(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)
- The Game Itself
- 3.5 Stars
- The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
- 5 Stars
- The Audio: Rating the Sound
- 5 Stars
- Replay Factor
- 4.5 Stars
- Bonus Content
- 3.5 Stars
- Bottom Line
- Street Date:
- September 9th, 2014
- Reviewed by:
- Trevor Ruben
- Review Date:1
- September 15th, 2014
- Game Release Year:
- Xbox One
- ESRB Rating:
- RP (Rating Pending)
Digital Xbox One version reviewed. Review covers what the game offers as of the review date, though a slew of paid and free content is set for graduated release.
Undeniably the most highly anticipated game of 2014, 'Destiny' has arrived. Bungie has made promises of epic scale, endlessly teasing a massive, new science-fiction universe from the guys who made 'Halo' and an endgame with longetivity to match the MMOs and loot-driven RPGs so prevalent in the game's DNA. Few developers have the reputation and prestige to match those promises, but Bungie just might be one of them.
The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
For the past week I have been wholly addicted. That's something I haven't said about a game in some time. In fact, it's something I haven't said about a game with less than half its focus on competitive multiplayer in what feels like forever. 'Destiny' is a concoction of chemical components combined to maximize the addictive qualities of its final product.
Walter White would be proud, but the question remains, does the unknowing consumer suffer or benefit from the inhalation of loot gained through repetitious levels in smack-gorgeous environments? Hopefully I can climb out of my addict's den for just enough time to figure that out. Right now my exotic shotgun fills me with enough pride to justify the time spent. And it was a long time coming.
'Destiny' starts off like your run-of-the-mill RPG. You choose a class – the Warlock, Hunter or Titan – and begin through a series of story missions meant to first introduce you to the nuances of upgrading and looting, and then slowly edge you towards the pitfalls of addiction. As I said, I was happy to take the plunge, and in many ways (including the shotgun), I've felt rewarded for the devotion.
But let's get one thing out of the way. The narrative goes virtually nowhere, no doubt setting up some sort of long-term unraveling over the course of the franchise's multi-game lifestyle, but completely and utterly stumbling in any designs it might've had on compelling players to look so far into the future as Activision and Bungie have. Within this game, which is rather shy when it comes any memorable characters, you are adrift in a sea of space, platitudes and stereotypically religious parables of light and dark delivered in dialogue bland as the space between stars on the night sky. Were there a personality to latch onto, to fear the loss of, to fight for, to look forward to, to remember, I might've thought to pay attention, but it turns out the guiding personality of 'Destiny' is not its NPCs. It's the playable characters. The you and your online buddies. That's where the narrative truly lives.
You and two buddies, your Fireteam, are neck deep in the Heroic Weekly Strike. It's a variation of the Devil's Lair strike with the added difficulties of more aggressive enemies and extremely high arc damage, which the grunts and bosses alike happen to be pretty fond of. Every bullet hits hard, your dependency on each other ratcheted up to a degree unseen during the story, or even any of the strikes pattered about on the star map. To revive a friend is to save the day, and the day must be saved aplenty.
Sepkis Prime, a purple orb of explosive death, looms with just a tiny bit of his health left. As two thirds of your fireteam fall under the hail of his lobbed bombs, a decision must be made. To go for the kill or to go for the save? For me, it's always go for the save. And then the loot is dispensed and the joy is had. We of glorious victory are rewarded. Therein lies 'Destiny' in a nut shell, which makes it sound a whole bunch like popular MMOs and loot-oriented RPGs. Though it stands on the shoulders of these kinds of games, a number of adjustments and twists combine in a sort of collect/upgrade/shoot loop, the whole thing also raised to a perfection of polish by Bungie's past FPS experience.
As is Bungie standard, the enemy AI and first-person shooting are crafted and polished in such a way that every firefight, whether its against a horde of melee-focused Hive or a grouping of brutish, Gatling-gun wielding Cabal is frenetic, fast-paced, strategic and fun. You'll be focused on using your abilities effectively, dancing around cover with your foes and adjusting to the various waves of attack to hit you in quick succession. The overarching mission structure is always get from point A to B, but the enemy whack-a-mole is what differentiates one mission from another. Often there's a bullet-sponge kind of boss to finish things off.
Outside of the missions you can patrol the open spaces of Mars, the Earth, Venus and the Moon. Unfortunately, as wondrous as these spaces are in their environmental design, the small fetch quests scattered about are disappointingly basic and unengaging. On the off chance that a public event happens, when all the live players presently roaming an area are called into action to fell some foe or accomplish some other objective, the game explodes into life and you can really feel the potential for Bungie's shared-world idea. It doesn't happen enough and the incentive to wait around, instead of doing primary missions and strikes, just is not strong enough to hold you down. It's the loot, always the loot, that drives you.
The most interesting thing 'Destiny' does here is the individualized upgrade paths for each and every gun or piece of armor you get. That shotgun, for instance, features an expanded upgrade path as part of its exotic status. It’s not really about customization, though there are a few options per gun (sights, perks, etc.), rather you'll create a sort of bond with your gear that goes beyond what the gun or piece of armor does for you. The more you use it, the more you spend resources on it to make it better, the likelier you'll hold onto it as the game progresses, the harder it will be to say goodbye once you receive an empirically better item.
Levels and Light
And then there's the end game, which kicks in at level twenty. Now, instead of simply leveling your character to 21, 22 and so on, you need to find armor with a new attribute – light. The more light you have in total, the higher your level will be, which makes the purchasing of and lucking upon better loot ever more important. In that element, Bungie installed a few systems that both prolong and frustrate the time you'll spend with your character. It's a double-edged sword of elation and infuriation.
The bad side is this: many loot drops out in the field, ordered in rarity and effectiveness as vanilla, green, blue, and then purple, must first be taken back to the Tower (the home base, effectively, where all the shops and such are) to be decoded. Unfortunately, finding a blue orb out there does not have a 100 percent chance of translating to an equitable blue item, rather it may turn out to be green or, at a very small chance, upgrade up. Purple drops are even likelier to downgrade in the translation, the resulting effect being repeated disappointment following the joyous discovery of drops.
At one point I stumbled upon two purple (legendary) drops in one mission, no doubt greatly challenging probabilities in the game, only to end up with two blue (rare) items outmatched by the items already slotted in. It's deflating, to say the least. Of course, there's the flipside, like that one really awesome, unbelievably sweet time a purple engram (as the loot orbs are called) translated up to a golden (exotic) helmet. I basically exploded out of my chair.
Drops also hit with frequency on the competitive side of things, dubbed the Crucible by Bungie's random gallant word generator. It's a standard competitive affair, though the simple fact that everything you do and everything you get in the campaign, from the abilities you earn for your character to the weapons and armor you find or buy, translates flawlessly into PvP sort of elevates the experience. Damage is equalized, so you won't have an inherent advantage in leveling up, but those perks you earn in your armor and guns are all carried over, as are your abilities as a Warlock, Hunter or Titan. So, yes, the Invective is still a beast, but not so much that it can't be countered. In all, PvP hits the sweet spot, if that's your thing, and spending time there won't be time wasted in the name of your character's progression. It all trades back and forth.
There's a hump at about level 24 or 25 where the loot drops very rarely translate to something useful and you find yourself more and more dependent on the shops, which offer late-game gear exclusively, to propel yourself forward. This is by design. You can also upgrade your legendary and exotic gear to include more light, thus leveling up your character that way and increasing the chance of better drops in the field, but that also requires extremely rare "ascension materials." In all, the end game, which will end up sucking the majority of your time, becomes more complex, a bit of a drag, but ultimately the most rewarding thing about 'Destiny' once you finally get that one amazing thing.
And in that comes another double edged sword, because getting that thing requires that you play missions and strikes again and again and again. It requires a certain frame of mind. If it's the loot that drives you, driven you will be, but if you're looking for endless variety, then no. The first time you run a story mission or strike, you will be struck and in awe of the sights, taken aback by the monstrous bosses. But the second, third and fourth times, there's just onthing on your mind. This is a game for digital goodie hunters above all else, first-person shooter junkies second, and everyone else, especially those purely in it for the storytelling, last.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
Downright gorgeous, stunningly so. In all those times I've watched a developer demo his or her game and take a second to slowly scan the landscape, I never once thought I'd actually do it myself. 'Destiny' is the first time I wanted to just sit and look, take in the sights like I might've visited these places myself without a gun. And there's variety too. The moon is a cavernous pit with a 'Dark Souls' sense of despair, while Mars marvels in the way that 'Journey' did, rolling dunes decaying a dead city. In action, with vibrant super powers and grenades mixing in with the rapid-fire of your gun, it's a treat of intense awe, and in your first few hours that awe will propel you forward into the fight without fail.
The character design is excellent too. Enemy animations betray their inner natures so well, the Cabal stomping and bounding headlong, the Vex slowly approaching as a single unit, the Fallen scurrying as ravenous hyenas. When the writing did so little to fill out the world, the animation and visual work do oh so much. It makes you wish there was far more tangible exposition even, just to get a better idea of why these things are the way they are, or what they might be doing on these beautiful planets.
Surprisingly, the game's UI is as much a picture to talk about as the horizons out in front. All menus are navigated with a joystick-controlled cursur, rather than the common directional jump, and it actually makes things far more intuitive than normal. That's especially helpful for a game so heavily dominated by rapid upgrading, dismantling and slotting of your gear. Hopefully, more console RPGs take note in the future.
On the whole, at a crisp 1080p and rock-solid 30 fps, this is the prettiest game on consoles right now, no question. (The stunning environments and the ease with which most can pick-and-play the game spell must have demo-material. -BH)
The Audio: Rating the Sound
I'll step away from the game for a minute, perhaps switching over to my computer, and slowly I'll realize that the music emanating from my speakers is the most engaging menu-music I've ever heard. At this point I can feel the hyperbole creeping up, visuals and audio both, but I can't help it. The menu music would put most war movies to shame, reminiscent of the 'Band of Brothers' opening track with a sci-fi touch. And once you're actually playing the game, it's the music that grants every moment the life so missing in the written set-up.
Each planet essentially has its own theme, with a sped up version hitting at the apex of a mission, evoking what seems like the perfect reflection of whatever enemy or boss you're facing. But that's the charge of a great soundtrack, to make it seem like the scene was tailored for the music, rather than showing the reality that the music was tailored to the scene. The bounding fury of the Cabal, the creeping dread of the Vex, the vacant dash of the Hive, all defined by their propulsive tunes.
This section deserves a perfect score for the loot-hunters out there, as the draw is strong and the reward, if belated at times, is high. But, I'm making concessions for the substantially large crowd out there that just is not looking for that kind of loop, and wants the more intangible cinematic experience out of their sci-fi epic. I get that, and a part of me is disappointed that 'Destiny' doesn't quite fill out that mark in the writing department. Then again, the world-building accomplished through the visuals and audio alone should be enough the engage on that level, at least for a little while. To the naysayers, you get half a point.
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
'Destiny,' like 'Halo,' has a strong presence online at Bungie.net. Grimiore Cards, earned through gameplay, fill out much of the game's lore online and through a mobile app counterpart. Players can also access their statistics there as well. As usual, achivements and trophies play their incetivising tricks on you.
I still don't really know why anything I'm doing in 'Destiny' matters to the characters in the game, but I do know that getting a new gun and leveling up to 26 in preparation for the upcoming raid, or the weekly strikes, or the daily mission, or for the simple fact that I enjoy getting (admittedly generous) headshots on both the aliens and my fellow guardians, pushes me onward.
The giant, ugly mark on the game isn't the story though, it's how Bungie stretches the comparatively small amount of playable content as wide as it can. The usable loot drops spread thinner and thinner as the game goes on while you're asked to repeat missions endlessly. Though I truck along eagerly, I can almost feel the strain of wasted time creeping up.
But, to put it all in perspective, I'm well over 30 hours in at this point and I'm still having a great time. Rarely does a game designed to grab me for this long actually make it this far, and it's the desire for loot and the trials me and my fireteam engulf ourselves in to earn that loot that keeps me keeping on. That's 'Destiny,' for better or for worse.
- LPCM 7.1
- LPCM 5.1
- Online Co-op
- Online Versus
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