Destiny PlayStation 4 review

The next big thing from Bungie has finally arrived, and it's time to see if Destiny is more than Halo with a new paint job...

Regardless of your opinion of Halo or Call Of Duty, one thing can’t be disputed – both games play brilliantly. They’re fast, fluid, have beautifully tight controls, and gunplay that’s amongst the best we’ve ever seen. Destiny, coming from the makers of Halo, of course, falls into this category.

Right from the off it’s easy to see why Bungie’s previous FPS titan has gained so many fans. Destiny doesn’t only look great, but it feels great too. This is a polished FPS, and you’ll instantly feel at home and in control. Yes, it feels very much like Halo, there’s no denying that, but that’s no bad thing, as Halo was a fine FPS in its own right. Destiny, on the other hand, adds a whole heap of new features, and is much more than a simple, linear FPS and multiplayer arena shooter.

Set in a future where mankind has expanded into the solar system thanks to the arrival of the mysterious Traveler, our species now finds itself on the brink of extinction. Eking out existence in the last safe city on Earth, the only place the Traveler can now protect, we shelter from the approaching ‘Darkness’. It’s an ancient enemy of the Traveler, and it threatens to eradicate mankind, and the Traveler, once and for all. The only force standing between continued existence and extinction are the Guardians. These elite warriors wield guns, technology and magic, and are the only hope for the future. The good news? You’re one of them.

Together we fight

Destiny is an online-only FPS MMORPG. It fuses the traditional MMORPG play of quests, grinding, levelling and raids, with the FPS staples of fast-paced gunplay, set piece battles, and co-operative and competitive modes. This all takes place in various large, open environments, with a central social hub, the Guardian’s tower. In this hub you can buy new gear, enlist for new missions, sign-up for bounties, and interact with other players.

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Like many online titles, Destiny doesn’t force you to team up with others most of the time, and you can choose to venture out into the wilderness alone if you wish. However, as enjoyable as the solo play can be (and it is very enjoyable), it’s when playing with others where Destiny shows its true strengths.

With some grinding, and the right gear, most missions can be completed on your own, but there are areas and missions in the game that are designed for co-operative play. Strike missions, for example, are designed to be punishing, and need to be tackled with a team. In fact, you can’t even attempt these missions solo, and you’re required to enter a team beforehand. PlayStation Plus is also required for these missions.

Likewise, the random public events that can happen in the game, such as a satellite crashing to the ground that you need to defend from foes, are also tricky with a single player. Luckily, anyone in range can simply run up and jump in on the action.

It’s this MMO trait that Destiny embraces so well. While you’re wandering around the world, you’ll often see other players in the distance fighting enemies, and you can join in at any time. It makes the world feel more alive, and eases even the most antisocial of players into the multiplayer element. This is important, as it doesn’t take long for one of Destiny‘s problems to rear its admittedly pretty head.

Only the lonely

Visually, Destiny is a real looker, although it’s far from the most impressive title of the new generation. The locations are large (although small compared to many MMO titles), all have their own unique feel, and character and enemy models look great. It’s not amazing, though, and although pretty, the areas are surprisingly barren, save for MMO-style assigned enemy locations and mission zones. Enemies don’t really patrol around the areas, they simply sit still in one designated spot and wait for you to come along, before re-spawning again a while after they’ve been defeated.

This is an odd decision in my opinion, and an MMO design I’d prefer Bungie discarded, as you never feel in danger whilst exploring the world. Foes only stick to small areas, don’t actually go looking for you, and it doesn’t take long to learn the areas where enemies appear. If you find locations without foes, you know you’re safe, and always will be, as enemies don’t wander outside of their strict spawn points or local areas. This leaves large portions of Destiny‘s pretty worlds being little more than filler. If it wasn’t for the chance of running into other players, parts of the world would be totally devoid of life. Thankfully, there’s still plenty to do, even if the world’s aren’t heavily populated or patrolled.

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Bite-sized action

There are various mission types and tasks to take a stab at in the game. The main Story missions get their own map locations, and once you pick one, you’re dropped into the world and told where to go. Things start out open, with other players running around going about their business, but when you get to the actual mission area, known in the game as a ‘darkness zone’, you’re placed in your own instance (along with any team members if you’re part of a fire team). From this point, respawning is restricted, and if you die (or team mates fail to revive you and you all die), you return to a checkpoint, having to fight the following battle from that point onwards. Story missions usually involve a short run to an objective, and often end in a defensive last stand, or a boss battle.

For the most part, Destiny‘s story missions are paced well, although the actual mission areas are fairly small compared to most FPS releases. This makes some outings little more than a very brief walk to a larger, scripted arena battle. I actually found the shorter missions quite refreshing in some ways, though, but with each mission being so hurried, it’s easy to let the story rush over your head, and Destiny doesn’t really do a very good job in telling its story in the first place.

From the Moon, they came

There’s a surprising lack of emotion and personality within Destiny. Coming from Halo, which was packed with story and larger-than-life, identifiable characters, Destiny is positively stoic by comparison. Even with Peter Dinklage voicing your Ghost (a role in which he hits both highs and lows, working with some pretty drab material), the story isn’t all that gripping, lost in a disjointed haze of plot snippets and poorly introduced factions.

It’s not just the story delivery that suffers in terms of poor design. Weapons, although they all feel great and have that satisfying sci-fi/real world hybrid look, are very mundane, with little in the way of exotic load outs, or impressive, rare finds. Your choice of firearm will be more about stat-counting than either visual aesthetic or actual unique abilities. A gun is a gun here, only some have a higher damage number, and more powerful options simply sport a different colour for the most part.

World design is mostly impressive, but it’s also punctuated with jarring issues. Invisible walls, restrictive maps, and long, empty corridors break missions down into empty traversals to the next, predictable combat location where you’re attacked by waves of foes until you can move on. In terms of enemies, I also found the invisible boundaries they won’t cross a little silly. Backtrack enough in a level, and foes simply give up the chase, even if you stand there shooting them. It can make what would be a tough challenge pitifully easy.

Strike force

Outside the main story, Strike missions are a definite highlight (with Raid missions coming). These feature a high difficulty, varied objectives, and beastly bosses. They demand teamwork, and they grant a good deal of experience and item rewards. Even the first available raid mission is tough, demanding real teamwork and careful tactics, and they only get more difficult from there.

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Alongside these are the patrol missions. These drop you in to the world without an actual objective. You’re free to wander wherever you like, making for a mode that useful for grinding, finding materials, and discovering secrets. You could simply race around on your Sparrow speeder bike if you like, which never seems to get old. Various beacons also dot the landscape, and activating them gives you a mini-mission, such as gathering resources, killing an number of foes, or scanning a part of the world.

Complementing everything is a bounty system. This spans both PvE and PvP, and accepting different bounties tasks you with fulfilling various objectives, such as getting so many kills without dying, completing certain objectives and boss fights, or killing so many foes, and winning matches in PvP. These usually grant more experience and better rewards than other diversions, and also help accrue currency, including general ‘Glimmer’ currency, and special Vanguard and Crucible points, which are used to buy the best weapons and equipment from special vendors.

Grinding the gears

The levelling and grinding is enjoyable, and the sheer core quality of the game and the tight controls keep the repetition from affecting the enjoyment too much, but this set up won’t appeal to everyone. The level cap is set at a fairly low 20, but this isn’t actually where your levelling stops. From this point on it’s all about crafting new armour and better weapons, which can take you above and beyond the level 20 cap. In fact, hitting level 20 is only the beginning, and this is where a lot of the better weapons and equipment options open up. Destiny‘s endgame is where you’ll get the most out of the title in terms of advancement. The grind really begins in earnest here, with mission replays becoming the focus, in order to earn more and more powerful weapons and equipment.

This is all traditional MMO fare, but there’s no doubting that many will complete the game, hit level 20, and then quickly tire of the grind. The mixture of FPS and MMO will become a chore for a good portion of gamers, and many FPS fans who come to Destiny for shooting action will find the grind overly repetitive. Only MMO enthusiasts will likely stick around.

Of course, the competitive multiplayer will alleviate this problem for most, but to get the most out of this, the grind is needed so you can find better weapons and equipment to keep up with the Joneses. This means Destiny could alienate a good portion of players, who will no doubt return to the likes of CoD or Battlefield. Those that stay, however, will find pure, Bungie-style multiplayer.

Guardian Vs Guardian

Unlike most online FPS titles, Destiny doesn’t separate its story and multiplayer modes. Both modes are interconnected, and PvP is integrated into the whole game. I’ve already mentioned the need to grind for better gear in the PvE mode. This can make your fortunes in multiplayer far greater, but experience and rewards earned here also carry over to the PvE portion. It’s a great system, and one that I hope Bungie further expands upon.

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Although the two modes overlap, competitive multiplayer is where many players will spend a good deal of their time, and after you’ve pillaged the story mode, this is what’s left. For the most part, it’s all very Halo, with a lot of familiar elements, but with a slower-paced feel. Equipment is replaced with the various class powers, and there’s a far greater amount of variety and possible tactics due to the larger number of skills. The game also uses ammo drops as a way to give players the upper hand. As the match progresses, ammo crates for special and heavy weapons spawn on the map, and you need to get to them first to grab the ammo. A heavy rocket or two can be very useful here.

There’s a selection of familiar game modes, such as team deathmatch (called Clash) and the Capture mode, and vehicles are included on some maps, lending a larger-scale feel to battles, once again, another nod to Halo. Sadly, although the multiplayer mechanics are decent, it also has plenty of problems, and for many it’ll fail to better Halo in terms of enjoyment.

For one, I found the map design to be equal parts bland and haphazard. The nigh-on perfect level design we found in Halo simply isn’t present here. This could be partly due to the need to make each map cater for each of the three classes, but the levels themselves are just not all that fun to traverse, or fight on. Awkward ledges, tiny rooms, poorly placed capture points, there’s a lot to find fault with.

There’s also little in the way of decent matchmaking. Rather than attempt to group equal level players together, the game regularly throws level six players in with level 20 and upwards, and this simply makes for an unbalanced match, and this alone will likely put many people off, after having their backsides unceremoniously handed to them by players with far better gear time and time again.

Players who’ve managed to find powerful weapons can ruthlessly maim lower level players who are still using more mundane armaments, and if you’ve unlocked your more powerful abilities, you gain a definite advantage.

Now, this is arguably still fair, as everyone can level up before joining in, but without the equal footing of same weapon load outs and skills of games like Halo, balance is always going to be shaky, and will upset some. Of course, this is where pure skill, practice and teamwork comes in, and if you work as a team, you can overthrow even the most high-level player. The cool down periods for powers also helps, so you can’t simply spam powerful attacks. In fact, this cool down makes your powers a far more strategic element, and they need to be used carefully, at the right opportune moments.

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Destiny‘s PvP is very unique in many ways, and the need to actually work together is enforced much more than in most other titles. If you run off as a lone wolf here, then expect to see that hit square to respawn prompt a lot.

Believe the hype?

Destiny is one of the most hyped games I’ve seen for quite some time, partly due to the coverage Bungie has pushed for, and partly as it’s Bungie’s first game since Halo. Because of this, many are wondering whether the hype was warranted. I’d have to say, for the most part, and despite some surprising missteps by Bungie, Destiny does hit its targets, and it’s a great game, but the hype has also damaged it.

Destiny has been billed as a revolutionary and unique, new breed of FPS, and while in some ways Bungie has produced a unique game, it still feels very much like a traditional shooter, with MMO elements bolted on. The FPS/RPG hybrid is nothing new, and although an FPS MMO is still pretty different, Destiny simply isn’t as open or large enough to really please hardcore MMO fans.

Bungie has managed two things with Destiny, though. First, it’s successfully demonstrated there’s more to the studio these days than Halo, and second, it’s managed to create a truly enjoyable FPS MMO that works, without the usual rough edges or ropey combat mechanics often found in other similar titles. Destiny successfully mixes the open world, levelling, and grinding play of an MMO (albeit in a limited fashion), with the spotless combat and control of a proper FPS. It still needs work to truly become a classic, including more content within the game environments, but as a foundation of a new IP, few other new releases have had such a good start. Bungie will no doubt deliver plenty of new content and special events, and the game will grow far beyond its initial limitations in time. I for one, will enjoy the ride.

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4 out of 5