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Destiny

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Format: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Xbox One, Playstation 4 (Reviewed)

Price: $99

Developer: Bungie

Publisher:  Activision

Arriving with the weight of several years of hype behind it, Activision’s Destiny is abundant with pedigree. It’s made by Bungie, the studio that reinvented the first person shooter genre for consoles with the Halo games; it features the voice of everyone’s favourite Lannister, Peter Dinklage, and last but not least it features a theme song and orchestral contributions by none other than Paul McCartney. The pitch matched the talent: a massively online shooter that was claimed to bring the most naturally integrated execution of MMO mechanics ever to consoles, as well as a story Bungie claimed would rival that of the Star Wars saga, delivered over a decade’s worth of games and multimedia content.

So, a pretty big deal then. Now that it’s finally arrived, the question is whether Destiny lives up to these bold claims. As it currently stands the answer is ‘not quite’, though that doesn’t mean that it’s a bad game at all. It’s certainly a good game, on occasion an excellent one. It’s just… well, it’s just a bit weird.

The first thing you need to understand when considering Destiny is who Bungie perceive as their ideal audience. It may have been sold to us as the mainstream shooter to end all mainstream shooters, but at heart the game is all about wooing the hardcore crowd. It starts off in fairly linear fashion, with story missions and a fairly straightforward levelling system providing an enjoyable if narratively confused experience.

However, it soon becomes apparent that Bungie have very, very strict ideas about how they think you should be playing this thing, with levels blatantly designed around four-man multiplayer groups (Or ‘Fireteams’). Those who use their console offline or find it difficult to corral friends to congregate online on a regular basis should prepare for regular shootout marathons as you laboriously dispatch through ridiculous amounts of enemies set up for a group to handle. It’s actually not that difficult, with poor enemy AI stopping your foes from pursing you too far before returning to their default position , but it does mean employing repetitive hit-and-run tactics that turn a lot of the story’s major skirmishes into a bit of a drag.

Things don’t improve for solo players when you look at the other activities on offer. Multiplayer is available in player-vs-player form (in what’s called the Crucible) and as co-op missions: you have Strikes, one-off missions that can be played with friends or in an ad hoc team via matchmaking, or the more involved Raids in which teams assembled from your friends list are mandatory. This makes Raids all but inaccessible for players who cannot muster friend-listed players for lengthy sessions easily – in other words, most people besides the particularly dedicated.

These quirks often rub up uncomfortably against some marvellous gameplay. As you’d expect from the creators of Halo, the game plays beautifully with butter-smooth controls and attacks that have a genuine feeling of weight behind them. While the story missions are marred by lazy design (Expect to hear ‘Go shoot 800 enemies while I scan this ancient computer’ a lot), the Strikes yield some thrilling co-op gameplay, even with randoms. A shame then, that Bungie have put so many limits on how much of the game people can access depending on their circumstances.

If shooting other players is more your thing, Destiny’s extensive multiplayer suite (named the Crucible) provides a range of modes with some interesting map designs and regular community events to keep everyone busy. While the modes are fairly generic – Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Control et al – there’s plenty there for multiplayer fans to sink their teeth into, and provides plenty of valuable loot drops for late-game levelling (Enough that it makes Crucible participation almost mandatory, which is a bummer for those who don’t like player-vs-player).

That brings us to Destiny’s character progression system, which gives you 20 levels of traditional XP-based levelling up then changes into a rather convoluted system whereby you gain levels by acquiring gear infused with Light (The mysterious power that gives your character its strength) while gaining reputation with several different factions in order to get better gear, therefore higher levels, therefore the chance to participate in the regular high-level Raids and Strikes run by Bungie… that is, as long as you can muster enough friends for the former or the matchmaking works for the latter. If it sounds complicated, that’s because it is, and don’t go expecting the game to explain it; it’s too busy underselling its own quasi-mystical and almost comically self-serious story. In addition, tying advanced levelling to random loot drops can make for a long, drawn-out process where luck trumps effort and time invested: never an attractive prospect for a game whose systems depend on constant self-improvement, and a serious concern if this system will be determining our levelling throughout the upcoming expansions.

Destiny is what Kris Kristofferson might call ‘a spacewalking contradiction.’ On the one hand it’s a superb shooter with fantastic gameplay, stunning graphics and moments of genuine thrills, blockbuster console gameplay at its finest married to with game design that only has eyes for the kind of audience you usually get for smaller, less accessible games. It’s a strange choice for the company that brought the first-person shooter to the mainstream with Halo.

Destiny’s launch is in many ways reminiscent of that of Diablo 3, a game that was widely criticized on release but improved immeasurably with well-judged tweaking and a major expansion. There’s every chance that Destiny will similarly find its feet, with the first of several expansions, The Dark Below, due in December. For now, expect a starter pack whose accessibility is largely going to depend on your gaming habits and what changes to them are reasonable to make.  Destiny has fun in store for everyone, but be warned that the portions of fun may vary.

7/10

CAVAN GALLAGHER

 

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