Destiny - Review

Over the years Bungie has become one of the most recognizable names in gaming. What once began as a small group of people releasing games for the Mac, one day joined forces with Microsoft and revolutionized console first person shooters with a little game called "Halo." Since the release of the original Halo, Bungie has been known world wide, and a large fan base has formed following them every step of the way. Halo continued to establish itself as one of the leading console shooters with each release, and this success continued on into the 7th generation on the Xbox 360.

After releasing Halo 3, things began to change at Bungie. Rather than being a part of Microsoft, the company once again broke off on its own. While they were no longer tied down by Microsoft, they continued making Halo games up until the release of Halo Reach. At this point development for future Halo titles was passed onto the newly formed  343 Industries, and Bungie moved on to their next project; a game we now know as Destiny.

This time, teaming up with Activision (who originally had interest in buying Bungie before Microsoft picked them up) Bungie set out to create a new original series using their past experiences to their advantage. The end result is a space first person shooter MMO called "Destiny," which Bungie plans on keeping around for at least 10 years. Destiny had a lot of hype surrounding its release, but just how good is the game really? Is it the best game ever? Is it better than Halo? Or was all of the hype just that--hype? Well after playing for many (many) hours, and seeing just about all of its current content, we are ready to give our verdict (for now).

Now before reading we want you to keep in mind that this game is part MMO. Bungie has said many times that they plan on keeping it around for at least 10 years, and they also made it very clear that this is just a starting point. At the time of this review the game has only been out for a week, and more expansions and updates are on the way. Bungie is also taking recommendations for features, so outside of the expansions there will most likely be smaller updates which will fix issues and add requested content. If this is the case, this review will be updated. So now with that being said, let's get on with the review.

The Story:

One of the things Bungie pushed before the game's release was Destiny's story. According to them it is a massive universe with tons of history, and epic events (maybe them weren't quite their words, but it is close enough). They stated that they wanted to give players something on par with "Lord of the Rings," and that got a lot of people excited. Well, if you were one of them people hoping for some grand adventure, you may be let down when you read this.

Destiny takes place far in the future after, well, a lot happens. The game begins with this little robot thing called a Ghost reviving your dead body (which has been dead for a LONG time apparently), and then proceeds to call you a "Guardian." From the get go the Ghost lets you know that you'll be seeing a lot of things you won't understand, and it then directs you to basically run for your life towards a door leading into a massive wall. Inside this wall the Ghost then helps you find a weapon, and you begin fighting aliens called "The Fallen." As you make your way through the area, you kill just about everything in your way, and finally make it to a ship; a ship you get to keep. Once again following the Ghost's orders you fly to the last stronghold on Earth, a place called "The Tower."

Once you arrive at the tower, things start to make a little more sense. Apparently at one point in time this giant planet thing called "the Traveler" came to Earth and brought the galaxy to its "Golden Age." Then, the darkness came. Aliens from other planets began invading destroying all of the light the Traveler brought with it, so in its last attempt to save itself and the galaxy it released the Ghosts to find those who are worthy of becoming Guardians to fight back. And that, is what you must do.

The rest of the game's story really isn't much. You follow your Ghost, kill things because you are told to, collect data because you are told to, and complete side quests to help the Tower just because you are told to. At one point something happens, and you race to stop one race of aliens from destroying a planet, but it never feels like a major event. It is more along the lines of a small stepping stone in a much larger story that is yet to come, and even the game's ending makes that VERY clear. Without going into spoilers all we can really say is that the game tells you itself that it isn't over, or rather, it is just the beginning.

Although the main storyline may feel a bit lacking, there is actually a lot of history to this universe. As you play through the game and complete different goals you'll unlock special cards which can be read on the website, and a lot of the game's overall story is actually told here. You can read the background of each enemy, weapon, and location. You can learn about all of the different factions within each alien race, and you can even learn about other Guardian's experiences and what they've gone through while you were still dead. There is actually a lot going on, and it gives the story much more depth, but once again this can only be accessed form the website so it is easy for players to miss. Still even with all of this background, the game's main plot is pretty basic. Only a handful of cutscenes, and side quests which you'll soon forget about make up the entirety of it. Even so, the story really isn't the main focus; Destiny is more about the gameplay than anything else.

The Gameplay:

Destiny is, well, a Bungie game, and it shows. I personally hate describing games by using others, but in this case I'll make an exception (somewhat). The thing about Destiny is that it is sort of a spiritual successor to Halo, and as such it plays and feels a lot like it. Sure it is it's own game, don't get me wrong, but for any long time Bungie fans, you'll feel right at home with this. You'll pick up the controller, and instantly know what to do, and what to expect. Everything from the enemies, to the level design, to the art style will bring you back to the early days of Halo, and that isn't a bad thing. Still, although it is a lot like Halo, it is also vastly different in quite a few ways.

The General Gameplay -

For those of you who have never played Halo, let me explain. Destiny is a first person shooter at it's core. You'll move the camera with the right analog stick, you'll use the triggers to aim and shoot, throw bombs, melee attack, and use special skills. You can also get into vehicles (many of which are basically re-skinned vehicles from Halo which play and control the same), mount turrets, jump (and possibly glide) through the air, and preform other basic actions you might come to expect from a game in this genre; however, with all of the standard features comes a lot of new ones as well.

While Destiny is a shooter, it is also half MMO. Before you start you are asked to create your own character, and choose between one of three starting classes. One is called a Titan, another is the Hunter, and finally there is the Warlock. Each class has their own unique skills and abilities to unlock and use, and they also have an extra sub class you can branch off and go down. For example the Hunter is a faster class and sort of a balance between the Titan (which has a lot of armor) and Warlock (which has low armor but fast armor/health regeneration), and it can either go down a melee or gun based path. With the default gun path the Hunter can pull out a golden gun which does massive damage, and with the sword based class they can enter a special state where they can slash things to bits. On top of these special moves other abilities are unlocked with them which allow you to change their properties as well. For example the golden gun can be changed to one with better accuracy, or it can be changed into one that causes enemies that are killed by it to explode (which causes damage to the enemies around it). This is how all classes in the game work, and each one has their own advantages. It all comes down to your personal play style, and it helps make your character feel more like your own rather than just some generic shooter guy.

On top of the class skills, there are also skills and abilities which come along with the equipment you collect. Rather than giving you basic items to use, Destiny is all about finding loot and upgrading it to make your character stronger. Some pieces of equipment you find will simply offer more defense, but some will come with added abilities which will allow your character to do different things. For example an arm part may have an ability which allows you to throw your grenade farther (which each class has three unique ones they can switch between), or you might find a sniper which can be upgraded to shoot explosive ammo. There are also sometimes stat bonuses attached to each piece of equipment as well, which will decrease your wait time between each use of your special moves, so if you would rather focus more on say your melee special attack rather than your grenade, you can. Overall there's just a lot of different options for you when it comes to customizing your character, and there's also plenty of weapon types as well. With each hunter holding a primary, secondary, and a heavy weapon, you can make your character diverse as you want. Still, this is only scratching the surface.

One feature which really makes Destiny's inventory stand out is the fact that you can freely change equipment ANYWHERE in the game. You can hold nine pieces of equipment in most slots, and you can freely switch out your equip items on the fly. Have your secondary set to a sniper, but you need something heavy for close range? Just open up the menu and switch over to your shotgun, it is that easy. This works in the story mode, in versus mode, and in every other gameplay mode Bungie may release in the future, and it is great. You can also summon a fast traveling vehicle from just about anywhere as well, with only some restrictions set in "dungeon" like areas, and in some smaller versus mode maps.

The not so single, Single Player -

As you're building your character, upgrading items, etc, Destiny offers a lot of gameplay modes for you to play through; with the main one being the "single player" story.

In the single player Guardians make their way through different stages as they complete different goals, and sometimes even fight bosses; however unlike in most shooters, the single player mode isn't quite a single player experience. While the game only features four locations for you to visit, each location is a massive open map with mini "levels" within them. As you're sent to one of the many different locations on the map to complete whatever goal it is you need to finish, other players will also be on the map doing the same thing. While you may be going through the second story mission, you will be seeing others who may be either doing the same one, or possibly a later one. Everyone just sort of does their own thing on the map, but once you enter one of the restricted areas (stages) you'll be alone once again and you'll be able to play through said area like in a standard shooter. Typically these areas are linear (with some paths which may lead to other sections of the overall map), and are free from intruding players. Of course you can team up with up to two other people to take these ares on in co-op, but you don't have to if you don't want to.

Along with the story missions, random public events can occur as well. When these happen every player in the area is free to join in for a chance to receive special rewards based on the group's ranking. Those who complete public events fast and efficiently will find themselves with better rewards than ones who just squeak by, or only complete a handful of the requested goals. These events can be quite rare, but if you're in the right place at the right time, they are well worth doing.

Outside of the story missions, each area of the game also has what is called a "patrol" mission. With these missions your only real goal is to explore the world (which worlds have collectibles for you to find, as expected from a Bungie title), and complete optional side quests found from beacons scattered throughout the map. These side quests typically ask you to kill enemies, or find specific items in the area, but they do give you rewards for completing them.

On top of the patrol mission side quests, there are also "bounties" which can be accepted in the Tower (the game's main hub). These bounty missions ask you to complete goals either in the story or in the versus mode, and will give you reputation depending on the type of bounty it is. Vanguard missions will send you to the planets and rank up your Vanguard ranking, while Crucible missions will send you to the Crucible (the versus mode area) to increase your rank there instead. By bringing your ranking up for either one, you'll earn the ability to buy special equipment sets later on in the game, and in return will make you much stronger. While bounties are not the only way to increase your rep, it is a faster way to do so.

The Strikes -

Strikes are another gameplay mode, and once again they play out like your standard shooter. Just as in the story missions you'll be dropped on one of the planets and be told to go somewhere, but rather than going alone you must be on a team; in fact, there's an entire matchmaking playlist just for this specific mode. As you get later in the game, different difficulty Strikes open up, and each one gives different rewards. While there's a lower level playlist for newer players, there's level 20 for max level players, and level 22 plus playlists for those who want even more of a challenge for better rewards. The Strikes themselves do typically take you to different locations from the ones found during the main story, and they feature new bosses as well; many of which are actually challenging, and take much longer to kill. Strikes also gain you Vanguard points, and become a very important part of post game. (Unless you'd rather ignore them and focus on versus instead.)

The Raids -

Along with Strikes, Raids are another form of co-op missions where you complete specific goals in hopes of getting rare drops and better equipment as rewards. While the concept is still the same, Raids take Strikes to a whole new level, and serve as special events released by Bungie. Rather than simply letting players take them on at anytime, they are only open during specific times, they require a full six member party, and there is no match making so you must team up with a group of friends before you even attempt to enter a Raid. Once you are in a Raid however, things become even more complex.

While Strikes are basically Point A to Point B missions with bosses and mini bosses, the goals in Raids are set by Bungie, and require you to preform a wide verity of tasks. The first Raid for example, requires you to split your team up into smaller teams, defend points against very strong enemies, take on extremely challenging bosses, and even make your way through a stealth section where the goal is to not be seen. Although this may sound easy to some, the difficulty is much higher than the main game, and it requires all members of your party to work as a team if you want to survive. Raids are also much longer than Raids (the smaller sections can actually take hours to complete), but Bungie does provide those who take it on with checkpoints, so even if you get stuck or don't have all day free to complete it, you can always come back later; as long as it is within the Raid's event period.

Of course, all of this may not always be the case. Once again Raids are up to Bungie, and that means it is always possible that they will release lower level/easier Raids in the future.

The Crucible -

For anyone who is a huge fan of Player vs Player modes, then the Crucible gameplay mode may be enough of a reason for you to buy Destiny. In the Crucible players take their characters to the battle arena where they can compete with others from around the world. Although you do get to use your own custom character, and you have access to your entire inventory (meaning you can change equipment on the fly), the game modes are balanced out so that higher level players do not truly have an advantage over newcomers. While skills and abilities gained from leveling up and form equipment can still be used, weapon and armor stats do not matter at all. Everyone is equal when it comes to health and armor, and weapons are balanced in a way you would expect a shooter to be. While there is a mode where stats carry over, it (just like Raids) is a special event mode Bungie is in control of.

The versus mode itself actually feels a lot like Bungie's other titles (mainly Halo). Most of the maps are smaller as they are built for 12 players, only a few maps contain vehicles you can drive and turrets you can mount, and most of the stages have more than one layer to them. Rather than being in open areas on a single plain, typically there are tunnels under structures, buildings with more than one floor, and other high up areas which are easy to access thanks to the different forms of double jump you unlock early on. Although most maps are either some outside area with ruins or inside a building, they are all different enough to keep things from getting old.

When it comes to Destiny's versus game modes, thing's are a bit different--or rather, a bit more limiting. While the maps feel like something right out of Halo, long time Bungie fans may be disappointing to see only a handful of modes to challenge yourself in. At this time there are only five gameplay modes, and all are what one might call "ranked." The game does not have any private player match system, and match making is limited to finding a random group of people to play with. While you can form a party and join a game together with friends, you're still forced to play with at least some people you don't know in official matches. As for the game modes, currently you can only take part in a capture mode (where you must stand next to flags to capture bases), a standard 6v6 mode, a 12 player free for all mode, and a smaller 3v3 versus mode where you can revive fallen teammates for extra points. The final mode is called "salvage" and is yet another one of Bungie's special event modes. In this one two teams of three race to targets they must capture, and then defend until time runs out.

Overall these modes are a lot of fun, and do offer a nice verity, but it can be a bit of a let down considering how much Bungie has done in the past. Currently there is no standard capture the flag mode, there's no 3v3v3v3 mode (or other small team mode where there is more than one team), and there are no unique gameplay modes such as "zombie" where killing someone brings them over to your team and it is your job to be the last survivor. Modes such as these really helped Bungie's multiplayer games in the past, and it's just a bit disappointing Destiny doesn't have something similar (yet). Even so, Destiny's versus mode is a lot of fun, and it is also a great way to get rare equipment. It also has its own reputation system, and bounties for you to take on.

The Good and the Bad:

Destiny, well, isn't an easy game to rate. For what it is at the moment, it is a very solid game. It's pros come from its solid gameplay, nice graphics, great soundtrack, character customization, online co-op, large open areas, challenging Raids, the Strikes, and form its really addicting versus mode. Although you can finish the game's main story in just hours (depending on how fast you rush through it), there's a lot to keep you coming back for more. Strangely, the game becomes addicting, and even running the same Strike over and over again can be fun. From a gameplay standpoint, Destiny is everything it should be--a great first person shooter mixed with an MMO; one that manages to stay true to Bungie's style, but also different enough to become its own game. In general there's nothing wrong with it, and it is just as fun to play on a next gen console as it is on a last gen. Still, it feels a little bit... Incomplete...

(How the heck did we get here?)
Although Bungie stated that they wanted this game to last for ten years, the way the game launched feels a bit lacking. The game's story mode was short and basically tells you (the player) that it was all just an intro for what's to come, there are only four locations in the game which you can actually visit (other than the small hub town), there's only a handful of maps and gameplay modes in the versus mode, each area only has one or two Strikes associated with them, and the game is missing basic features such as the ability to use text chat (although there is an emote option), and it even limits voice chat to only those in your party/fire team (although this has sense been updated). On top of that, stats and story information unlocked from the cards can only be seen on the website, so players are forced to log in if they want the full Destiny experience. The website itself is also is missing basic features, and is filled with missed opportunities... Sure, you can view a map of the hub town and see what shops are currently selling that hour (yes, the items NPCs carry change over time), but there's no option to actually buy items from the site nor the app. If you see an item you want but you're stuck at work on your lunch break, then that's just too bad. You can look at it until it is gone (which would be by the time you get home).

Really though, none of this makes Destiny a bad game. It feels unfinished (because it is), but Bungie promises us that there is a lot still to come. Two full expansions have already been announced, and Bungie will continue to patch the game and release new features as the months, and even years, roll by. The game is promising, and already a lot of fun on its own, but only the future will tell just how good this one truly becomes.

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