At this point, a day or two after launch, there’s not much point introducing you to the “most pre-ordered non-sequel ever”, or explaining why our review is going to be so late (everyone’s is, such is life). Instead, I’m just going to share my impressions as they stand so far, to be updated as I play more.
Those who are still yet to take the plunge and buy Bungie’s sci-fi shooter-cum-RPG will likely only have one question on their minds: does it live up to the hype? Although I’ve a long way to go before I can answer that fully, the short answer is no, not really.
Before you click away, allow me to explain. Firstly: the ridiculous hype surrounding Destiny is so potent and powerful that nothing could ever hope to live up to it, and, secondly: I said “not really”, so it’s not a complete dismissal.
The biggest problem so far is an almost complete lack of context. We know that it’s set in the far distant future, and that the story follows the coming of the Traveller, a huge moon-sized entity whose arrival catapulted human knowledge forward a few centuries. Having established colonies on Venus, Mercury, Mars and the Moon (that we know of), humanity was brought to its knees by the Darkness, the antithesis of the Traveller, who wiped out almost all life on Earth for reasons unknown. You’re a Guardian, a mortal vessel for the “light of the Traveller”, born to fight the Darkness, recently resurrected by a Ghost, a little AI that serves the Traveller in an unknown capacity.
“Unknown” is a word that will crop up a lot in writings about Destiny. What is the Traveller? Unknown. Why does the Darkness hunt it? Unknown. What is a Ghost? Unknown. What is an Awoken (one of the selectable races)? Unknown, unknown, unknown. Destiny seems to delight in telling you bugger all. You were brought back to life, but why? If you’re so special and unique, why are there hundreds, nay thousands, of other Guardians doing the same as you? Destiny throws questions at you with every minute that passes, so frequently that you start to long for those usually-hated lore entries in other RPGs. It’s almost a form of trolling, creating a huge world for you to explore and be awed by, then leaving you scratching your head.
But it’s early days, and the story is slowly divulging more and more details, it’s just a shame Bungie aren’t more willing to show off their new universe and let us in fully. That said, Destiny does balance such blindfolding with quality in other areas.
For a start, the gunplay is bloody good. Obviously, being developed by the creators of Halo raises a certain level of expectation that was always going to be daunting, but Destiny holds its own. There aren’t a great many enemies so far (the Hive and the Fallen are all I’ve met up until now although I know others are coming), but the AI is mostly solid. When you consider that the Halo franchise is home to some of the best AI in the genre, it seems a little disappointing that the enemy behaviour in Destiny isn’t always particularly smart. They cover and retreat well enough, but will occasionally degenerate into simply running back and forth while shooting at you.
Luckily, the weaponry is excellent. Guns pack a real kick, and the Guardians have enough skills and tricks to stop firefights becoming dull. In fact, the underdeveloped story and lifeless hub (the Tower is ok, but somewhat empty and pale when juxtaposed with the vast, twinkling city far below it that you can’t visit) are forgotten when the bullets start flying. Gun barrels flare with a satisfying whip-crack, each class’s special ability flashes and sparks and blossoms with a sense of real power and, if it all goes wrong, summoning your Star Wars-like Sparrow speeder and getting the hell out of trouble is just as thrilling as hurling yourself into a fight.
But while running around alone is fun, it’s when you cross paths with others that Destiny really starts to sing. Whether dipping into the Crucible (comfortably re-balanced since the beta), joining three-man fireteams or simply running into battle with a giant walking tank alongside a bunch of other Guardians in a Defiance-style public event, Destiny is a game designed for enjoying together.
While it’s still far too early to fully and fairly judge Bungie’s game, at this moment I can safely say that it’s shaping up nicely. There are issues that may or may not straighten themselves out, and concerns with the story and variety of content, but I don’t think Destiny is in any danger of being overly short or particularly disappointing.
I’ve yet to explore other worlds (so far I’ve only seen the moon and Earth in around seven to eight hours of play and exploration) and I haven’t put that much time into PvP or co-op yet (I’ll explore that in the next instalment), but it’s fair to say that Bungie’s biggest hurdle is a wall of their own making – a mountain of hype that no game in history could realistically surmount. As a result, it’s hard not to feel just slightly underwhelmed, despite Destiny’s obvious quality, beauty and scale.
We’ll update this article as we play further, leading to an eventual full review – published as a separate article.