I have decided to move my weekly piece to Mondays now that games are starting to get released again. If last week's piece has taught me anything it's that you do not want to release something that you want people to pay attention to on the same day as one of the biggest releases of the year.
Well friends, Destiny is here. The long awaited return by Bungie has been released and it's actually very solid. Unfortunately, Destiny's unique mix of game styles places it in such a unique category that it can be hard to decide just how good or lacking it is. I've played all through the story, tried out the different modes (with the exception of the raid) and put in a solid 15-20 hours in the game, so let's talk about it.
I should first point out that the experience I've had with Destiny has been, for the most part, a pleasant one. I enjoyed going through the story missions and experiencing the new planets as they came along. I didn't even hate Peter Dinklage's performance as much as so many others seem to have. I find him to fill a nice role as a not quite human level AI but not full robot either. Not every companion AI needs to feel like a human. The problem with Destiny is in its strange new mix of genres that it embodies.
Destiny is a combination of FPS, ARPG, and MMO styles of play. Unfortunately, it fails to stand out in any of these categories. If you look at it as primarily a FPS title then you have to notice the lack of emphasis on story in the story mode or the lack of anything really new or unique in the multiplayer modes. The universe that Destiny takes place in is full of potential and could be home to incredibly interesting stories, and yet none of that is given its chance to shine in the game. There isn't quite enough variety in the missions themselves either. Occasionally you'll find yourself in the seat of a weaponized vehicle but they are always one seaters and as far as I saw there are only two types in the entire game, with one not appearing until the last planet. Enemy types and environments change with each planet, which is one thing the game certainly has going for it. It constantly gives you new settings to look forward to and new enemies and fight off.
If you look at it as an ARPG then there's a severe lack of stats to build up or abilities to gain access to on any one character. Each class has three stats; one that lowers the cooldown of their special ability, one that lowers the cooldown on their grenade, and one that lowers the cooldown on their melee ability. Each character class does have its own talent tree to go through but many of the things you'll unlock in the tree are variations on other things you unlock or are just changes in your armor, recovery, or agility. As a warlock your tree has three different types of grenades that work differently, but only one can be used at a time. Similarly you can change how your special ability works, but that will be used so rarely that it doesn't feel as badass or important as it could. Your melee ability is probably the least interesting of the three because it's simply an extra effect that will happen when you melee an enemy. Maybe you'll steal life from the enemy or maybe you'll gain a speed boost, but from a gameplay perspective you're still just punching the enemy.
So do you treat Destiny as an MMO primarily then? If so then you'll have to note the lack of variety the game offers or its major lack of social features. There are three classes to choose from in Destiny, each with some unique features, but regardless of who you pick or what race you choose to play as, you'll still be playing through the exact same content as anyone else. There are no separate paths you can level through. It has been said multiple times, even by Destiny's Executive Producer, that the game evolves as you go through it, becoming a new experience altogether when you reach max level. I don't find this to be a fair statement at all.
One of the most important things to consider when making any kind of MMO experience is a way to keep people playing it. This is something that, currently, Destiny lacks. To say that the "real game begins at max level" is incredibly silly, because you know what you have to do as a max level character in Destiny? The exact same things that you've been doing the entire game. You can do heroic strikes, which in my experience have been exactly the same as they were originally, just balanced around higher level characters. You can do PvP, which you could have been doing the entire time. You can run around doing patrol missions on the planets, which you can do while leveling and also net you next to nothing for doing them.
There will be a single raid for max level Destiny players to go through when it opens, if those players have managed to accumulate powerful enough gear by then and can find 5 other people willing to run the raid with them in a game that has no real social features to speak of. Gathering the gear is a chore in and of itself. It doesn't really require you to go out of your way to do anything challenging, it just requires you to spend a lot of time doing the same things you've been doing.
You can acquire gear in a few ways at max level: it can randomly drop from enemies, you can receive it as a reward for completing a strike, as a chance reward when playing PvP, or by purchasing it from factions. Buying gear from factions is actually the only reliable way to get GOOD gear and it requires a solid amount of grinding to get. The gear you get from strikes or enemy drops or even PvP (regardless of whether or not you win) isn't guaranteed and it definitely isn't guaranteed to be good. After one heroic strike I was given a Rare quality chest piece that was only level 16 and actually had worse stats than the level 14 chest piece I had been using for hours. To get gear from factions you first need to build up that faction's reputation, which is a relatively slow process.
Building up Vanguard rep requires you to either do Vanguard (PvE) bounties or doing Patrol (repeatable) missions on one of the planets. Of the two, only bounties provide a substantial reward in terms of reputation. Patrol missions don't even seem like they were thought out particularly well. If you are a level 20 and you go do a Patrol mission on Mars (the highest level planet) you will get the same boost in reputation as if you did a Patrol mission on Earth (the lowest level planet.) So why bother dealing with the higher level enemies? A solid question. Obviously, that leaves bounties as the preferred way to gather rep, as one bounty is worth at least 5x as much rep as one Patrol mission. Unfortunately, you can only hold 5 separate bounties, regardless of whether the bounties you hold are for PvE, PvP, or a mix of the two. Also, after doing your bounties the robot who gives them to you will run out and you'll have to wait for the substantial restock timer that he has on him.
Once you've reached the rank required to buy max level gear from a faction you then need to have a special type of currency to purchase those items. For the 2 main factions those are Vanguard marks and Crucible marks respectively. Not only do you get an incredibly small amount of these for doing max level activities such as heroic strikes, you can only get a certain amount each week. If one heroic strike nets you 3 marks, and it costs 65 marks to get one piece of gear, and you can only get 100 marks a week, that adds up to me having a bad time.
Bungie also seems to hope that players in Destiny will build a community with one another, but it fails to give players the tools to do so. The only way to interact with other players you meet in game is to invite them into a fire team. There is no optional proximity chat or anything that would allow you to meet others who may want to join you for a raid. If you wish to do a strike mission, which requires 3 players, then the game will find you the players you need. Raiding however, which requires 6 people, has no such feature. You have to gather that group yourself, in a game that doesn't have any features that allow for you to do that.
Now, I've had quite a lot of negative things to say about Destiny, but it has in no way been to just talk shit about the game. I believe that Destiny has a TON of potential and has the capacity and the devs behind it to make something truly unique and special, but it will require some serious work to make the game into what it deserves to be. Bungie has crafted a lovely core game that makes you want to keep playing it, now they just need to make it fun to continue to do so.