Games Review: Destiny (PS4, 2014)

Destiny is an ambitious FPS/MMO hybrid by console shooter demagogues Bungie and published by the similarly monolithic Activision, it’s a game that wears it’s Halo-inspired DNA proudly on its sleeve. It’s a game that is determined to be different, to stride into this new hardware generation and show us something we’ve never seen before. In this, it succeeds spectacularly in some areas and leaves you rather cold in others.

Like Halo before it, the story isn’t the game’s strongest suit but it’s serviceable enough to get the ball rolling. Many years prior to the events of the game, a massive construct dubbed “The Traveler” appeared in Mars’s orbit and with it humanity vastly accelerated their technological prowess, unlocking the key to successfully terra-forming other worlds, allowing us to further colonize much of our solar system. But The Traveler had an enemy, known as The Darkness, and this enemy descended upon us, and brought humanity to brink of complete annihilation.

You play as a Guardian, resurrected from the dead by a little floating robot called a Ghost (voiced with surprising blandness by Game of Thrones actor Peter Dinklage). Guardians harness the Traveler’s energy, giving themselves tremendous power with which to fight The Darkness. Your mission is to uncover what happened to humanity and attempt to return their lost planets – now overrun with a variety of aggressive alien life – to them and save mankind from extinction.

One of the first and best things Destiny has going for it are it’s visuals. Enormous praise must be given to the many teams involved in the game’s looks. The attention to detail is immense and everything from flecks of rain landing on your visor in Venus’s poisonous atmosphere to the look of the Moon’s cracked and gutted mining wounds are lovingly crafted. The lighting, in particular, is some of the most realistic I’ve ever encountered in a game and there was more than one occasion where I stopped simply to marvel at the beauty of it all. There’s an element of excitement to travelling to a new world and seeing what kind of incredible vistas Bungie have in store. Each planet has a very different look and feel, from the rusted-out remains of Russian civilization on Earth, the lush but very hostile Venus, the mining-ravaged Moon and the dusty desert-cities of Mars.

Your Guardian is also every pretty. The fairly standard character creation tool allows you to choose the race, gender and class of your avatar, as well as their facial features, hairstyle and facial tattoos if you wish. There are three races to choose from – Human, Awoken (space goths) and Exo (robots). There are also three classes to choose from, and will affect your base stats accordingly – Titan (a marine), Hunter (favours sneaking and sniping) and Warlock (magical abilities, mid-range).

There’s impressive amount of detail on offer here. Of course, all that facial customization you’ve just spent thirty minutes on is immediately covered up by a helmet. Each piece of your Guardian’s armour is also intricately detailed – though some of the designs are a bit out there. The helmets are all pretty ridiculous, covered in weird horns and chins, and my Warlock ended up wearing a billowy coat that wouldn’t have looked out of place in The Matrix, but looked faintly silly on her.

Everything about the game’s presentation is amazing – the HUD is clear, the menus are as simple as they are functional which makes leveling up an absolute breeze. Even background elements like the music and sound design are achievements in their own right. Destiny features one of the best game scores I’ve heard in years, composed by (now former) Bungie maestro Marty O’Donnell. The sound design is also exceptional – guns sound punchy and powerful, enemies emit guttural roars and high-pitched screams, wind and rain assault the senses and the futuristic sound of your Sparrow transport and enemy dropships swooping overhead give you a real sense of immersion.

Sadly, all of this gorgeous presentation appears to be little more than window dressing to distract you from how frustrating Destiny can be to actually play. You can’t help but feel that Bungie’s insane ambition has gotten away from them a bit. You jet around the solar system in a short range vessel to different planets and areas to pick up quests. The quests themselves, unfortunately, reveal a worrying lack of imagination when it comes to mission structure. The overwhelming majority of the campaign is comprised of, essentially, the same escort mission repeated ad nauseum. Drive across vast tracts of lovely looking landscape, enter a lovely looking building, fight your way down a series of lovely looking corridors to a computer terminal, load Ghost into said terminal and then hold off wave after wave of enemies until he’s extracted whatever it is he needs. The instance ends, you collect your XP and rewards and are plonked back on your ship ready to jet off to the next one. It feels extremely lazy.

There are, however, lots of side quests and extra modes you can take on to shake up the monotony though – three-person mini-raids called Strikes, full-size six-person Raids and Nightfall Strikes which are 3 person “nightmare mode” Raids for those who’ve ground their way to the level cap, equipped their legendary armour and want a real challenge. There are also Patrols, which are short mini-missions on each world activated by finding small beacons.

The environments are all well-designed for the kind of tactical combat the game specializes in, but I found myself running into a number of annoying clipping issues – angular geometry, curved pillars, rubble and boxes would frequently trip my character up and get her stuck just long enough to be mobbed and killed. Despite all the cover, areas still feel a bit flat during combat. The only real interactivity with the environment are the occasional explodable boxes or tanks and, all too frequently, these are found in out-of-the-way locations that are hard to lure enemies into.

The combat itself also is a bit of a mixed bag. There are nine weapon types from heavy pistols to rocket launchers. Many of the weapons can be upgraded for better stability or damage and there are any number of Rare, Legendary and Exotic pieces to find. The same goes for your armour – helmets, chest pieces, gloves and boots all contribute to your overall toughness under fire. Destiny handles like a dream. Your character’s movement is smooth, aiming is satisfyingly precise and easy to control, your hud is clear so you always know what the ammo situation is and all of the weapons feel meaty and are great fun to use. You’ve also got grenades and a powerful melee attack at your disposal, both of which have a cooldown, bringing a bit of strategy to the fore.

It’s the enemies that are a real problem for me. They’re horribly predictable, even on harder difficulty levels, they’re easy to snag on the architecture and on more than a few occasions I had enemies in clear line of sight derp out and stand there, copping a stream of headshots without returning fire. There also don’t seem to be very many enemy types on offer either, with each of the four enemy races – the Fallen, Hive, Vex and the Cabal – only really sporting between five and seven different footmen. There are a few harder variations of these enemies but they don’t change their tactics and most can still be put down with a decent headshot barrage from a safe distance. With only a couple of exceptions, each area only contains one race of enemies and it can start to feel like you’re just killing the same three guys over and over. There are a few bosses and elite enemies strewn throughout but, despite possessing far more health and dealing far more damage, even they don’t offer too significant a challenge.

One area that Destiny shines in is the multiplayer. The entire game has been built around the idea of grouping up and tackling the game together. Everything runs a great deal more smoothly when you aren’t playing solo. Being able to co-ordinate with your friends makes the many pitched battles flow much more quickly and it means you get to whip through those interminable escort missions with speed. Difficulty is key here – my enjoyment of the game improved exponentially when playing the harder Strikes cooperatively with other players. It’s in those moments that the many problems I had with Destiny dropped away and the game really began to sing.

For those who are over all the raiding and grinding, there is also a more traditional PvP multiplayer arena called The Crucible which allows you to jump into familiar modes like free-for-all, 3v3 or 6v6 team deathmatch and team point-capture (a mode which quickly became my personal favourite). These modes feature a variety of spacious, well designed maps that allow players the freedom to take their heaviest weaponry and pit them against everyone else. The matchmaking is on point with players being matched with others of comparable skill levels, resulting fast, intense, often even games. Of the many matches I played in The Crucible, only a few ever suffered from an obvious stack.

As a game that persists entirely online, I was concerned about lag and dropouts. Being a gamer here in Australia, these are problems we find we have to deal with all too often. Thankfully, Bungie were on the ball and arranged Australian servers ahead of release. This meant that ping was nice and low during PvP and I only experienced three server dropouts during the 20 something hours I put into the game (curiously, all three occurred on The Tower hubworld).

I could keep talking for hours about Destiny. I’ve been both in complete awe of this game, and enraged by it in fairly equal measure. But I keep going back. It has an addictive quality to it, the finely-tuned gunplay and the joy of stomping aliens with friends. Yes, it’s uneven, and yes, it can be disappointingly samey, but it’s all I’ve been able to talk or think about since I started playing it so they’ve clearly hit a nerve. There’s a raft of DLC planned for release in the not-too-distant future and Bungie have been opening new Raids and public events consistently since release. I live in hope that they will use these releases and hotfixes to fine-tune Destiny and turn it from the game it is into the game I know it wants badly to be.

Review Score: 7.0 out of 10
Highlights: Sound mechanics. Beautiful visuals. Perfect controls. Multiplayer is a joy.
Lowlights: Repetitive mission design. Small enemy pool. Bored Peter Dinklage.
Developer: Bungie
Publisher: Activision
Released: Sept 9, 2014
Platform: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3

Reviewed on PS4


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David Smith

David Smith is the former games and technology editor at The AU Review. He has previously written for PC World Australia. You can find him on Twitter at @RhunWords.

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