Bungie’s first new franchise in 13 years has already been in the hands of gamers for the last fortnight. You’d have to have been living under a rock to not have noticed its arrival, and since then, many of you will have been sinking dozens of hours into the game’s co-operative and competitive multiplayer. Yet, while it’s a game that has kept me constantly coming back for more – and would have done even if I were not aiming to review it – it’s also an experience which is quite flawed.
The game starts in Old Russia, as a Ghost of the Traveller floats over the rusted wrecks of long abandoned cars, searching. As it resurrects you, a person that died many years before, it imbues you with Light in the process as you embark on a new journey as a Guardian to push back the forces of the Darkness which besiege the remaining humans.
After picking from the three complimenting classes – Hunter, Warlock and Titan – and personalising your look, the story quickly sees you battling the Fallen and Hive armies on Earth, the Moon and into the rest of the solar system. It plays host to some truly spectacular and beautifully envisioned locations that are simply delightful to visit and explore for the first time, as you encounter more factions, both friend and foe.
With the fate of humanity at stake, it paints you as the hero, an intrepid newcomer who is able to take on humanity’s most deadly foes and come out victorious where others might have fallen. Sadly, the central story itself is fairly disappointing and its delivery often leaves a lot to be desired.
Taking on the role of the Ghost, Peter Dinklage’s voice acting has had plenty of criticism. Though masked quite minimally by digital processing, the delivery of his lines is almost universally lacking, but it is harsh to lay the blame entirely at his feet. There are plenty of other uninspiring and flat performances, working with a script and overarching story that leans very heavily on the notion of aural histories and mysticism to wave away a lack of familiarity with your enemies. Ultimately, a lack of clarity and understanding saps much of the sense of finality from the story’s climactic moments.
- Both Destiny’s story and online play are bolstered by ties to Bungie.net and the smartphone app. It’s disappointing that these weren’t integrated into the game, but it’s here that you can go deeper into the game’s mythology by reading unlocked Grimoire cards, and it also allows you to join groups and clans to feature a tag by your name.
With the Halo series, Bungie were famed for their “30 seconds of fun” mantra, and it very much feels like a similar principle has been extended to the missions in Destiny. Stop me if this sounds familiar, but once the location loads, you follow some way points to an objective which you have to defend for three waves while your Ghost unlocks it. You then proceed deeper into a complex, where you must fight a boss while also fending off lesser enemies as they spawn.
That’s not to say it isn’t a good formula and can lead to some huge battles which see you fighting off hundreds of enemies, but after seeing it for the umpteenth time it starts to wear thin and is compounded by the busywork and replaying of levels needed during later play, the long loading times and regular trips back to the Tower. After reaching level 20, experience no longer increases you character’s level – though does continue to upgrade your items and subclass abilities – and you need to instead find and equip legendary or exotic armour that includes a new Light statistic which can push you to level 21 and beyond.
The game’s Action RPG underpinnings – with health bars over enemy heads and damage visually manifesting it in the form of numbers – mean that your level plays a role in how much damage you can do and the kinds of weaponry and armour you find and are able to equip for battle. A problem which will affect some people more than others is the grinding that’s needed to get past level 20, with the Cryptarch in the Tower notoriously stingy with his handouts for ostensibly legendary engrams that you acquire. My efforts this past week to level up have additionally been hindered by caps on the amount of certain currencies that you can earn in a week.
Though you can play the game on your own, albeit with the world still populated by other Guardians – and there is a lot of joy, fleetingly similar to Journey, in silently teaming up with other Guardians in the main world – it is at its best when playing with friends in a fireteam. The co-operative group of three works excellently, especially when you are able to combine the three classes and their subclasses for battles on a grander scale.
There’s a lot of fun to be had when playing in a fireteam of likeminded individuals, working together as a unit to take down the enemies. This is especially true when it comes to some of the tougher battles when playing higher levelled Strike missions which will really put you to the test. Calling out when enemies are spawning and flooding in, timing your super attacks and, of course, crying out when you’ve been downed and need reviving – a fairly regular occurrence.
It’s something that really comes together in the Raid mode, designed to cater to six players in a fireteam, beyond the usual three. Rather than having the Ghost lead you by the nose, the first Raid that has been released so far, Vault of Glass, drops you in and lets you figure things out for yourselves. Teamwork and communication are even more paramount as now you have puzzles to deal with and figure out, while also trying to stave off the waves of enemies and bosses, and some of the class and subclass abilities really come into their own.
It is brutally difficult, demanding six players ideally at or above the level 26 mark, and in playing it for over six hours our group has yet to reach the final boss. Even taking into account online guides from others who went before us, there’s a fantastic sense of satisfaction to piecing together the elements of the puzzles laid out before you and then striving to overcome them. So far, the Raid has been the most refreshing and inventive aspect of Destiny since the wonders of landing on Venus and Mars and encountering the new enemies. It does, however, make me question why these ideas didn’t trickle down in some way and the main thrust of the game, upwards of 40 hours in my case, is so repetitive and formulaic.
If that’s something that you’ve struggled with and disparaged when playing with friends, then the Vault of Glass is the light at the end of the tunnel. It was unlocked in the game a week after launch and is part of Bungie’s plans to keep adding and refreshing content within the game, in addition to upcoming paid DLC. There are more Raids planned, of course, but today also sees the launch of The Queen’s Wrath, adding new bounties and missions, hopefully putting a fresh spin on proceedings to keep us invested.
That variety is something that we are also seeing with the fast paced competitive multiplayer, where staples of the genre like Team Deathmatch, Free For All and Domination are joined temporarily by other game modes that alter the objectives, emphasise vehicular combat and the larger maps, or fiddle with the player count. There’s even a preview of what Mercury will look like, and we’ll hopefully get to explore it in upcoming DLC.
Outside of the Iron Banner, a game mode that is set to return in October after a stint during the Beta, your levelling perks have been nullified which leads to a rather well balanced experience in which even beginners ought to be able to compete. Though the rechargeable shield does give you leeway in most cases, special weapons like the Fusion Rifle and Shotgun are able to take someone down in one go, but require charging up and extreme close range to do so and have limited ammo without taking regular pickups.
More deadly are the heavy weapon ammo drops, which see a couple of ammo boxes appear and grant a couple of people the ability to use their rocket launchers or machine guns, though only until they die. These are nothing compared to the potential mass destruction from the use of your super ability, easily capable of taking out multiple enemies in one fell swoop, though you’ll also only get to use this once or twice per match. This does however lead to the one seeming misstep, with the Hunter Bladedancer’s ability allowing them to shrug off damage and cut a bloody swathe from one end of the map to another.
Destiny is far from a perfect game, with flaws quite clearly apparent in the storytelling and the repetitive formula, but it’s also a game that can quite easily keep you coming back for more time and again, especially if you play with friends. It’s a shame that some of the ideas in the Vault of Glass Raid couldn’t trickle down into the earlier stages, for more variety and intellectual challenge, but it does at least point to an exciting future for the game.
Version tested: PlayStation 4