Oh, the places you’ll go – a review of “Destiny”

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The first game in Bungie and Activision’s 10-year, $500 million-dollar franchise has been released and playable on Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 3 for more than a week now, and things are just starting to get interesting. And while it is good that things are starting to pick up, it’s not great that it has taken this long for the interesting bits to bubble up to the surface.

If you come into this game expecting something akin to “Halo,” “Call of Duty” or “Gears of War,” then you’re in for quite a suprise.

“Destiny” is a game designed for the long haul. In much the same way a traditional massively-multiplayer-online game like “World of Warcraft” has become a long-term commitment for players, “Destiny” seems to be aimed at keeping players invested for as long a possible.

While there is what you could call a campaign – a story told through missions that has a beginning, middle and end – it is just a warm up for what Bungie considers the real game: leveling up your characters (you can have up to three), replaying missions on harder difficulties, competing against other players in multiplayer and amassing better and better gear.

There are at least two expansions on the way that will add more missions and activities, and Bungie is capable of tweaking the gameplay of the game semi-on-the-fly with hotfixes. Just this week they made the occurrence of public events – which happen while players explore the overworld – more frequent and unlocked a major endgame activity, a raid called The Vault of Glass.

“Destiny” has a sort of tiered game-mode structure. In order of difficulty, they are: patrolling the various planets doing odd jobs, normal story missions, more difficult strikes with at least two boss fights, and the most difficult raids that have many boss fights and encounters. The raid that unlocked this week took a team of six players (the minimum required to even attempt it) roughly 14 hours to complete.

Hundreds of years in the future, players enter the world of “Destiny” as a Guardian revived from a death that occurred long ago by a small, floating robot called a Ghost. Your Ghost is by your side – and in your head – from the start telling you about the Traveler that saved humanity from complete destruction and giving information on the mysterious worlds of Earth, the Moon, Mars and Venus. These worlds, long ago colonized by humanity and since lost to forces of the game’s formless antagonist the Darkness, are where players will spend their time shooting enemies and one another in order to push back the Darkness.

Fireteams can be made up of a maximum of three players.

Fireteams can be made up of a maximum of three players.

Light and dark opposing one another is the main theme of the lore behind the game, however most of that lore is left out of the game altogether.

The real meat of storytelling is done via Grimoire cards that players acquire during normal gameplay. The thing is, it’s impossible to view these cards, which contain vital story information on enemies, locations, weapons and more, within the game itself. Instead, players are forced to register on Bungie’s website and use their web interface or download the game’s companion application for smart phones if they wish to read these cards.

The stories and information contained in the Grimoire are all very interesting and rich in content, and reading them really adds a great amount of depth to the world of “Destiny” and helps enrich nearly every part of the game. It’s a shame that the majority of the story of “Destiny” was removed and replaced elsewhere.

Gameplay, an area Bungie is well known for excelling in, is top notch. Gunplay is super satisfying and movement feels wonderful. Nearing higher levels, it truly feels like you are an incredibly powerful warrior that can cut through any battlefield with ease. Players level up from one to twenty during the course of the game, and then acquiring special armor and weapons can boost players to higher levels.

Players are free to move about the solar system after the first mission, although the Moon, Venus and Mars are unlocked after completing later story missions. Each planet also has an overworld that can be freely explored. Old Russia on Earth, the Moon, Ishtar Sink on Venus and Meridian Bay on Mars make up currently-available playable areas in the game. A hub world on Earth called The Tower is also available for players to roam around in third-person view without fear of attack from enemies.

The Tower, which acts as a sort of social hub, houses multiple vendors from which players can purchase gear, weapons and ships using various forms in of-game currency. It’s a place where you can attempt to gather some teammates in order to tackle some of the games tougher strikes. Or one could choose to simply dance the night away with random, silent strangers.

That brings me to another important point: silence. There is no public chat option in “Destiny.” In order to hear and be heard, you must join what the game calls a fireteam. That means that if you choose to jump into competitive multiplayer on your own, you won’t be able to hear any of your teammates. At all. If you run into another player while exploring the wilds of Old Russia the best you can do on the spot is use one of the four actions available using your controller’s directional pad: wave, point, dance or sit. This lack of voice makes what was sold to us as an incredibly social game seem rather desolate.

I admit that it isn’t the most difficult thing in the world to set up a fireteam, invite a new player and then wait for them to join. However, if you join a fireteam with someone standing directly in front of you, you must load out of the world and then load back in for the voice chat to take effect. It’s just such a wonky, cumbersome system to have to deal with in this age of constant communication in video games that I find it hard to believe that the game made it all the way to store shelves without someone taking a second look at the voice-chat system.

All that said, if you do manage to get some friends together into a fireteam, the game becomes substantially more fun. Although the entirety of the story can be played solo, jumping into the fray with some friends is the experience that the developers meant for players to have. It is undeniably more enjoyable to run through the world defeating foes with two buddies at your side cracking jokes and calling out enemies.

The view from the Tower is stunning at dusk.

The view from the Tower is stunning at dusk.

“Destiny” is a game that is impressive both in terms of gameplay and audio and visual components.

Ambient sounds and gunfire are incredible and create a feeling of depth and realism, especially when playing with headphones or a surround-sound system. The deep, blood-curdling howl of an enemy from around a corner can definitely startle you when you’re not expecting it. And the music is just about what you’d expect from Martin O’Donnell, the man responsible for the iconic soundtrack to the “Halo” series.

The voice acting, which is around ninety percent Peter Dinklage as your Ghost, is not going to knock your socks off. I can’t help but compare the little floating robot companion of “Destiny” to Cortana and 343 Guilty spark from Bungie’s previous blockbuster franchise “Halo,” and the Ghost just doesn’t stand up to Jen Taylor’s blue lady or Tim Dadabo as the other floating robot companion. Each Guardian is also fully voiced, as are all the vendors in the Tower, and they all sound just fine. I think it’s just that we have to listen to Dinklage so much that it’s easier to pick out the sub-par lines.

This game is visual impressive without a doubt. People on YouTube are literally making time-lapse videos of the sky on each world because they are so stunning. The designs of each piece of armor and every weapon are intricate and interesting with several different types of material that reflect light in different ways. Enormous structures and huge mountains dominate the skies on each planet, adding to the feeling of being just one Guardian in a massive world filled with other beings.

That’s the thing about “Destiny.” All of the pieces – gameplay, sound design, music and story – are all very good in their own right. It’s just the way they’re put together that could use some reworking.

Moving vital story content to an outside application, creating a difficult-to-manage voice-chat system and reserving the most interesting gameplay content for the top one percent of players are all very odd choices for Bungie to make. They are not game-breaking decisions, and I respect fully their choices because the game is a ton of fun, but they’re odd nonetheless.

When it comes down to whether you should invest your time and money into “Destiny,” I say absolutely yes. It is undoubtedly a fun experience with wonderful gameplay and beautiful sound, music and visuals. The story is interesting enough, and if you find yourself wanting more there’s the option to download the companion app and read through the Grimoire cards. And if you can rally some friends for a strike or a raid, the game truly shines as an amazing cooperative experience.