Destiny makes the assumption that its RPG elements are compelling enough to create a dynamic moment-to-moment gameplay experience. The problem with this is that Destiny doesn’t have the benefit of the “thirty seconds of fun” design of the Halo games. Destiny is more interested in achieving thirty hours [likely more] of fun.
I had a lot of hope for Destiny. I think the Halo games are some of the best games of all time. I’ve written pretty extensively about Halo 3 in the past. So, going into Destiny, I had a pretty high expectations for the game that I was going to play.
Those expectations were not met; in fact, for the first three-four hours of the game, I actively disliked it. Then I switched to multiplayer and got to experience a game of the caliber I expect from Bungie. Then, after seeing that game, I delved back into the PvE experience of the game and the “story” missions. As a complete side-note, I’ve never wanted the ability to skip cutscenes in a game more than I have in Destiny. The self-seriousness of the whole affair is a plague that runs through the game’s bloodstream and impacts every inch of the experience. And that creates a lot of “but” statements about Destiny.
The environments are absolutely stunning and gorgeous, but they are almost entirely static. There’s none of the dynamism of a Halo environment. There’s just this gorgeous environment, static props, and the game’s players and enemies. In some cases there are little explosives in levels, but they’re so ineffective that they don’t even warrant a mention.
The gunplay feels so good — everything is punchy, everything sounds great, everything has great feedback, but the overlying combat system lacks any real depth. The best you can say for the system is that it has a rock-paper-scissors elements system that doesn’t become relevant until you’re twenty-thirty hours into the game. And, in multiplayer, even that is completely irrelevant. In Halo you had two forms of weapons: kinetic and energy. Energy was great for taking down shields and kinetic was great for taking down unshielded targets. It’s a simple system, but given the two-gun limit in Halo, it makes for absolutely great gunplay. “I’ll use my fully-charged plasma pistol to take down his shield and then quickly swap to my battle rifle to take him out.” Those moment-to-moment strategies do not exist in Destiny. Which makes the great presentation of the gunplay ultimately feel fairly shallow.
The loot system is clearly a very well thought-through approach to loot in an FPS. It avoids the pitfalls of a game like Diablo or Borderlands where you find weapons that are just so powerful that you have no need to upgrade for ages. Destiny is very careful about its loot distribution and it makes the difficulty of the game always feel well-balanced. But the loot system is also the most problematic aspect of the game once you hit the level cap. The secret to getting good loot is, at least to me, a complete mystery. Unless I play the hell out of the game and grind and get enough of the game’s various currencies to purchase a single legendary item. I have a pretty well-rounded character at level 24 with all blue equipment, but I have absolutely no idea how to get any legendary/exotic equipment. Sometimes, I see people get things in the Crucible, but the items given out in the Crucible are entirely random and completely ignore a player’s performance in the game (one game I played, the lowest-ranked member of the team got an exotic auto rifle). This is why the “Loot Caves” in the game were such a popular attraction to so many people: finally, there was something concrete that players could be doing to get the loot they need to play the higher-level game challenges/missions. And that’s… bad. The game’s overall structure and systems should be balanced to such a place that players are encouraged to try harder and harder missions to get better loot. Or ‘train’ (for lack of a better word) to get better in the Crucible to claim the prizes awarded to the best players. A game’s structure is not in a good place when shooting for hours into a black hole is the most popular activity in Destiny, as it has been for the last week (until the Loot Cave was patched out).
There is absolutely something wrong with a loot system (essentially, the point of the entire endgame) in a game where you have a better chance farming low-level enemies for legendary level 20+ loot than you do in accomplishing actual difficult, challenging tasks.
There is a lot of great content and variety in Destiny. There’s the Crucible, there are all the story missions that can be played on increasingly harder difficulty levels (though there appears to be no noticeable reason to ever play at a higher difficulty level, as there is no reward for doing so), there are all these vendors that accept a variety of currencies earned through a multitude of different activities in the game… But so much of Destiny‘s content is a complete mystery. I’ve played thirty-forty hours of the game so far, and I just discovered that you only earn good standing with one of the vendors if you accomplish tasks while wearing one of their cloaks. Why is there absolutely no messaging anywhere in the game that would lead me to this completely different source of potentially getting the loot I need to play advanced activities.
Destiny is a good game. It is a remarkably well-crafted game. But it feels like a game that doesn’t know its place. Destiny‘s identity is as mysterious to Destiny as how the game’s script got into the final product. As it stands right now, Destiny is a bad RPG, a pretty great multiplayer game (though even that is pretty profoundly unbalanced), a lousy campaign, and some great co-op missions in dire need of a better reason to be played.
All of this is fixable, I think. I look at a game like Warframe and how it’s evolved over its many, many patches, and it’s pretty incredible to see how rough it started out and how (surprisingly) fun it’s turned out to be. With focused patches in the short-term and larger-scope structural patches in the long-term, Destiny could be a great game, but right now it’s just the platform for one.