Destiny has been out nearly a week now, and EW is putting the futuristic shared-world shooter through the paces in our ongoing journal. This is the third entry; read the preceding posts from Joshua Rivera and Jonathon Dornbush.
Big picture, Destiny doesn’t live up to the hype. How could it? Bungie’s first non-Halo game since 2001 and first title with mega-publisher Activision cost a reported $500 million to develop and market (those gargantuan wraparound ads in Times Square can’t be cheap). The studio promised great things, so naturally expectations were sky-high. Alas, add it to the list of much-hyped 2014 releases such as Titanfall, Infamous: Second Son and Watch Dogs that have disappointed by merely being good, not great. (Well, except for Watch Dogs, which doesn’t even qualify for “good.”) The PS4 and Xbox One have been out for nearly a year, and people are still looking for a reason to justify dropping $400–$500 on a new system. Destiny probably isn’t it. After all, it’s available on previous generation hardware, and while it doesn’t look as pretty, it plays the same. So it doesn’t live up to the massive hype.
But my bigger concern is that it doesn’t even live up to Bungie’s Halo games.
In 2001, when Microsoft’s foray into the hardware business was met with great skepticism, launch title Halo defined first-person shooters on consoles and legitimized the Xbox. Halo 2 brought online multiplayer to the masses, and Halo 3 added four-player online co-op. Bungie has always innovated, moving the genre forward, and Destiny’s idea of a massively multiplayer online shooter looked to do the same. So why does it feel so safe? After playing both the alpha and the beta earlier this summer, I worried about Destiny’s dearth of variation. Now that I’ve spent the week playing both the PS4 and Xbox One versions, I have to agree with Joshua: there isn’t much to do other than shoot bad guys.
The Halo games were fairly linear, but they offered spectacular sandboxes to dig into. Large-scale battles often featured throngs of enemy A.I. duking it out, with numerous ways to engage. You could snipe from a distance, run in guns blazing, or man a variety of vehicles. Halo was subtitled Combat Evolved for a reason: it felt like the evolution of the first-person shooter. Destiny retains the core gameplay of Halo, but the firefights just aren’t as exciting. The large worlds feel oddly empty, with enemies tending to group together, and their A.I. behavior doesn’t feel like a leap forward. Enemies simply take more hits to kill instead of actually being more challenging to fight. Destiny’s bad guys, the Fallen, lack the distinctive personalities of Halo’s alien Covenant. Joshua and Jonathon both mentioned how uninspiring the game’s narrative is, and I totally agree. But that’s pretty much in line with Bungie’s previous efforts, as I’ve always found the Halo storyline to be largely nonsensical. If anyone can explain to me why a Little Shop of Horrors-esque talking plant shows up in Halo 2, more power to ‘em. But at least Halo focused on characters that had personalities; your nameless Guardian in Destiny is merely an empty vessel.
Destiny offers three classes of characters, so I’m playing a Titan on PS4 and a Warlock on Xbox One. The differences are minimal at best. I like that you upgrade your character with new abilities that unlock over time, but other than adding more damage to weapons or slight buffs on abilities, they just don’t feel terribly substantial. And many of these differences are leveled out when you enter the Crucible, the game’s versus multiplayer mode. Unlike Jonathon, I find this mode the most disappointing. With only five modes and a handful of maps, it offers nothing new and feels slow and downright dull compared to Titanfall’s frantic multiplayer mayhem. Destiny’s attempt at tweaking the format was the offering of “bounties” for completing certain objectives, after which you’re rewarded with XP and currency. One such bounty tasks players with completing five Control matches, where players hold and defend points on the map as long as possible. After suffering through three of these nearly 15-minute affairs, I couldn’t bear any more. No amount of XP is worth that repetitive slog.
And yet, all that said, I’m actually enjoying the game when I’m playing with other people. Destiny’s greatest strength is that you see other online players throughout the worlds. When you get bored of exploring on your own (which you will), you can follow someone around and you’ll instantly feel more engaged. You can interact with players non-verbally by waving, pointing or dancing, and then continue to team up for as long as you want. I have yet to voice chat with a stranger I’ve played with, but I sure have danced a lot. I’m about halfway through the campaign with both my characters, and I’m not done dancing yet. Destiny may not live up to the hype, and it may not even be Bungie’s best game, but I still want to see where it goes. —Aaron Morales