Destiny review: not quite the $500 million game

Have you heard about Destiny? It’s a videogame created by Bungie, the studio that developed Halo, which is in itself notable, but the real headliner is Activision’s claim that it’s backing Destiny with a $500 million budget. That’s half a billion dollars for an original intellectual property. Wow!

It’s not like the money is all spent; my understanding is that budget includes marketing, future add-on content (for example, a $20 DLC has already been announced for December) and maintenance. Nevertheless, it’s an insane number for a game that may or may not last. Has any brand new property been burdened with so much hype?

Unfortunately, Destiny launched to tepid reviews — it has an aggregate score of 76 on Metacritic. Which is good but not great, especially considering the gargantuan budget. Compare that with two other original IP shooters that debuted this current console generation: 86 for Titanfall and 82 for Sunset Overdrive.

I got Destiny anyway and to my surprise actually kind of like it.

Let’s first get what Destiny is not — it’s not an MMORPG. The story is horrible and interactions with other players are largely limited, aside from the two players you can pair up with to go on “Strike” missions. There are also larger “Raid” missions but these are not common.

Sure, you choose from one of three races and you can customize your character’s appearance, weapons and armor…but the possibilities will feel basic to seasoned MMORPG players.

Destiny is a first person shooting game first and foremost. Considered in that context, Destiny is actually quite good. Bungie has perfected the core shooting gameplay — the blend of weapons, movement, villains and environments is satisfying and addictive. If you like shooters, Destiny will not disappoint.

One thing I particularly liked is how Destiny allows you to play your style. Some people like to bulldoze their way in and melee bad guys to death; some like to spray and pray; some like to carefully play cover; some like to cause explosions; etc. I like to keep my distance, find angles and snipe people to death. You can choose your weapon types in Destiny to support that play style (scout rifle, sniper and rocket launcher for me), and your choice of character race supports it too to an extent.

To be considered great, however, a game can’t simply be just a competent version of its genre. It must bring something new to the table. Borderlands popularized the idea of collecting and leveling up weapons and armor in a vast world — so that isn’t to Destiny’s credit.

What’s new and cool about Destiny is the idea that you can encounter other players serendipitously while while playing your game. Everyone shares the same world and you will retread the same areas with new missions, so it’s possible for others to spontaneously help you and vice versa.

It makes you feel like you’re not alone — that you’re a member of this universe with others, united in the goal of killing bad guys and getting loot.

Yet you can’t help but feel it’s half-baked in Destiny. Spontaneous group missions are rare, and when they do happen are quite boring; basically, of the “shoot a group of enemies” variety. While others can randomly join you in the common world, invariably your mission takes you to an inner cave or room where no one can join you unless explicitly invited. Which of course you won’t bother to do. Spontaneous collaboration feels more superficial than deep.

Strike missions on the other hand are generally great. Here you team up with two others to take down big and difficult bosses. Two strike missions are particularly hard, and when you succeed the feeling of triumph is sweet. What I’d love to see are more of these kinds of missions, and on a bigger scale. One where groups of ten, twenty take on an army of bad guys culminating in a boss fight that actually matters to the story line. There are six-player raid missions, but you can’t join a group randomly — you must play with friends — and apparently can take days to complete. That’s too much.

Unfortunately, the game feels more like a random collection of inane missions than a compelling story. There’s no sense of working towards an end point — it’s just killing random bad guys. The game draws you in because it’s fun, but Bungie could have done more to make you invest more emotionally to this beautiful, atmospheric world.

I could barely tell I finished the single player game when I did — it was that forgettable.

I don’t play player-vs-player combat much so can’t provide much insight. I can’t keep up; it’s hard for newcomers to add value, especially when you’re competing against opponents with advanced levels of weapons and armor. My preferred play style of sniping also isn’t effective in the human crucible.

Bottom line, Destiny is a good shooting game but no classic. It shows potential but doesn’t realize much of it.

Here’s to hoping that add-on content and sequels will.

Let’s put that $500 million to good use.

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