For all its hype, Destiny is far less innovative than you’d expect. Liberally taking a pinch of Mass Effect, a generous portion of Borderlands and a smattering of Dark Souls before mixing into the core Halo gameplay, it’s potentially a recipe for disaster. Surprisingly though, these ingredients work well together to form a surprisingly playable RPG flavoured shooter. Indeed, the core FPS gameplay is solid, robust and satisfying. In short, Destiny is everything you’d expect from the makers of Halo.
The online functionality really adds to the game; missions that are fun in single player become even more satisfying with a couple of friends in your fireteam allowing for genuine strategy as you outflank the enemy. Likewise, the existence of other players around you involved in their own missions allows you to lend a hand to an entrenched stranger or even benefit from a little covering fire whilst the randomly occurring public events that have you attacking a huge walker or defending a position alongside others helps create the feeling of a living, breathing world.
It’s impressive but sadly far from perfect. As different missions are played out at least in part over a planet’s shared map, the existence of other players can lead to some unwelcome situations where enemies are simply too powerful. For example, having reached level four, we were travelling to a mission objective only to encounter a group of level seven enemies due to a mission that someone else was playing. With no way around in this instance the only options were to get stuck in or abandon the mission. Weirdly though, despite the tough challenge of tackling a much more powerful group of opponents, there was no increased experience for eventually defeating them making this a risk devoid of reward. Something which will annoy RPG fans.
What’s more of a concern however is that Destiny’s servers, whilst doing an admirable job, aren’t quite robust enough. Since it’s impossible to play offline even in single player it’s not uncommon to be unceremoniously booted out of the game due to a server error or even more annoyingly, because there’s a problem with PS Plus. Whilst this is to be expected at times, the always online nature of Destiny works against it. Dark Souls suffered similar issues but you could still actually play the game – it just felt a little lonely. Here though, that’s it. The game will return you to a respawn point which is fine as long as you’re not in an area where respawning is restricted. If it is, prepare to gnash your teeth as you’re going to have to repeat that section again – through no fault of your own.
Speaking of which, there’s an awful lot of repetition in the missions themselves. Almost all of them involve reaching an area and then defending it against successive waves of enemies whilst your AI decodes something. It’s initially thrilling and impressive especially when dropships warp in to offload more enemies but it starts to feel overused and when enemies simply start appearing from locked doors you’ll start pining for something a little more imaginative.
Yet this is a criticism that could be levelled at Destiny as a whole. It hints at a Mass Effect style universe to explore yet you’re actually limited to specific areas on three planets and the moon. It feels strangely restrictive which is exactly what this game should never be. Even the planets themselves feel a little disappointing; don’t misunderstand, they look stunning but once you start to enter buildings or caves, they could be anywhere. A Martian train station is after all, still a train station. This could have been an opportunity to impress with some seriously alien worlds but instead comes across a little mundane.
Even the powers and abilities unlocked as you level up feel unimaginative. They’re fun and can seriously change the way that you play but aren’t nearly as impressive as those on display in Borderlands. And given that Destiny’s Warlock class shares a lot of similarities with Borderlands’ Siren, the comparisons are going to be made. There simply aren’t as many abilities on offer and whilst there’s a lot of scope for experimenting and finding combinations that work together (which can and will result in some seriously impressive chain reactions or passive abilities that effectively feed into one another), newer powers can only be obtained by swapping for older ones, effectively losing their benefit.
Worse still, the new sub class available at level 15 which grants an entirely separate set of powers is only selectable by swapping out all of your current abilities. This puts you at a serious disadvantage since these abilities also granted baseline stat boosts meaning that the only way to effectively level up the second sub class is to replay earlier (easier) missions. Yes, you can swap between the sub classes from the menu at any time but you can’t mix and match the powers you want from both which just feels like a mistake. Even branching paths of powers would have been better. You know, like Borderlands.
Yet it nevertheless succeeds in really scratching at that RPG itch. Every mission sees loot drops or a little more progression to unlocking these powers or just passive boosts. Even your weapons and armour can effectively be levelled up, granting some surprising bonuses or perks whilst the bounties available grant even more experience. It becomes an addiction to complete mission after mission just to see what you’ll get and each new gun or power is just begging to be tried out making for some seriously rapid progression through the levels. Until you hit level 20.
Levelling comes to a sudden and unexpected halt and there’s nothing in the game to tell you how to get past this and reach the real cap of level 30. It feels like a wall has suddenly been put into your path making a mockery of the ease at which you levelled up before. As such, the only way to proceed is to get lucky with loot drops or engage in some serious grinding.
If you’re into the competitive multiplayer this isn’t an issue. Despite lacking in some of the modes that FPS gamers look for in multiplayer, Destiny’s solid albeit unspectacular stuff and extensive play will eventually give you the loot drops and marks required to obtain the level boosting armour. However, if you’ve no interest in this then it’s repetition all the way. Strike missions with higher level enemies become available post game but are nevertheless identical to the story missions you’ve already played even down to the intros and dialogue. The fact that they then start to apply further difficulty enhancing modifiers only goes to show that Bungie are fully aware that there’s a distinct lack of post game content. Where are the new enemies? Where are the new locations?
Suspiciously empty areas on both the planets and the central hub itself imply that some of the content has either been cut or held back. Obviously, if this content eventually starts to appear (such as the Venus Raid mission) then this won’t be so much of an issue but the game has to be considered in terms of what it is here and now. Not what it could eventually become. As such, it feels a little unfinished. The core game itself is extremely polished but there are some serious gaps. An entire location known as the Reef exists solely for a cut scene despite there clearly being a currently empty world map when you select it, whilst a gap for a third subclass of powers remains empty no matter what level you reach.
Then there’s the weird fact that your race makes no difference to either the game or your story. The minimal plot hints that the three races might not necessarily share the same ideology but any hope that this might turn into branching and even competitive storylines is sadly unfulfilled. Even your ship is used only for loading screens making the wealth of cosmetic changes largely meaningless.
And yet Destiny somehow gets under your skin. It’s sleep depriving, dream encroaching, horribly addictive stuff despite its flaws. If you’re willing to put in the effort to level up and can deal with the grinding required, you’ll start to get your hands on some seriously impressive kit that’s just begging to be shown off to your friends.
With more variety and a lot more content, Destiny really could have been something special and perhaps in time, a steady flow of updates and new content will fix these issues and make Destiny live up to its own potential. For the sad truth is that everything Destiny does well is still done better elsewhere making it a Jack of all trades but master of none. For now.