UPDATE: I published a second writing piece on Destiny with thoughts on the game’s expansion packs and other updates several months after this one was published. After reading this post please read that second one to get the whole picture on this game. It can be found here.
I love video games, but it’s rare for me to play them right when they are first released. Normally it takes me a somewhere from a few months to a few years to get around to playing to a game. I’ve got a considerable backlog of games that I’ve been meaning to play and it hasn’t been until recently that I’ve been able to start chipping away at the list. With that in mind, I’ve created a new series of posts called Late to the Party, wherein I discuss the games that came out in the preceding years that I’m finally getting around to experiencing. Today’s entry in the series is Destiny.
In the interest of full disclosure, let me state before going any further that I played just the base version of Destiny, so this commentary does not discuss any of the expansion packs that have come out since the game launched. It is also important that I highlight the fact that I played the game in June of 2016. Destiny was released in September of 2014, and since that time there have been many patches and updates that have tweaked the game from its original form. That means that my experience with Destiny is a little different from what other people experienced at and shortly after the game’s launch. Having participated in Destiny’s public beta, I did recognize a few of the adjustments that have been made since then, such as improvements to the fusion rifle and the Ghost no longer being voiced by Peter Dinklage, but seasoned Destiny players can better speak to the changes than I can. To their credit, Destiny’s development team has been committed to investing in the Destiny experience for almost two years since launch, and it seems like they are taking player feedback seriously so that the game can be continually refined and improved.
Destiny is an online first-person shooter that comes to us from the creative minds at Bungie, the studio best known for creating the Halo series. Combining elements of several different types of games, Destiny is an interesting amalgamation that’s trying to be many things to many people, but arguably doesn’t fully grasp any of its disparate parts. It has game mechanics from role-playing games, competitive first-person shooters, and MMOs, but doesn’t go as deep with them as other games that are more committed to their respective genres. Pinning down Destiny’s gaming genre is a topic of debate online, and for its part Bungie has only somewhat clarified the issue, referring to Destiny as being a “shared world shooter.” Personally, I find the debate over Destiny’s exact genre to be a needless argument over semantics, as regardless of whatever type of game it is, Destiny is a fun game to play.
Receiving my commission
The story of Destiny takes place in the distant future, but begins in our present day, when humanity discovered a massive alien sphere on Mars. This sentient sphere was called the Traveler, and it came to earth, jumping forward our technological knowledge by centuries. What followed was Earth’s Golden Age. The Moon, Mercury, Venus, and Mars were terraformed and/or colonized, and it looked like mankind was destined to take the rest of the solar system and beyond, but that all came to a crashing end with what is known as the Collapse. As people discovered, the Traveler had an ancient enemy, referred to as the Darkness, and it had finally caught up to the Traveler. With its horde of alien races bent on our destruction, the Darkness wiped out most of humanity, to the point that only a single city on Earth remains as the last bastion of civilization. The Traveler, badly wounded from the battle with the Darkness, hovers high above the city in a comatose state. The Darkness has temporarily departed, but the aliens it brought have not left, and everyone knows it is only a matter of time before the Darkness returns to finish what it started.
Exploring the Tower
When you start a new campaign in Destiny, you first create your character, choosing from three classes, and then selecting your race and gender. In my case, I went with the Warlock class, which is sort of like a mage, and opted to be a human female. Destiny has a very good balance in its character creator in that you’re given choices for how you want your character to look, but you don’t have so many choices that you spend an hour or more fine-tuning every last detail. You choose the basics of your character, then you spend just a few minutes on how they look, and then you’re on your merry way and playing the game, rather than getting bogged down deciding exactly what angle your character’s ears are oriented at.
Some of locales you’ll visit in Destiny
With your character created, it’s now time to go from zero to hero. Destiny starts with your character being resurrected by a Ghost – a small, floating sentient machine that possesses a fragment of The Traveler’s light. You’ve been dead a long time, and your Ghost has been searching for you for almost as long. After escaping to the city, you become a Guardian, and join the ranks of other formerly dead individuals who have been brought back to protect the city and drive back the alien invaders. A tower within the city serves as Destiny’s hub world, where various merchants, quest-givers, and other persons of interest can be found. Your first few missions are on Earth, and after you complete them more areas will open up to you. Soon you’ll be able to go the Moon and once you’ve finished the main missions there you’ll move on to other planets in the solar system. You are gradually introduced to the four alien species wrecking havoc on Earth and beyond, each which poses a distinct threat. The first ones you meet are the Fallen, who are like space pirates. They are followed by the monstrous Hive, and then the endless robot legions of the Vex, and finally the militaristic Cabal. The story that unfolds as you progress through Destiny is a fairly straightforward tale of discovering threats and ending them, and while the story is decent, the narrative is the weakest part of Destiny. After getting such a grand setup for your adventure, you don’t get much more story or lore on the universe while actually playing the game. Most of the additional story fragments are in the form of unlockable Grimoire Cards that you have to go online to read, and the only reason I knew to look them up was from reading articles about Destiny back when it launched. Given Bungie’s track record with storytelling in the Halo games, this is an odd misstep. From what I’ve read, the story of Destiny has been much better fleshed out in the expansion packs, but that shouldn’t have been necessary to begin with.
Triple-teaming a boss
Although Destiny’s storytelling falls short of the mark, its gameplay is fantastic. The fact that Destiny is so much fun is particularly impressive in light of the fact that you are doing many of the same tasks over and over again and that after awhile all the missions can all seem similar to one another. The missions themselves come in several different varieties, with main missions advancing the plot, patrol missions allowing you to roam the maps with the option of completing bonus objectives, strike missions tasking you and two other players with fighting through rooms full of enemies to take down a tough boss, and raid missions demanding you and five friends work together to survive a gauntlet of combat and traversal challenges. Throughout all of this Bungie’s talent for creating outstanding first-person shooters, which they’ve steadily refined over the many years they’ve been in business, shows through in Destiny, with outstanding game mechanics that will feel familiar to anyone who’s played the Halo games. Running at a consistent 30 frames per second, even when enemies and gunfire fill the screen, Destiny is also a very smooth experience. The enemies themselves have a good variety of units, tactics, and abilities and the different races will even fight each other if in close proximity, which means if you come across two or more races engaged in combat you can potentially just wait for them to weaken each other before joining the fray and taking down the survivors. Environments are expertly designed, allowing you to experiment and make full use of your tactical options, and getting around the various worlds is aided by your Sparrow, which is Destiny’s version of the Star Wars speeder bike. As a person who doesn’t play multiplayer often, I can’t comment too much on Destiny’s multiplayer modes, other than that there aren’t too many of them. From the limited experience I had while experimenting with multiplayer, it seems to perform just as well as the main game. The big difference is that everyone’s equipment and abilities are equalized to keep things fair, which as a low-level player going up against people who had long ago hit the level cap, I appreciated.
Three minutes of multiplayer
In addition to providing satisfying gameplay, Destiny also delivers an addictive feedback loop of new gear, weapons, bounties, engrams, and challenges. You’re also from time to time given the promise of future equipment by way of the game giving you a powerful item that you can’t use yet, but will become available if you level up one or two times, thus encouraging you to play the game more to grind out the experience points needed to level up. Items drop frequently from enemies and you’ll find yourself changing up you equipment on a regular basis. Because of this, until you get to around level 20 or so, it’s probably not worth it to invest too much currency or materials into improving your equipment, as you’ll likely get something better in short order.
There are many things I liked about Destiny, but some of my favorites are the random events that you encounter while playing the game. Every now and then you’ll come across a community event, whereby the game will challenge you with a difficult task and any players who are in the area can join in. For example, I was running around the Old Russia map, and a community event suddenly started where a large spider tank was dropped onto the map by an alien ship. Myself and a few other players nearby all ran over to it and worked together to bring it down, and we all got a large experience point bonus after successfully destroying it. On top of the community events, you can also run into a fifth alien faction, called the Taken, who are ghost-like versions of the other alien races. During non-story missions you’ll be playing the game and get a notice on your screen that a Taken lieutenant is corrupting the land, and then the Taken will start warping in. Whether or not you fight them is up to you, but if the Taken show up at the right time it can make for an epic moment. Once I was in an area fighting both the Fallen and the Vex, and suddenly the Taken showed up, making for a giant fight between all of us. I captured part of the battle in the video below.
Four-way battle insanity
Originally I had planned to just play Destiny for two or three days and then send it back, but I got hooked on it and have been playing it for over a week now. At the time of publishing this post, my character was at level 30. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time with Destiny, and would love to keep playing for another week or so, but there are a lot of other games I want to get to. Thus I’ll be cutting myself off from Destiny within the next few days and bidding it a fond farewell. It’s been fun, and I’ll be looking forward to whenever Destiny 2 eventually comes out.