Published Sep 09, 2014Destiny, the new IP from Bungie, the acclaimed creators of Halo, is the most expensive videogame ever made at a cool half-billion bucks. These facts, alongside years of drip-fed hype, genuinely jaw-dropping graphics and an orchestral score co-composed by some dude named Paul McCartney, raised expectations unreachably high, so perhaps it's not a surprise the response has been so polarized.
No, their latest post-apocalyptic sci-fi effort hasn't changed the face of gaming and yes, unforced errors — Peter Dinklage's bored line-readings as Ghost, your companion AI; a squandered narrative that's more setting than storyline; repetitive missions; and environments that aren't nearly as living and breathing as they are breathtaking — bring the score down.
Destiny takes place 700 years in the future, in the last human city on Earth. Above this settlement of survivors floats a mysterious and massive alien orb known as the Traveler, which initially arrived centuries earlier and launched a "golden age" that allowed humanity to colonize the solar system. But then the Traveler's ancient enemy, known as the Darkness, arrived and killed almost everyone off.
The game begins as humanity starts its campaign to fight back with an army of Guardians — you can play as either human, a self-aware robot or a blue-skinned humanoid called the Awoken, though the class choices are largely cosmetic. You must battle the various alien races that have filled our power vacuum on Earth, the Moon and Venus: the insectoid Fallen, the burrowing Hive, "semi-organic android" Vex and amphibious Cabal.
That's about as much motivation as Bungie provides, since the story is subsequently backburnered and most world-building information is doled out to a smartphone app rather than being included in the game itself.
So what's different about Destiny? Well, Bungie has referred to it as a shared-world shooter, which basically means they tried to mash-up a first-person shooter with a massively multiplayer online game. Purists of either genre will likely be disappointed, but here's the thing: For the most part, Bungie's mix of solo, co-op and competitive play does pay off, mostly because the shooter mechanics from the former genre are so tight and the loot addiction from the latter is so strong.
Still, we were promised more than good gameplay and high production values; it's right there in the portentous name. It's not nearly as bad as you may have heard — the internet tends to encourage piling on — but it's also not as good as we all hoped.
The game's multiplayer section, known as the Crucible, is great but needs to improve its matchmaking, because all the best FPS mechanics in the world can't help you if you're stuck fighting so many higher-level gamers. And while Bungie touts the game's inherently social nature, they need to make it easier to meet people you don't already know. I get why they prevent voice chat with people not on your fireteam — too many multiplayer gamers are foul-mouthed tweens — but the ability to dance with a stranger in the Tower social hub doesn't cut it. There needs to be some tweak that can split the difference and make it feel more like the MMO it wants to be.
Luckily, like MMOs, Destiny is an ever-evolving game. Bungie has said they are working to address complaints: the first six-player end-game raid is already here, the "public events" (i.e. random, instanced missions that last a set amount of day) have been doubled, new competitive modes have been promised and the first expansion arrives in December. There are plenty of planets in our solar system and beyond to bring online and lots of opportunity to give the undercooked story the missions it deserves.
In other words, the game's purported destiny may yet be realized. (Bungie/Activision)