Activision and developer Bungie offered a welcome end to the summer video game lull with the release of what may be the most-talked-about new game of the year: Destiny. It released Tuesday in a very unusual way from an industry perspective, and even two days later there are barely any reviews of the game. On one hand, that's worrisome from a consumer standpoint for a product that was so heavily marketed and pushed on gamers as a must-pre-order type of title. It even broke records as the most pre-ordered New IP.
So, where do we stand with Bungie's new epic? Like most players, we're still working on it! I began playing through the game the day of release, spent all of Tuesday evening and most of yesterday playing through what is essentially the entire campaign. I've played every story mission, every Strike co-op mission (some of them, multiple times) and have patrolled each of the four main locations (Earth, the Moon, Venus and Mars). As of this morning I reached level 20 which is the max level of the game. There are ways to keep leveling but more on that later.
If you ask Bungie, the team might say the actual game doesn't start until you beat the game. Like Diablo, Destiny is a loot and replay driven title. You hit the end and that's when you get to work grinding though the missions again and again at a higher difficulty to collect items and exchange them for the epic loot. That part of the game has only just opened to us so before we offer a full review with a score, we'll need to delve into that as well as the competitive multiplayer. For now, let's talk about how the main game shapes up.
There are three classes and three species to choose from. They all can use the same weapons so you're really choosing based on their special abilities. I chose a Human Hunter. There's a disappointingly minimal amount of character customization options but in the missions you're always wearing a helmet anyway. If you were one of the 4.6 million players who tried the Destiny beta, you've already experienced one of the game's four main areas. What you saw in the beta, even down to the gorgeous intro cinematic where you learn about the arrival of The Traveler, human evolution and our downfall, is actually the first part of the game. You're dropped in right away and meet your little flying robot sidekick, your "Ghost" voiced by Peter Dinklage.
Right away, the most notable highlights of Destiny are evident. Its presentation values are top-notch, the score is mesmerizing, the graphics are great, the gameplay is smooth and the environments are beautiful. This is what Bungie did so well in the Halo series and it carries over to Destiny. Keep that comparison in mind, because it applies to most aspects of Destiny. Even the Ghost will remind you of the Guilty Spark from Halo.
The first little while, as you hit your first levels to unlock the basic starting abilities of your chosen Guardian, are basically a tutorial. The Ghost walks you though the essentials and helps get you your first ship then you get to go to The Tower - the hub area of Destiny. It's here at the Tower where players redeem loot, buy better gear and can group up with strangers for Raids - something that will eventually be added to the game. The Tower is the only safe zone in the game and it's the only place you'll be able to interact with NPCs/merchants. There are no NPCs, wildlife, characters to interact with or anything in the game otherwise, and this is where when you start to think about what Destiny really offers, it starts to look a little shallow.
There is a story of sorts to Destiny but just barely. It's enough to provide some sort of reason for travelling from one location to the next, but at best, the few lines of dialogue your Guardian will speak are meaningless and there's no sort of attachment or emotional connection to anyone or anything. Even the big spherical Traveler, from all the marketing and in the background of the Tower, doesn't factor into the gameplay or story much, if at all. It's just a big sphere in the background.
As for the enemies the Guardians are tasked against, there are several factions, comparable to Halo's factions and variety of enemy types, even down to the skirmishes featuring other factions fighting each other. The lore isn't detailed or explained in depth and players won't know necessarily understand why these factions are fighting each other. There's the basic theme of light vs dark and what any and all missions boil down to is going somewhere, and killing everything - Usually while the Ghost takes its time opening a door or collecting info from a computer terminal.
After a few hours on the first world, Earth, you'll have an understanding of the formula. The story and Strike missions start you in the same spot and you'll be running through the same areas repeatedly. The key is to play with other players, and having friend(s) online with you and in your three-person Fireteam makes all the difference. That's why it's so disappointing that with Destiny Bungie doesn't support local play in any form (no LAN and no Splitscreen) like they did with Halo. You'll encounter strangers in the open areas, and it's fun jumping in and helping out or having randoms save your butt in a time of need. There are also public events that occur on each map where players come together to participate but these are relatively rare. If you are playing solo, there's a matchmaking system for Strike missions that'll place your Guardian alongside two other players at a similar level.
Story aside, Destiny is about fighting with your friends to acquire better stuff and perhaps by the end of the game you'll know if that's enough for you. For me, I'm not sure yet. The repetitive nature of Destiny made some of it feel like a chore to play through and that issue is made worse by what feels like a lack of content. The game, while spanning several planets and the Moon, doesn't feel very large thanks to the missions taking place in the same areas and requiring players to follow similar paths. This raises the big question mark we have for the end game content - are the missions and action set pieces currently in the game enough to make players want to play them continuously?
Hitting level 18 unlocks 'Legendary Gear' and this means players can start earning "Marks" to unlock better gear, something you'll see when looking at the level 20 items available at retailers at the Tower. From playing co-op Strike missions or competitive PvP Crucible multiplayer, players can earn Vanguard and Crucible marks, respectively, to put towards these end game items. That's how players will be able to keep growing their Guardians, and collecting Legendary armor that add "light" to your character, allowing players to level past 20.
Players also need to achieve a certain Vanguard rank to be able to make purchases of the higher level gear and another way to boost that stat is to freely explore the game's four maps while on Patrol Missions. These let players roam around the full maps freely and to pickup randomly generated side quests from beacons scattered across the area. This unfortunately, is the most lackluster element of the game since the quests offer little to no depth and involve only killing a certain number of enemies or going to a specific location. It won't take long before you start picking up the same side quests either.
With the way the story missions and side missions on the patrols are designed, there's too much back and forth. And that's coming from someone who's only played through the game once. The same issue applies outside of the first-person gameplay as well since for the breaks in between story missions require you to go back to your ship in orbit and then back down to the same spot on the surface with long loading times in between. As an added step you also are encouraged to go back and forth to the tower between most missions as well to exchange loot, redeem bounty awards and unlock weapon Engrams you picked up. There's a lot of unnecessary hassle to the system and it's a shame the cool looking spaceships you can buy only serve as loading screens.
Destiny looks and plays well, especially when it comes to the co-op Strike missions against larger and more difficult enemies, but its story is lacking and burdened by repetition and a lack of creativity. There's not necessarily much newness when it comes to what the game offers, and that's not a bad thing in and of itself, but the missions - from an objective standpoint - are boring, so it comes down to the action and who you're playing with. What is there is a solid framework to build from in expansions and sequels.
It's up to you to make the best of what Destiny currently offers and the good news is that even though the Raids aren't even in the game yet, I am eager to get back in with some fellow Game Rant Guardians, and that's what it's really about, so stay tuned for more as we begin our quest for Legendary Gear and try out the competitive multiplayer.
Destiny is available now for PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One.
Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes.