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Destiny Review

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It’s hard for me to adequately describe my excitement for Bungie’s Destiny. I could say that there are few games that I have been as excited for as I have been for Destiny. Or I could say that Destiny is the game that I have been waiting for since I quit playing FFXI. Or I could link you to my mentions of Destiny in earlier blog posts or to a handful of the myriad of posts I have made in its thread in the gaming section. I could tell you that Destiny is the game I’ve wanted to play since Bungie formally revealed it in 2013 and it is the game I’ve been waiting for since before Bungie announced their partnership with Activision in 2010. And yet, none of that captures how I really feel about Destiny. Perhaps this is the best way I can describe how I feel about Destiny: I spent around ten days in July and nearly every day since September 9th playing Destiny, and already I am excited to spend the next ten years enjoying the world that Bungie has created and will continue to build upon.

In the future, humanity discovers an entity known as the Traveler -- an enormous and mysterious sphere that rapidly advances human civilization. Humans take to the stars and expand across our solar system into a golden age. However, the Traveler’s enemies find it and unravel the progress humanity has made, forcing them back to Earth. An empire that once stretched across the solar system is reduced to a single city, located in the shadow of the Traveler. Players take on the role of a Guardian of this last city in the fight against the Darkness. Guardians are beings who are able to wield the Traveler’s light and are accompanied by Ghosts -- tiny robots, voice by Peter Dinklage, which serve as a constant companion for players and source of information as they traverse and explore the wide open expanses of Destiny. Destiny’s main campaign sends players out into the stars to explore the areas and ruins of the Golden Age that have been long abandoned. Their journey sends them from Earth, to the Moon, to Venus, and even Mars. Now, all that said, I could dance around the issue and try to offer excuses, but there’s really no way around the fact that Destiny’s campaign is weak. In fact, I would go so far as to say it is the game’s weakest element. The game does an excellent job of establishing the world and introducing players to a number of major players, but the main campaign only offers, at best, brief interactions with those characters. It almost feels as if Bungie wanted to offer players a complete single player campaign, but also knew they had the ability to expand on it through updates and expansions. On one hand, it is sorely disappointing that a world that seems to offer such potential fails to take advantage of it and truly build a memorable story. However, as someone who spent years playing Final Fantasy XI, I can see the potential that Bungie can build upon in subsequent updates and expansions. While the story can be built upon, it’s unfortunately not only the story that’s a disappointment, but even the gameplay that constitutes the majority of the campaign. Far too many of the missions follow the same structure -- progress to an objective, interact with an item, and then defend the item from waves of enemies as your Ghost does something. While some will say this is a hallmark of FPS games, Bungie has shown that this is not always the case. Bungie is the company that brought us amazing battles against Scarabs in Halo 3; they brought us the defense of the Pillar of Autumn at the end of Halo: Reach; they brought us stealth missions as the Arbiter in Halo 2; and they brought us the fantastic vehicle segments found throughout the entirety of the Halo franchise (yes, even racing through along the collapsing Delta Halo was awesomely epic, shut your mouth). For the most part, Destiny’s main campaign lacks the creativity that Bungie itself has shown in the past.

All that said, Destiny’s core gameplay is one area that Bungie’s polish and dedication truly shine. Destiny can best be described as a cross between a First Person Shooter and a Massive Multiplayer Online RPG -- an MMOFPS, if you will. At its core, Destiny is primarily a shooter. It has all the hallmarks of the FPS genre. Players run around almost exclusively in first person, can shoot, strafe, and hide behind cover; they carry up to three guns; they fight enemies who have a penchant for shooting in their general direction; they have access to grenades, melees, and occasional special abilities. The game also features a handfull of vehicles for players to control. Destiny allows players to, at almost any time, summon their own personal vehicle, the Sparrow. These small mobile hoverbikes are incredibly useful when traversing Destiny’s massive terrain. If you’ve watched any Star Wars, you can probably imagine how the Sparrows handle, and I can neither confirm nor deny whether my fireteam has caught me humming Duel of the Fates while racing along at times. As a sci-fi shooter, Destiny puts players against a number of unique and terrifying foes. These include the Fallen, a multi-armed race of aliens found on nearly every world; the Hive, seemingly undead monsters that originate primarily from and moon; the Vex, mysterious time-traveling futuristic robots which make Venus their home; and the Cabal, a monstrous militaristic race encountered on Mars. Each enemy race has numerous types of enemies, leading to a wide variety of enemies to encounter and battle. While the first two races feel very similar, both the Cabal and Vex are unique and excellently designed. I don’t want to spoil anything for new players, but the Vex in particular feature some unique elements that were completely unexpected. Many gamers do not enjoy FPS games and naturally have asked whether Destiny would be an enjoyable experience. While some have tried to focus on its other pieces, the heart of Destiny is an FPS. However, Destiny is a game that offers gamers a look at FPS gameplay that is not overly focused on the competitive PvP gameplay. So often, FPS games are just a vehicle to deliver a competitive multiplayer experience. That’s not the case with Destiny. If you don’t want to play competitive multiplayer, there are plenty of ways to enjoy the game. If you aren’t a traditional FPS gamer (namely, you’re not the type to spend hours in player versus player multiplayer), you should not be deterred from Destiny. I think Destiny is one of the few games to offer gamers a lasting competition-free FPS gaming experience.

Like most FPS games, players experience most of the game looking through Destiny’s HUD. The top center of the screen depicts the player’s health and shield. The shield is the white bar which corresponds to two-thirds of the player’s health. This is the first thing to be damaged and recharges fairly quickly. Players who lose their shield and take damage begin to lose health, represented by the bottom third of the bar becoming red. Destiny’s take on Radar is presented in the top left corner and is far more minimalistic than many other FPS games. Rather than provide exact locations, the radar only provides a general direction and sense of the proximity of threats. Objectives are displayed below the radar when available. On the bottom left, the player’s weapons and abilities are displayed. The large bar represents the player's special which charges up over time as the player performs various actions (defeating enemies, clearing objectives, etc). When it is fully charged, it becomes yellow and players are able to use their subclass specific special ability. Underneath the special bar, a set of icons denote the different weapons currently equipped and icons with information on the character’s subclass specific melee and grenade. These icons specify whether the player has access to their grenade or melee ability, or how much time is left on the recast. Unlike most FPS games, players do not pick up grenades. Instead, grenades are tied to classes and are on a timer. While I personally would have preferred having access to multiple grenades, never really running out is certainly a nice tradeoff. At the bottom of the screen, the game presents information on the character’s level and experience progress. Destiny has a surprisingly low soft-cap, only level twenty. However, after achieving level twenty, players continue to earn experience. Each level rewards players with Motes of Light, another form of currency. Players who reach level twenty can further supplement their level by equipping gear that offers light. Subsequent levels are unlocked based on how much light a player has equipped. Of course, this means that players need to prioritize finding gear with more and more light to reach higher levels and unlock the content associated with those levels.

While the previous two paragraphs have focused primarily on the game’s shooter elements, there is no way to discuss Destiny without taking into account its MMO and RPG elements. Defeating foes and completing objectives rewards players with experience which levels up their character, making them more powerful and unlocking abilities. The game features three distinct classes which each have their own characteristics and progressions. In addition to the requisite ammo, enemies also can drop gear, weapons, and glimmer, Destiny’s currency. Unlike most FPS games which only offer aesthetic gear options, gear is a major element in Destiny. Characters have five slots to equip gear: helmet, armor, arms, legs, and a class specific special item. Special items are usually just aesthetic, but the other four slots are very important. Armor can improve defense, offer faster reloading, more ammo, or modify recasts significantly. As I mentioned earlier, at later levels, gear also adds light, which is important to increase your level beyond the softcap. Weapons and gear fall into five categories: normal (white), uncommon (green), rare (blue), legendary (purple), and exotic (gold). Like so many RPGs, players must choose which pieces of gear to utilize to best benefit their particular playstyle. While exotic gear is definitely the best, players are only able to equip one piece of exotic gear and one exotic weapon. Destiny also does an excellent job of making the game feel like an MMO, not just an FPS with RPG elements. Central to this is what Bungie calls disruptive encounters – when players are running around the world, they randomly encounter another player and can easily share the gameplay experience with them. As you travel the world, you’ll constantly encounter other players engaged in combat against groups of foes. You can either opt to help them, or continue on your way. Like many of you here on BlueGartr, I spent many years playing Final Fantasy XI. Back during the beta, I felt many of the same things I felt when I originally started playing FFXI. When I first stepped out to explore old Russia, I felt a nostalgic tinge for the first time I stepped out of Bastok into North Gustaberg.

Of course, the MMO elements also come with their own flaws and weaknesses. If you’ve read anything about Destiny the past month or checked any gaming sites, you probably heard about the treasure cave (or loot cave, or cave of wonders, or any number of other names it has). Defeated enemies can drop glowing containers which can randomly contain useful pieces of gear. Unfortunately, much of this comes down to the game’s random number generator, so players have struggled to amass the necessary gear to unlock higher levels. With so much of the game’s later content conditional on the acquisition of high-level gear, players have found that the most efficient way to farm legendary and exotic gear is to stand outside specific caves and spawn camp an endless stream of enemies. This was a widely known fact and players spent hours upon hours hoping for useful gear. However, on September 25th, Bungie patched Destiny, increasing the spawn times of enemies in several areas and putting an end to the treasure cave. While there are certainly a number of arguments that can be made both for and against this and similar farming approaches, this issue highlights a major weakness in Destiny’s leveling system. It took me just over twelve hours to hit level twenty. Like many MMOs however, the game only truly started once I reached level twenty (and I’d actually argue that it doesn’t really start till players reach twenty-five). Unfortunately, the necessity to acquire high-level gear to participate in many of the game’s activities puts a burden on players to find the fastest way to reach those levels, resulting in practices like the loot cave. While Bungie’s decision to eliminate the treasure cave can be justified, those justifications do not eliminate the necessity driven compulsion to seek out higher level gear. All that said, where Bungie taketh, Bungie giveth -- rather than leave players with a painful RNG that openly scoffs them, Bungie has announced that an upcoming patch is in the works which will eliminate a large portion of the negative randomness from engrams. Is the system perfect? No, but it will (likely) be better than it was last week.

As a shooter, the weapons are a central aspect of the game. Weapons are broken into three categories: Primary, Special, and Heavy. Most weapons have clear analogues with weapons from Bungie’s previous and most iconic franchise. Primary weapons consist of Hand Cannons, Pulse Rifles, Scout Rifles, and Auto Rifles and utilize the common white ammo. The Hand Cannons offer powerful shots, but at the tradeoff of a slow rate of fire and slow reload. They typically have few shots per clip and put pressure on players to make every shot count. Pulse Rifles are the equivalent of Halo’s Battle Rifles. Magazines are around 15 to 21 shots, but shots are fired as three-round bursts. Each individual shot is not especially strong, requiring players to connect all three. Unfortunately, most Pulse Rifles suffer from excessive recoil. Scout Rifles can be thought of as Halo’s DMRs. They are precision rifles designed for experienced players. They are powerful, like the Hand Cannons, and their slow rate of fire means that players need to make each shot count, but the larger clip size is far more forgiving than the Hand Cannon’s. The final primary weapon category is the Auto Rifle. Auto Rifles offer a continuous and fast rate of fire. Surprisingly, most do not suffer from terrible recoil and they are surprisingly accurate, even at long range. Honestly, given their large clip size, power, and accuracy, I have a hard time recommending anything else to players. That said, Bungie has stated that they are working on balancing the game to make Auto Rifles far less dominant.

Special weapons consist of Sniper Rifles, Shotguns, and Fusion Rifles and use green ammo. Sniper Rifles are long-range, powerful weapons with small capacities. If you’ve played a Halo game, these guns will feel very similar. They can get off shots fairly quickly, but their small clip size requires players to be fairly accurate. Shotguns are essentially what you would expect. They are short range and powerful weapons. I personally believe that Shotguns are the best option for PvP, but see advantages to both Sniper Rifles and Shotguns for PvE. The last category is the Fusion Rifle. Fusion Rifles are essentially mid-range Shotguns. While this sounds great, they unfortunately need to be charged before each shot, making them fairly useless, in my opinion. There are at least a few that do not require charging, but that really is not enough to save the entire category. The third weapon classification is the heavy weapons which require purple ammo and only fall into two categories: Rocket Launchers or Machine Guns. Rocket Launchers are pretty much what you’d expect. They are slow loading, allow for one or two shots before needing to be reloaded, and create powerful explosions. Machine Guns are powerful guns with fast rates of fire and large clip sizes. They might be inaccurate over time, but in my experience, you’ll usually eliminate most opposition before recoil or spread becomes an issue. Personally, I like Rocket Launchers, but have also found a number of uses for Machine Guns.

Weapons aren’t the only major distinction in Destiny. Unlike most FPS games, players also have the choice of one of three classes: the sturdy Titan, the mage analogous Warlock, and the rogue-esque Hunter. Now, while there certainly comparisons between Destiny’s classes and those found in traditional MMOs, there is major distinction that needs to be made early. Regardless of which class you select, your gameplay experience is going to be very similar. As I mentioned earlier, at its heart, Destiny is a shooter which incorporates RPG elements. However, if you strip away those RPG elements, Destiny is still a (really good) shooter. Your class affects your abilities, but not the guns you can wield or the core shooter mechanics. Therefore, while the class you select does affect your special, grenades, and movement ability, it doesn’t have the same weight as selecting a class in a traditional MMO. Each class is further separated into two similar but distinct subclasses which players level independently and can be freely switched on the fly.

The Hunter was the class I was most interested in playing during the beta back in July and has become my primary class in the final release. Inspired by westerns and classic science fiction bounty hunters, the Hunter is a light weight class designed to infiltrate, scout, and deal precision damage. The two subclasses, Gunslinger and Bladedancer are designed with these goals in mind. The Gunslinger is the first class unlocked and delivers powerful precision damage. Its special ability is the solar powered Golden Gun which delivers large damage to enemies and instantly kills opponents in PvP. The Gunslinger is quick and mobile, having, in my opinion, the best movement abilities, and its other abilities, including its special melee, are designed for players who excel at precision damage. Conversely, the Bladedancer is designed as a close-range stealth class. Its special, Arc Blade, infuses the Hunter’s knife with arc energy, enabling it to deliver enormous damage at close range. Bladedancer grants access to cloaking abilities and abilities to rapidly close the distance between foes to deliver powerful damage. As I said earlier, Hunters are designed for quick and precise players. Their specials are distinct from those of the other two classes. For Warlocks and Titans, pressing the necessary button activates the special and either causes massive damage or provides its effect. With Hunters, the specials replace the player’s gun or melee for a time, requiring the player to effectively utilize the special.

The Warlock class was designed for Destiny with the typical mage role in mind. However, as I mentioned earlier, Destiny is not the type of game where the mage class hangs back casting spells. Warlocks carry the same guns as Hunters and Titans and are just as involved in combat. The two subclasses available to Warlocks are Voidwalker and Sunsinger. Voidwalkers, as the name suggests, use void energy. Their special, Nova Bomb, is a powerful projectile that deals massive damage. Voidwalker serves as the powerful Warlock class, and its other abilities are meant to deliver greater damage. Conversely, Sunsingers are a support class, with abilities that boost themselves and their allies. Their special, Radiance, makes their abilities more effective and reduce their cooldowns. They also have the ability to instantly revive themselves, a crucial ability during raids and the game’s more challenging tasks. Both Warlock classes use similar movement abilities, Glide. During the beta, I struggled to effectively utilize glide. Since then, I have been able to get used to it. I still think it is the worst movement ability of the three, but it is not as crippling as I previously believed. I still believe the Hunter’s agility fits my playstyle the best, but both Warlock subclasses have been crucial to my fireteam’s raid successes, so don’t let my personal playstyle deter you.

The final class is the Titan. Titans are the closest to a tank class that Destiny offers. Their designs take inspiration from knights and aptly look like armor-clad space warriors. The first Titan subclass is called the Striker and it is designed as a close-range and physical class. A number of its abilities boost its defense, it has powerful melee abilities, and its special, Fist of Havoc, produces a devastating sphere of arc energy that destroys enemies around the Titan. The second subclass is the void-powered Defender. As the name implies, Defenders are crucial for absorbing damage and protecting their allies. Their special, Ward of Dawn, creates a barrier that absorbs incoming fire and can protect and buff allies. Defender, more than any other class, is designed to support and aid their allies and fireteams. Honestly, Defender Titans are probably one of the most necessary subclasses for a raid group. Of course, the increased sturdiness of the Titan class comes at a cost, namely its movement abilities. Titans rely on a jetpack ability for added height, similar to the one introduced in Halo: Reach. While it offers comparable height to the Hunter’s jumps, it is much slower. Beyond that, playing as a Titan generally felt somewhat more sluggish than playing as my Hunter.

Destiny’s game modes can be broken into Player versus Environment (PvE) and Player versus Player (PvP). The myriad of PvE options are what truly highlight how different Destiny is from traditional shooters. Most FPS games offer around ten hours of campaign missions and maybe a handful of short objective based missions. In Destiny, the first ten to twelve hours or so required to complete the campaign are only the start of the PvE offerings. In Patrol mode, players can revisit the game’s main areas to explore the maps and complete simple quests. These range from collecting items, to killing specific enemies, to scanning areas. Quests are triggered from beacons scattered throughout the map which respawn every fairly frequently. Players looking for more of a challenge can engage in the game’s Strike missions. These are missions designed for three players, friends or strangers, and task fireteams with completing a sequence of objectives. These range from simply defeating an opponent to holding a position, to securing an objective. Modifiers can be applied to Strikes making them significantly harder in exchange for the opportunity to earn better rewards upon completion. While exploring the world, either during Patrol mode or even while progressing through the campaign, players can randomly encounter public events. These are random encounters where players in the area are called to defeat a powerful foe or defend an important objective. These are seemingly random and can be a challenge to complete alone, but I have yet to pass up the opportunity to participate in a public event, no matter what I might be doing.

A week after the game’s release, Bungie released the Vault of Glass, the game’s first raid mission. Raids are designed for six member fireteams, offer no matchmaking, and require significant organization, communication, and teamwork. Without a doubt, the Vault of Glass is the most challenging and at the same time rewarding experience that Destiny offers. Clear objectives are not stated and many require splitting up into smaller groups of two or three to complete separate tasks simultaneously. Even gaining access to the Vault of Glass is a challenging ordeal which offers a taste of what’s to come. All that said, struggling through the Vault of Glass the first day it was available was a phenomenal gaming experience. Even now, people are still working out strategies for many of the battles that are not just brute force and luck. To be honest, I would rank completing the Vault of Glass the first week up there with clearing some of Chains of Promathia’s harder missions -- it was that satisfying. The Vault of Glass also features a number of unique gameplay segments not featured in the main campaign or other strikes. Unfortunately, the extent to which the creativity and challenge of the Vault of Glass excel shines a light on the problems contained within the rest of Destiny, highlighting the disappointing lack of creativity featured in the rest of the game. Now, when it was originally announced that the Vault of Glass would not include matchmaking, there was a lot of negative feedback. Many players questioned how they were expected to form groups to try out this game mode and players responded with their own alternatives. However, longtime MMO players will understand that pickup groups are not always the best option for challenging tasks that require coordination. Having run through the raid twice now, once with strangers and once with friends, some who I became friends with during the first run, I agree completely with Bungie’s decision. It’s far too easy for a single person to get frustrated and leave or not follow directions and ruin the experience for the rest of the group. Regrettably, I also have to acknowledge that the Vault of Glass also has a number of unexpected bugs that can occur and ruin an otherwise flawless battle. I’m sure these flaws will be patched eventually, but that sentiment does little to relieve the disappointment when a bug results in a wipe. One other thing I feel obliged to mention -- there’s currently only one raid available. As of now, the biggest and most enjoyable endgame activity is currently restricted to once per week (technically twice). In time, yes, this will grow. But the ease at which players were able to reach the cap definitely puts pressure on Bungie to have more content that’s currently not available. I hope Bungie speeds up the process and adds many new endgame activities sooner rather than later.

Of course, as a Bungie shooter, it should come as no surprise that Destiny offers its share of PvP multiplayer modes grouped into the Crucible. The Crucible currently includes four game modes that span nearly a dozen different maps. These currently include: Skirmish, a PvP mode that focuses on small team tactics and gives players the ability to revive teammates; Rumble, the classic free for all game mode; Clash, a six member team based all out combat, and Control, Bungie’s spin on capture the territories. Bungie has also introduced additional game modes over weekends, giving players more options to experience. Personally, I find myself spending the most time playing Control. In most FPS games, this type of game mode tasks players with securing territories which reward players with points depending on how many and how long the territories are controlled. In Destiny, players are tasked with securing three territories. However, the majority of the points earned from the matches are from killing your opponents. The incentive to control the territories comes in the form of points multipliers based on the number of territories controlled. It’s not a major twist, but it’s enough that a familiar game mode feels fresh and unique. Bungie has also promised to continue working on the Crucible and has hinted that new game types might be in the pipeline.

One of the big challenges with a game like Destiny which has such a strong emphasis on character progression and development is making the multiplayer experience accessible to both beginners and players who have devoted the time to maximize their characters. Usually, players who have devoted more time to FPS games have better weapons and abilities in PvP matches. While character development is still important and still comes into play, Bungie has done a great job of normalizing conditions to not alienate players while offering incentives for players to develop their characters. A level eight player and a level twenty-eight player using similar guns will both do the same damage. Even using a higher level gun with more attack, the level twenty-eight player will do the same damage if the two guns are from the same class and have similar stats. However, the level twenty-eight player likely has access to weapons with more perks and abilities that the level eight player does not currently possess. If you’ve spent the time to level and develop your character, yes, you will have an advantage, but if you’re just starting out or do not have the time to devote, you won’t be completely outclassed by higher level players. More importantly, players do not have to spend hours playing PvP to develop their characters. The character you use in the Crucible is the same character you progress through the story and explore the world. As such, you can max your character’s level before engaging in your first Crucible match, or jump in as soon as you reach the requisite level – the choice is up to you. For players who want to test their character, Bungie has offered the Iron Banner as a way for damage, armor, and level to come into play.

Bungie undoubtedly transformed console shooters with Halo. Destiny is like nothing Bungie has ever created before, and their ten year plan is undoubtedly ambitious. So far, the limited vision we’ve seen of that plan has received mixed reviews. The biggest question facing Destiny is not whether it will forever change gaming again, but whether it will have the staying power necessary. I can’t say for sure, but personally, I can look past Destiny’s problems and see the already phenomenal core gameplay and the potential of a thrilling game that can satisfy on many levels. However, I understand that not everyone will feel the same way. This has been my longest review to date, with good reason given Destiny’s size, and yet, there are so many more things I haven’t touched upon. Destiny is an enormous game, and most of us have barely scratched the surface. I’ll be honest, I started this review around the time the beta ended. Since September 9th, I spent a significant amount of time adding new things and cutting less relevant parts. On September 17th, the day after spending seven hours working through the Vault of Glass, I spent more time revising parts of this review. On September 26th, I made a number of major changes in response to patches to the treasure cave and farming. Of course, a few hours later, Bungie revealed notes for the upcoming patch that again forced me to update this review. As I said at the start of this review, I’ve already spent a lot of time with Destiny, and I have faith that Bungie will continue to offer a great experience over the next ten years. Over the past few years, Bungie has repeatedly said they want Destiny to be a game that challenges gamers and pushes them to try things they might not be familiar with or might even be uncomfortable. For the FPS crowd, Bungie has created raids, and strikes, and a world worth revisiting over and over. For the RPG and MMO gamers, the Crucible is challenging and addictive. I know that I can’t convince everyone to exhibit the same enthusiasm for Destiny that I have, but I hope I can encourage you to give it a chance. Even if you’re not usually a FPS player, you might be surprised what Destiny has to offer. I hope you take my invitation and join us in Destiny, join the BG clan, and help us repel the darkness.
It doesn’t matter who you are. Only what you will become.

All images owned by Bungie.