Destiny: Our First Impressions

We're making our way through Destiny, both missions and PvP. Here are our initial reactions!

EDITOR’S NOTE: While we work our way through Destiny — an MMO, by its very nature, requires more playtime — we’ll collect our early impressions here. You can also check out our official preview. And watch us play the game live on Twitch. Stay tuned for our full review coming soon!

Bobby Bernstein:

If you were following the development of Bungie’s Destiny, then you’ll likely automatically want to compare it to Bungie’s Haloseries meets 2K’s Borderlands — and that’s pretty much exactly what it is, but on a grander scale.

As much as we’d like to offer a full review and throw a score at the bottom of it, we’re not ready to do that because, well, Destinyis quite a large game in both the actual physical size of the world and the amount of stuff there is to do in it. The game is an interesting blend of FPS and MMO–one that works much better than say a Firefallor even Planetside 2(if you want to call that an MMO). The FPS pieces of the game are more prominent, but there are certainly quite a number of clear MMO influences in the game — for better or for worse. On one hand, I love the fact that there is random loot scattered about the world, and different levels of quality of loot for you to hunt down and find. But on the other hand, Destinybrings with it some of the dark side of the typical MMO, such as repetitive mobs, missions, and areas.

But taken at face value, there’s a lot of fun to be had within the game. It takes the best part of Halo (the sci-fi set world and difficulty) and blends it with the best part of the Borderlandsseries (getting phat lootz, such as cool guns). One of the things I’m most enjoying about Destinyis the fact that you can take your loot that you’ve found within the game world into multiplayer to test it against other players in PvP.

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As of right now, there are four different PvP modes, all of which are typical for shooters (6v6 with objectives, 6v6 team deathmatch, free for all, and 3v3 team deathmatch). It’s likely that Bungie will add other modes, such as a capture the flag or a search and destroy. But as it stands right now, the options are thin.

PvP is probably Destiny’smost enjoyable aspect, though — at least for me. It plays very well, and it’s definitely competitive. There are some minor issues, though. For one, the maps are mostly rather small and don’t provide for any great sniping spots, which makes it tougher for the hunter class to use their special weapon (granted, hunters don’t HAVE to use snipers…but some prefer to do so). Secondly, the matchmaking needs some work, since even level 7s are paired up against level 20s. Even with the mismatching, it rarely becomes frustrating, and it doesn’t appear to always be a one-sided affair.

I would have also liked to have seen some more options along the lines of both character customization and gun customization. I’m truly surprised that a game with such a big scale and budget as Destinydoesn’t have any cosmetic gun customization options.

Visually, Destinyis second to none, with vivid imagery and a creative science fiction setting. It looks stunning, and some of the environments are truly enjoyable. For example, one of the moon missions brings you into a sort of cave with hallways that look like something out of 1979’s Alien.Sound design works well, although I would have definitely liked to have seen the score veer a little further away from any game in the Haloseries.

Destinyis enjoyably challenging, and even on the normal difficulty you’ll find yourself in some trouble. But place the difficulty a couple levels above your own, and you’re in for a true challenge that requires strategy and patience.

But in the grand scheme of things, it appears as though Destinyis quite a formidable game, despite some of its minor flaws. It’s beautifully crafted world is worth the price tag alone, and add in an overarching story with good PvP, you’re sure to have some fun.

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John Saavedra:

I’m writing this in a cafe after reading out Polygon’s official review of Destiny — they gave it a 6 out of 10, which is the work of the just, depending on who you ask about this game. It certainly seems to be a mixed bag, doesn’t it?

After playing through a bit more than half of the story campaign, there are a lot of things I love, but some other things that completely stump me. And don’t ask me about PvP, because I haven’t played a fair amount of it. Tried it a couple of times during early leveling and I didn’t fare well. I’ll avoid embarrassment and just leave it to the imagination. I’ll talk multiplayer in my official review.

More full disclosure: I’m a HUGE Halo fan. I love immersing myself in big scifi worlds with ambitious ideas, running through hallways with shotguns, and pumping aliens full of bullets. From the Doom days to the days of Halo 2, the scifi FPS has always been my go-to gaming experience. It’s maybe/probably the reason I decided to get into video game journalism.

Now that that’s out of the way, I’ll tell you what I think works in Destiny:

The world is gorgeous — from the large valleys that make up much of Old Russia to the forests of Venus. I wouldn’t be surprised if 2/3 of the development money for this title went into making it the sexiest-looking FPS ever. And the different locations are expertly realized. The cult-like Hive live in the deep caverns of the moon, where they worship their shrines. The Fallen occupy heavily-defended fortresses throughout the galaxy, such as the Devil’s Lair. And it goes on. Each location is breathtaking, and it’s a treat to explore these exotic locations. It’s like when you stepped into the Library in Halo for the first time or took the fight to the Covenant on High Charity.

Which really leads me to the Halo comparison that Bobby mentioned above. It’s inevitable and absolutely unavoidable. The similarities between Bungie’s classic franchise and its blooming new one are uncanny. Seriously.

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The guns, grenades, and melee formula from Halo is alive and kicking in Destiny. I even chose to be a Hunter so that I could get in some very satisfying knife action into my experience. There’s literally nothing more rewarding than dispatching your enemy with a perfectly-aimed knife throw.

Your objectives and motivations pretty much remain the same as they did back in 2001 when Halo: Combat Evolved took over the world. An AI — voiced by Peter Dinklage and lovingly referred to as such by this gamer — guides you through alien territory, as you scan things, recover relics, eliminate threats, and try to open sealed doors before the horde eats you. I can’t think of a single moment in Destiny — again, I’m a bit more than halfway through, so I might still be surprised — that isn’t directly ripped from a moment in Halo.

If the last thing you did back in 2004 before falling into a deep, dark cryogenic sleep was finish Halo 2’s campaign, you could wake up today and easily pick up Destiny and feel like not much had changed in the gaming scene. Maybe you’d even be a little underwhelmed.

After playing the game for a week, there doesn’t seem to be more than meets the eye. The beta promised us only a taste of the bigger, innovative gameplay to come. In retrospect, that beta might’ve shown us everything the game was about. Period. There isn’t a moment in the game that really elevates Destiny into its pre-determined place — this isn’t the game of the year everyone thought it would be. Instead, it’s a fun game with interesting moments that doesn’t really push the genre forward, but instead enforces it as a well-oiled machine.

It’s not that Destiny is a bad game — and right now, I’m judging it as an FPS — it’s just that it doesn’t do much to add to the shooting experience. The set pieces, situations, and locations where you find yourself shooting things are pretty much the same as back in 2004. I don’t really have a problem with that, because if you’re going to give me a “Halo experience” that is bigger and longer than the original, I’m not going to complain. Not a word. The tried and true FPS formula works for me. I like what Destiny is all about as a shooter.

In it’s MMO/RPG capabilities, I’m a bit less impressed. Earlier this summer, I wrote a bit about how Bungie was fusing elements from these different genres to create a unique experience. I was impressed by the beta’s loot system and storytelling capacity, and enjoyed the public events that would begin at random while on Patrol missions (weren’t they called Explore missions in the beta? Can’t remember…). The Level 6 Strike at the end of the Old Russia campaign was one for the ages (I had even more fun replaying it in the full version earlier this week). Destiny presented in a much smaller slice, with a level cap of 6, was excellent, but as a full-blown release, it leaves me with too much to wish for.

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Everything that isn’t FPS in this game seems purely incidental. The things that would’ve set it apart aren’t all that exciting. I’m not sure I really get the looting system. Is it really even there? Besides picking up guns from fallen enemies and crouching to pick up glimmer like a stack of lucky pennies, I’m not sure I get the feeling I should be exclusively searching for treasure sometimes. You can go through whole areas without finding one single chest — unless they’re just super well-hidden, which further solidifies the fact that I’m just way more into shooting than looting.

A quote from my preview of the beta: “Destiny isn’t as much about what you can kill as it is about what you can find.” I was presumptuous. Yes, in the well-packaged beta, where you would find secret areas swarming with invincible enemies with question marks for level markers — Bungie’s clever way of teasing larger areas in the bigger game — the scavenging seemed all find and dandy, but in its full release it seems scarce.

In the same sense, the MMO portion of the game is very light. Besides being an always-online experience where strangers drop in and out of your game, there isn’t much more to say about it. You get to team up with your friends while in missions or just shoot things with other players at random, and that’s cool. But this all really just means that you get to play co-op whenever you want.

As Bobby said, it’s painful to go through all the bad habits Destiny seems to have picked up from other MMOs. Mostly, it’s the repetitive nature of the missions that drive me crazy. While touring the surface of the Moon, exploring Old Russia, and cutting my way through the forests of Venus, I’ve fought wave after wave of the same mob of aliens that seem to respawn at the exact same spot after a level is over or after a couple of minutes while on a quest. It becomes tiresome, and I find myself mostly zooming past enemies on my mount — which is awesome always, except that it needs more guns — so that I don’t have to go through the same situation again. I don’t want to feel like my very first playthrough of a game is just a speedrun, especially not when that game is Destiny, which is admittedly the game I was rooting for the most this year.

Same goes for firefight set pieces. How many times can a guy protect Peter Dinklage while he lazily scans a computer console in order to open a sealed door? After a while, Joe Jasko, our staff writer, and I were just calling it before it happened.

“I bet Pete’s going to scan something, and then we’re going to get rushed by the horde,” I tell Joe every time the game prompts me to use my ghost for something. I’m usually right on the money. It’s just no fun after a while.

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I think maybe I should stop here. After all, I have to fill up my official review with words in a few days, don’t I?

What do you think about Destiny? Has it been the ultimate FPS experience for you? Do you think it’s a brave new direction for the MMOFPS genre? Tell us in the comments!

For more on Destiny, visit our coverage hub!

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