Expectation can be something of a double-edged sword. One edge is the lovely everyone-wants-to-buy-our-game edge. The other is the everyone-thinks-this-game-is-something-that-it’s-not edge. It’s very possible that no game in the history of games typifies that more than Destiny.
Ever since the acronym MMO was uttered in proximity to the name Destiny, certain expectations have been attached to it by a particular set of gamers. These guys are expecting an action game of Halo-standards in a world the size of World of Warcraft. That isn’t what Destiny is (and in fairness to Bungie, it never said anything about it being an MMO), but the fact that it’s a good two-thirds the way to that heavenly, perhaps unreachable goal, means it’s an exceptional, landmark game.
Setting the scene
Not only are you from the future, you’ve been alive in the future, killed by evil invaders, then resurrected a few hundred more years into the future by a floating rubik’s cube with the voice of Tyrion Lannister.
By the time that happens humanity has already conquered the galaxy with the help of a huge omnipotent sphere of magical power, and then been brought to the edge of extinction by said omnipotent sphere’s enemies. Now it’s a far less powerful sphere, floating above and protecting the Last City on Earth.
It’s your job - you warrior-zombie, you - to join the rest of the guardians in pushing back the evil aliens from Earth and humanity’s other colonies on the Moon, Mars and Venus, and obviously do that with guns.
The Guardian (that's you)
But before you can get into the fragging you need to create your guardian. You can be a pouty human, a pouty hipster-goth, or a sentient humanoid machine called an Exo. You’re only choosing your looks here, which can be tweaked further with any number of scars, hair-dos or face tattoos. The real decision is which class to play as - a tank-like Titan, a sneaky Hunter or a space magic-wielding Warlock.
In truth, even that decision has less impact than you might imagine. Every weapon is available to every class, and while armour is unique to each, statistically there’s practically nothing in it. You’re again choosing a look, a specific double-jump, grenade effect and super attack. The classes become more specialised once you unlock a sub-class around level 16, but it’s only really pro gamers who should pay any real heed to particular player roles. If that’s not you, pick whichever class you think looks most badass - you won’t be penalised later.
In case you’re confused, this is a good thing. It ensures balance in, which is absolutely crucial to the FPS-side of Destiny. Plus, being tied into a particular role because you chose a particular class is what turns normal gamers into the vision of Cartman and Co. seen in the World of Warcraft episode of South Park.
So once you’ve made your pouty or metal character you’re dropped into the wilds of Old Russia and tutored through the first five character levels by your trusty Ghost. Each of these levels unlocks a skill that’s fundamental to the way Destiny plays - the aforementioned double-jump, grenade attack and mighty Super - and you get to experiment with each one-by-one without being swamped by mechanics from the off.
After the initial drip-feed you can progress as you please. Continuing the main story machines seems obvious, but there are just twenty available, so rushing them might not be the best plan. Besides, each has a level requirement, and if you do rush from one to another it’s unlikely you’ll have met it when you get there, which is why diverting into Destiny’s other modes is a great choice.
The storyline itself is one of our few gripes with Destiny. A lot of the missions involve running around, shooting enemies, letting your Ghost scan some machinery, holding off a barrage of enemies, and then repeating the process.
There are a few variations here and there, but that formula above is the gist of it. Destiny isn't a true vanilla FPS, and its MMO elements and scale alone mean that we weren't expecting a deep single player Mass Effect-like story, but still, a little more variety and thought put into the storyline would have been nice.
During your progress, you do unlock Grimoire cards which are actually packed with in-depth Destiny lore, fleshing out the story a great deal. The only problem is, you can only view these cards on Bungie's website or the Destiny app, which is an extra step that most gamers could do without.
Shooting (virtual) people
Then there’s The Crucible, Destiny’s PVP mode, which plays a heck of a lot like Halo's matchmaking. This is a very high compliment.
Battles are lightning fast, visceral and vertical, with double-jumps and three-dimensional level design forcing you to be aware of everything that’s around and above you.
If there’s one disappointment here it’s that you don’t get the Big Team Battles of Halo - this is all 6v6 on tight maps, with vehicles playing a relatively minor role. With any luck these more epic fights are part of Bungie’s long term expansion plans.
Even as it is, The Crucible is an ever-exciting place to spend your time, and you’ll gain experience points, new guns and equipment, and even (later on) special rewards exclusive to PVP players.
Previously and perhaps more aptly known as Explore, this is mode available on each of the four planets and give you access to the entire map, taking on mini-missions and grinding out hundreds of kills for experience points, faction rewards, loot drops and bounties, the last of which are receive in the game’s main hub, The Tower, and have even greater rewards.
Patrol is also the mode that exposes both the limits and intricacies of Destiny’s maps. These aren’t truly huge, sprawling worlds, but large areas connected by arteries that can often be zoomed through on your Star Wars speeder-like Sparrow. It won’t take you long to visit the entire map, but that’s not the same as seeing everything - Destiny is riddled with caves, tunnels and other secret areas that contain chests, collectables and occasionally extraordinarily large and powerful enemies. It will take endless hours to explore them all.
Finally, there are the Strikes, perhaps Destiny’s best content. These long, self-contained missions are a real challenge, with huge quantities of enemies and the odd mini-bosses (that often aren’t mini at all) leading to a final battle with some huge boss that could well take over ten minutes to bring down. This is where Destiny is at its very best, needing skill, perseverance and most of all teamwork.
Our early strike missions took around 30 minutes, but later missions can take up to an hour. They're exhausting, draining, but still fun, and there's a sense of achievement, tinged with relief, each and every time a gargantuan boss is taken down, thanks to your three-man fireteam's teamwork. Speaking of which:
We’ve perhaps left it quite late to point out that Destiny is an entirely multiplayer game. Actually, you can tackle most of the content on your own if you like, but even then you’ll bump into other Guardians on your travels, because this is an always-connected game.
Doing so would also rob you of the game’s greatest joys - the camaraderie and shared joy of wearing down a particularly fearsome boss, the nerdy-but-classic pastime of comparing weapons and showing off your latest natty threads, and even the silly victory dances at the end of a tasty Crucible battle - yes, Guardians can dance.
The only flaw (which, depending on how much you want to chat to other people, is a fairly big one), is the lack of in-game proximity chat. Currently, you can walk past other players, and even dance with them if you want to, but to actually chat to each other, you'll have to join up as a fireteam.
It would have been much easier if proximity voice shat was on by default, letting you hear players within a certain range. An option to mute whiny 12 year olds could also be implemented, for peace of mind.
The fact that there's no chat with your team in team deathmatches in the Crucible is another oversight, and we hope Bungie chooses to rectify this in future.
However you decide to tackle the game, you’ll find Destiny an exceptional production. This is a graphically gorgeous full of colour, lens flare and intricate weapon, armour and enemy design. It sounds incredible, too - this may be sci-fi but every weapon sounds hefty and huge.
Those weapons feel hefty and huge, too, and there’s impressive variation in the way they handle. One auto rifle may look a lot like any other auto rifle, but it’s unlikely it’ll fire the same, with rate of fire, recoil and accuracy creating a real difference.
And speaking of feel, as briefly mentioned earlier, the game feels like Halo. It’s in the floaty jumps and whipcrack of a sniper rifle. The pulse and explosion of a plasma grenade and the flanking, cover-finding tactics of the enemies. For all of the MMO trappings, this is still a genuinely exceptional action game, and that’s vital to the appeal.
In the end, what you get out of Destiny depends a fair amount on what you’re prepared to put in. The race to level twenty is over quickly, but only those prepared to grind after that for faction and light points will see the game’s most exotic kit and unlock it’s greatest challenges (the mighty, attritional six-player Raid only unlocks when you hit level 26 and requires exceptional kit to beat).
Similarly, simply playing through the campaign suggests a story that makes very little sense - only delving into the lore-filled Grimoire cards, unlocked as you progress, reveals the intricacies of the lore Bungie has created, and that’s far from ideal.
So for a game as massively marketed as this, Destiny perhaps isn’t for everyone, and those who are hoping only for an epic Halo-style campaign may be disappointed that that delicate balance of focus and grandeur isn’t quite matched in Destiny’s story machines.
But in every other way Destiny is Halo, but Halo on a bigger, far more multiplayer level, and with the addictive quest for loot of a game such as Diablo. For many gamers, including this one, that’s an utterly irresistible combination.