Destiny Review: Safe, Conservative, and a Little Boring

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Posted on September 17, 2014, Phil Hornshaw Destiny Review: Safe, Conservative, and a Little Boring

For day-by-day coverage of my experiences with Destiny, check out The Destiny Diaries, which offer some context to (and more jokes than) this review. The Destiny Diaries are first and foremost meant to be entertaining, however: this review is a more stoic look at the game’s merits.

There’s one feeling that pervades every aspect of Bungie’s first-person shooter-cum-MMO, Destiny: that of conservatism.

Every element of the game seems carefully weighed to be inoffensive, tried, tested and focus-grouped. Each mechanic or idea has appeared elsewhere, proven successful, and added to the game with little adjustment. There is nothing that even resembles a risk. Destiny is a compilation of things we’ve seen before, polished shiny, and pushed together whether the elements fit well or not. It’s a game that feels calculated rather than designed.

Cribbing heavily from Halo, developer Bungie’s best-known franchise, Destiny does “shoot lots of guys” considerably well. Guns are varied and responsive, picking off targets is satisfying and feels as though it rewards skill and smart play, and most battles tend to be frenetic affairs with players utilizing multiple assets and abilities. Add a few more players fighting side-by-side and Destiny is at its best, a strong cooperative romp that rewards teamwork and brings a lot of enjoyable, fast battles. At least for a while.

Though its core shooter elements are sound, what Destiny lacks is soul. It’s not the kind of game you can get lost in. It wants to be, and wishes it was, but also is unwilling to commit to anything but very well-trod, slightly stagnant first-person shooter paths and shoehorned MMO ideas. It includes mechanics angling for a long-lasting payment scheme, with few of the social benefits that go along with them.

Platform: Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, Playstation 3, Xbox 360
Developer: Bungie
Publisher: Activision
Release Date: Sept. 9, 2014
MSRP: $59.99

It’s important first to understand what Destiny is before attempting to understand how it succeeds and fails. Primarily it’s a very Halo experience; laid over the shooter elements are a smattering of massively multiplayer tidbits, meant to make Destiny into a persistent world in which players will engage over the long haul. RPG elements like unlockable character abilities and upgradeable equipment are rampant, as are “loot” systems like those found in Borderlands or Diablo III.

There are enemies, they’re bad, go shoot them — that’s all Destiny can manage, and it’s a shame because it’s clear a lot of work went into creating this world.

The idea is that you link up with other players (it’s less interesting to go it alone, but it is possible) and delve into Destiny’s many environs, which range from a rusty Earth to a sandy Mars, as well as jungles and ruins on Venus and strange, dark tunnels on the Moon. You’d be forgiven if you thought it was Halo at first blush — factions of alien enemies line up to get shot along your way, and they move and think a lot like Halo enemies do, although they’re smarter about getting behind cover and picking their shots.

And that’s about it. Destiny is part of an expansive world, but you’d barely know it from the non-existent, buzzword-laden story, dripping with sci-fi and fantasy nonsense but rarely giving any sense of stakes or importance. There are enemies, they’re bad, go shoot them — that’s all Destiny can manage, and it’s a shame because it’s clear a lot of work went into creating this world.

The story is a major disappointment, in fact. Follow it closely (if you can) and you’ll see its swiss-cheese construction, full of holes meant to be filled with expansion content to be sold at a later time. What interesting ideas there are get swallowed up or overshadowed by a lazy “Light versus Darkness” main conflict and an utter disinterest in context. The game doesn’t care about its narrative, but if it did, playing through its missions would be so much more satisfying.

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