Destiny Review: Grinding Halo

Destiny is easily the most hyped game of 2014. Bungie’s said it’s a deep and complex game that will take players years to fully explore. Now that we’re both at the initial level cap, what impression has the game left me with?

The Good: Halo Evolved

EBongo and I are Bungie fanboys from back in the day. I played the original Marathon back when the company was a Mac gaming staple. He played the post-Microsoft-purchase Halo on the original Xbox. Since the ODST days, we’ve co-op’ed every Halo game we could get our hands on. Destiny is Bungie’s first post-Microsoft, post- Halo endeavor, so obviously we’re there to play it on day one.

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Let’s start with the good. Console FPS’es are Bungie’s bread and butter, and it shows. The shooting mechanics are tight, the environments feel fun, and it’s generally a joy to run and gun. Much like Halo, there are vehicles to master. Each Guardian has a “Sparrow” they can call in to ride around the map, and it’s good at getting you from point A to point B without a lot of jogging.

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All of the missions take place on large maps that feel like MMO zones or the type of open area Borderlands is famous for. There are indoor and outdoor environments, so there’s a good variety of combat challenges associated with each mission. Each of the maps has its own theme, with different structures, lighting, and predominant enemy types.

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The game just sort of… flows. Once you start, it’s easy to lose track of time as you shoot, reload, loot, and move on to new areas. Whatever else I can say about the game, at its core it is crazy fun to just play.

The Bad: Grindy and Shallow

Destiny has some serious issues, though. Most of them can be summed up by one word: shallow. If I had to pick a second word, I’d pick trite.

Bungie promised a lot with Destiny. It’s supposed to be a game you can play for years. However, there’s just not enough in the box to justify such a claim.

The story is just sort of there. Everything is Overly Capitalized Proper Noun Overload, where your Guardian takes your Ghost to interface with a Hive so you can stop the Fallen Knights from hurting the Traveler and overtaking the Tower. The voice acting is pretty bad, the story is pretty nonexistent, and what there is is basically the “bad guys over there, you hero, you kill bad guys” story that pretty much every FPS is based on.

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The large, expansive environments of each world are nice, but they’re overused. There are roughly half a dozen missions on each world, but they all reuse the same core areas, activities, and enemies. The enemies are cool looking, but again, there’s probably only 15 enemy types in the whole game and they’re mostly things we’ve seen before. The combat is fun, but the weapon choices are limited, and they’re all trope-tastic choices like “assault rifle” and “shotgun.”

Destiny has a max level of 20, past which point you’ve got to grind for gear in order to increase your power level to an effective cap of 30. Getting to 20 doesn’t take particularly long – maybe a couple of weeks worth of normal play. To get the extra gear you need for 30, you’ve got to do an impressively large amount of grinding.

There’s only four worlds and maybe 30 missions in the co-op content, so if you want to grind that way be prepared to kill the same grunts over and over again for hours at a time. There’s also competitive multiplayer to grind if that’s more your speed.

Speaking of the multiplayer…

Multiplayer Woes

Generally if you said to me “Hey, there’s a Bungie multiplayer shooter game, want to play it?” I’m going to answer yes. I’ve wasted countless hours over the years with Halo and I was hoping for something similar with Destiny.

The problem with Destiny is that players don’t come into the game on an equal playing field. Even though the game tries, it’s still hard to pit a level 1 newbie against a level 30 veteran. Gaining all that experience means that the level 30 Guardian is going to have access to all sorts of abilities that the new character just doesn’t. The weapons also improve, not just in damage, but also in special abilities, ammo capacity, and so forth.

The end result is kind of odd. Sure, if you’re really good at the game you can hold your own, but I don’t really know what the better solution here is. On the one hand, people who worked hard on their characters and gear should get to enjoy those extra benefits. On the other hand, it’s not really that much fun to have to overcome major handicaps when playing against people who are more hardcore than you are.

Other Quibbles

Destiny has a few other issues as well.

One is that it suffers from a lack of strong communication with players. For instance, when you visit the Tower (the game’s town/social hub), there are a number of vendors. However, more than two thirds of these vendors only accept a currency (“marks”) that you won’t find until you’re level 20. The game doesn’t explain this hardly at all. The primary currency in the game (“glimmer”) has little to no meaning when you hit level 20. There’s also a bunch of faction rep that isn’t clear at first. Not to mention whole gameplay mechanics (orbs of light, for instance) that aren’t explained at all.

Games of this ilk live or die by their loot system, and Destiny’s is pretty bad. When you’re in the field, gear loot is the same color as ammo, and the only way to tell them apart is to get close enough to see the shape. Loot in the field doesn’t show up often. At the end of missions and multiplayer matches, some people get loot and others don’t. This is not explained in any way either.

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There are a lot of bits of the game that seem geared towards hardcore players. For instance, there are major endgame raids that take 6 people and several hours to complete. I’d really like to participate, but I’d have to find a very organized and patient crew to run with, as I’ve got little time in the evenings to play. I get that it’s great for the dedicated community members, but for us “average Joe’s” it’s tantalizingly out of reach. What percentage of players are going to make it through these?

To make the bold claim that Destiny is a game we’ll be playing for years, that means Bungie must have plans for a sustaining stream of revenue. That means one of two things: lots of DLC or microtransactions. Already I feel like I didn’t get enough for my $60 buy-in, so I’m wary of the already available “Season Pass” that adds 4 more DLC packs.

Worth it? Hard to Say…

So where does all of this leave us? I’ve come down pretty hard on Destiny. I want to circle back, though, and say that Destiny is a damn fun game. It’s crazy entertaining. It feels like the evolution of Halo into the MMO-esque arena.

The problem with that is that in the intervening years, we all played Borderlands. If Borderlands wasn’t a thing, I’d have much lower expectations for a game like this. As it stands, though, it looks like Bungie tried to usurp the Borderlands throne and came up second place.

We’re just a few weeks in to what Bungie has promised is a years-long project, so I still have some hope for the future of the game. Perhaps all of these issues are just easy fixes that didn’t make it to the launch version of the game. However, I’m also concerned that this is it – the Emperor has been naked all along, and we shouldn’t have believed the hype.

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