It's a survivor... just barely...

One of the most important things in life is finding out who we are. It shapes our identity, helps decide our path in life and strengthens every aspect of our being.

Destiny hasn’t quite discovered what it is yet; and without wanting to sound like an overbearing parent, it’s a little disappointing.

The premise behind Destiny is simple. Developed by Bungie, the creative team behind HaloDestiny is set seven hundred years in our future in a post-apocalyptic Earth following a prosperous period of exploration, peace, and technological advancement known as the Golden Age. In a universe where humans have spread out and colonized planets in the Solar System, an event known as “the Collapse” saw the mysterious dissolution of these colonies, the end of the Golden Age, and mankind teetering on the brink of extinction. The only known survivors of the Collapse are those living on Earth, who were saved by “the Traveler,” a white, spherical celestial body whose appearance centuries before had enabled humans to reach the stars. The Traveler now hovers above the last safe city on Earth, and its presence allows the Guardians — the defenders of the City — the ability to wield an unknown power, only referred to as “The Light.”

Upon mankind’s first attempt to repopulate and reconstruct after the Collapse, it is discovered that hostile alien races have occupied mankind’s former colonies and civilizations, and are now encroaching upon the City. The player takes on the role of one such Guardian, and is tasked with reviving the Traveler while investigating and destroying the alien threats before humanity is completely wiped out.

Once you’ve picked your character’s race, class and appearance Destiny hits the ground running and rarely ever lets up. Your chosen race has little impact on the game but each class has a different feel and their own unique ‘focus’, a special ability that can be used in missions and competitive matches to turn the tides in the player’s favor. These focuses’ abilities can be offensive, defensive, or buffing (for the player’s three-person ‘fireteam’). The most effective ability of a focus is called a ‘super,’ which is a skill move that a Guardian can use in battle. Each super has an upgradable skill tree.

A Beautiful Disaster

The graphics are absolutely beautiful, and the scenery really starts to pop when you get off Earth. Venus in particular looks incredible, with its clouds of sulphur, storm-ravaged skies and bubbling water pits set against the imposing man-made structures that jut up out of the ground like broken, decaying teeth. Destiny is gorgeous, slick, and finely tuned, a technical knockout and a great example of what a studio with big money can do…

…but it’s also incredibly repetitive. Each story mission plays out in the same way – enter an area, kill everything that moves, let your Ghost companion – a flying AI voiced by Peter Dinklage – examine a piece of technology, fight off waves of enemies until it’s done, go to a new area, fight more enemies, take down a hulking boss character. Rinse and repeat. It starts feeling dull after a while and by the time your level reaches double digits you’ll know exactly what to expect before a level even begins. It’s bog standard FPS fare and for a game with an approximate $500 million budget and a massively skilled creative team behind it that simply isn’t good enough. The story is a by-the-numbers affair that offers no real depth, throwing out constant allusions to ‘The Darkness’ and its ongoing threat without ever taking the time to develop it as anything more than a distant, lingering menace.  It’s not always clear why you’re doing the things you’re doing either, with little in the way of explanation provided for why you’re visiting a particular site, what you’re after, and how it connects to the broader narrative.

Destiny features some truly stunning locations

Destiny features some truly stunning locations.

Destiny is at its best when you’re playing with other Guardians away from the story missions, which doesn’t happen as often as it should. Like a parent ashamed to admit that their child is gay, Bungie has avoided calling Destiny an MMO by referring to it as a “shared-world shooter,” as it lacks many of the characteristics of a traditional MMO game. For instance, rather than players being able to see and interact with all other players in the game or on a particular server—as is the case in many conventional MMO games—Destiny includes on-the-fly matchmaking that will allow players to see and interact only with other players with whom they are “matched” by the game.

Some levels force gamers to play alongside two other Guardians to take down enemy strongholds and massive boss characters, and it’s here that Destiny really shines. The satisfaction of working together with two other people, devising strategies, distracting enemies and reviving each other when death finally comes calling is unmatched. It’s a shame there aren’t more of these missions, but then enforcing too many would take away the player’s right to choose whether or not they play alongside others. For the most part, other players will come and go around you and your interaction with them will be limited. Thankfully you can create ‘fireteams’ made up of yourself and one or two other players and then tackle any of the game’s content together, and if you have a Playstation Eye camera or a headset you can communicate with them vocally.

Some levels force gamers to play alongside two other Guardians to take down enemy strongholds and massive bosses, and it’s here that Destiny shines.

Yet despite its shared world focus, Destiny often feels strangely empty. It’s easy to zip around barely ever seeing other players unless you visit The Tower, the game’s central hub where weapons, ships and armour can be bought and upgraded, and the game’s NPC enemies are little more than bullet sponges there to impede your progress toward whatever oversized monstrosity you’re tasked with fighting this time.

The good news is that Destiny’s gunplay is ridiculously good fun, with each weapon feeling special and uniquely different from its counterparts. Whatever your play style there’s a weapon for you, from the rapid-fire pulse rifle to the slow but devastating hand cannon.  It’s the gunplay you’ll keep coming back for, and in that respect the game is a resounding success.

Gimme the Loot!

Destiny’s loot and level-up system is pleasantly reminiscent of such games as Borderlands and Diablo—easier to understand and tweak than that of the average MMO, but with enough custiomisation options that you never feel the game is funnelling your character’s progression down a path you haven’t chosen. The desire to seek out and find better gear is strong here, and anyone who’s happily gone trawling through caves and chambers in the Elder Scrolls games looking for fancy clothing to don their character in will know exactly what to expect. You can mix and match various guns and bits of armour with ease, and as you earn new levels, you earn new abilities based on which of the three classes you’ve chosen, while individual pieces of armour can also be upgraded with attributes unique to your character’s class. It’s got just enough role-playing goodness to keep you glued to the screen long after you’ve got bored of the by-the-numbers plot.

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Then there’s the Crucible, Destiny’s competitive multiplayer mode which unlocks when a Guardian reaches level 5. With only four pretty standard match types it’s certainly nothing revolutionary, but it’s horribly addictive. Players can take part in Clash (in which two teams of up to six Guardians compete for the most kills), Control (where two teams of up to six Guardians must take control of and hold three control points scattered around a map), Skirmish (a three VS three standard team deathmatch game type) and Rumble (a six-player free-for-all), with players picking up experience points just as they would during missions. Bungie has done an admirable job of making these matches balanced but even so, until you reach level 20 and can buy the super strong Crucible armour and weapons from one of the salesmen at the Tower, you’re going to find yourself outgunned by characters whose armour makes your gunfire about as effective as a child throwing peanuts at a speeding truck. The selection of levels on offer matches those encountered during story missions and Halo composer Marty O’Donnell’s stunning score sets a suitably epic mood against which to carry out your massacre.

As a shooter with shared world experiences mixed in, Destiny is amazingly good fun. It’s not the blend of Halo and Warcraft we were led to expect but if you can look past that and the game’s repetitive nature, there’s plenty here to enjoy. Hopefully with future DLC it can be expanded into something truly special but as it stands, Destiny is a fun but sometimes empty experience.

A review copy of Destiny was provided courtesy of Activision. The game was reviewed on PlayStation 4.