Destiny

Bungie is no stranger to success. Halo was originally going to be released for Mac OS and Windows, but Microsoft purchased Bungie Studios before the launch of the original Xbox in 2001. Halo: Combat Evolved quickly became a killer app for the Xbox brand and even today the Halo franchise is still one of the giants in the gaming industry. Bungie, under the ownership of Microsoft, was under constant Halo development until about 2010. I’m sure it was difficult for Bungie to walk away from the franchise, but honestly, I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner. It seems fitting that the first title Bungie developed after leaving Microsoft was named Destiny. Destiny is a complicated game to score because it’s so unique in many ways. It's a very high quality title with phenomenal gameplay and it never stops being fun. Since its release, I’ve been playing the game constantly. Although Destiny has some issues with its communication options it doesn’t stop the title from being incredibly fun to play. The overall quality and superb core gameplay prevent the game's faults from hindering the experience in a meaningful way, and because of this Destiny will remain an ambitious must-play title for years to come.

The gaming world is watching Bungie right now, wondering what they can accomplish with their newfound freedom. In many ways Destiny breaks the mold for what is generally expected  from a first-person shooter. It’s large, looks and sounds beautiful, has high quality gameplay, is a blast to play with friends, and packed with unlockable content and customization options. On the other hand however, Destiny struggles with its identity.

At its core Destiny is a first-person shooter, but MMO and role-playing elements are sprinkled in and executed in a way that makes Destiny's post-game much like an MMO in regards to the grind. It feels like an MMO in many other aspects, by asking players to team up and accomplish harder dungeons and bosses, with separate PvE and PvP game modes and equipment, and a late game that focuses on grinding for better gear. Destiny does have really low drop rates for legendary gear, but a week after release Bungie opened up the first raid for players. The raids are a big step up in difficulty and require a group of six people to accomplish. Players must have the highest leveled gear possible before entering. But if they can finish the raid they receive a big step up in gear quality.

Destiny carries over some peculiar elements from the traditional MMO genre. There isn’t a way to communicate with other players besides using emotes or partying up outside of the actual game. Also, grinding for Vanguard and Crucible marks is much more similar to standard MMOs than I was expecting. The lack of in-game communication was a tough choice for Bungie to make. There isn't any trash talk or toxic players, but teams benefit greatly from being able to speak. A quick work around is using the party feature on the PS4 currently. Late game grinding is a tough thing to understand for console gamers that aren't familiar with what to expect out of an MMO. The console market traditionally has a different set of expectations than the PC market. Gamers love to grind in role-playing games if it’s done correctly but legendary gear is really hard to come by. Looking back now, I realize how rare my legendary sniper rifle is because I haven’t seen a legendary since and none of my friends even have one.

There are three classes to choose from: Titan, Warlock and Hunter. Titans are the tank class of the game and fair pretty well in the player versus player offering. Warlocks are a magic based class and can build around battle recovery and speed, as well as having some magic flinging super attacks. And Hunters have a focus on weapon accuracy and damage to control the battlefield. All three classes can further diversify as they level up and, in later levels, players are able to change their sub class which offers a different play style for the class. A Titan, for example, can have a focus on attack or defensive support for his or her teammates. The varying classes and subclasses allow for plenty of customization geared towards different play styles, although the way they handle can sometimes feel too similar. The Titan was the easiest character to pick up and play because of how tough they can be. They also have potential to completely destroy enemies in PvP even when the situation looks dire. There were times when the opposing players just couldn’t bring me down as I closed the gap and dropped my super on a capture point. My warlock on the other hand fought from a distance and utilized a double jump to maneuver around and pick my battles.

Destiny’s game offerings are broken into two large chunks: player versus everything and player versus player. To go along with the lore of the game, Destiny calls these two ways of play Vanguard and Crucible. Doing Vanguard content focuses on players working together out in the world with things like events, completing story missions and strikes. Vanguard marks are also earned in the later game portions of Destiny and the game doesn’t allow players to begin collecting this currency until about level 18. Then it’s standard MMO fair from that point forward, with daily and weekly events and currency caps. Strikes are really fun dungeon areas with tougher enemies and bosses that require effective teamwork and a lot of bullets to bring down. Each planet includes one or two strikes and at later levels players can tweak the difficulty level to put a twist on something that you may have already completed a few times.

Since the Alpha for Destiny, I've been lucky to have a group of people to play with. Communication makes all of the difference when it comes to the harder content, which only makes me question why Bungie didn’t include an easy way to chat with random players in matchmaking. Creating a party on the Ps4 is pretty simple and doesn’t interfere with Destiny in any way, but honestly, some people don't feel comfortable always giving their PSN names away.

As Bungie began releasing videos and other media of Destiny before the launch I thought that the story would have been more prevalent like in past Bungie titles. Destiny may be a first-person shooter, but many of the game’s mechanics and sections are heavily influenced by the MMO genre. This is no different for the story which is told in familiar MMO fashion. The story in Destiny is told in two different ways. The first is through direct dialogue between your guardian and various NPCs and the second way is through environmental storytelling. The dialogue in Destiny is very vague and the story uses a very basic "light versus dark" approach. The Traveler, a giant floating sphere seen outside of the Tower, which is the central hub of the game, appeared in our solar system and made the other planets habitable. After humanity colonized several planets and began expanded their presence, the Darkness attacked which led to a collapse and destruction of all that was gained. Destiny begins by putting players into the shoes of a guardian with the mission of pushing the Darkness back and defending the very last safe city on Earth. The dialogue is sometimes hit or miss. The little machine that guides you through the game is actually interesting most of the time and other NPCs have somewhat comical one-liners. Destiny constantly teases you with information, but never fully commits to a thought. Even after completing all of the story missions, the game never gave me a concrete answer as to what the Traveler even was. It represent the Light in the story, but outside of that there wasn’t much of an explanation.

Destiny may not focus on telling the story directly, but the game has a really immersive and intriguing atmosphere. The opening of Destiny drops players directly in the middle of a vacant and destroyed Earth. Destiny’s levels are very large and scenic, and Earth looks like it had all of the humans plucked off of the planet to never return. Cars are piled up and rusted, leaving players wondering what happened during the events of the collapse. Numerous times during Destiny I would stop in the middle of a mission just to explore what was off in the distance. Venus ended up being my favorite planet due to its green coloring and beautiful destruction. Giant buildings were overtaken by the vegetation of the planet and every area seemed to tell a silent story. There is always a view in Destiny to enjoy, and Bungie was able to tell numerous stories through the atmosphere. While Destiny doesn’t fully explain everything yet, it does tease and intrigue players in its presentation.

Bungie has a strong history of creating really fun and dynamic multiplayer in first-person shooting games. When it came to multiplayer, I always preferred their take as opposed to some of the other popular competitors. Players can do some PvE content with friends then seamlessly jump right into the Crucible, which is Destiny’s competitive multiplayer scene. There are various modes which involve randomly jumping into a game, or teaming up to grind the Crucible marks which unlock legendary gear. Bungie has a very interesting take on multiplayer, especially when it comes to the Call of Duty generation of online shooters. Players are tougher to kill due to rechargeable health and shields. Destiny’s maps also feel pretty large in order to accommodate special skills, such as double jump, float, glide and blink. Vehicles also make have a presence but none are as iconic as those in the Halo universe. Vehicles give players a pretty hefty advantage, but also turns them into a really large and shiny target. Sometimes getting in one of those vehicles can be a death sentence depending on the map.

Since the lines between PvE and PvP are so blurred, players can take their fully customized character into battle. This means that the way you leveled your character, all of the gear you acquired, your super attack and your other character choices carry over. This is some pretty hefty customization because the work you put in pays off with the ability to quickly and easily swap gear and weapons when playing against other players. Each weapon set works for different situations but I do think that Bungie will have to conduct some balancing pretty soon. I really want scout rifles to work out since I prefer precision over higher damage per second, but I felt I was at too far of a disadvantage if I continued using it. Weapons that have the ability to one shot an enemy seem to be much more effective in PvP than other weapons that weren’t as quick at dealing critical damage. Shotguns, for example, are absolutely incredible in multiplayer. I’ve always been a fan of shotguns ever since I played my very first shooter and I remember the shotgun being a power weapon in past Bungie titles. Fusion rifles are also pretty effective since they offer a powerful charged shot that is accurate.

After a few stubborn matches I eventually swapped out my scout rifle for an auto rifle and I instantly did much better. Since I prefer PvE in most games I might not be the best person to criticize the weapon balancing in a competitive game, but it would be nice to see some equality with the different weapon types. One of Destiny’s greatest accomplishments is how seamless the game modes are. Jumping between PvE and PvP is incredibly quick and easy because they are integrated into the same singular experience. The character that you spent with during the story missions is the exact character that you take into battle against other players. So many multiplayer games in the seventh generation struggled to integrate the experience together and left the two sides of the games feeling far too different. Bungie hit a homerun here and I think that other developers will be looking at ways to implement these ideas into their games in the future.

As video games strive to become an art form, the one aspect of gaming that makes the hobby unique is a video game’s gameplay. Just about all other aspects of a video game have been done before in other media outlets, but gameplay is what makes a video game special by turning it into an interactive entertainment piece. Gameplay reflects the controls of a game and if the experience is even fun enough to sink your time into. While Destiny has been a little lacking in other areas it absolutely sets an example for how a video game should handle gameplay. The controls in Destiny are responsive and fluid. There isn’t much of a learning curve and it’s easy for players to jump right into the game. Obtaining new gear, completing quests and teaming up for strikes with friends is a blast that I still haven’t grown tired of. The customization and leveling system for the characters is done in a way that allows for experimentation. Once you level up enough to unlock a new ability you aren’t punished for wanting to swap between the different styles. If your double jump isn’t working out for you in PvP, well you can switch it up immediately and begin using blink instead. PvE and PvP are also seamlessly merged into one experience. From the map you can access all of the planets, modes, daily and weekly events and the Crucible.

Bungie also streamlined the use of weapons and made it incredibly easy to remain stocked up on ammo by splitting the weapon categories into three main sections. There are primary weapons consisting of rifles and hand cannons, special weapons for close and long range encounters and heavy weapons designed for dealing out huge amounts of damage. There are three ammo types to compliment the different weapons and the ammo is also interchangeable between the different types of guns.

Auto rifles and hand cannons both use primary ammo rather than a specialized type of round that is difficult to come by. Special weapons compliment a niche that the primary weapons don’t cover and their ammo is a little bit harder to come by. Both shotguns and sniper rifles are powerful and can change your situation quickly. Heavy weapons deal out very high damage and coming across heavy ammo isn’t as common as the other two. These weapons are great for bosses but also give players a big advantage in PvP. If you come to a point where you need accuracy over quick damage, switching out doesn’t mean your primary ammo won’t work any longer. This was a great idea because it allows for players to constantly customize themselves and quickly adapt to new battle situations.

With the weapons, Bungie has mastered a realistic feeling of shooting. The weapons in Destiny look and sound great. The weight and physics of firing the weapons feels really accurate. The kick of every weapon mixed with the sound of the shot leaving the barrel is pretty immersive and not really something I feel very often with other shooters. Each planet is loaded with respawning enemies that offer players plenty of time to try out and level up their new weapons. Leveling the weapons consists of gaining experience and utilizing materials to swap out barrels or increase damage. More powerful weapons are able to be upgraded several times and you can even change things like what the bullets do after impact.

Bungie has crafted a very unique title without any direct comparison in the shooter genre with Destiny, and the game seamlessly blends online elements, PvE, and PvP together. Gameplay remains king and the high quality of the Destiny experience prevents any of the games shortcomings from degrading the experience in a meaningful way. The blending of the game modes will be something that other developers strive for in the future and Destiny will remain a must-play title for years to come.  Destiny is by no means a flawless game, but it’s able to overshadow its faults by offering superb gameplay while blending everything into a singular, truly fun experience.