It's satisfying to roll up on a group of enemies, then find a vantage point where I can pick off some big guys with my sniper rifle. Then I go in for mid-range stuff with my pulse rifle and finish things off with a power punch. At least, that's how it goes when everything is going right, and it feels good every time.
Yeah, I agree on that. I found weapons that I liked shooting more than others. For instance, the machine gun was my preferred heavy for most of the game.
There's risk reward with every weapon type, and that sort of works towards keeping the fighting interesting in Destiny.
Then there's the enemy AI. Bungie has always been known for developing interesting AI that keeps battles dynamic and fresh, and that sometimes continues here with Destiny. The AI seems smart, and it tries to overtake you and your Fireteam in different ways. Yet there are things like weird invisible walls that AI won't cross, weird decision making in combat and the inability to counter big attacks. I wouldn't put it on pace with Halo's AI; it's middling.
My big enemy complaint comes from the Hive and their Thrall. These are the monsters that just endlessly charge at the player. They feel like Flood from Halo, and they're rather boring to fight.
My biggest issue is with the bosses, especially during Strike missions. We'll go into more depth on those missions a bit later, but the bosses at the ends of those missions, as well as many of the bosses throughout the core campaign, are sponges of the worst kind.
As much fun as many of the enemies are to endlessly slaughter, I kind of dread boss fights. Going through clip after clip of ammunition with no real visible effect on the energy bar above the boss' head gets a bit demoralizing.
Even when you're rolling with a friend or two, these sections can be lengthy and frustrating.
The bosses are all interestingly designed (except for that first strike on Earth). Like, I like seeing them and figuring out how they work. It's just that, even in groups, you're pretty much pumping bullets into these guys for 20 minutes before they go down.
You'll figure out exactly how to beat them, it's just that the method Bungie came up with is constant firing and dodging. It makes Strikes sort of dull, and we'll hit on why that dullness is a problem later.
Do I Roll Hunter, Titan or Warlock?
While I experimented with the Hunter during Destiny's beta, I ended up sticking with the Titan for my playthrough. Each of the classes is different enough to make switching to a new character fun and refreshing, but not so different that you're going to feel lost. They are, after all, a bunch of gun and grenade-toting warriors.
Where they start to diverge is when you begin to level up and get access to more options on just how you want to run your character.
Each class has a subclass, and both your class and subclass have access to a grenade, a melee power, and a super move. Within those, though, you can select just how you want to use that power – different grenade types, different modifiers or ways to use your melee ability, for example.
Even after hitting level 20 quite a while ago, I'm still experimenting with my Titan's two classes, figuring out just what works for me.
Yeah, I'll say the same thing for my Hunter. Once I hit that level 15 mark, I immediately switched to the Blade Dancer subclass and started knifing the crap out of everything.
There are three classes here, and each of those classes has a subclass. So, we're talking about six modes of progression to work with. Now, the weapons and armor also progress, so you'll pick up a gun that has six or seven perks that you'll unlock through leveling that specific weapon. You might start with a basic rifle, but you'll end with a war machine that hits harder and produces unique ways to combat enemies.
That progression feels really good in Destiny, and it happens at a constant pace. You might hit the level cap on your character, but you'll still be leveling up gear and subclasses well beyond that point.
There are so many ways to progress your character in Destiny that you constantly feel like you're getting something new without having to constantly swap gear, without being overwhelmed with different variants on the same weapon that other loot-based games can succumb to.
I never sat there, frozen with fear, looking at a spreadsheet of stats, trying to figure out which of my guns was 1% better than the others. Almost always, it was a split second decision – this one is definitely better, or I need a weapon with that element on it – before I was ready to go again. That's despite having something like eight different pieces of gear to tinker around with.
Oh, absolutely. You know, I hadn't even really considered that point of managing progression with Destiny. Which, I guess, speaks volumes about how well it was handled.
I was also instantly aware of which loot was better than the stuff I currently had, and I was able to quickly discard the stuff I didn't want. You won't be selling to vendors when you have a gun you don't like, you just dismantle it for Glimmer (in-game currency, perhaps better known as "Space Glitter," "Fab Cash" or "Bungie Bucks") and roll on.
I've heard people complain that there isn't enough progression in this game, but I have to wholeheartedly disagree. There is progression, not only in your class and subclass, but also your guns, your armor, you faction allegiance (that's endgame stuff, we'll get there), your PvE/PvP stuff, everything. You are constantly improving your character, and that's good news for a shooter of this ilk.
OH, WE TOOK DOWN THE GATEKEEPER
Mechanically, Destiny is about as polished as you can get. It's not exactly revolutionary, but it's incredibly well-crafted. It's impeccable.
Aesthetically, that sheen starts to wear off a bit.
We had a hint of this during the beta. If you've been following this game at all, you remember the line:
That wizard came from the moon!
I regret to report that, unfortunately, that line was not a fluke, but a bad omen.
The writing in Destiny isn't just "not great," it's actually pretty bad. There were more laughably bad lines in Destiny than just about everything I've played so far this year.
"I don't even have time to explain why I don't have time to explain," says one character.
The game is littered with characters that are dropped in and not developed at all. There's no explanation, really, for the races you can choose at the beginning of the game – why do awesome looking robot people exist, and how do they feel about the robot janitors we have here on Earth?
Some things are expanded on in the Grimoire Cards you're constantly picking up, but those require you to log separately into Bungie.net and read through a deck of digital trading cards to learn these details.
If nothing else, Bungie loves its lore, and the backdrop that this goofy writing and character development occurs in front of suggests that a compelling story could be written in this world.
What's here just isn't it.
Yeah, I agree with that for the most part. While I'm not ready to slap it with the worst writing and dialogue I've seen this year, it's pretty laughable throughout.
The problem I have here is that the lore behind Destiny is actually promising as all get out. The follow through is the problem.
We have this giant space ball bringing intelligence and peace to the worlds it visits followed by an all consuming darkness. Humanity receives those gifts, and then destruction rains down on us from above until there's almost nothing left. Sounds cool, right?
It sort of stops there, and we're left with a game told through not-so-witty quips by Peter Dinklage. Dinklage is fine, by the way, I don't blame his words on his delivery. I blame it on the writing.
By the end of Destiny, I wasn't sure who I was fighting and why. They were robots, I know that, and they were worshipping something, but…what else? I'm not sure.
As much as the story is a drag on the experience, it doesn't keep the game from being fun, as we discussed, or from looking great.
Especially for a game that is appearing on four platforms right now (Joey and I played on PlayStation 4); Destiny is a gorgeous game, whether it's little things like depth of focus effects when you're in third person, the effect when you pop a particular enemy's head, or the more obvious elements like equipment and weapon design, that word comes back again: Impeccable.
Man, and those skies!
Honestly, I found myself looking up on every planet and heavenly body we visited. I just wanted to see what sat above us during our exploration, and I was almost always rewarded with an interesting scene or view.
What I really loved beyond the look of the game graphically was the art style. I'm a big fan of that classic sci-fi take on space exploration. Look up NASA logos from the 70s and 80s and you'll get an idea of the kind of space travel art that I dig.
Bungie employed that style here for everything. Endgame alliances, character emblems, weapon design, environments, everything has that classic space feel. I know it's a super specific quality that a minor group of players might notice, but I loved that attention to detail and chosen look for the art in this game.
I've "Beaten" Destiny, Now What?
I'm not going to be the first or last person to compare Destiny to an MMORPG. It's not exactly the same kind of game, but the comparison is worth making.
You'll spend the first chunk of your time with the game progressing your character through the levels, checking out the campaign, and getting used to the mechanics. Once you max out your level, though, that's where the real game starts.
In the world of MMOs, this is called the endgame.
Here, Destiny cranks up the difficulty and intensity, asking you to not just casually enjoy your character, or just play pick-up games with random players, but to really master your class and find a core group to roll with for things like high level raids, team-based multiplayer, and to replay missions set with much higher difficulty.
This isn't the sort of game you finish and set down, but rather the type that gets started just when you think you've finished.
Eric, I love ya bud, but I really do have to call you out here. No! Don't delete it. You have to leave it, because I think it's something that needs to be focused on.
This isn't an MMO. It's an online shooter, sure. There are "raids" and there is "endgame," but that MMO term is something I don't think Bungie has used once to describe Destiny. Having played a few MMOs (though never with the same zeal that I play other genres), I'd say that Destiny meets that genre in a few semantics only.
This is a competitive/cooperative shooter with RPG makings. It's a persistent world with in-game rewards meant to keep players coming back. The nature of questing, the method of party creation and the style of grinding does not feel MMO to me.
That's not to say that Destiny is better than that genre. It has problems, and I think the majority of them come from the sameness of the missions and the lacking methods of communication.
Grouping, for instance, is rather horrid. There's a central location in this game called the Tower. It's here that all players go between missions to turn in quest stuff, to buy new gear and to meet up with friends. It should be here, then, that Bungie created a social hub for the game.
However, there's no way to flag yourself as looking for a group and there's no proximity voice chat, so partying up with random people is left entirely to chance and your ability to open your system's messaging system and write to strangers.
Grouping in Destiny without real world friends who also own the game on the same platform as you is nigh impossible, and Bungie deserves harsh criticism for this fact.
MMOs do this better. MMOs have in-game chat and ways to flag yourself as ready to roll in a group or join a clan. Destiny doesn't have that stuff built into the game, and it's a worse affair for it. Especially when you hit the endgame grind, which can be fun. You just need friends to do it.
Now, Bungie could fix this. If they enable proximity chat (or the option to have it) and create a way to flag yourself in Tower as looking for a group, Destiny could conquer a few problems. That last bit, I think, would be huge. Bungie could make it so that a "Group Me" type of icon appears next to your name in social spaces. Players would inspect you, see your level and class and then ask you to join up.
That would work, in my mind.
It's a bit of a shame, too, and a problem made all that much worse by the number of platforms the game is on. Sure, everybody can play Destiny, but unless your group of friends coordinated which console to play on, you might find yourself separated from the people you know.
As a result, some of the best parts of the endgame are going to be tough to get into.
Once you finish the game, you get access to the factions whose representatives you've been staring at since you first explored the tower. You can join, starting at level 20, factions like Future War Cult or Dead Orbit and get access to their shop collections.
You can also start grinding for new sorts of currencies like Strange Coins and Motes of Light by taking part in the daily story missions and strike playlists. The daily story missions are ones you've already played, but with the rewards and difficulty cranked way up. I managed to complete two of them myself, but the second was a real slog. They're definitely cooperative material.
Before you hit the level cap, there are a few shops you can pick things up from, but thanks to factions, that number nearly doubles, giving you more options to progress your character and more ways to increase your level past the 20-level experience cap.
Right, and that's sort of where the grind starts. You'll work for reputation points and Marks based on factions and modes of play. You'll either rock out in the PvE, PvP or both, and you'll do it for a long time as you work towards unlocking and buying more equipment from unique vendors.
The endgame is a grind, though it's one that builds on the stuff that made the main campaign fun. If you didn't like all the gameplay there, though, the endgame isn't suddenly going to make you fall in love with Destiny.
Shoot Your Friends
The last thing I want to hit on before we sum everything up is the multiplayer. I put some real time into all but one of the modes. We'll talk about that last part in a second.
There are six multiplayer modes – Clash, Skirmish, Salvage, Control, Rumble and Combined Arms.
Clash and Skirmish are your basic team deathmatch. Control and Salvage, on the other hand, are both objective and team-based multiplayer. Finally, Rumble is a free-for-all mode, every guardian for themselves.
Combined Arms, which hasn't been unlocked by Bungie quite yet, looks to be a vehicle-based multiplayer mode.
I spent at least a couple hours with each mode, and enjoyed them all, though Salvage was easily my favorite. It seems like Bungie is still getting the matchmaking right on this, though, as I ended up either slaughtering or being slaughtered more often than not, making multiplayer an uneven, sometimes frustrating experience.
The only mode I didn't get into was Rumble. As I mentioned, it's a free-for-all classic deathmatch. I'll be honest with you here: In those modes, I'm just a walking target. If you like this type of multiplayer mode, then Rumble might hold your attention, but it was exactly what I expected: me dying over and over again.
As Bungie gets more time to balance and tighten the different modes and matchmaking, the experience will get better as long as they can keep people playing it instead of going back to Call of Duty or Halo 2 when it comes back to life later this fall.
Right, and the endgame that we talked about above will likely facilitate the audience of players in PvP.
You need to earn Crucible Marks in order to buy certain gear, and you only get those through this PvP stuff. There are also loot drops (which seem luck instead of skill based, something that drives me nuts) in the Crucible, giving yet another reason to play.
It's not perfect, really. As I played, I found most Guardians using fusion shotguns to one shot everyone on the map, something that sort of drives me nuts in competitive play. It's fun when you get in the zone and play on a team going for the objectives, but I vastly prefer the PvE side of this equation.
An Exciting New IP That's Mostly Hit, Slightly Miss
We're going to split the difference here on our recommendation for Destiny. This game will be an absolute slam dunk for certain players, though others will find themselves severely disappointed if they're expecting it to light the gaming world on fire.
If you love Bungie's hallmark feel for shooting, enjoy the space and sci-fi aesthetic, like loot oriented grinding and have friends who will play this game with you, Destiny is an absolute Buy. All of those qualities are hit hard and decently in this game, and you'll certainly get $60 worth of play over the first few weeks after release.
Bungie has also pledged to roll out more content (we're seeing some of it already) as the days and weeks roll on. We'll have unique Raids and Strikes, special dailies with strange modifiers and, of course, eventual DLC.
Now, if you're the type who needs a strong narrative, good social communication, a whole lot of in-game content and fantastic PvP, Destiny starts to slide towards the Wait recommendation. It will eventually see a price drop, and we imagine Bungie will add the stuff you want through patches and DLC. Next year's inevitable Game of the Year collection will likely be music to your ears, especially if it goes on sale.
This game will not win the hearts of everyone who plays it. Eric and I, however, have had fun. I know I'll be playing it once I file this review and into the foreseeable future.
Disclaimer: We played through Destiny with two editors. We received one review copy from Activision and Bungie on the PlayStation 4. We also purchased a PS4 copy with company funds. We completed the main mission line and stuck around for a bunch of the endgame content and PvP before writing this review.
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