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Activision’s Destiny, available now and reviewed here on PlayStation 4, is a massively multiplayer online shooter. And in many ways, it’s a role-playing game.
It’s a lot of things, actually.
Destiny is scoring a perfect headshot with your upgraded sniper rifle on a nameless alien enemy and then lobbing an orb of deadly dark energy at a pack of its cohorts.
Destiny is teaming up with friends (or random strangers) to assault an ancient shrine buried deep in the milky white rock of Earth’s moon.
Destiny is earning a legendary piece of armor after hours of intense multiplayer combat spanning war zones across our solar system.
And Destiny is finishing the main story and scratching your head at what you just did … and why you did it.
That’s why this game is as frustrating as it is exhilarating.
What you’ll like
Signature Bungie gameplay that’ll toughen your trigger finger
Bungie is known for its world-class shooters, dating back to the beloved Marathon PC games and the Microsoft cash-cow Halo series on Xbox consoles. Destiny is the studio’s best-playing effort, representing a culmination of all those years fine-tuning some of the premier first-person shooter experiences available.
Quite simply, shooting weapons in Destiny is immensely satisfying. Everything feels snappy and just right.
Gun options are actually pretty standard, with hand cannons (powerful pistols), shotguns, assault weapons (both fully and semi-automatic), rocket launchers, and sniper rifles available. While the arsenal itself is far from unique, you go through a sizable stockpile of different makes and models as you venture deeper into the cosmos. This keeps the shooting feeling fresh while giving you an incentive to acquire new tools of destruction out in the field or from the gruff cybernetic gunsmith.
Destiny has lots of loot, too. It drops plenty of goodies for your hero — known as a Guardian. You’ll find yourself picking up new toys more often than not. The worlds you visit also contain hidden “golden chests” that hold rare items ready for you to uncover.
Loot isn’t the only concept that Destiny borrows from role-playing games. Players can choose a specific class for their Guardians as well. Titans specialize in heavy-duty offense and can take more damage. Hunters are stealthy and precise. Magic-wielding Warlocks can create deadly vortexes and harness the sun’s power to regenerate abilities.
Plus, the more you play, the more talents your character gains through new levels. Each class has different skill trees with specific upgrades and superattacks to unlock, so you become stronger and more formidable as you develop your character.
These classes and abilities introduce new strategies while providing the freedom to personalize your avatar, and trying out new characters provides solid replay value.
Plenty of battles to keep you busy
Unlike most first-person shooters, Destiny has a pseudo open-world structure. You’ll gain access to different planets, which contain several missions. While you can’t go everywhere or take on all missions immediately, you can jump around and even can skip smaller side quests. You can also conduct patrols, in which you scour large areas to find beacons that assign you simple tasks like clearing the hostiles in specific sectors.
The main story missions are beefier, and these often include elite armored units to take down. But that’s not all that Destiny has to offer. You can partake in strikes, which resemble raids from massively multiplayer RPGs like World of Warcraft. For these missions, you form a fireteam with friends or random players to fight hordes of enemies and the most powerful bosses in the game. Some of these encounters can get pretty frantic, making teamwork and ability management paramount.
Those who enjoy testing their mettle against human-controlled combatants can jump into the Crucible, which is Destiny’s player-versus-player mode. The game types here are familiar to Halo and Call of Duty veterans. You can dive into one-against-all firefights, team-based encounters, and node-control matches, where you secure portions of a map while fighting an opposing squad.
The Crucible doesn’t really bring anything new to the competitive multiplayer landscape. Yet, the tried-and-true variants on display here are fun, and they should provide a viable platform for deathmatch fans. The Crucible also rewards you with valuable items as you play, so that’s just another bonus to add to the bloodshed.
A score that brings light amid the darkness
Marty O’Donnell, Mike Salvatori, and iconic Beatle Paul McCartney created some truly special sounds for Destiny. Its score ebbs and flows with triumphant orchestral selections and rock-inspired tunes, which is a great complement to the action onscreen.
The music has the impressive capability to sound otherworldly while feeling familiar. The eclectic instruments and weighty percussion will remain with you, even after you log out.
It’s a shame that the soundtrack stands as O’Donnell’s final opus with Bungie. His mastery permeates the audio, and players will recognize his signature style as they bound from planet to planet.
What you won’t like
A story that lacks true meaning
Destiny gives the impression that it has a deep story set in a gripping, lore-filled world. When you start, you learn about the giant, spherical Traveler and how it brought a new era of enlightenment to humanity. You’ll also discover that a darkness is coming for the benevolent ball, which has parked itself over the last great city on Earth. As a result, you’re tasked with repelling the evil forces and bringing light back to the Traveler, in essence saving the day.
But, the game never makes you care about any of this. Even worse, it just keeps throwing random events, enemies, and destinations at you without explaining what they are or why they’re relevant.
A typical exchange involves your floating robot Ghost companion telling you about something sinister that you have to kill to accomplish a certain objective. And he’ll randomly introduce new enemies and events as if you already know everything about them. If you’re lucky, you might get a line or two of dialogue to give a little background on what you’re up against. But that’s it.
Unfortunately, Destiny’s uninspired voice acting doesn’t lift its alarmingly vague narrative. Most characters deliver lines in dry British accents, barely showing any emotion. The aforementioned Ghost, which Game of Thrones‘ Peter Dinklage portrays, is the biggest disappointment. Your synthetic sidekick speaks in a way that is detached and just … boring. I get the impression Dinklage probably didn’t care much about the lines he was reading, either.
I kept wondering if a revelation would come, bringing everything together in an ultimate “oh, yeah” moment. But no. It never arrived. All I got was a bunch of nonsense.
I just can’t see how a project with a $500 million budget could have such paper-thin storytelling. This game is supposed to lay a rich foundation for many releases to come. Instead of fueling my anticipation for what’s next, it just left me frustrated and unfulfilled.
Mission structure as tepid as the narrative
While Destiny’s combat has some surprising complexity, the story missions are predictable. As I said before, your Ghost guides you to the current objective, usually telling you to vanquish a group of enemies. Once finished, you then walk over to a console or relic so that the little flying gizmo can scan it. Most missions consist of multiple segments where you repeat these actions, and sometimes, you get to challenge an elite enemy or boss that can absorb more punishment than the typical cannon fodder you face. If you’re lucky, you might get some loot once you take him out.
The patrol missions also follow a set of scenarios that aren’t terribly exciting. On occasion, however, you’ll run into optional public events where you battle powerful threats alongside other players who are nearby.
Strikes are enjoyable but follow a standard formula as well. What makes these thrilling is their elevated difficulty and that you need to coordinate with your fellow fireteam members to achieve victory.
Destiny’s well-crafted shooting does help compensate for the straightforward mission structure. Once you get to the endgame, however, the reason to play on gets stifled by the repetitive design. The quest for rare items is just not that enticing. Overall, I was looking for something more substantial.
Activision and Bungie want Destiny to be the next mega-franchise in gaming. But a great universe needs interesting characters and compelling narratives. More important, the heroes need a true calling. I didn’t find one while playing this game.
Destiny isn’t a colorful platformer that gets away with the same old save-the-princess schtick. Nor is it the annual modern-war shooter that coasts on bombastic cutscenes and gratuitous explosions.
The ambitious big-budget title should be more than that. And right now, it’s a rock-solid shooter with no underlying purpose … or soul.
Destiny is a ship floating in space without a place to go.
Destiny is out now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360. Activision provided GamesBeat with a PS4 copy of the game for the purposes of this review.