Reviewed on PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One
Bungie has a history of excellent world-building, and Destiny is a powerful expression of that excellence. From the moment your AI companion wakes you from your long slumber in the shadow of the colossal wall around “Old Russia, the world of Destiny feels grand. Picturesque, static backdrops are slyly blended with wide-open spaces and large vertical terrain features, creating an effective illusion of scale. The many stunning vistas go a long way towards making Destiny's world feel like one that's worth saving, despite the fact that you can’t fully explore everything you see.
Even if it isn't as wide-open as it initially appears, each of Destiny's four main planets are more than big enough to get lost in. Even atop your speedy, instantly summonable Sparrow bike, which gleefully handles a lot like what I always imagined a Star Wars speeder bike might, getting from one end of a planet to the other takes a while. Factor in all the caves, temples, and other structures housed within, and there's a ton of ground to cover. Perhaps not as much as an open-world RPG or an MMO, but then, despite its similarities, Destiny isn't either of those things – and its overall topography has more character than most games of those types anyway.
Even on last-gen hardware, the craft on display throughout Destiny's alien landscapes is masterful in its detail. Every rock face, outpost, and ruin looks lovingly hand-crafted, aside from a few repeating nooks and crannies. Even if I didn't always stop to gawk at how roads look physically carved into the terrain, or how gas bubbles to the surface of the iridescent water pools on Venus, these details silently pulled me in and constantly reinforced the idea that that this is an actual place – a special place.
Sadly, none of that keeps Destiny from becoming the latest example of the friction between open-world design, and tightly directed narrative. Cutscenes are kept to a bare minimum, limiting the story to vague exposition dumps before and after missions. It's not a new, or effective way to unintrusively tell a story though, regardless of how many Emmy Award-nominated actors you have reciting the lines. It says a lot about the quality of Destiny's combat that I gladly continued to move and shoot, despite it never really giving me an emotional incentive to do so.
You'll face four different races over the course of your journey, and their armies are each diverse and interesting. The cunning, multi-armed Fallen make excellent use of cover, will actively flank your position, and even attempt to lure you into ambushes. Other foes, like the robotic Vex, can teleport directly into combat out of nowhere, and still others have jump packs, cloaking devices, or massive riot shields to aid their advances. The range of different problems they can give you to solve is downright impressive, which keeps the combat fresh, and exciting throughout.
On the whole, the combat is so well executed that I never once tired of fighting in the more the multitude of hours I’ve played so far. That says a lot considering that fighting is, disappointingly, the only way you can meaningfully interact with the beautiful world around you.
Next to how well-differentiated classes feel in Borderlands 2, or even Battlefield 4, none of Destiny’s classes feel like they bring anything indispensable to a party. As a direct result, playing cooperatively with others feels more like “shooting stuff with friends” rather than a carefully coordinated dungeon party. It’s still a good time, especially during the excellent co-operative strike missions, but it lacks the depth I look for in class-based games.
From weapons that reload faster when their clip is completely empty, to ones that speed up your ability cooldowns when you score kills with them, there's actually a decent number of different ways to gear. Especially when you start getting into the legendary and exotic loot tiers after level 20, surprises keep coming from new, even crazier mods.
The same can also be said of how Destiny allows players to interact with one another - or rather, how it doesn't. Bungie calls Destiny a “shared-world shooter,” and the influences from the MMO world are clear in its overall layout and structure. Yet, there’s no way to communicate with anyone who isn't in your party, and there's no loot-trading either. Omissions like these become a big problem when you try to do the challenging weekly Heroic Strike missions and raids. Both are part of a healthy endgame, post-launch content plan that’s already delivered enjoyable new modes of play. The first raid, Vault of Glass, has given me plenty of incentive to grind for gear and further develop my character post-campaign. It introduces team objective elements to the PvE, and delivers entirely new locales and bosses that you won't get to see anywhere else in the game world.
- +Excellent combat
- +Visually stunning
- +Good gear game
- –Minimal story
- –Some weak RPG elements