Destiny was Bungie’s first project after the colossal success of the Halo trilogy. It was released September 2014, a year that will go down in gaming history as pretty disappointing all around, and had been conducting the hype train as frantically as Denzel Washington in Unstoppable. Everything was set for Destiny to be the first truly great game of the Xbox One/PS4 generation.
Technically speaking, Destiny was a massively successful game. While nobody seems keen on releasing how many copies of the game have actually been sold, publisher Activision has given out such statistics as “Destiny sold-through more than $325 million worldwide in its first five days, according to Chart-Track, first parties, retail customer sell-through information and Activision Blizzard internal estimates”, “Destiny players logged more than 100 million hours of online play by the end of the first week”, “The game has won over 180 awards and nominations to date” and “Over the past three weeks [from release], we’ve had more players online in Destiny than we did during the same span for Halo 3 and Halo: Reach, combined”.
That’s pretty good, right? So why is it that I hear nothing but complaints and negativity towards the game? Sure, it has its dedicated followers, (or had. Who knows after the latest PR disaster), but on the whole the general feeling seems to be far from positive. Let’s take a look at why this may be.
First though, let me offer some context towards my feelings about the game so you can assign what level of bias I have as the assessor. I am a huge fan of the Halo franchise and felt happy that Bungie wanted to move on to new horizons. When the first images of Destiny started to surface I admit that it didn’t move me in any way. As more information became available I got less and less interested. I’m not a big fan of online multiplayer games, nor am I a fan of MMOs so this didn’t really surprise me. Then it came out and the reviews weren’t great so I simply avoided it for months. Seven months after its release was when I finally picked up a copy because everyone at work was still playing it. I put a few hours into it and sadly did not find any enjoyment.
Why didn’t I enjoy it though? What was it that failed to engage me but kept so many people plodding through it raid after raid? Why do people dislike the game but keep playing it as though it were some kind of addictive drug?
For me, Destiny lacks in two important areas that all good games require: creativity and passion. It doesn’t matter how beautiful the graphics are or how tight the mechanics are because without creativity and passion a game is little more than a soulless husk.
I find it hard to imagine that the guys at Bungie lack anything, let alone creativity and passion, but so far as I can see, Destiny was created to make money and everything else was an after thought. Before you comment, yes I realise that all games are designed to make money. There is a difference between making a good game that you believe will capture people’s hearts and become successful and creating something that’s sole purpose is to bleed every last penny from its audience. More and more we are seeing these sorts of games, games that shove advertisements, pre-orders and meaningless DLC down our throats before the game is even released.
Destiny lacks a single original thought. I turned on the game and got to chose between the three classes of Titan, Hunter or Warlock. These terms are as generic as they come. The game starts and we see a highway of deserted cars that looks pulled straight out of any disaster of zombie movie. A small robotic orb scans the wrecks and all I can think is “God damn it, not another Guilty Spark. I spent three games wanting nothing more than to kill you. Why are you in this game?” Thoughts of Sgt Johnson invaded my mind and brought a many tear to my eye and a fresh wave of hatred to this little metal blob. He finds our character and feral cries begin to erupt around us. He tells us that there is no time to explain and that we need to run.
Here the game starts and I actually enjoyed it. There is a sense of impending danger. We are being chased and have no weapons to defend ourselves. I had no idea what was happening and had a sense of urgency to escape whatever beasts wanted me dead. I wanted to find a weapon so that I would feel safe. Soon we get a gun and enter into the combat of the game. The mechanics are solid. The character handled well and the gun was satisfying to use. I find a ship, clear the area and escape as a nasty looking enemy emerges and we are told he is too strong to fight now but we shall come back later to kill him.
So far so good. Then we arrive at the Tower and are give a very vague exposition dump about some all consuming enemy known as the Darkness. The Darkness. Let that sink in a moment. Could the great enemy be any more cliche than that? Every time it is mentioned I can’t help but to imagine that the rock band The Darkness is the game’s antagonist, singing in their over-high voice as Earth’s cities collapse and peoples heads explode like the aliens in Mars Attack. I don’t remember being given a specific task after that. You get in your ship, fly to each mission that takes place in the same handful of maps, shoot a lot of aliens, rinse and repeat. Character voiceover tries to give you a brief story as you wade through alien corpses but it all sounds meaningless. I had no idea what I was working toward. There was no real story. I got bored very quickly. There was nothing beyond ‘shoot aliens’.
There was a moment fairly early in the game when I felt that things were going to get good. I was walking through a dark corridor lit only by eery green crystals. The atmosphere was set for something scary to leap out and terrorise me. I was prepared to run, to frantically fight for my life. I stepped through a doorway and suddenly zombie like beasts come sprinting at me, screaming as they charged my position. It could have been so good. Instead I stood in the doorway and mowed them all down without moving. I felt like a WWII German machine gunner on the beaches of Normandy butchering a wave of defenseless allied soldiers. I wasn’t scared. I pitied the poor wretches.
Looking back, the whole scene bothered me. Bungie had done this very same thing before only infinitely better. The introduction to the Flood in Halo was terrifying to me as a kid. Maybe the fact that I’m older now has numbed me, (not really. I’m a giant wimp when it comes to any form of horror), but the level 343 Guilty Spark still gives me shivers to this day. The Level starts in a dark swamp fighting the same enemies as every level before. Then you find yourself in a structure filled with tight corridors. Blood and bodies are everywhere. The music sets you on edge. We are shown a recording of some marines who are killed b little ball creatures just beyond a closed door we are stood next to. We see what it is we should be expecting. We enter and there are no enemies. Then hell breaks loose. The spores come rushing from doors and the ceiling and zombies leap at us making that iconic Flood sound. From then on we are trying to escape but the corridors are confusing and there are multiple levels in the structure that need to be navigated. You are panicked, constantly set upon by this new enemy and I got completely lost.It was pretty intense. The scene in Destiny felt more like a shooting alley. I walked along a single path and killed everything that moved.
At the time of me writing this I haven’t even completed Destiny’s campaign. I feel no urge to continue with the missions because there is no incitement. There is no story and no characters to make me care what happens. When I mentioned this to one of those work friends they told me that the campaign is short and irrelevant and that the real game is in the strikes and raids. That is a very MMO style argument for all that Destiny protests that it is not an MMO. If a games does not capture my attention within the first few hours, I simply cannot justify playing it grudgingly past any form of enjoyment in order to get to some promised ‘golden gameplay’. When the whole draw of the game is to play longer to get that next piece of shiny armour that you may or may not get depending on random chance. It is almost as though the game is a type of gambling software.
The game was £40+ at launch. The season pass for the first two ‘expansions’ is £35 and the third DLC is a whopping £40. That is a minimum of £105 to get the full Destiny experience for players who bought the game at release. That is a lot of money. That doesn’t mean a lot if you get plenty of enjoyable hours out of it. Hell, I paid £130 for The Witcher 3 (collector’s edition) and will spend another £20 on its season pass. I don’t regret that in the slightest. That was my choice though. I could have paid half that money for the same in game experience. The largest expansion to a game that comes immediately to my mind is The Shivering Isles for The Elder Scrolls Oblivion. That was £20 at its release and was, for all intents and purposes, an entire game itself. That is still half the price of The Taken King, which is the price of a full game. It is not out yet so we can’t judge its worth but it will have to be good to live up to that price.
In the end, Destiny simply falls flat for me. It doesn’t stand out in any way or do anything new. The story is poor, none of the level designs stuck in my memory and no new or interesting gameplay elements mix up the standard 1st person shooter mechanics. The game is a grind. You grind to get better gear to grind some more, then pay more and more to gain access to new areas to grind with higher stat rewards to find. It doesn’t do anything to earn a loyal fanbase and instead uses the same techniques that casinos use to keep people coming back.
If you have any thoughts about Destiny then let me know in a comment. Lots of people do love this game so if you have any counter points or criticisms then let them loose on me.