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Playing through Destiny at first felt like a mystery waiting to be unraveled. With talk of gargantuan concepts such as “light” and “dark” and more than a fair share of “evils” there always felt like something colossal was waiting over the horizon, something beyond my understanding. Too often though, it felt more like that glimmer of something was beyond the game’s own understanding. Yet Destiny kept promising whatever it was, always sure that what I would see would be enough.
Sadly, Destiny was wrong.
Sweeping vistas of an unexplored place. Hills dusted with snow extend into the distance, and flora waves in the wind, the land calling out to you. And then you, the player, are born again, after being dead for what you are told was a long, long time. You are a Guardian, resurrected by a little orb called a Ghost, because you contain the Light of the Traveler. Immediately, this is where the fault in Destiny’s story lies. Everything you come across that has a hint of story is filled with nebulous obscurities. What is the Light? Why do I have it? What exactly are Guardians? What is a Ghost? All these questions and more rattle in my head, but Peter Dinklage tells me not-so-urgently that the Fallen are coming and I need to high-tail it into safety. These questions can wait. I can find the answers later.
But I don’t. I’m taken from mission to mission searching for more answers but am only given more questions and a whole lot more vague terms to collect in my Grimoire Cards. If Destiny does anything right with the story, it strings me along, waiting and hoping for revelations. But don’t expect any by the end.
The most disappointing part is that there’s potential here. Bungie has created a world filled with opportunity, but it’s hidden behind a veil of platitudes that never truly make sense. Instead, you acquire the previously mentioned Grimoire Cards which hypothetically contain snippets of Destiny’s lore. I say hypothetically because I don’t actually know. The only way to view the cards is to go to Bungie’s website and log in. How many players are willing to do that? My guess is not many. And even though I did, there was nothing in them that brought any more concrete fact to the world. As Ghost would probably say, the Darkness was all around me.
Technically, Destiny plays beautifully. Playing from a PS4 not once did I encounter a problem with the core gameplay. Shooting guns feels fresh, and the melee attack for every class is brutal, fast, and insanely satisfying. Combat boils down to these essentials but it never felt broken or even like a slog. I always seemed to be having at least a bit of fun during Destiny’s combat. Moving through the world is equally as fluid. Early on you gain access to a ground vehicle which is very reminiscent of the speeder bikes from Return of the Jedi’s Endor. I just wish that navigation had a bigger purpose.
Destiny’s various locales are split between Earth, the Moon, and a couple other planets, which seems like a lot at first. Soon, though, I realized I was trapped within each of these environments. They are split between story missions, patrols and strikes, but for the two former ones (and in some cases the latter strikes) you’ll be visiting the same places over and over. I couldn’t say how many times I passed by the same landmarks just to find another path that led to where the mission actually was. Bungie has created some stunning vistas that you’ll never get a chance to explore, but instead only look at from far away wistfully, wondering what could be. For a game like Destiny to prohibit exploration and not allow players freedom to gawk at the beautiful world is a complete disappointment.
I couldn’t ever tell how each mission instance was connected. One of the lauded features of Destiny is how it is a psuedo-MMO of sorts; other players will phase in and out, but I never knew for what business. Where they on the same mission I was? Were they on a patrol, or heading to a strike? Were the different instances just that, separate and only containing others who had chosen the same mission, or did each planet have a persistent world that exists as one entity? It’s not something you’d think of immediately, but as I played on I started wanting to know.
It was at this point I asked myself “Is Destiny an MMO or isn’t it?” There’s reputation to grind, materials to collect and the prospect of better loot, but Destiny seems reluctant to give any of it away. There are missions called “strikes” that resemble instances or dungeons from any other MMO, and while they provide a greater challenge than the rest of the game the rewards aren’t always worth it for the time investment. World of Warcraft, for example, showers parties with loot as they conquer dungeons. Guild Wars 2 has one of the greatest reward systems in recent gaming, making sure players are always getting something for their accomplishments. Destiny holds onto its loot like a selfish child unwilling to share. And if you do get something of value, there’s always a gamble of whether or not it is even relevant. It reminds me of vanilla Diablo 3 and how broken the loot system was.
If this kind of repetition doesn’t suit you, then there is Bungie’s classic multiplayer which pits players against each other on various maps and in different modes. Typically this would be standard fare for anyone who has played Halo’s multiplayer before. There are some really cool new things about Destiny’s multiplayer, but with them comes some not so cool things. Instead of spawning with the same weapons and picking up equipment on the battlefield, players bring what they have equipped and stick with it for the whole match. This, combined with each player’s different class, creates a diversity that Halo’s multiplayer lacked. Yet it also creates terrible inequality. Too many times had I been there amongst my comrades only for a Warlock or Titan’s super ability to come crashing down and completely obliterate the entirety of my team. And there is no counter to this. It is apparent that some classes have clear advantages because of what skills they possess, and while it may create great distinction among players in the PvE portion of the game the competitive play suffers from it. Maybe I had been playing it wrong, harkening back to my experiences with Halo when I should have been doing something entirely different, but too often did it feel that certain players had the upper hand simply because of their class, not their actual skill level.
So what’s next for Destiny? Bungie has already started to add more content to the game via a new multiplayer playlist and the game’s first Raid, “Vault of Glass,” and while I didn’t get a chance to play the former I’m excited to get into the new raid. Do I have problems with Destiny? Absolutely. Despite having incredible technical polish and being a beautiful game to boot, it feels disappointingly empty. Destiny couldn’t make up its mind of what it wanted to be, and for that it suffers. Yet I want to see what comes next. Despite all of that, I want there to be more. I’m excited for new content, and I’ll probably even purchase the expansions (or DLC, whatever you want to call it). Destiny has a long way to go before it becomes great, and perhaps it never will. But it’s a game that I want to see become something more. And I think it can. But it needs to find an identity and stop being a mystery.