Come October 9th, it will have been one month since Destiny was released into the wild. After one month, and 30+ hours of gameplay, I’m close to hitting the wall. One month and 30+ hours of what Bungie claimed would be a 10 years of planned content, narrative and development of the Destiny universe.
So where did it go wrong with Destiny? And are its problems as deep as some would suggest?
It’s fair to say that the hype train for Destiny was in full on overdrive, and understandably so with Bungie behind the long gestating project. We were promised an expansive world, with beautiful graphics, stunning FPS mechanics, all dressed up as an MMO. And yet it’s only partially that these promises have been fulfilled.
For a game that tries so much, it’s incredible how narrow and repetitive Destiny can feel at times. When you first step into the Cosmodrome and meet your Ghost, voiced (terribly) by Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones), it’s easy to be drawn in to the visually stunning world which has been created. This is one pretty game, and so it should be with a reported $500m budget.
The shooting is fantastic, the loot system is engaging initially, and the first few missions zip by nicely as you settle into the world of Destiny. After the first portion of missions however a few worrying signs began to show. For example, why was I already repeating more or less the same level structure so early in the game? If this is going to have 10 years of longevity, shouldn’t there be some sort of story? And why oh why does Dinklage sound so bored all of the time?
By the time I came to the final mission on Mars, I had some clarity on these questions, but the answers were not particularly satisfactory. It turned out that the reason why I had repeated the same level structure so early in the game was that it is the only mission structure Bungie came up with. You blast your way through hordes of alien enemies, deploy your Ghost who opens a door, which takes just long enough for waves of Vex/Cabal/Fallen/Hive to attack (but only for exactly as long as it takes for the door to open). You then proceed to blast your way further through the level, before facing a bullet sponge of a boss. Then you’re free to sell or equip your gear at the “Tower”, rinse and repeat.
There is indeed a story of sorts, not that it makes a whole lot of sense. There’s The Stranger, The Traveler, Guardians, Ghosts and other such excitingly names characters, all of which after more than 30 hours of play I have little to no idea of the purpose of. This is not storytelling at its finest.
As for why Dinklage sounds so bored all of the time…..this one remains unanswered!
Completing missions means loot, experience and money. Loot consists predominantly of weapons or armour, and ranges from basic to exotic levels. At first, picking up loot and swapping out basic white gear for uncommon green gear works well, and keeps your Guardian ticking over for the first 20 levels of development. Once you reach level 20 however, the problems with the loot system become considerably more pronounced.
To progress beyond level 20 you need only the most highly sought after levels of armour, and experience goes wholly out of the window. Uncommon green gear is now essentially useless, and it’s all about blue, purple and gold Engrams which contain the “Light” required for levelling up. No one seems to have told this to the Cryptarch who sells Engrams at the Tower however, as he only offers the now pointless white and green Engrams.
This means that the only way to progress is through good old fashioned grinding. But by this point, I had already finished the story missions, and was on to repeating strike mission playlists, and back to shoot, rinse and repeat to pick up Engrams as my reward. However there’s no guarantee that each completed mission will further your attempts to level up, due to the random nature of the Engrams. You don’t know what you have until your Engram is decrypted by the Cryptarch, and you can (and do) often end up with gear worse than what you already hold.
Most frustrating of all is when you pick up a shiny blue rare Engram, decrypt it expecting to be showered with riches, and end up with a measly uncommon green Engram. There’s no rhyme or reason to what gear you receive, meaning entire stretches of hours put in playing and replaying missions could amount to nothing. If I’m going to venture into the Summoning Pits for the umpteenth time, I want me some gold!
All of this led to the point where standing in front of the fabled “Loot Cave” became a viable way to spend my time, hoping and praying for some decent Engrams. Possibly this is not what Bungie envisaged players would be doing with the world they created, and neither did I in honesty. And so the Loot Cave was shut down by Bungie, leaving myself and the masses to grind our way through countless strike missions. Rest in peace Loot Cave, gone but not forgotten.
So why am I still playing? It’s not as though I played through the story missions and switched off. In fact I’ve probably spent more time with Destiny post completion than I have working my way through the story. Well it turns out that Bungie are pretty great at making First-Person Shooters (surprise!).
Despite all of the repetitiveness , Destiny just keeps on pulling me back in with its crisp, fun shooting. Moreover, it is a whole bundle of fun to play with friends. It is, after all, designed to be played together, and it excels when you are doing just that. There’s something compelling about the world Bungie has created, and despite all of its flaws, there is a lot to like.
Perhaps in the end Bungie are a victim of their own previous successes, and the hype machine. Halo this ain’t, but with Bungie behind the wheel expectations were probably unfairly high, and therefore criticisms towards the game have been voiced more strongly.
As it stands, in spite of the frustrations I’ve had, it has taken quite some time for me to reach the point where I’m ready to bow out until the first batch of DLC arrives. It was Bungie’s past work with Halo which got myself and so many others excited for Destiny in the first place, and it’s that same history which makes me confident that with time Destiny will be a more complete game and a richer experience all round. As it stands, Destiny delivers deeply satisfying shooting, but deeply unsatisfactory level design which holds it back from greatness.
At times frustrating, at times brilliant, always beautiful and entertaining despite its faults.
Rating (out of 5):