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Destiny / 19th of September 2014

Normally when any game is due for release, review copies are sent out around a week, or at worst a couple of days in advance. The obvious reason being that this allows publications time to play the game, and produce a review in time for release. When it came to Destiny however, things were a little different. The most anticipated game of the year, and the first post-Halo game from Bungie, was not playable until the day before the worldwide launch on September 9th, resulting in there being very few reviews during the first week of release. The reason for this, according to Bungie, was to ensure Destiny would only be judged once its world was populated with thousands of players in order to give a truer representation of the final game. That with an active community the sci-fi world Bungie has created will feel more alive, interconnected and seamless.

So as I write this review after having now played Destiny for the better part of a week, it’s safe to assume I’ve played the game the way the developers intended me to. And as it stands I can’t say I’ve ever come across an open world game - of sorts – that’s so sterile, so devoid of life. For all Bungie’s claims that Destiny would be a revolutionary experience, blurring the lines between FPS and MMO, between single-player and multiplayer, it still feels like an exceptionally generic shooter. As if the entire game has been developed by people who knew what they didn’t want, but were incapable of explaining, or even conceiving, exactly what it was they did.

A prime example of this is the Tower, described by the game’s vague introduction as the last surviving city, the Tower is intended to be the social hub of Destiny, where you meet up with friends, visit shops and generally prepare for your next mission. However besides an impressive sky box, there’s not really all that much within the Tower. This apparently enormous city feels like the precursor section you might expect to see in other open world games, the enclosed area where you need to complete a number of tasks before you’re given full entry to the city in question. And unfortunately it’s never expanded upon, meaning the Tower ends up as nothing more than a smattering of stores and a handful of indistinguishable NPCs that never move. Instead of a living world, Bungie have created a store front or shop window for you to visit between missions, sterile and lacking the vibrancy of similar sic-fi cities such as Mass Effect’s Citadel or Omega.

And when you do go out on missions to any of the various hub worlds such as the Moon, or Venus things don’t fare any better. After a chronically long loading section that sees players’ spacecraft floating in orbit before descending, you’re dropped into a sandbox style environment and given a waypoint to head towards. Within these arenas you have the option to complete the mission at hand, or roam freely and go wherever you wish. However there’s very little to explore, and when you do stray from the intended path you’ll often be ambushed by enemies whose level far exceeds your own, and thus prevents you from going any further.

This restriction and lack of creativity is further emphasised during the more traditional missions themselves. Which, for the most part, can be easily summarised as, go here, activate your ghost (the Cortana-like companion), fight off a few waves of enemies and repeat. Such a complete lack of invention is truly staggering, especially for game with such financial backing. Bungie’s previous games were excellent at staging expansive and gripping set pieces, so this dependence on the re-use of wave/horde defence is more than a little disappointing. I had hoped things would improve during the boss - or strike - missions that appear as final missions within each hub world. However after three separate strike missions at differing times of day, the game’s matchmaking system was unable to find any players attempting the same mission. Meaning in the end I was forced to repeatedly attempt missions designed specifically for co-operative play on my own.               

It appears that the only thing Bungie have managed to recreate is the sturdy and polished nature of their previous games’ combat mechanics. Shooting feels crisp, sharp and gives a great sense of visceral feedback whenever you pull the trigger, as those of you who played the beta will already be aware. However what may be unclear is the complete lack of imagination in regards to the game’s weaponry. Players may carry one primary weapon, one secondary and one special weapon, the choices of which at first appear excellent but quickly become stale. Every weapon of its type is near indistinguishable from its previous iteration, with only a paint job and differing magazine size as notable distinctions. And if you want to say, carry a shotgun for close range, and a sniper for long range, then tough luck, they both occupy the secondary weapon slot and so it must be one or the other, no exceptions.

But what if you’re less concerned with the gunplay and more interested in the RPG-like class system within Destiny, well then I’m afraid you’ll be equally disappointed. The Titan, Hunter and Warlock classes all carry a host of unlockable upgrades from unique melee attacks to powerful supercharge abilities. However more often than not you may find yourself in combat reluctant to use one of your abilities due to the crippling cool-down time between uses. Miss throw a grenade or accidently hit melee, and you’ll be left feeling exposed for the rest of the fight. And the same can be said of each class’s supercharge ability, misplace the Warlock’s Nova Bomb and you’ll be hanging around a good few minutes before you can use it again. The end result is that Destiny fails to empower the player as cool-down times hamper creativity and underwhelms the experience. Games like Crysis, Mass Effect and even Warframe have successfully integrated gunplay with powers and abilities in far more entertaining ways.

So if the social experience is lacking, the combat and exploration is poor and unimaginative, then what is it exactly that is convincing so many people to buy Destiny, surely the storyline must be compelling? Nope. Aside from the staggeringly good looking opening cinematic, Destiny’s storyline is delivered via extended exposition, usually from Peter Dinklage, the voice of your ghost sidekick. It’s exposition that’s clumsily crowbarred in between loading sections, and so poorly written you can almost sense the actors cringing in their delivery of each line. Before the game’s release Dinklage had been criticised for his lacklustre performance, however he along with the likes of Lance Reddick, Bill Nighy, Nathan Fillion and Gina Torres are all clearly trying to cope with dialogue so ridiculous it wouldn’t be out of place in your average Christmas pantomime.

And that is Destiny in truth, a game that is undoubtedly impressive in graphical terms but sadly little else. Everything it attempts has been done better elsewhere, Destiny has simply tried to amalgamate those different aspects of game design such as the sense of wonder from an RPG adventure, the sturdiness of an FPS, the freedom of a sandbox game and the connected experience of a persistent online world, and has failed spectacularly. Each facet has been added in a cold and sterile manner ensuring that Destiny can be most aptly be described as an empty spectacle. As the opening cinematic shows the first astronauts landing on Mars you can’t help but think, why is one of them carrying a gun? And maybe that’s an appropriate analogy for Destiny, at first glance it seems impressive, but look a little closer and its ideas seem half-baked, lacking in substance and completely without context.

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