Destiny, the latest product of the inexhaustible Activision Hype Machine, is not what it was supposed to be. It was supposed to be an experience deep in several directions, as a shooter, as an MMO, as a space opera. But today, Destiny is shallow, repetitive and full of plot points but without any semblance of a story to go between them. It is as undercooked as I can imagine a game could turn out with one of the largest budgets in the history of the medium.
At the most basic level, Destiny sure is fun. The action of using a firearm to kill bad guys is as excellent as one would expect from the studio that pioneered the console shooter. But regular fun can’t carry a game of this purported magnitude — it needs substance to go along with it, and there simply is none to be found. Lots of games are fun, and there are lots of games you can play with your friends that are fun.
When you look past Destiny’s basics, you’ll see so many cracks in the walls that you can’t help but wonder how safe it is to be in here. It’s a shooter without any of the elaborate set pieces that are the hallmarks of immense budgetary expenditure. And it’s an MMO without a significant breadth of content or creativity. Every fight is the same, from the first run-in with bad guys on Earth to endgame boss battles, and none of it makes any sense as you go.
It’s very odd, especially coming from Bungie. While not exactly known for being design wizards in most respects, they’ve always merged compelling, escalating play with compelling, escalating narrative in the past. In Destiny, the play hardly escalates, and the narrative is nonexistant despite their insistence all along that they were creating an exciting new fantasy sci-fi universe for us to explore. Most of that universe seems to have been relegated to grimoire cards that make up a codex you can’t even access in the game, and the inevitable tie-in novels.
Exposition in the game itself is mostly deliver in a comically uninspired manner by Peter Dinklage, with other members of the all-star cast — like Gina Torres, Lance Reddick and Bill Nighy — occasionally stepping in to deadpan a couple sentences that pass for a mission brief during Destiny’s lengthy load times. Every once in a while there’s a cutscene, which actually created more confusion for me because there’s little rhyme or reason for why those parts got scenes and others did not.
There are ways a developer could get away with such a lack, but Bungie didn’t go that route, instead creating a conflict that desperately needs more explanation than the game ever provides. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to have any kind of decent grasp on the nature of this war you’re fighting just from playing.
Without a real story to follow, you’re left with a pile of context-light missions that are shockingly similar to play. You start by running across Destiny’s small-ish open environments until you reach a linear dungeon, and at the conclusion you’ll fight a big boss that operates like all the other big bosses. There is some very rare variety in these final encounters, such as one that allows you to fight with a sword, but those are so unusual as to not merit much discussion beyond bemoaning the lack of variety elsewhere.
Dedicated group content follows that same formula, and raid bosses are far too vanilla and generic for a real MMO. In the name of, I guess, accessibility, Destiny’s group dungeons don’t require unique special mechanics. Maybe it’s nice that you’re not going to be harassed by teammates for not “knowing the fights” but the desperate sameness throughout is nonetheless rather boring.
The other MMO-style hooks like the gear grind are also amusingly vapid. You’ll so rarely see your own character that customisation is rather meaningless, but even so what you’re wearing will be entirely dictated by gear stats. And unlike Borderlands, you’re not going to find uniquely interesting weapons because every gun of each type works like every other one.
What you’re left with at the end of the day is vacuous leveling up thorough samey dungeons, a shockingly half-baked competitive multiplayer with only a few maps, and a weirdly confusing endgame gear grind. Destiny has the feel of a game that was torn down and rebuilt a few times, leaving us with an incomplete hodgepodge of Things To Do that we don’t care about.
But, like, it’s fun and the view from the social hub is pretty.
5 out of 10
A copy of the game was purchased by the reviewer. Develoepd by Bungie and published by Activision, Destiny retails for $59.95 and is available for the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.