Deep Space of Expectations – Destiny Initial Impressions
Publisher: Activision Developer: Activision
Platforms: Playstation 4, Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Xbox One Release Date: September 9, 2014
Genre: MMORPG, FPS Rated: T for Teen MSRP: $59.99
Marketing is a dual-edged sword for any game – it either keeps a game from fading into the mass sea of other similar titles, or burns it asunder in the storm of high expectations. For many developers (and publishers), marketing strategy is a balancing act of selling the product more than the experience. Trigger words like “revolutionary”, “ground breaking”, “social, collaborative experience” are words often used in conventions, interviews and dev diaries in order to keep the hype going. As the excitement continues building up, the developer scrambles to get the game gold for shipping. Lately, it’s as if games often burn from the expectations grinded into the fans.
With Destiny, both Bungie and Activision have been promising a “living, breathing world” that players will be sucked into immediately, and want to continue exploring for the next 10 years through special weekend events, expansion packs and major raid parties. The gameplay promised fast, frenetic firefights bolstered by a deep, immersive management inventory system. Hell Bungie and Activision promised a lot. In order to tie all the elements together into a cohesive package, Bungie promised an immersive campaign that only turned into an epic space opera with increasingly escalating circumstances.
Everything about Destiny screams Bungie…but the pace at which the game was moving worried me. After all, Activision is the antithesis to how video game development should go: it was the same feeling I got when I heard BioWare was going to be working under EA. Normally, developers like BioWare and Bungie take their time crafting the game to be at the level they expect it to be, and both EA and Activision push for the product to be shipped out as soon as possible. It not only hurts the game, it also hurts the developer.
My peak moment of worry came when I saw how quickly the game went from Alpha to Beta, and from Beta to gold within a span of 2-3 months. Normally an exclusive beta trial period is set more than a few months away from the release date; 2 months was just too close. The feeling of the game being rushed felt very evident in my beta impressions, which you can read here and here.
Now Destiny has been released, and I’m in the middle of a dilemma about it.
Here’s the problem with Destiny as it stands right now – it’s nearly impossible to give an absolute, concrete review since the full product is supposed to be finished in 10 years; kind of like how MMORPGs are constantly expanding the game in expansion packs throughout the years. It’s very evident that Bungie is approaching this game like an MMORPG. Calling this an initial impression review, however, hits closer to home.
With that said, there’s only one way to describe the game where it’s at right now: Destiny feels incomplete and underwhelming full of half-baked ideas. It’s a game with an identity disorder.
Destiny takes a lot of different gameplay concepts that were successful in other games, but feel half-baked in this game. For example, the loot crate system feels too much like Borderlands without the same amount of excitement or fun. Gun battles look, feel and scream Halo – from the way enemies face you, how they’re built, and how the guns handle. While the firefights can be fast, frenetic and adrenaline-pumping, the excitement quickly wears off once you realize you’re going to be facing the same 5 variants of enemies throughout the map. It gets boring really fast, and feels more like level grinding than fun. The armor customization feels a little like the original Mass Effect system — except more organized. The powers each class have (Hunter, Titan and Warlock) feel uncannily similar to Mass Effect too…except there’s only two real powers and they have a longer cooldown time. It’s as if the elements can’t provide a fully cohesive experience that’s consistent in delivering a good time.
Level design feels uninspired mixed in with a heaping, massive pile of repetition; once you’ve gotten through one mission on a new planet you’ve seen the next five. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you even got to start at the same location for two straight missions! Pair that with the same several objectives for every single mission, and you have a winner.
That’s right… every. single. time.
The story (if there is one) feels very sparse and offers little detail about the Destiny universe. When the game does try to give you plot information, it’s often an exposition dump in monologues by
Tyrion Lannister your companion Ghost. If the story was better delivered and spread out evenly instead of heavy doses it would’ve been easier to follow and feel like something to invest in. Granted, I’m still intrigued by the Traveller, the Fallen, the Awoken, and so on…but not enough to go out of my way to look up what I can to decipher the story. It also doesn’t help that I feel like I’ve played through this story before, just with a different appearance.
Sadly, the voice acting feels flat, uninspired, and cliché. Almost all of the characters you meet in the game have the voices you’d expect to hear, and it feels like the actors know that too. None of it feels inspired or believable; it serves as a reminder that I’m playing a game that lacks any sort of immersion. Further accentuating that feeling is a musical score that feels inconsistent; some moments it matches perfectly with the game, and other times it feels very disjointed.
Once the campaign is finished, you can replay levels with higher difficulties for a higher XP bonus as well as a challenge. Or, you can play the multiplayer (aka “Crucible”) also feels like a bland offering of what we’ve expected a console game to have, and it only has one mainstay game variant – Control. The multiplayer also points out how imbalanced the character classes. Warlocks are way too powerful and seem to leave Hunters and Titans in its wake. This was another issue I had with the beta, and it seems like it wasn’t touched upon at all. It makes me hesitant in wanting to venture into the Crucible.
At the same time, the game is pretty damn fun with friends.
The game looks beautiful; there’s a nice contrast of warm and cold colors. Abandoned buildings feel ancient and add a element of mystery for both story and design. Each planet feels distinct in appearance and feel like they fit where they are. Many of the backgrounds leave me in awe at just how beautiful they are; there have been plenty of times I just wanted my character to sit down so I could stare out into the vast landscape. I have yet to experience any lag or screen tearing while playing the game.
It also helps that the game runs smoothly and without any problems; I have yet to experience any screen tears or lag.
Second, and most importantly, the co-op experience is a lot of fun. Especially when everyone’s playing as a different class. Each class’ powers bring add a new dimension to the already, fast, frenetic gun battles in Destiny. It also makes exploring what maps can and cannot handle a lot of fun too. Major boss battles, while presenting a mind-numbing challenge playing alone offer a fun, strategic battle with friends. Almost all of the issues I have with this game disappear in the enjoyment I get of playing missions with my friends. Even taking on the harder difficulties becomes a fun challenge that requires coordination and strategy.
In the end, there’s just so much Destiny can build off of that can make it jump from a bland, boring experience to what we’re expecting from Bungie. If they’re approaching this game in the vein of an MMORPG experience, then who knows what other tricks Bungie has up its sleeve with future expansion packs. As it stands, is Destiny everything Bungie promised it would be? No. Does that make it a game worth skipping? For now, yes. There’s just too little to do right now for the price it’s selling for. When there’s more content out, then it might be worth the price tag. Let’s just hope Bungie isn’t in over its head.