By William Chandler
I don’t know what the hell happened, man. Is this Destiny the one Bungie seemed super excited to make or did that game get lost somewhere in development? After all, Bungie have always been known for injecting some great personality into their games, if nothing else. Cortana’s likeability as a character, silly dialogue from the Grunts, and a sometimes playful tone really afforded Bungie’s Halo an identity unique to itself, as well as a style that we haven’t really experienced in anything since. It was something that was sorely missed in Halo 4, in my opinion, and is really what makes Destiny feel like such a letdown.
For all intents and purposes, Destiny is a fine game. It plays perfectly well (even to the point of feeling a bit like Halo in some regards), it looks gorgeous, and there are no major bugs or stability problems to speak of. But the game starts to crack apart and show its hollow shell not long into its ~18 hour ‘campaign’.
Most of these issues reside in the story, or lack thereof. The game takes place in a post apocalyptic future where a force of pure evil, simply known as the darkness, has been quite busy in its quest to devour all life in the universe. The player, as a warrior of light, must ensure that the darkness does not continue to do that by killing quite literally every living thing you see. Apparently it’s chill if you do it but fucked up if those other guys do it. And that’s really all you do. You never actually do anything else. Fuck, you don’t even push a button or touch anything other than a weapon with your hands. Need to use a computer? Your robot companion does it for you. Need to contact another human for a side mission? Your robot takes care of all that. Seriously, Guardians must be some legitimately fucked up people if they never actually do anything but shoot other creatures in the face and make quips with a robot. The player’s role as a Guardian is never really fleshed out either, considering that the game never even bothers to show you what’s at stake, nor does the final city on Earth that you are in charge of protecting ever fall into immediate danger. Honestly, you seem less like a Guardian and more like a glorified assassin by the end.
Actually, nothing is really ever fleshed out at all. The player is provided with innumerable objectives that have no context or apparent relevance to the overall goal of “protect the Earth” and then it merely decides to end after you’ve completed another objective that you don’t fully understand. I understand that this is intended to be vague to make the world seem alien and mysterious and to not overload the player with heavy exposition in the beginning, but come on guys. Dark Souls 2 does the same thing except we don’t have to visit a website or download an app to read the lore, and they do it much more efficiently because, frankly, the exposition that is present in Destiny straight up sucks. The dialogue is poorly written and is often delivered with the same puzzled tone that the player has throughout the whole experience, two factors that do not lend to me being interested in reading the lore at all.
All of that said, you have to commend Bungie for managing to make a game that is still sometimes an enjoyable experience even without any sort of overarching goals or themes. You just sort of do things and, for a while, you enjoy them. Exploring Earth was engrossing thanks to lovely environmental art direction and some good atmosphere, two things which I am a complete sucker for. The game handles extremely well and killing things never stops being satisfying either. Loot drops just frequently enough to keep things interesting for a while, at least until you grow tired of the same few basic weapon types. This is where, logically, a fleshed out character progression system would take the reigns and really provide a unique and interesting experience, but instead we get an extremely slow and insubstantial progression system that provides few new abilities and no meaningful upgrades to existing abilities.
Hot off the heels of arriving on the moon and being pissed about Gravity being exactly the same, I realized that I wasn’t having fun. Not really, anyway. I mean, sure, I was having that new Call of Duty definition of fun where I press both triggers in repeatedly until I have digested all of the content in that environment and then, satisfied with the meagre mental stimulation of that portion of my brain that likes flashy lights, I move on to the next area. Perhaps it’s because I was playing by myself in a game that would prefer to be played with the company of some pals so you could talk over your Ghost’s uninspired dialogue, or perhaps I’m just salty because I was hoping for another Halo set in a new universe, but Destiny feels like the result of a development team that lost interest somewhere along the way. The game is certainly not bad. Rather, it’s technically perfect. Like a well oiled machine, it plays and looks precisely as it should, providing that textbook triple-A gaming experience. You can even tell that there are some great ideas in there. They just got buried under the rubble of MMO ambitions.