Damage Report: Despite the negativity and disappointment surrounding Destiny, the game is functionally compelling enough to warrant a few weeks of play before you inevitably trade it in. Though the bleak and desolate setting (features included) often turns me off more than it turns me on, I would be lying if I didn’t say a large part of Bungie’s magic with the Halo series wasn’t present with Destiny as well. The expectations may have been higher for their self-described magnum opus, but Destiny is well worth a visit for everything Bungie did get right, even if that visit proves to be fairly short. I don’t see my visit being cut short, however, because there’s a lot here than Bungie can easily build up into a spectacular game.
Halo can be a difficult game for me to discuss objectively. While so many fanboys of the internet are quick to hate on the series because it was the entire Xbox platform or because it was a shooter on a console rather than on the PC, the series has left a huge mark on gaming and boosted Bungie’s name up to the same levels as the hushed whispers of Bioware or pre-Enix Squaresoft. For my generation of gamers, the original Halo was Super Mario Brothers for many, and much of that excitement carried over now that Bungie has started over with a clean slate. Not comparing Destiny to Halo is impossible.
Despite my reservations about the MMORPG-nature of the always online, somewhat persistent state of Destiny, its Halo roots are clear and riveting. For starters, the game controls like a dream. The Halo standard of crisp movement, solid sound effects, tight controls, all blending together into a fun package are on full display. Even considering their limited sample size with only Marathon and several Halo games under their belt, Bungie has full mastery of the FPS genre, including their specific brand of it with limited weapons and regeneration shields.
The RPG elements added to Destiny flesh out some of the intentions of moving toward a more role-oriented game first seen in Halo: Reach. Instead of equal combatants rushing after power weapons on a map, Bungie has given each character their own customized toolset to seek victory their own way. It isn’t especially deep and I don’t think fighting over Heavy Weapon ammo on the map functions close enough to rushing for a Rocket Launcher, but it is a start.
Honestly, if there is one thing Destiny gets right without a doubt, it is the multiplayer. All of the maps are fun, the spawning feels great, the game modes are well-balanced, and classes add enough new to what has become an old formula by now. Still, I miss some of the zanier elements of Halo multiplayer, and I hope that those won’t be lost in the always-serious atmosphere of Destiny. Personally, I think Destiny would do well to create its own version of Grifball as yet another area in its fully function multiplayer suite of activities.
It’s also worth pointing out the lack of vehicles beyond a Ghost rip-off and something similar but with rockets. I don’t mind as much given the 6v6 deathmatch mode, but the larger maps do feel fairly empty. The vehicular combat also feels exceptionally shallow since there’s mostly just the Ghost-like and turrets to deal with, though you can still summon your mount in these larger maps to get in on the action sooner. For some, a lack of vehicles will be a huge plus or a huge problem, so hopefully Bungie will find a way to appease both sides with future updates.
Destiny’s story mode never captures the same action movie excitement of Halo and, more often than not, its set pieces fail to come anywhere close to classic levels like Assault on the Control Room or Truth and Reconciliation. A few do stand out, including one that features a bridge similar to those in past games, but they are so simple and sparse that it is difficult to even call them levels. Outside of a single mission which entrusts you with a powerful sword weapon to use, every other mission boils down to ‘get to location’, ‘defend location’, repeat or move onto the next mission.
It doesn’t help that the story is only really explained through Grimoire Cards which have to be viewed on the Destiny website or that most missions boot you back up to your ship rather than simply continue the story. It is a huge mess, but there’s a silver lining: the world is quite interesting.
Exactly like Halo, Bungie has managed once again to create a setting that begs to be explored. It’s amazing how they manage to do this since their games are mostly just video game action movie equivalents, featuring cliches about chosen ones and great enemies and prophecy mumbo jumbo. Honestly, it did turn me off that my character was some chosen bad ass, especially in a MMO-esque game where I am surrounded by similar, equally bad ass heroes all. There’s one scene that works really well to make you begin to care about your character and his relationship with the Peter Dinklage-voiced Ghost, but it isn’t enough and it never comes close to the characterization between Master Chief and Cortana.
Yet, I am compelled to see this world through and I am excited to see if Bungie can react to all the negativity in regards to their story mode and deliver content more fitting of their pedigree. Destiny’s world manages to blend science fiction themes of the apocalypse and a future human global golden age with more fantasy elements of Great Goods and Great Evils duking it out for supremacy of the souls of everyone. Even with the lack of subtly and the overwhelming deluge of exposition, Destiny’s setting strikes a better balance of science fiction and fantasy than Star Wars ever could, and I am forced to answer the classic Starship Trooper’s question of, “Do you want to know more?” with a resounding, “Fuck yes I do!”
Even if it can be difficult to see the roads laid by the Halo franchise through the thicket of poorly thought out MMO features, Destiny’s basics are compelling, and seem like a canvas which will produce many great stories. No, Bungie didn’t catch lightning in a bottle twice, but they have the engine, the setting, the gameplay, and everything else they will need to catch lightning again. It is a shame that they couldn’t do it immediately, but it would be an even bigger shame to miss out because they didn’t.
Destiny fails to live up to its promises, but there is nothing about the game that says it never will. I am very excited to see where this game goes and I am happy enough to be playing it now.
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