Bungie set their sights on a partnership with Activision to give them the marketing clout to get this product out in front of as many players as possible and decided on a ten year plan to progress the IP and make it as much a household name as Halo. The question then becomes how good are they at bottling lighting that they think they can do it a second time?
Out of the gate the game appeared on both current and last gen consoles with roughly analogous performance between both last gen consoles (if not slightly better on the Xbox 360 possibly due to their experience with the platform as first party partners) and the current generation with PS4 and Xbox One both running at 30fps in 1080p with the XBO suffering an occasional frame rate drop only slightly more than the PS4 and due to how it handles HDMI a slightly different colour pallet (to read more about graphical differences again see last week’s First Five).
The gameplay itself is solid, the guns and powers feel fully realized and are certainly fun to play around with. Having levelled three classes through the first six or seven levels and one up to the cap I can say each character has a distinct feel and is certainly fun to play. The Titan feels like an unstoppable killing machine with its massive area of effect ground pound and it’s knock out one hit kills, the Hunter has some great ranged abilities and their throwing knife is a nice change from the regular melee abilities while the Warlock, the class I thought would be my distant third became my number one favourite with the Nova Bomb ability which is like every super hero fantasy a 13 year old boy could dream of.
The weapons all feel fully realized and have a good weight and recoil to them but that is to be expected from Bungie who made their fortune on the backs of the first person shooter. A neat permutation to the traditional formula is unique weapons have their own upgrade paths. The average gun cannot be modified but rare and epic loot gains experience as you use it and when it levels you can unlock new gun sites, improved damage, or even special powers like a faster reload after a melee attack. You can easily compare your weapons by going in to your inventory and selecting a weapon and holding down the right trigger, this will show you the stats of that weapon as compared to the one you have equipped.
For all this amazing loot tough, you are sadly limited to three weapons at a time. You have your primary, a special and a heavy. Primary weapons are broken in to scout rifles (single shot long range combat rifles), pulse rifles (semi-automatic combat rifles good for accurate burst fire), Automatic rifles (full auto spray and pray weapons) and hand cannons (low rate of fire high damage revolver style weapons). Your special weapons are similarly broken in to Sniper Rifles, Shotguns, and Fusion Rifles (a high power mid range solution) and heavy weapons come in two flavours Rocket Launchers and Heavy Machine Guns.
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Ammunition is limited so you will often find yourself juggling between weapons when you start to run dry or based on the type of enemy you are facing. Additionally the weapons can be modified by elemental damage like fire or void damage to deal status effect damage to your targets. All of this makes for a very strong foundation of play elements for Bungie to work with but nothing that stands out from other similar titles.
The game positions itself as an MMORPG/FPS hybrid, which is a reasonable description. Broken in to a handful of playable worlds at launch including Mars, Venus, the Moon and Earth for co-op play and competitive play is locked to the Crucible a set of arenas where Guardians can square off against one another. For an MMO this is a fairly small area to be locked in to given the high mobility of your characters and even compared to roughly comparable titles like Borderlands this is a very small area. That said Destiny have two expansions slated to drop and these could potentially add new areas and are intended to move forward the story. For a first person shooter subtracting the MMO element these are reasonably sized areas and honestly not that much different than Diablo III (to which people return time and time again to grind out higher loot and fancier gear).
The story is not outstanding, you are the “Light in the Darkness” saving the children of Earth from the four marauding armies who chased the Traveller to earth and subsequently wiped out every human they have met on their travels. Your companion is the Peter Dinklage voiced Ghost, a sort of quippy sidekick handling exposition when required. The problem is the story itself feels generic at this stage, there’s no real stand out moments since it is so sparingly dropped in our laps with cut scenes occasionally popping up between or after story missions. The voice acting on the whole is strong with talents like Lauren Cohan (The Walking Dead), Claudia Black (Dragon Age, SG1, Farscape), Bill Nigh (Elder Scrolls Online, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Underworld) and Firefly and alums Nathan Fillion and Gina Torres. These are some exceptionally talented actors and having Zoe and Mal in this game and barely using them is CRIMINAL! The other voice actors like Susan Eisenberg and Matthew Mercer are also equally talented even if they don’t carry the same cachet of name recognition as the Hollywood stars making their day rate appearances.
Then atop of this you take an actor who should be brilliant, Peter Dinklage, and have him phone in one of the most flat non-emotive performances I have ever heard committed to audio. This certainly assures your Ghost is no Cortana and honestly makes me question if he will be a part of future projects. The voice was so poorly received with such ridiculous lines during the beta they recut some of the more egregious lines and added vocal effects to post to try and hide some of his terrible delivery. Of course Bungie wouldn’t tell you that is why they added the whirrs, clicks and beeps but I strongly suspect that’s the case. I’m unsure why it is like this, Dinklage has the acting chops to deliver far better and maybe it was just bad voice direction, but it certainly can be jarring when a line that could deliver a good laugh just falls apart because of a flat delivery.
Having looked at the gameplay and the story that leaves us with trying to figure out what to make of this game, as mentioned it is positioned as an MMO/FPS/RPG hybrid. The loot driven nature of the game makes it a good competitor against games like Diablo III or Borderlands and it does a far better job of balancing the scarcity of loot than either of those games. Both Diablo III and Borderlands flood you in gear to the point it’s hard to tell if any of it is worth it so you eventually just end up settling on a favourite combination and selling everything you pick up. Additionally, Borderlands has a habit of piling crate after crate atop of you where it gets so distracting opening crates looking for loot many people eventually just ignore them. Loot crates are scattered around the landscape in Destiny with enough frequency that you keep an eye peeled for them but not with so much frequency that it becomes boring. Often these will contain crafting materials or “Glimmer” (the in game currency) but sometimes can contain weapons or gear. Again, an awareness of design shows through in Bungie could balance this aspect well and arguably better than the biggest titles in the loot grind genre.
Another tent pole of the MMO genre is crafting, there is not crafting per say in the game but there is the ability to upgrade your gear. Some of these upgrades require components like Spinmetal, Relic Iron or Helium Filaments which can be found around the environments in different locations or rewarded for completing missions. There are open “Patrol” areas that allow you to do mini-missions and just explore hunting for relics and random encounters and special events like an enemy boss randomly landing somewhere on the map and you have to take it out before a timer runs out. It’s nothing exceptionally complex but as a crafting system is functional but nothing to write home about.
That leaves the last tent pole of the MMO genre which is end game, the level cap is fairly low only going to 20 after which you work at upgrading your gear. Further the story clocks in at around 20 hours leaving you with little to do. You can repeat the quests upping the difficulty level or take part in strike a 3 person Fireteam event, competitive PVP or (starting Tuesday the 16th) raid events that double the Fireteam size to six players. Raids and strikes remain co-operative and will need you to team up, in the case of strikes there is match making but Raids do not have that luxury so you will need to track down 5 friends to play with (which can be difficult). You have the ability to join guilds that may ease the process but still can be a trick coordinating.
The game is not devoid of content and I’ve dropped into many MMOs that out of the gate had less but not by much. This is a ten year plan for Bungie, they have at least two substantial DLC packs to drop that will expand the story and given time it may grow. The lore of the world is interesting but difficult to get access to. You pick up bits of lore by exploring new areas or recovering dead ghosts found in the game but these only unlock on Bungie.net or in the Destiny companion app (more on the app in a later article). This is frustrating, one of the biggest draws to these immersive worlds is the ability to immerse yourself in the lore of the world, added to this is the fact that while there is customization in a physical sense you can’t name your characters which makes you feel little agency in the story itself. It’s little tricks like that which make the MMO space so addictive.
One small concession they made is if a player purchases the game across two platforms in the same family (Microsoft or Sony) your character will carry forward between the two allowing you to switch back and forth between the platforms and play with friends. Further if you purchased a digital copy of the game on the 360 or the PS3 you can upgrade to the Xbox One or PS4 for free. This is a smart way to future proof and ensure your audience remains engaged when in a year or two the 360 and PS3 will be in a closet gathering dust for many.
I am left to question are some of these limitations due to the cross generation nature of the game. Are they are restricted in the depth of game play? There is only so much that can be achieved across both platforms with the number of units on the field and the number of players in the zone. Potentially this will this improve as the move away from the previous generation’s consoles and exclusively to the more powerful console and eventual PC platforms? It is hard to tell, is the game worth picking up? Most definitely, is it redefining the destiny of gaming? Not yet, but there’s a lot of potential here. Even Halo took some time to earn its pedigree here’s hoping Bungie can do the same with Destiny.
- Attractive design with a sleek and fantasy-future aesthetic
- Strong foundation of play
- Well balanced weapons with interesting designs
- Good balance of loot and gear drops
- Cross generation characters allowing players to migrate from last gen to current gen and keep characters
- Spotty voice acting under utilizing some of the best talent while letting other talent phone it in
- Thin content leading to a lack of end game activities
- Lack of universal match making for Raid and end game content
- Good god the load screens make me want to punch a wall
- Moon Wizards… seriously… they need to really edit their writing at times